As a Product Manager from a non-technical background, gaining the trust of your technical team can seem like a challenge. In this interview with Andrew Jaico, Director of Product at Shutterstock, we discuss the technical literacy and having general people skills, like actively listening, having patience, and learning, that are important when it comes to helping you create influence without authority.
Definitions of Product Management
Product Gym: What is your definition of Product Management?
Andrew Jaico: For me, Product Management is doing everything you can to make sure your product is successful, and knowing what levers to pull and push.
Product Gym: When did you first hear about Product Management and what made you decide to pursue it?
Andrew: I started my career in management consulting that specialized in the public sector. I was an English major in college and had some experience in special education, so I didn’t have a typical background for business. There was special education software that they needed a business analyst for, so I ended up applying for that job and getting the role. That role got me started in working on products.
At the same time, my brother was a Product Manager for a small startup, and I started to see Product Management as a career alternative option from being a business analyst. I became a Product Manager at another consulting firm, where I did a lot of requirement gathering with clients and understanding their needs. Pretty much from management consulting, I started to get an idea of what Product Management was.
Product Gym: Largely, other than the certification you got from General Assembly, how technical would you say you are right now compared to when you started your career?
Andrew: I think being a Product Manager improved my technical literacy, as it allowed me to talk with engineers about what they’re doing and having a better understanding of architecture. Being a Product Manager has been less about progressing hard technical skills than being able to communicate about technology. Working in a team, being active, and learning how to work has been incredibly valuable to me. It’s picking up whatever field I need to make the product successful.
Product Gym: Coming from a liberal arts background, how were you able to influence and gain the trust of your developers without having a technical background?
Andrew: A lot of the job is listening and gaining trust. Gaining other teams’ trust really requires listening to team members who may be experts on subjects that you’re not an expert on. It’s about making sure you’re all on the same page and making yourself a valuable member of the team. Instead of fitting a perceived notion of what a Product Manager is, you should look at the situation and see what the situation needs from you. Being a valuable member of the team will help you gain the trust of engineers and business stakeholders alike.
How to Lead with Influence
Product Gym: How important is being influential in order for a Product Manager to be successful on a day-to-day basis?
Andrew: There’s an incorrect notion that Product Management is about coming up with an amazing idea that no one else has come up with before. Instead, it’s more about figuring out which idea would make the most impact out of all the other ones out there, and what you can learn from it. Influence comes from helping other people see how you got to your conclusion. It’s important to have everyone on the same page since you’re all working together on the product.
Product Gym: A popular question that our students and readers hear during Product Management interviews is, “How do you influence without authority?” What are some ways in which someone could tackle this question?
Andrew: It has to do with the development of listening and reacting. You need to listen to what your audience is saying, and react to it in a way that acknowledges that you’ve heard them. At the same, you, as the Product Manager, should be thinking about what to do with that information. Influence comes from actively listening to people. I also think patience and learning go hand-in-hand. At a new job, where you don’t have the same social capital as you had before, you should have the patience to develop new relationships with others and become a valuable figure in that company.
Product Gym: Active listening, patience, and learning. Got it. So for the last question, are there any books, blogs, podcasts or other resources that you’re a big fan of as a Product Manager?
Andrew: A podcast I really like is “Exponent” because they take different, interesting perspectives, and help me keep up with tech trends.
About Andrew Jaico:
Andrew Jaico is a Product Manager with extensive experience in business analytics. He earned his B.A in English from College of the Holy Cross and started his career in management consulting. He is currently a Director of Product at Shutterstock.