The founders of the Boston Women in Product share their story of how they started in product management, some of the challenges they faced and how mentors helped them navigate through these experiences.
Cait Porte, Vice President of Product Management, Zmags
As my career in product management accelerated, so did my fear of being able to balance it all. Many times, I’d find myself struggling to figure out what the right thing to be working on was, especially because there were so many things that seemed like they were equally important. I was fortunate to have really great mentors and advisors throughout my career who helped me along the way.
There was one mentor in particular who helped me make a very difficult decision. I was in a product role at a small company that was going to be making some very big transitions in the coming months. There was an opportunity for a promotion or a lateral move. At the time, I felt like I had earned the promotion ahead of one of my other colleagues, but wasn’t sure how to approach my new boss with the request. After sitting down several times and role playing different scenarios, I had one of the most difficult conversations with my boss that I’ve had in my career. There was no way to predict what the outcome would be, but my mentor was able to prepare me for many likely scenarios. The obvious two were getting the promotion or being told that I wasn’t going to get the promotion. Good thing we prepared for the ‘you’re-not-getting-the-promotion’ conversation. Unfortunately, I discovered I was not going to get the promotion, but because of the preparation I had with my mentor and the career advice I had received from others, I was able to walk away from the conversation with clear next steps for what I wanted to do in my career.
There are always going to be difficult conversations and unexpected outcomes; career advice and advisors help to eliminate that risk and prepare you for the worst (and sometimes the best) case.
Sarah Ptalis, Director of Product Management, GoDaddy
When I think back to the start of my product career, I remember how ambitious and impatient I was on a daily basis. After finally breaking into product management and living the job for less than a year, I wanted to know “what was next?” So much so that I would go to MeetUps, talk to family and friends, and even some colleagues about moving up in my career. Each of these outlets were cycled through weekly. Now that I was super experienced with a year under my belt, I didn’t understand why things in my career were not moving faster. I should have been promoted or offered jobs left and right?!
On one occasion, I remember talking to a mentor regarding my dilemma. She told me to look back over the last six months and reflect on what I had learned, and ask myself if I was ready for “the next move” six months ago. To which I responded, “of course not!” I was in my first role and just starting to get into a groove six months ago. She continued to explain that just another six months and you will learn that much more given the expertise and context I had gained; learning is exponential. She was right. I put myself in check and kept my head down focusing on how I can help solve problems for the better of our customer and for the company. I learned so much more about product and even began collaborating with senior management. Additionally in this time, there was turnover and a new opportunity opened up. Ultimately this lead to career growth but I won’t bore you with the details. The moral of the story is to be patient early in your career and listen to those that have been in your position before. At times you need to listen to your gut and take risks, but that’s for another time.
Vanessa Ferranto, Senior Product Manager, Zipcar
I was never destined to be a product manager – at least I never realized this was where my path was going to lead me. After graduating from a degree in music, I began to evaluate my options for the next step in life. My story is the typical “I fell into product management” and it has been the best career fall I could have made.
I began as a Generalist (yes – that was really my title) in the financial services. The exciting part of this role was that I was in a technology start-up environment and would have the opportunity to wear many different hats: product, design, data analysis, marketing, customer support, project management, in addition to ordering office supplies and being tasked with grabbing coffee or lunch at times.
Because I did not have the typical background or education, I wasn’t afraid to ask many questions, or find ways to further my understanding of the industry and role. In a few months, I was able to move into the formal title of Product Manager (while still doing all aspects of my generalist role) and what I learned at that first company has carried through with me today.
It is incredibly important to continue to grow in your role, realize you do not have all the answers and understand the value in collaboration with your team. There is always more to learn, regardless of how far you have come.
Join us on Thursday, September 22nd at Clypd in Somerville for a speed networking event where seasoned professionals share their experiences and answer your difficult questions.