Kathy
Kathy
Jun 15 · 16 min read

Meet the leaders and experts who have shared their real world experiences with Product Management and Society at the Harvard Kennedy School. Thanks to them, we have richer content on discovery sprints, metrics, content strategy, race and gender, ethics, a deep understanding of agile and iterative software development, procurement, partnerships, design, and more.

Marianne Bellotti

Lead at Auth0, former engineer at United States Digital Service, senior software developer on the UN’s Humanitarian Data Exchange

Marianne Bellotti runs the Internal Services team at Auth0. She has an obsessive love of complex struggling systems — the older the better — and spent three years rescuing such systems for the Federal government as part of United States Digital Service.

Topic of guest lecture.

Marianne focused on working with engineers, empowering people, and the importance of understanding organization structure.

How would you summarize your career in a single sentence?

I only fulfilled my greatest ambitions when I stopped striving for them and just appreciated the opportunities to do great work that were in front of me.

What is a launch that brings you the greatest pride? or What is a favorite project you’ve worked on, either personal or work-related, or both? [any length that you wish in order to tell your story]

When I was over at the Department of Commerce trying to help Census figure out how to leverage assistance from Silicon Valley responsibly and ethically, we got this idea to recruit talent based on the skills they could develop during a rotation in government rather than a message of public service. Most of the tech sector has absolutely no idea how to turn great individual contributors into great managers and I loved the idea that a technical problem in the government could help solve a cultural problem in the private sector.

Do you have any book recommendations related to product or technology?

Drift Into Failure by Sidney Dekker. It’s a bit more academic, but essential for understanding why software development requires agile process and a positive attitude towards failure.

Tragic Design. Too often software developers think “I don’t need to talk to a designer because what I’m building doesn’t have an interface.” Everything has an interface.

Paulina Bustos

Co-founder Civica Digital. Pronouns: she/her

Paulina Bustos is a public interest technologist who has worked mainly in Mexico and Latin-America. She co-founded Cívica Digital, a company that enhances citizenship with technology and helped build the civic tech movement in Mexico, through her work in Codeando México. Recently, Paulina was part of the Tech Exchange Program from the Ford and Media Democracy Fund 2017 cohort working in Brazil with Article 19. Paulina has presented in several regional and international open data and tech for social good conferences. She holds a degree in Computer Science from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and teaches at the Autonomous Institute for Technology in Mexico (ITAM).

Topic of guest lecture.

Paulina discussed agile development in government.

How would you summarize your career in a single sentence?

Always applying Engineering and Computer Science to some good in the world.

What is a launch that brings you the greatest pride?

I always tell my friends that launching days are my favorite days. I love the excitement of knowing that the Product that you are working on goes to the public. Normally, I spend the whole day checking analytics and reviewing that everything is going well. The last great product that we released at Cívica Digital was URBEM, a platform to digitize public services and government procedures. My favorite launch about this product was at the beginning of this year when we launched URBEM for the state of Coahuila in Mexico (my home state). Our Product allows citizens to easily paying taxes related to your car.

Our product helps to make citizens lives better, reduces government budget and corruption. Coahuila is one of the states that have been hit the hardest by corruption. So, the significance of the Product is huge. Also, been able to influence and impact the place where I was born, gave me a great pride. Working in technology to improve public services is one of the greatest joys of my life. In the last couple of years civic tech has grown a lot, however, it is missing from citizens day to day, therefore, the impact is limited. That is why, working on creating better public services in Mexico is my favorite product. It has also allowed me to train more than 100 public servants on digitizing services and creating better experiences with Service Design.

Do you have any book recommendations related to product or technology?

My favorite Engineering book is one that is not very famous, but it is very good: One Strategy: Organization, Planning, and Decision Making. The book is written by Steven Sinofsky, ex-Microsoftie and Lead of Windows. The book talks about the importance of team and motivated work in order to create a good technology product. A lot of time when I face a Product or Engineering problem I end up coming back to the principles of this book.

Another good and recent recommendation is It doesn’t have to be crazy at work from the Basecamp co-founders , Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. I read this book at the end of last year and came up with a lot of good advice for creating technology, being an entrepreneur and managing a good team.

Kasia Chmielinski

Product Manager, New Ventures, McKinsey & Company; former United States Digital Service and Scratch Project at MIT Media Lab

Kasia Chmielinski is a creative technologist committed to challenging the status quo through direct and scalable work. Most recently, Kasia joined McKinsey & Company as a Product Manager for Healthcare Analytics. Prior to McKinsey, Kasia was a Digital Services Expert at the U.S. Digital Service working on improving government technology around the opioid and national food crises, the Product Lead for Scratch at the MIT Media Lab, and a co-founder of the Data Nutrition Project, a collective focused on ethical artificial intelligence. When not in front of a whiteboard or a computer, Kasia can be found tangled up in sound equipment or upon a bicycle, cycling uncomfortably-long distances.

Topic of guest lecture.

Kasia discussed the importance of strategic partnerships in product development, and how to form those partnerships.

How would you summarize your career in a single sentence?

I have so many questions.

What is a launch that brings you the greatest pride?

I’m especially excited about the work I’ve been doing with The Data Nutrition Project (datanutrition.org), a collective made up of cross-industry technologists, researchers, and artists working to alleviate bias in machine learning through building healthier datasets. By leveraging technical prototypes, policy papers, and workshops, we have bridged communication and knowledge gaps across domains and industries.

Do you have any book recommendations related to product or technology?

PMs are often the final barrier before AI hits production. We have a responsibility to understand how these technologies can help — and hurt — the people who use what we make:

Unscaled: How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future by Hemant Taneja

Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor by Virginia Eubanks

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble

So much of what we build has been built or conceptualized before, and by very specific communities:

Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality by Jaron Lanier

I believe strongly that we must create new kinds of organizations with different power structures in order to address some of the structural issues that are mirrored in the technology we build:

Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness by Frederic Laloux, Ken Wilber

Lisa Gelobter

Founder and CEO of tEQuitable, former Chief Digital Service Officer at U.S. Department of Education; Chief Digital Officer at BET; Launch Team at Hulu. Pronouns: she/her

Lisa Gelobter is the CEO and Co-founder of tEQuitable. Using technology to make workplaces more equitable, tEQuitable provides an independent, confidential platform to address issues of bias, harassment, and discrimination.

Lisa has worked on several pioneering Internet technologies and created products that have been used by billions of people including: Shockwave, Hulu, and the ascent of online video. Most recently, she worked at the White House, serving as the Chief Digital Service Officer for the Department of Education. Previously, Lisa acted as the Chief Digital Officer for BET Networks and was a member of the senior management team for the launch of Hulu. She has a background in strategy development, business operations, user-centered design, product management, and engineering.

Lisa was named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People and is one of the first 40 Black women ever to have raised over $1mm in venture capital funding. She is also proud to be a Black woman with a bachelor’s in computer science. Go STEM!

Topic of guest lecture.

Lisa shared the Discovery Sprint process when she was the Executive Director of the Digital Service at the Department of Education, building the College Scorecard.

How would you summarize your career in a single sentence?

Democratizing access and bringing transformative practice to bear in technology, media, and the social sector.

What is a launch that brings you the greatest pride?

I am most proud of my company tEQuitable, where we’re using technology to make workplaces more equitable.

We provide an independent, confidential, and off-the-record platform for employees to address issues of bias and discrimination, from subtle to severe, and for companies to identify and improve systemic workplace culture issues based on quantitative and qualitative data.

We crafted this solution to harness technology to solve seemingly intractable problems. And it’s working!!! We’ve seen immediate results from providing employees a safe place to address workplace conflict and misconduct, and I am especially proud of the systemic issues we are identifying and helping companies to address before they escalate.

We are the only platform to proactively help companies get in front of and prevent harassment, not just catch harassers after it’s too late.

We envision a future where everyone can bring their whole, and best, selves to work and our mission is to create work culture that works for EVERYONE.

Do you have any book recommendations related to product or technology?

Lean Startups for Social Change by my brilliant brother, Michel Gelobter.

Vanessa Larco

Partner at NEA, former Director of Product at Box, founder mobile gaming start-up for kids

Vanessa Larco joined NEA as a Partner in 2016 and focuses on Enterprise SaaS and Consumer Services investing. She is passionate about technology, services and products that enable people to be more productive and efficient at work and at home. Vanessa has led investments in EvidentID, Cleo, Greenlight Card, Feather, and Lily AI. She is also a board observer at Robinhood and OmniSci.

Prior to joining NEA, she was the Director of Product Management at Box (NYSE: BOX) where she worked on building the next generation of productivity apps across web and mobile. Her passion for design and analytics stems from her experience in the gaming industry, which includes leading the Speech Recognition Experience team at Xbox Kinect v1, and building a top grossing gaming studio at Disney Social.

Vanessa holds a BS in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Topic of guest lecture.

Vanessa shared the importance of tracking metrics that matter, avoiding vanity metrics, and how to build products that solve user needs.

How would you summarize your career in a single sentence?

For as much as I tried to engineer the perfect career path, I’ve had some crazy twists and turns and landed in the most unexpected of placed — yet it’s an incredible role where I’m surrounded by great people. I should have just optimized for that from the beginning.

What is a favorite project you’ve worked on, either personal or work-related, or both?

It’s seriously impossible to pick one launch as the “favorite”. I’d say the most career defining launch was launching the redesign of Box across all apps. This was the first time I was mostly helping and guiding my product team to deliver on this effort rather than doing it all myself. As with every other major launch in my career, we had a lot of technical limitations and we thought the project would get cancelled all the time. We worked crazy hours, burnt out, kept going and then nearly [or completely] cried of happiness when it launched and we saw our customers embrace it.

Do you have any book recommendations related to product or technology?

I am more of a podcast or medium type of person. The industry moves so fast that we need quicker and more up to date best practices. I like The Product Podcast most.

Jeff Maher

Principal Engineer at Canadian Digital Service, former engineering manager and founding member, Digital Service at Veterans Affair

Jeff Maher is a civic technologist, helping government agencies with engineering practice, service discovery, strategy, and finding/interviewing awesome people to join them. He’s been at Code for America, the US Digital Service (USDS), CivicActions, and has consulted with state-level digital service teams in Massachusetts and California. He’s currently at the Canadian Digital Service.

Topic of guest lecture.

Jeff discussed user experience and design, and the importance of accessible design.

How would you summarize your career in a single sentence?

“Jeff goes where the work is.” — Kathy Pham

What is a launch that brings you the greatest pride?

I want to say Vet.gov’s first really big launch, but I think we were all so nervous about how important and high profile it was that I’m going to go with something a little less stressful. :-)

During my Code for America fellowship in 2014, my team and I built a really tiny application that enabled parents to register their child online (versus in-person/paper) for Rhode Island’s free pre-school lottery. This was a big deal for a few reasons. (1) It enabled parents to register their children at all schools they were eligible for without having to physically show-up in person or postal mail to each one during school hours. This was especially important for low income populations where parents may be working multiple jobs or not have as much access to a vehicle or printer. (2) It greatly reduced the administrative cost to the RI Department of Education (RIDE). This fact was later used to apply for funding and demonstrate scalability of pre-school administration, helping the State to get federal funding to triple the number of free pre-school seats. (3) The lottery algorithm outputted its results at each phase of sorting. Algorithmic transparency (or lack thereof) is a hot topic now, but not many were talking about it back in 2014, so this makes me feel pretty cool in a nerdy sort of way. (4) It was my first civic tech success story, and the “warm and fuzzies” very much convinced me to stay in the “make the world a better place” industry.

I vividly remember when we ran the lottery the first time with the RIDE administrators. I was in San Francisco and it was between 5a-6a PT, so I was barely awake when we needed to run it. We jumped on a video call, basically hit “Enter”, and it completed in 5 seconds (instead of school administrators being crammed into a conference room for days to manually do it). There was a moment of awkward silence after it completed and the RIDE official said “Wait. It’s done? Already!?”

Do you have any book recommendations related to product or technology?

Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems: This greatly influenced how I think about running operations for software product teams.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath: Not really a product book, but one about changing people. Conway’s Law says that software will resemble the people/organization that make it, so you probably want your org’s behavior to change before or during building software. This is a good primer for the people part of that.

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug: A great guide to making technology usable for people. The usability testing chapter is golden.

Sabelo Mhlambi

Computer Scientist and Researcher focused on technology, ethics, human rights. Harvard Berkman Klein Center, Ethics and Technology Fellow; Technology and Human Rights Fellow, Harvard Carr Center.

Sabelo Mhlambi is a computer scientist and researcher focusing on ethics, technology and human rights at Harvard’s Berkman-Klein center and the Carr Center for Human Rights. Sabelo’s work focuses on the ethical implications of technology in the developing world, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, along with the creation of tools to make Artificial Intelligence more accessible and inclusive to underrepresented communities.

Topic of guest lecture.

As a guest lecturer, Sabelo Mhlambi share the idea of the Ubuntu framework when thinking about technology and artificial intelligence.

How would you summarize your career in a single sentence?

My career has been non-traditional, unscripted, and a difficult process of self-actualization.

What is a launch that brings you the greatest pride?

In the context of a job interview, I would talk about my professional engineering work where my leading role reduced operating costs significantly and/or helped bring in millions of dollars in revenue. Outside of a job interview, these accomplishments don’t give me the greatest pride — it was paid work and my responsibility. What gives me the greatest pride of joy however, is the labor of love and sacrifice I have made in creating open-source software that is meant to help low-income communities in the global south. A project I made four years ago was a news app that allowed nearby devices to seamlessly share news with each other without the need of internet. There is poor internet connectivity and affordability in the African continent. This is a project I dreamed up and wrote while spending time in Zimbabwe and Zambia. I overcame the poor documentation on radio technology for Android devices and became one of the few practitioners I could find online working on offline technology for Android devices. There are many use-cases for this type of technology and I’ve open sourced the code I used in the app to a library which is currently in the alpha stage and available to other people.

Do you have any book recommendations related to product or technology?

One of my favorite books on technology is African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design by Ron Eglash. I think it is important to realize that computing culture isn’t a western invention and that the global north doesn’t hold the mandate to shape humanity’s digital experience. I hope this realization may help bring more inclusion into computer science, especially as technology such as artificial intelligence is becoming more prevalent in shaping our lives.

Amanda Miklik

Former Director of Design at the United States Digital Service. Pronouns: they/them

Amanda Miklik wants to help you make the world better. They care deeply about people, and help project teams stay focused on users with empathy-driven UX design and content strategy. Amanda’s background in social justice organizing and higher education gives them insight into how people experience systems as a whole, which inspired their work at the U.S. Digital Service. They tackle systemic problems with jargon-busting plain language, a keen organizational sensibility, and plenty of user research. Amanda studied Adult Learning and Social Justice at Metropolitan State University and has an M.Ed. in Learning Technologies from University of Minnesota. They’ve also worked as a professional chef and baker, and have been known to facilitate “milk-and-cookies storytime” at community meetings. They also enjoy naturalism, citizen science, and collecting new hobbies.

Topic of guest lecturer.

Amanda discussed the importance and value of content strategy in product design.

How would you summarize your career in a single sentence?

As a designer called to justice, I’ve worked hard to make technology work for the people and help other justice workers heal so they can keep pushing forward.

What is a favorite project you’ve worked on, either personal or work-related, or both?

One of the most meaningful projects I’ve worked on was also one of the hardest. Just prior to January 20, 2017, I worked with the United States Office of Refugee Resettlement to improve the intake process for families and sponsors to be reunited with unaccompanied minors at the US-Mexico border. In short, getting kids back together with their loved ones.

Working fast over just a few weeks, I interviewed internal staff, caseworkers, and evaluators across many southern states to understand the arduous forms-intake process. There were a lot of forms involved in proving a person’s identity and safety, often requiring precious time and energy to be spent needlessly collecting unnecessary and duplicate information. I learned how this process could be streamlined to reunify families faster while keeping kids safe. We redesigned the forms in English and Spanish to be a much simpler, consolidated set of forms with plain language instructions. The new forms only asked for necessary information and eliminated duplicate requests for information, saving potentially hundreds (maybe thousands) of human hours of work that could be dedicated otherwise to helping families.

While redesigning paper forms is not sexy or highly-technical work, it is the kind of content strategy work that is still critical in governments and service organizations in order to provide services for the people. What makes me so passionate about content strategy is that, at its core, it is about humanity-centered design. These kind of projects are my favorite to work on because they combine technology and service design with improving people’s lives.

Do you have any book recommendations related to product or technology?

Content Strategy for the Web. I tend to follow long-form web pieces by colleagues who write about their current work but this book changed the way I think about bringing people together around the governance that drives good (or bad) product decisions. It’s part instruction manual, part cheerleader, and 100% funny and a joy to read.

Jenny Korn

Jenny Korn, Scholar of Race, Gender, and Media; Fellow at The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

Clair Koroma

Clair Koroma, Digital Service Expert, Defense Digital Service; former Health and Human Services, Secret Service

Yvonne MacPherson

Yvonne MacPherson, U.S. Director of BBC Media Action

Stephanie Nguyen

Stephanie Nguyen, designer, Google X; former United States Digital Service; co-founder Landmark

Product and Society

Product and Society

Kathy

Written by

Kathy

Computer Scientist, Product Leader

Product and Society

Product and Society

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