Q&A With Phyllis, Product Manager & Product Bud

In order to scale answering the flood of Product Manager related questions I receive (and appreciate :) ) I created this to address the most commonly asked questions

Phyllis
Phyllis
Oct 3, 2020 · 9 min read

How did you find your way into product management?

I’ve always loved art. I was a cognitive and brain sciences major in college because of my interest in psychology, philosophy, and computer science. My senior year, I dove deep into UX design as a way to combine my childhood love of art with my interest in understanding people. However, making mockups wasn’t the most fulfilling part of the process for me. I enjoyed thinking critically about the user’s perspective and how that impacts the design; not necessarily the design in and of itself. Furthermore, I felt empty making a mockup but not being able to build it. The fall after I graduated, I started teaching myself to code and enrolled in a Software Engineering bootcamp the spring after.

During my bootcamp, my Lyft driver asked the classic question ‘So, what do you want to do when you graduate?’ I said ‘UX Developer’ as a way to emphasize that I am interested in the decision making of using a product, not only the technical implementation. I thought I was just making up a title but come to find out there are indeed ‘UX developers.’ In fact, one of my now coworkers used to be one!

That conversation on the way home acted as the catalyst to my investigation of what job entails thinking about the user experience, the technical implementation, and the business implications. After some asking around, I was directed to investigate becoming a ‘Product Manager.’

Does your cognitive and brain sciences major play into your work as a product manager?

100%. User empathy and understanding are at the core of every decision. Users-no matter how grotesque the term-are human beings. I spent years in school studying the mind of human beings and that directly translates into what I do on a daily basis in my work now. I’m even biased to say that Product Manager recruiting emphasizes the wrong CS major and that Cognitive Science is critical to the role in ways that Computer Science can’t compete with. Cracking the Coding Interview is not PM gospel; books like Inspired and Hooked are, which are much more up the alley of my concentration of Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

What would be the challenge for a PM from a non-tech background?

Each company looks for different things in their Product Managers but there’s a reason Software Engineer and Product Manager are two different job titles. The technical aspect of product is supposed to equip you to better understand your teams and users so that you can build great products; it’s not supposed to become your entire body of work.

Understand enough to empathize with engineers and their challenges as well as being able to communicate with design what limitations may exist for their proposals but don’t uproot your job search so that you can prove that you’re both a Software Engineer and a Product Manager; unless you’re working/building a fresh startup where you actually have to serve as both.

How did you prep for the interview?

There’s no hidden secret to interview prep. Do your research is what it comes down to. Whether it be asking good questions at the end of your interview, making a connection with the interviewer, or building a value validation project, all of those stem from the extensive research you do on the company first.

Notice I said extensive. Yes, you should probably know what the company you’re interviewing for does but go a step deeper. Beyond what they do, investigate what they don't do. That is where the opportunity lies, where you can impress them, and what you’ll get hired to fill in the gap for.

What kind of qualities would you say most important for this role? and if appropriate to ask, how did you get there?

There’s an endless list of things a Product Manager needs to understand but I’ll state the top two CRITICAL skills that are the umbrella for everything else: prioritization and communication. Drop the ball on these two skills and something will get missed, costing time, effort, energy, money, resources, and space.

It doesn’t really matter that you can code in 6 languages or use Figma at lightning speed if you don’t actually get any work done because you don’t know how to prioritize what to do next, how, where, and for whom nor can you communicate, negotiate, brainstorm, and iterate on feedback from all of your stakeholders.

Think teaching yourself C is hard? Try teaching yourself a much more challenging C: communication. As a Product Manager, you fill in the white space between departments and have to communicate with all of them.

What I love about Product Management is that the skills critical to the job are the skills critical to life. As a kid, I didn’t really enjoy fiction but consumed self-development books and content like it was my job. Now it is my job to develop myself into the best leader, communicator, writer, teammate, time and task manager, and mentor that I can because my decisions impact several people near and dear to me on my teams and in my organization but also millions of people that I have never met through the product.

Could you tell me more about what your role/product is like? What team are you on?

I work in customer growth. In my journey into Product Management, I knew that I needed to be on the consumer-facing side of things. I’m very social and curious about human nature so I believed that my best work would come from working in the B2C, public-facing product side of things. Luckily, that’s exactly where I ended up. We have both a website and mobile apps. Check them out!

At Redfin, a Program Manager is very different from the Product Manager there right?

Yes, a program manager is the manager of a program such as Diversity. A Product Manager is the manager of the product, such as our iOS app.

What are the key characteristics of PM position at Redfin?

Here’s the recent JD listing for an entry-level PM:

As a Product Manager, you’ll join a passionate team working to empower customers and real estate agents by delivering delightful user experiences that solve real problems.

The Role

  • Own a Redfin product experience from start to finish
  • Get in the heads of customers and understand their pains and what they really want
  • Work with product designers to define the user experience for your product, and user test prototypes with customers
  • Work with engineers to build your product and prioritize what’s most important
  • Test your product with customers by running beta and A/B tests and measuring the results, before releasing it to millions of users on our site and apps

Desired Skills & Experience

  • Working toward a degree in computer science, engineering, human-computer interaction, design, or equivalent experience
  • Ability to synthesize information to help identify what a winning product looks like and how it will succeed strategically with our users
  • Communication skills that allow you to articulate the vision for your product and get others excited about it
  • Leadership skills that allow you to partner with our engineers and business executives
  • Customer service focus and a zeal for building addictive user experiences

Basically, be a great communicator, analytical thinker, and as deep as possible in user empathy and understanding. Our mission is to redefine real estate in the consumer’s favor which is hard to do if you don’t put understanding consumers and agents at the core, which we do :)

Was there something about the role that you didn’t like?

I was worried that starting my first full-time product role would be annoying because of always having meetings. While I and every other product manager I know do have meetings, I am impressed with how efficiently they are run. They are cut short or cancelled if there isn’t a clear agenda to discuss, everyone is good about coming into the meeting prepared with exactly what they are presenting and what feedback they’d like from the group, and the leader of the meeting is good about making sure every voice is heard without becoming off-topic or going around in circles.

How is the culture at Redfin?

Every value you see listed on our site is embodied day in day out by our team members, from a new hire all the way through to our CEO who has been with us when Redfin was just a room in Seattle. We’re a company of great people who do great work. You are expected to be as much a good person as you are expected to be a good employee.

If you’re the type to just show up for a check without passion for what you do, get things done at all costs without care for yourself and others, or are complacent or have a big ego, I don’t think we’re right for you. The culture thrives on empathy, shared leadership and ownership, feedback, and transparent communication.

I chose Redfin for the culture. I know that I can do amazing work anywhere that I chose to be but I wanted to work somewhere where I can do amazing work while feeling free to be my full amazing self. I’ve found that with Redfin and it’s my favorite part of work.

Would it be possible for you to refer me?

If we’ve never spoken before, it’s hard for me to vouch for your work which is what a referral is. It’s important to build relationships with people at different companies before you need them so that when you find yourself asking for a referral, the answer is an easy yes and the referral itself is all that much more compelling because I can speak to you as a person as well as a partner in product work.

Any preparation advice for an early-in-career person like me?

Join Product Buds! That’s what helped me get into Product Management by building projects, reading some of the PM books mentioned earlier, networking with inspiring peers and mentors, and exposing me to a world I knew so little of before but now work in!

We look forward to having you!

Resources:

Product Buds aims to be a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment for aspiring Product Managers of all social and cultural identities, as well as educational and career backgrounds to sprow, grow, and flourish. If you’d like to be a part of Product Buds, please join us! and follow us on LinkedIn to keep up with the great initiatives, events, and posts by our team.

Read the founding story

Product Buds Wiki on Notion

Product Buds Official Medium

View past event recordings

Thank you so much for being a part of our journey as we all sprout, grow, and flourish as a blooming community.

Designed by Benjamin Allan-Rahill for Product Buds

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Phyllis

Written by

Phyllis

Product manager | Leading with empathy.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +786K followers.

Phyllis

Written by

Phyllis

Product manager | Leading with empathy.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +786K followers.

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