Product Management is an exciting field that comes with many challenges. We sat down with Quy Le, a Product Manager at Yelp, to talk about what motivates Product Managers to stay in the game, as well as important skills to have and develop.
Product Gym: What is your definition of Product Management?
Quy Le: I would say Product Management is the combination of business strategy and project management. It’s being a leader of your product. I think the concept of Product Management is often viewed as an intersection of business, design, and engineering. You work a lot on strategy and defining the vision of your product. Defining the user-experience and collaborating with engineers are also key to ensure your product’s success.
Product Gym: I noticed that you’ve been a Product Manager for a very long time. A lot of aspiring Product Managers I talk to nowadays want to enter the field so that they could start their own business. What’s kept you interested in staying in that field for so long?
Quy Le: So I started getting into Product Management in sort of the “reverse” way, as opposed to those who entered the field to start their own business. I started out as an engineer back in the late 90s, where I joined a small startup of four people. During that phase, I was really interested in the business side of Product Development.
As an engineer, I had a lot of exposure on not only how we were building the product but also why. These discussions peaked my interest and led to my transition into Product Management. While I work on many projects at Yelp, I also have small projects on the side which drive what I’m doing and keep me feeling productive and motivated.
Product Gym: Throughout all of your experiences, what are some recurring challenges that you always run into as a Product Manager, regardless of the industry you’re working in, company-size, etc?
Quy Le: I think one challenge is trying to understand how your product aligns with what other teams are doing, as well as with the company’s vision and mission statement. It’s very easy to lose sight of the goals of different teams and how your product may fit in with other teams’ products within the company.
Another challenge is keeping up with new technology and trends. Things are moving so fast, from the technology standpoint to how different people interact with these products. In the past, it was all about building websites for the desktop user, but now you have to consider building mobile applications first.
In general, a big challenge for me is working effectively with others and developing people management skills. One important skill is establishing credibility and trust with the other teams working on the product with you. To establish the good rapport with your coworkers makes life a lot easier, and brings a mutual level of respect.
Product Gym: As you mentioned, technology is constantly changing, and the products you worked on decades ago may be very different from the ones you work on now. Where do you find the motivation to keep up with new technologies when it’s evolving so fast?
Quy Le: A lot of it has to be inherent. I love working with people and as a Product Manager, that’s something you have to do a lot of. You have to enjoy working with others on your team. I also consider myself to be sort of a technology geek. I consider myself an early adopter and enjoy buying the latest gadgets. Part of my motivation is wanting to get my hands on such new technology. Being a Product Manager sits well with those two principles.
Product Gym: A lot of our content right now has been trying to focus on determining whether or not Product Management is right for you, for those who’ve never been in it. Having been in the field for so long, have you ever considered taking a different career path outside of Product Management? On the East Coast, it seems that not too many people would stay in Product Management for as long as you have. What have you enjoyed the most about being a Product Manager which lead you to stay here?
Quy Le: I think the biggest thing for me, especially being on the West Coast, was being granted the ability to stimulate two of my passions at the same time. One is on the business and marketing side, which is my core focus. The other, due to the nature of Silicon Valley, is having to constantly work closely with engineers which helps me keep in touch with technology. The reason why I’ve stayed in Product Management for so long is because it gives me the best of both worlds from the business side of things to technology.
Product Gym: Are there any words of encouragement you could offer to programmers and engineers struggling to transition into Product Management?
Quy Le: Even without an M.B.A, if you can demonstrate any type of business sense or entrepreneurial drive, it will go a long way in terms of trying to get a job as, say, an Associate Product Manager or Junior Product Manager. One piece of advice would be to go out, think of a mini project and come up with a business plan. Think about why you’re building it, who you’re building it for, etc. Think in both the long-term and short-term. Being able to showcase this product in your resume to show that you developed this product from the ground up will demonstrate your business sense along with your technical skills.
Product Gym: Are there any books or resources that you’d recommend to others that helped you transition into Product Management?
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About Quy Le:
Quy Le is a veteran Product Manager with a strong background in technology. He earned his B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at U.C. Berkeley, and his M.B.A in Marketing and Integrated Product Development from Carnegie Mellon. Quy is currently a Product Manager at Yelp.