Video product manager career tips from a YouTube alum

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Josh Siegel and I worked together at VMware in the professional services division, and for the last several years he’s been working in video product management roles at great companies like Google.  Below he talks about how he transitioned from a professional services career into a video product manager job and describes the traits that make a great product manager.  –John

You’ve been in consumer / video product manager roles at great companies like Google but earlier in your career you were focused on infrastructure software and products (while at VMware).  Was it a conscious decision to move to the consumer side of tech and if so, how did you navigate that move?

I did want to move into a consumer-focused company and accomplished it thru MBA recruiting.  I took a role at Google as an infrastructure product manager then after a year moved into mobile search. From there I went to YouTube.  Targeting infrastructure roles in consumer companies is a good way to get a foot in the door.   It also helps to learn the backend stack before working on user-facing services.

How did your professional services background help you when you decided to make a move into a video product manager role?

Product management and professional services roles are more similar than people often assume.  Writing a good scope document as a consultant isn’t too different from writing a PRD as a product manager.   As a consultant, you have to sell your ideas to clients and manage their expectations around delivery – as a product manager, you do the same with your execs.  However, when you’re a product manager there’s no set date when you roll off the engagement — you’re on the hook for product performance over the long run.  It’s having that stake in the product that drew me to the role.

Tell me about the best product manager you’ve ever worked with.  What made them successful?  What did you learn from them?

Most of my product management career I’ve rarely worked closely w/ other product managers.  Being a product manager can be isolating in that way.  You have sole responsibility for the product, even when working w/ your dev team, UX, marketing, finance, support, etc.  That said, a good boss can really help shape your thinking.  My original Director at YouTube was really sharp.  He always kept the big picture in mind and asked hard questions in our one on ones to pull me out of the weeds and challenge assumptions I’d made on our roadmap.   But he did it w/o getting stressed out and always kept the work environment fun.  That’s a hard line to walk successfully.

What’s the biggest difference you see in managing products at more established companies (like Google) versus running products at an emerging / startup company?

Lack of red tape.  Launching features in established groups like Google search took forever.  The launch checklist was tedious and 3 week QA cycles always forced slips.  My current company is much looser.  We push products on demand to get new features out.  The lack of structure can be liberating, but it can also lead to sloppiness so you have to be vigilant in testing and push your team to ensure quality doesn’t suffer.

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