Product Gym: Do you enjoy being a Lawyer or a Product Manager more?
Blake Reese: Product Manager! Of course, I loved learning the law and practicing it. As a lawyer, I could solve people’s problems to make their lives better. As a Product Manager, I get to solve problems to make people’s lives better by working with really smart engineers to actually build things. The building aspect is what being a lawyer lacked.
Product Gym: I know you transitioned into Google and you were a Counsel for them. How did you transition from Counsel to a Product Manager at Google?
Blake Reese: I have always been interested in Product Management and Development. When I came out of undergrad with a Computer Science degree, I did not know that Product Management existed. My passion really was in technology. I sought a career in law because I felt like it was a good way to pursue that passion by advising technology companies; it certainly was.
When I was working as a lawyer at Google, I did not have a specific plan to transition into Product Management. Instead, I had an interest in Product Development that led me to learn more about Product Management. In doing so, I learned more about innovation, design, and technical management. I also had great conversations with other Product Managers and ultimately when an opportunity arose somewhat by chance, I pursued it. It was a mixture of being at the right place at the right time, having an interest in Product Management, and having a background with the building blocks to actually do the work.
Product Gym: That is a wonderful story. What advice would you give to other lawyers that are considering a career in Product Management right now?
Blake Reese: My first advice for them would be to really understand what Product Management is and what type of skills it takes to be successful at it. The good thing about Product Management is that people who are successful Product Managers have a diverse skill set, a diverse background, and come from all walks of life. Thus, it’s really all down to whether you have the passion and ability to work with a strong cross-functional technical team to develop products that satisfy customer needs enough to make them want to buy it. If you’re interested in it, it’s all about trying to gain those skills that you may be lacking to try to bridge that gap. And there are all sorts of ways you can go about doing that. You can volunteer your time for a non-profit leading a project, have a side business trying to develop your own products, or get helpful degrees.
Product Gym: How do you find the time to do everything you do?
Blake Reese: Well, I never have enough time to do everything. I have to set priorities and be efficient with my time. I have to know when I need help and when I delegate work. For teaching, for example, I have always worked with a co-professor and expert guest lecturers. And coffee always helps of course.
Product Gym: When you finally transitioned into Product Management, what were the initial challenges you faced?
Blake Reese: My biggest challenge was trying to be perceived as a Product Manager and not a lawyer by the people who once saw me as their trusted Counsel. I made the transition to a place where colleagues knew me as a lawyer for the last 5-6 years, so I needed to overcome that and change my brand.
Product Gym: How did you overcome that challenge of changing your brand?
Blake Reese: The thing that helped me overcome that the most were starting as a contributor versus a manager so that I could build credibility in the space. It forced me to really dig into the issues, chase down solutions myself, and personally reach out to a lot of different stakeholders to try to gain alignment on product and project plans. Now that I’m in a management role, the credibility and empathy I built as a contributor were really helpful.
Product Gym: What is it that you do right now to make sure your skills stay up-to-date outside of work?
Blake Reese: I always try to read articles, blogs, or books when I can. Ultimately I stay up-to-date by doing my job. The great part about being a Product Manager at a company like Google is that I get to work with people who have incredible skill sets and knowledge to share. I interact with these people all the time and I’m constantly learning from them. This way, I continue to stay up-to-date on cutting-edge topics that help me continue to build great products for our users.
One of the most important skills a Product Manager can have is the ability to understand user behavior and needs and whether you are meeting those needs. A good way to keep this skill fresh is by reviewing data analysis and speaking to users as often as possible.
Product Gym: How often would you say you get to talk to your users in a given month?
Blake Reese: I speak to users in one way or other several times a week at least, and sometimes every day. There’s always some form of communication with our users. I get feedback from different users in all sorts of different ways. Sometimes I shadow users, other times we do usability studies, etc. It’s a big part of my job.
Product Gym: What do you want to learn most about your users?
Blake Reese: Generally, what are their needs and goals and how can I make their lives easier in achieving them? How are they trying to solve those needs today and how they react to alternative solutions. Sometimes it’s more about whether a solution I have will actually provide them the value I think it will. That’s the high level.
Product Gym: In addition to working as a Product Manager for one of the largest technology companies in the world, you have also been an adjunct professor at a few renowned universities in New York. What keeps you interested in being a professor?
Blake Reese: My mom was a school teacher who ingrained in me the value of education and sharing knowledge. From this, I enjoyed educating others and learned so much from doing so. I find teaching to be therapeutic and incredibly satisfying. It’s like a hobby. A really fun way to share your knowledge, learn from students and stay on top of a particular area.
Product Gym: Are there any books or resources that you’d recommend that really helped you when your first transitioned into Product or even now?
Blake Reese: Yes, there are a lot of great books out there. I can name several that I really enjoyed reading that was really helpful
- The Innovator’s Dilemma
- The Innovator’s Solution
- The Design of Everyday Things
- The Lean Startup
- The Hard Thing about Hard Things
About Blake Reese
Blake began his legal career at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP. He later transitioned to Google as an Associate Commercial Counsel and after holding several other positions made his way into Product Management.
Blake has taught before as an Adjunct Associate Professor / Lecturer of Law at Columbia University in the City of New York, Adjunct Associate Professor at Fordham University Gabelli School of Business, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Hunter College.
Blake has a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Florida, a Juris Doctorate from the George Washington University Law School, and Master of Science in Technical Management from the John Hopkins University.