5 Questions with Aparna Chennapragada (Director of Product and Engineering of Google Now)

Aparna leads Product and Engineering for Google Now and is a speaker at the Women In Product conference on Sept 13th. Here, she talks to us about striking a balance as a PM and the importance of being part of a “guild of fellow PMs”.

What was your journey to getting into product management?

I worked as a computer scientist and engineer for a few years and I found myself enjoying PM-ish type work (figuring out why to build and what to build along with the how to build). So when I joined Google, I officially moved into Product Management.

What is your greatest achievement to date? Why is it meaningful to you?

Building and leading Google Now, a personal digital assistant product that tries to help you with your daily tasks.

It’s of course no billion-user product and the space is itself nascent, but the experience taught me two things. One, the promise of technology doing the heavy-lifting to make our lives easy. Two, on a personal note, I discovered a key strength of mine in spotting the future and building products and teams toward it.

What has been your biggest challenge working in product management?

Being able to maintain the 50,000 feet view AND the 5 inches view. Most of us product folks tend to over-index on the micro (OMG, the checkbox in the new user sign-in flow is all wrong) or, especially as we advance in our careers, the macro (multi-year vision). Paying attention to both, without micro-managing our teams or being out of touch, is a balancing act.

Who has been your biggest ally during your career? Why?

As cheesy as it sounds, my mom! A small-town girl who went to medical school in India in the 1960s, and she had an impactful career against all odds.

There is also this group of women leaders at Google where we’ve actively supported each other in our successes and setbacks over the years.

What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were starting your product career?

I wish someone told me the importance of being part of a “guild” of fellow PMs to keep honing the craft at each stage of the career — compare notes, dissect work, learn from successes and mistakes, and build connections.