What’s a Senior Product Manager’s job?

I found myself inspired recently after reading another outstanding blog post by Julia Evans titled “What’s a Senior Engineer’s job?” If you’re not reading Julia’s blog yet, then… what are you doing? Go open a new tab and check her out. Her blog has really taught me a lot about how software engineers work, and that post above is just one of many examples.

It got me thinking about the natural counterpart on our side – what, exactly, is a Senior Product Manager’s job? In many ways, the Product Management role is much more amorphous than Engineering is, which leads a lot of people to be confused about what they “should” be doing. In that spirit, I’m going to take a crack at this question for folks in our world.

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Progress is slow

The past week here in the Raleigh/Durham area has been full Hurricane Florence prep. While hurricane preparedness is pretty much an annual rite in this region (there are minor hurricanes almost every year), the strength and size of Florence sent this year’s cycle into overdrive. The last storm to cause really massive damage here was Hurricane Fran back in 1996, and memories of that one have lingered, informing everyone’s preparedness this time around.

Something that struck me was how little storm preparedness has changed in the 22 years since Fran, despite how much technology has changed so much else.

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Why you’re having trouble hiring

I was discussing recruiter spam with a friend of mine the other day. He mentioned a recent message he received soliciting his interest in more than a dozen open Director and VP-level gigs. Cool, right? Except here’s the problem: virtually all of the positions were based in San Francisco (or NYC), which made him instantly hit “Ignore” on the recruiter message. We had a good laugh about this, because I always do the same.

Recruiter spam is nothing new, but the idea of doing nationwide candidate searches for non-executives strikes me as awfully weird. The dominant narrative, after all, is that SF and NYC are the most talent-rich places in the country for tech. So why are those of us in flyover country still getting inundated with solicitations to relocate?

The answer is that while recruiting is difficult anywhere, I think it has gotten harder than ever for many firms in these two mega-metros. A big reason is that the numbers just don’t add up. What I’m going to do in this post is break down what a big salary job offer actually means in practice for someone in a smaller city contemplating a move to SF/NYC, and why it doesn’t really make much practical sense to move. Recruiters and HR pros, take note.

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Doing the right thing

When I was in business school, we didn’t have a single class on ethics. At the time, this struck me as crazy. It was 2009, and while the Great Recession was getting into full swing, blame for what had happened was being assigned: greedy bankers, corrupt ratings agencies, feckless regulators, crooked mortgage lenders, and so on. Up and down the chain, you could point to people who had lied, cheated, or at a bare minimum, didn’t do their job. A few got extremely rich doing this, with the disastrous results for most that the rest of us remember. In our classes, we avoided almost all of this, which frustrated me greatly then and still does.

I’ve changed my mind about some of this in the past near-decade, though, in two important ways. Namely:

  • I no longer think that “teaching ethics” is really something you can do
  • I’ve come to understand ethical lapses less as a single moment of failure, and more as an ongoing process

Coming to both of these conclusions has changed how I approach ethics in my own life and career, and I thought I’d write a little about how and why.

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TAMs for Product Managers

“Total Addressable Markets” (TAMs) are typically something you see investors and other “money people” obsess over, and for good reason. Obviously, big market problems are more lucrative to solve than little ones. But TAMs are also relevant for product managers, albeit in different ways. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, and I thought I’d put down into words (and pictures!) how I apply my TAM in managing my products.

(A warning, though – this is all very enterprise-heavy, and I’m not sure how, or even if, it applies to consumer products. Could be wrong. And please excuse the crappy graphs here – I’m on an airplane!)

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I was on some podcasts

A little while back, I did a few interviews with some product management-focused podcasts to talk about enterprise software, why our segment is different, and our book. They were a lot of fun! Here are some links if you’d like to check them out:


One year of updates

I restarted blogging a little over a year ago. After a long hiatus, I finally decided that I had enough things to say that I’d try putting them on the internet again and see if anyone wanted to read them.

Just a little while after that, I also restarted my old email newsletter, but with a different format. Eschewing the term “newsletter,” which I think is sort of dated at this point, I called it my “email update,” which is more accurate. I took the old list I used to use, cleaned out a bunch of bad addresses, and sent out a “hey, here’s what I’m doing” message about the new site.

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An Enterprise Primer

So perhaps you’re burned out in the consumer software game, or are just considering a pivot into the enterprise (“B2B”) market. You’ve heard that there’s a lot of opportunity in “selling to enterprises” – and maybe, you’re thinking, after you build some revenue there and make your investors happy, you can get back to the other world-changing stuff that you really want to build. Plus – most enterprise software kind of sucks, right? Users who have grown up with Facebook and Instagram are demanding way better experiences from the software they use at work, and you see an opportunity to serve those needs. So enterprise it is.

This is sort of a cardboard stereotype of a certain approach to enterprise software that I’ve seen voiced frequently – often by very smart, experienced people whose careers have mostly been in consumer-facing software. Well – it’s a very good strategy for failure. As a corrective, I offer this quick primer to some of the basics of how enterprise software is different. (I avoid the terms “B2C” and “B2B” as too jargon-y for my taste.)

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Tech is organizing

The prospect of labor organizing has long lived on the outer fringe of the technology industry. It’s long been assumed that highly skilled technology workers, particularly those in the most spectacularly successful Silicon Valley firms, were too spoiled with the industry’s famously lavish perks and compensation to ever consider forming unions. While that may still be mostly true, recent events make me wonder if a new moment is at hand. Spurred by ethical concerns over assisting the Trump administration, workers at Google recently forced a major change corporate policy, and others – publicly, at Microsoft and Amazon – are taking notice. Something new is definitely happening.

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Garage Gym

I recently finished building my garage gym, which has been a dream of mine for years.

Not pictured: this Rep Fitness adjustable bench. It’s a beast.

The critical parts of making this thing operational were the (1) weight platform, (2) the squat rack (Rogue, obviously) and (3) accessories. I thought I’d write up a quick post about how I did this, in case anyone else is interested.

[Update, August 2019 – I still love this thing! I added a little update, a year in, at the bottom of the post.]

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