Staying on top of social media and engaging with online communities — be it Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest — is turning us all into creatures driven by compulsion. Like sharks which must keep moving to survive, the moment we stop making noise online is the moment we start to suffocate and drown. Call it a struggle for relevance, if you wish.
When I interviewed for a technical product manager’s position with my current employer I was asked if my background managing a low-power wireless networking stack for embedded devices with 128K of flash would be transferrable and appropriate for a company who provides educational software sold to school districts and running on large enterprise-scale systems in the cloud. I said ‘sure’ it can.
My argument ran that a good C engineer could become a good Java engineer. The good in the engineer does not come from his knowledge of a particular programming language but rather from his aptitude for abstract thinking, ability to decompose problems and to work as part of a team. A good product manager is a good product manager. Whatever the product vision is (and whatever the product is) it needs to be articulated in simple terms to audiences internal and external, it needs to be launched, its performance and metrics tracked; it must be squared against competition and it must be decomposed into a set of requirements and priorities for the engineering.
Admittedly, in making this argument then I put my own interests ahead of the truth. I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t worry that once I transitioned into this new universe there would be a huge learning curve to overcome, much like there is a huge learning curve to overcome in going from C to Java. I also knew that the chances of this hypothetical C developer being hired by a Java shop were infinitesimally small. “How much better were my chances”, I wondered?
Whether through the sheer powers of elocution or luck, the chances turned out to be much better indeed. I was hired, and the transition I worried about for myself has gone off without a hitch. I’ve now been in my new role for 6 months, and I don’t feel particularly disadvantaged by my background to be in this very different domain. And that’s the essence of my lament…
Is there something intangible about a market that my 5 years of experience failed to surface? If I’d been in embedded for 10 years, would I be less capable of making this transition or is it all ultimately the same stuff? Are we, the product managers, just delusional about our so-called vertical expertise and are our skills more interchangeable than we care to admit?
If this is indeed the case, count me disappointed. It means that either we can never become exceptionally good or that there is just isn’t that much that’s specific to any one product. While there is still no limit to how much experience and expertise we can accumulate, would this observation imply that it doesn’t matter where we do it or whether we hop across multiple domains in the process?
To say it was a tumultuous year would not do it justice. To think it was only a year would be to underestimate it by at least a lifetime. Continue reading
So I finally managed to get a ticket to New York Tech Meetup. The day after I got the ticket I found out that I would be travelling on business on Tuesday and would not be able to attend. Bummer.
These tickets are notoriously scarce and highly sought after. Within several minutes of the tickets being released, they are gobbled up by some 700+ lucky attendees at $10 a pop. The unlucky rest ends up trolling the meetup message board where they have to resort to all sort of unsavory shenanigans to score a ticket — mostly groveling, begging, offering to pay above value, and then groveling and begging some more.
I didn’t feel like selling my ticket to a random stranger. Instead I decided to turn it into a social experiment of sorts. I wanted to see what people were willing to do for a chance to win this ticket, so what I did was to offer to give the ticket away to one of the next 10 people who would follow me on Twitter. It’s a simple idea, really.
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about proficiency and skill. Where does proficiency come from? How can we quantify and measure it? How is it different from skills that non-practitioners have?
So here are some of my thoughts. You are fully entitled to vehemently disagree.
As I complete my tour of duty with the current (now former) employer there is plenty of time for quiet reflection… perhaps too much time for an unhealthy amounts of reflection.
Did I do the right thing?
Any framework or structured way of thinking is an opportunity for some structured abuse. Business frameworks like Build-Measure-Learn, which is at core of the Lean Startup Movement, are no exception. Just to be perfectly clear, I like Build-Measure-Learn, and I think it’s a valuable tool for startups and mature companies to generate more value and to find a viable business model.
I am using Build-Measure-Learn as a vehicle here not because it’s easy to pick on, but because it’s easy to understand and navigate. It offers a convenient platform to illustrate how these abuses can creep in and hijack the business objectives the framework was designed to help achieve.