Reading Time: 3 minutes

Product Manager Spotlight with Nicole Johnson

  • How did you find your role as a PM?
    • Accidentally! I had never heard of Product Management when I started at a company in a support role that required minimal technical skills (HTML, CSS). I taught myself how to code in my free time (Python, JS) and made myself available as a technical resource for other support team members. My manager advocated to the Director of Engineering to let me move over as a Jr. Software Engineer. Once in that role, I wasn’t shy about pushing for the “why” behind my tasks and pushing back when needed. I also missed talking to customers. Because of this, we all thought Product would be a good fit for me, and it was!
  • What was your background?
    • Prior to joining my first tech company, I had first pursued a career in mental health. After getting burnt out, I switched to libraries – I planned to work at the aforementioned company while getting my MLIS, but I ended up dropping out of grad school when I moved to the Engineering team.
  • What is your favorite thing about being a product manager?
    • I’m a curious, collaborative, and creative person by nature. Any given day as a PM I can be conducting an investigation, coming up with and testing unique solutions, or crafting an exciting and compelling narrative. I choose to work at places with a mission I believe in, so I can do these things in a way that has a neutral or positive impact on the world.
  • What is the skill you use the most as a PM?
    • Curiosity. You often have to ask the right questions to get where you need to go, and you can’t get to the right questions if you don’t ask enough questions. Bonus related skill: Empathy. You have to be able to genuinely understand the perspectives of a lot of different kinds of people.
  • What is an example of a day in the life of a PM?
    • It really depends, but one constant across the four PM roles I’ve held is that you can expect to be in more meetings than most other jobs. You have to collaborate with a lot of different stakeholders, and you can rarely consolidate the conversations you need to have into one meeting or hash everything out asynchronously. You will also probably have to do a lot of presentations. A lot of time is spent conducting some kind of research and then consolidating it into various kinds of documents.
  • What are morning or evening routines that support you in your role?
    • I try to leave meeting-free time at the beginning and end of my working hours so that I can get organized and get information where it needs to be while it’s fresh. Outside of working hours, I like to go for long morning walks when possible. In the evening, I try to log off at a reasonable time, put work to the side, and be creative and social in the ways that matter to me.
  • What advice would you give someone looking to move into a career as a PM?
    • Don’t worry about certifications, boot camps, and things of that nature. You very likely have transferrable skills that you simply need to make known. The path I took is a very common one now, though it was less so back then (2016) – getting your foot in the door as a support person, highlighting your technical skills, and not being afraid to think big and ask hard questions in the right way can go a long way.

Share this: