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Must Read - Unpacking the Success Suitcase: Fast-Track Your Junior Career in FAANG

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Happy Thursday!

Today, let's take a leisurely stroll down a path less traveled. I've put on my thinking cap and come up with a distinctive list, specifically for those of you aspiring to leave a mark on the FAANG stage (Facebook - now Meta, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google). There's a need for specific guidance aimed at those starting their journey as junior employees especially product managers.

It's exhilarating to see our newsletter family sprouting like a spring garden – a solid 18% growth this month alone! Given this heady expansion, maybe it's high time we started a merchandise line – Substack mugs and T-shirts, anyone?

So, tighten your seatbelts, it’s time for some enlightening exploration!

Read time: 5 minutes

Feedback is Good, Embrace it!

Many individuals miss out on a tremendous opportunity for personal growth by neglecting to seek feedback. It's truly astonishing to think about how many people never take the initiative to ask for input or advice from others. By opening ourselves up to feedback, we open doors to valuable insights and perspectives that can help us improve and develop in various aspects of our lives.

Here Ravi Mehta clearly yet powerfully explains : “One of the mst challenging things I think for both a PM as well as a product leader is to figure out how to grow yourself and grow your team. And a key way to do that is through feedback. It's really important to provide people with good feedback to help them understand how to grow. But the problem is, and this is true in a casual one-on-one, as much as it's true in an annual performance review, it's oftentimes the feedback that people provide is very surface level. It may focus on particular symptoms but not root causes. And so one of the ways that this framework can help is, I'll often encourage people when they're first starting to use the framework, just to go through each competency and rate themselves needs focus, on track or outperforming on each of the competencies to quickly get a read on where you feel like you're landing. You can ask your manager to do that same thing. You can do that in five or 10 minutes. And then the areas where your manager and you see eye to eye and the areas where you guys see differently is stimulus for a really deep conversation.

And so I think that is like the entry point to providing exponential feedback. And I think about exponential feedback as feedback that has compounding returns. So if you give someone feedback on a particular symptom or you give them feedback on something that's tactical and they fix that in a moment, the feedback, the conclusion of that feedback, it just happens and then it's gone. But if instead you help a person understand the underlying behaviors that led to that particular situation, then they can focus on growing themselves. They can also focus on helping to diagnose their own performance more effectively, and that leads to compounding returns where they just keep getting better and better over time… I think gets to the root cause of areas a person can grow in and that ultimately leads to more effective feedback that has those compounding returns.

One of the things you can do if you are in a product role is ask them to do this exercise and evaluate you. Your manager will almost certainly have some impression of your performance that they haven't necessarily... If they're not doing it proactively, they probably have it intuitively. And helping them get it down on paper and getting it more specific can be a really good way to start that conversation. So that's one thing that you can do.

a row of yellow stars sitting on top of a blue and pink surface

A second thing is I think oftentimes people refrain from giving feedback when they feel like that feedback is going to be intrusive. So just inviting your manager to say, "Look, I'm really looking to level up. Please give me feedback whenever you see something. You can give it to me in real time. Don't worry about wordsmithing it. I just want to make sure that I'm getting better." That agreement with your manager and giving them permission to give you that feedback will make sure that the stream of feedback has a much higher volume and starting with the quantity of feedback as a way to get eventually to quality of feedback as well.

…It's so key because then you've rewarded the person for giving you feedback, even if it hurts inside, and then they'll want to do it in the future.”

The Art of First Impressions

Making a striking first impression can feel like balancing a teacup on a tightrope – one wobble and it's game over. But here's the good news: hard work pays off. It's not about knowing it all from day one; it's about showing your dedication to learn and grow.

Action Items:

  • Hit the ground running: Don’t just coast through your first weeks. Use this time to demonstrate your dedication and drive.

  • Show initiative: Volunteer for tasks and projects that can highlight your capabilities.

Remember, you might not be the most experienced player on the field, but you can certainly be the most determined. Kick off your journey with a sprint and let your momentum carry you forward.

Harness the Power of "Why"

Picture this. You're stuck on a problem, wrestling with it like you're in the main event of WrestleMania. And just like in the ring, your stubborn nature might make you feel like you're in a solo match against this monstrous issue. Instead of body-slamming it in frustration, what if we try a different approach? How about we tag-team with Curiosity?

Here's how you do it:

  1. Don the cape of curiosity: Never hesitate to ask questions. There's no such thing as a silly question when you're on the path of knowledge. Don't believe me? Here's a brilliant TED Talk by Brian Grazer on the power of curiosity.

  2. Form a Tag-Team: Encourage your team members to share their thoughts. Everyone has unique perspectives, and when combined, it becomes a collaborative problem-solving powerhouse!

  3. Call for Backup: Stuck on a problem? Don't brood over it for hours. Promptly seek help from your mentors and peers.

And while you're at it, remember this gem from the genius himself

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence." - @AlbertEinstein

a book with the title the power of why

The FAANG ecosystem isn't a wrestling ring, where one person walks out victorious. Instead, think of it like a superhero team-up, where everyone works together, solves problems, and saves the day. So next time you're faced with a problem, instead of trying to body-slam it solo, tag-team with curiosity and your fellow superheroes! And remember, everyone loves a good team player!

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

The road to success is often lined with a dash of daring. Don't restrict yourself to tasks that are squarely within your comfort zone. Take the leap, offer your assistance, even if you're not the 'qualified' person.

  • Offer your assistance: Take the initiative and offer to help, even if the task seems a bit out of your depth.

  • Learn by doing: Don't be afraid to fail. Each stumble is a step forward in your learning journey. Don't hold back.

A fresh-faced junior product manager named Ben stepped onto the scene. He had a promising resume, but what set Ben apart was his tenacity. When a sudden bug wreaked havoc in our system, everyone scrambled to control the damage. As the team huddled, brainstorming solutions, Ben, though not a techie, offered to pitch in. He volunteered to communicate with the tech team, bridging the gap between them and the product management team. Despite his lack of experience, he dived into the deep end. He spent long nights pouring over bug reports, system analytics, and tech jargon. And guess what? He didn't just stay afloat; he swam with the current, navigating through the sea of codes and technical complexities.

blue and white sofa near white wooden table

Yes, he had a few stumbles along the way, but Ben proved that the willingness to learn outweighs any lack of initial expertise. He became a linchpin in resolving the issue and earned respect from both teams in the process. In the end, it's not about being the best from the get-go. It's about stepping up, stretching your capabilities, and embracing the opportunities that come your way. After all, you can't hit a home run if you're too afraid to swing the bat. So, put on your game face and dive into the deep end. Who knows? You might just surprise yourself.

Be a Social Maestro

The role of a product manager isn't confined to overseeing the product. It's about nurturing relationships that bear fruit. Earning the trust and camaraderie of your colleagues is key. Wondering about the secret recipe? A hearty dose of genuine interest, empathy, and active listening. Start with informal chats during office coffee breaks or virtual happy hours. Before you know it, your professional network will be stronger and more vibrant than a triple-shot espresso.

- Engage with colleagues informally, getting to know their interests and hobbies.

- Initiate virtual team-building activities that enhance bonding.

Make "Empathy" your Superpower

You're a product manager, and it's like being the conductor of a grand symphony, only instead of musicians, you have engineers, designers, stakeholders - the works. Every interaction needs to flow as smoothly as a well-rehearsed orchestra. But what happens when someone hits a wrong note? Do you yell 'Cut!' and storm off? Nope. That's where your superpower, 'Product Empathy', comes into play.

Here's your superhero guide to harnessing 'Product Empathy':

  1. Master the art of active listening: It's not just about hearing what your team members say; it's about understanding their point of view. Check out this quick video on how to practice active listening.

  2. Remember, everyone is human: People make mistakes. Instead of blowing a fuse, show patience and understanding. Use these situations as opportunities to learn and grow. Here's an inspiring TED talk about turning mistakes into stepping stones.

  3. Be the communication superhero: Encourage open conversations and foster a culture of trust. When everyone feels heard, that's when the real magic happens.

"Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself." - @MohsinHamid

So, as the maestro of your team, keep these points in mind. Because just like an orchestra, your team can create a masterpiece, when there's harmony, empathy, and a little bit of patience.

black and white printed textile

Be Data Informed - Always

You're all fired up for an epic cross-country road trip. The energy drinks are stocked, your favorite road-trip playlist is queued up, and... plot twist! You decide to toss your trusty GPS in the nearest trash can, opting to rely solely on a faded map from the '80s and some vague directions scrawled on a post-it note. Safe to say, it doesn't sound like the brightest idea, does it? In the grand adventure that is product management, data is your equivalent to that modern, reliable GPS. It's the guiding star that helps you navigate through uncharted territories, past potential pitfalls, and ensures you're always on the quickest route to Product Success-ville.

Becoming a data whizz is not about getting the highest score in a statistics exam, but about knowing how to leverage data to inform your decisions. Here's how you can ace it:

black and silver laptop computer
  • Get comfy with data tools: The first step is to get cozy with data analysis tools. Think of it as learning to use a new gaming console; you need to master the controls to play the game right. There are numerous tools out there, from SQL to Tableau, and each has its unique strengths. Choose the one that suits your needs best. 🎮

  • Make 'Data Digest' your routine: Just like you wouldn't skip your morning coffee, it's crucial to dedicate regular time slots for understanding and interpreting data. This routine will help you stay on top of trends and spot potential issues before they become significant problems. It's like having your very own crystal ball. 🔮

  • Data = Your Strategy Compass: Make data insights the backbone of your strategy and decision-making. When you're torn between options, let the data guide you. It's your trusty compass in the wild forest of product management decisions. 🧭

Geoffrey Moore puts it aptly when he says,

Use The Power of Teamwork

Being a good teammate isn't just a title; it's a role to be lived and breathed every day. Think of your team as a football squad - you might not all play the same position, but you're all heading towards the same goal. Empathy, patience, and respect are your uniform - wear them proudly.

  • Be respectful: This is non-negotiable. The same kindness you'd expect from others should be reflected in your actions.

Not long ago, a bright young PM named Kevin joined our ranks at Amazon. He was eager and full of ideas. During his first team meeting, he proposed an ambitious new approach to our workflow management. While his eagerness was commendable, he seemed dismissive of the processes already in place, creating tension within the team. Instead of winning allies, Kevin was inadvertently setting up a battlefield. If he had taken the time to understand our existing workflow and communicated his ideas with more patience and empathy, the team might have been more open to his suggestions. Remember, it's not about the best idea; it's about the best approach. Being a good team player isn't about being the loudest in the room. It's about being the most understanding, the most helpful, the most patient. Embrace these values, and your journey to becoming a successful PM will be that much smoother.

Ask for Help, Do not Get Stuck!

Here's the deal, my friend. It's great to be independent and try to figure things out on your own. It shows your resourcefulness and determination. But here's the catch: spending an entire week glued to your screen, desperately scouring the internet for solutions to a problem in your development environment? That's a major time drain and, quite frankly, a waste. Instead, don't be afraid to reach out for help when you find yourself stuck. Trust me, it's not a sign of weakness. In fact, it's the smart move. It's far better to admit that you need a little assistance than to waste precious time going down a rabbit hole of frustration.

If you're working on a complex project and hit a roadblock. Feeling stuck, you decide to put two powerful strategies into action. First, you gather all your questions and organize them into a list, rather than bombarding your co-workers with constant inquiries. This "batching" technique helps you be more efficient and considerate. Next, you reach out to a specific co-worker who's experienced and willing to lend a hand. They become your go-to mentor, offering guidance and insight. Together, you sit down, and you present your list of questions. In this supportive environment, you feel comfortable asking even the silly questions, knowing they won't judge you.

There you have it, traits to embody as you venture forth in the FAANG world. Remember, every journey is unique, so don't forget to make your own rules along the way. Till next time, keep climbing that ladder of success. We're rooting for you!

That's all for now!

If you have any interesting projects or ideas, please reach out to us by responding to this email or by sending us a DM on Twitter: @musepmturk

As always, thanks for reading, and see you next time. 🫡

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