5 Questions with Diana Kimball (PM at Quip)

Meet Diana Kimball, Product Manager at Quip and one of our speakers at the Women in Product conference in September! Quip is a San Francisco startup that’s reinventing productivity and was recently acquired by Salesforce. As part of our ongoing series to get to know senior women PMs, we asked Diana about her journey as a PM and here’s what she had to say:

What was your journey to getting into product management?

I studied 20th-century U.S. history in college, with a focus on world’s fairs. What the history of world’s fairs made clear to me was that technology is always the future. Combining that epiphany with my life-long love of computers, I decided I wanted to be a part of building what would come next.

With a history degree I found it tough to break into technology; many companies wanted to see a CS degree before even interviewing me. Microsoft, though, was willing to hire liberal arts grads into program management roles and set them up for success, so I spent a summer in Seattle and then a few years in Silicon Valley working as a program manager for Office Graphics and then PowerPoint. After Microsoft, I spent two years at business school broadening my perspective. From there I moved to Berlin to join SoundCloud, where I joke that I ended up “designing my own rotational program.” As a generalist at a high-growth startup, I kept working with my managers to redefine my role to maximize impact and learning — an opportunity I’ll always be grateful for.
 After six months as a member of SoundCloud’s first strategy team, I took a step back and realized that I missed rolling my sleeves up. I moved into a product role at SoundCloud, and soon thereafter realized that I was ready to return to the U.S. Looking for my next role I found Quip — a startup led by product thinkers I hugely admired, seizing the opportunity to redefine productivity. I jumped at the chance to work at Quip to shape a product still in its early days. The faster we move, the more I learn, and the happier I am.

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

In 2015, I collaborated with SoundCloud colleagues across the world to recognize Pride month by displaying a rainbow version of the SoundCloud logo on our website and social media profiles. We did it because we all believed it would send a powerful message of support. Once we realized the tools for doing so were right in front of us, everyone rallied to make it happen. How quickly it came together was a testament to the working relationships and trust we’d built in our day-to-day work. I treasure that memory as a reminder that actions speak through the words we give them.

What has been your biggest challenge working in Product Management?

My biggest challenge as a product manager is figuring out which hat to wear on a daily, hourly, even minutely basis. At Quip, our philosophy of full-stack engineering applies to product managers too! On any given day, I’ll conduct customer interviews, create some wireframes, run a quantitative analysis, design an experiment, write up a project’s goals, test edge cases on a recently-completed feature, or meet with one of our integration partners. Staying aware of which hat will move things forward the fastest while also recognizing the hats I’m biased toward (often because I’m in the exciting stretch of climbing the learning curve for that hat quickly) causes daily uncertainty. When in doubt, I go ahead and grab the hat I’m biased toward and trust that viewing the work from that perspective will illuminate all the other perspectives too. What I love about working at Quip is that rolling up my sleeves and seeing the big picture aren’t in conflict. Rolling up my sleeves and digging into the details is how I figure out the big picture stuff.

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

My greatest allies throughout my career have been my fellow liberal arts grads who happened to make their way into tech. They’re the ones who showed me that getting to the bottom of things and developing a strong thesis apply to product management and content strategy as readily as to historiography and close reading, and that well-chosen words are as welcome on slides as in abstracts. In the early days of our careers, we cheered each other on as we worked to quash doubts — our own, and those of others. Now that we’re in senior positions across the industry, we’re idea machines, coming up with excuses to collaborate whenever we can and making cool things happen together. It’s more than I could have dreamed of back as a 21-year-old wondering where that first internship would come from.

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

A grounded opinion never goes to waste. Lots of activities that look like obvious wastes of time — downloading and playing with random apps, messing with APIs via IFTTT to get a set of products to do exactly what you want, learning to code even if you never end up shipping a line of it — become enormously valuable when viewed as chances to develop informed opinions. If you find yourself doing those things for fun, you may be a product person in the making. If you’re forming those opinions anyway, then I hope you’ll write about them! A Medium profile chock-full of detailed product feedback and accounts of playful forays into unfamiliar domains is a wonderful thing. Whenever I find someone early in their career who’s exploring widely and writing about what they’re finding, I sit up and take notice. I know I’m not alone in that.

Originally published at The Women In Product Facebook page on Aug 8, 2016