Top 10 Learnings from a Product N00b

Reading Time: 9 minutes | April 19, 2019

Sharing product knowledge with others is an important piece of learning for myself. I put this presentation together for friends during a Knowledge Sharing Night (KSN). Each friend who came over had a topic to discuss. Mine was on product management.

This is a common deck I share with aspiring product managers who ask me how they can get started. Instead of sharing it one-on-one, I decided I’d share it with the wider community.

WONTOSA - Product Management - Top 10 Learnings (As of April 19, 2019)

In university, I started tinkering with my own mobile app for high school students. I collaborated with the University of Waterloo Software Engineering students for their CAPSTONE project. We made Propelme – a mobile app which aimed to enhance the high school out-of-the-classroom experience.

At this time, it was a completely informal product learning experience – I didn’t even know what this field existed.

Soon after, I joined Bell Canada. I had the opportunity to jump right into product management by joining the team who worked on the MyBell and MyAccount Virgin Mobile self-serve mobile apps. I had the opportunity to work on both the hybrid and native versions. This was where I first learned about Agile, Product Owner, and Scrum.

Roughly 2 years later, I said I wanted to experience what startups are like. Better move out of corporate now before I’m deemed “too old” or “too corporate” by the startup world. (I know, this is might be an irrational fear…)

That’s when I moved over to SortSpoke – a cloud based browser software which helps large enterprises reduce data entry work through machine learning predictions.

While at SortSpoke, I was approached by the Teach Away team. Teach Away operates with the mission to ensure every student experiences the power of a great teacher.


Lesson #1: Tech – Biz – UX

A product manager come from a variety of backgrounds.

Product is the pretty crucial to every department. Every department wants a piece of the product team because what we line up in the product roadmap enables the sales team to sell, the engineering team to build, and the customer success team to support users.

A true product team needs a little bit of knowledge on everything but the core fundamentals of knowledge comes from the three: technology, business, and user experience design.


Lesson #2: Big vs. Small companies may differ a lot.

At Bell, I had very specific tasks as a product person. There were designers who looked after mockups, brand teams that managed the verbiage, a scrum master on every team, and even teams who managed the emulator tutorials for customers. Everyone had a role and we did not stray from it.

At SortSpoke, it was all hands on deck. I wrote stories, took part in architectural design discussions, designed mockups, and played a scrum master role. Priorities can change when a large customer requests for something that wasn’t on your roadmap. I wore hats that were outside of the product scope.



Lesson #3: Product Manager (software) salaries vary at each company and depends on how well you negotiate.

There are more than base salaries that can be negotiated:

– Performance bonus

– Vacation time

– Professional development credits

– Health/Dental/Vision benefits

– Team social credits

– Travel opportunities


Lesson #4: It’s all about the user.

Building our user profiles allow you to better understand the demographic and psychographic of who you are serving.

– How are they feeling?

– What do they want in their future?

– What are their pain points?

– Who influences them?


Remember, there may be more than 1 type of user. E.g. at Teach Away, we have teachers, students, schools/institutions, and parents. Each has their own journey and may differ in interaction experiences.



#5: Prioritization & MVP: It’s important to know what you should build but it’s just as important (if not more) to know what you SHOULD NOT BUILD! Say NO.

The hardest part about being a product manager’s job is to prioritize. How do you shield the developers from scope creep while still pursuing the feedback provided by all the other departments or customers?

What worked great is asking the requestors to truly evaluate the priority of their ask. Sales department may not know the urgency of other items in the pipeline we are working on for the operations department. It’s our job to educate.

We should assess all requests. If it turns out that it’s a no, one way to respond is: “No, not now because…” Give requestors a WHY you are declining. No now doesn’t mean no forever. The worst feeling is when their request gets lost and have to follow up with you 3X before they get a response. Don’t be Igor the Ignorer.


#6: I didn’t fall in love with the problem and thus, couldn’t fall in love with the product.


I didn’t realize what happened when I was at previous companies until I did some more reflecting. At previous companies, I understood WHAT we were doing but I didn’t, fully, appreciate WHY customers wanted to use us. I know the pain but I didn’t FEEL the pain the same way that our customers or users felt about it. Thus, I didn’t love the problem I was trying to solve.


#7: product management interviews can get extremely creative.

That’s one of the beautiful aspects of being in product. Hiring teams want to know if you jive with their team but also that you know what you’re talking about when it comes to product.



#8: Break into PM (product management) by building something yourself

I started off by accidentally roaming about the mobile app realm because I wanted to help solve the problem at my local high school – SO BADLY. By building something yourself, you’ll have the opportunity to walk through the whole process: ideation, development, execution, measurement, and iteration phases. Hiring managers find this very enticing.


Entrepreneurial spirit is a plus.


#9: Build product intuition on the go by experimenting.

15-minute mobile app first impressions

I went into the app store and downloaded an app that I’ve never seen before. I recorded myself observing the app from user experience, design, reviews, registration process, etc. At the 14 minute mark, I would try to summarize what the app did in my own words.

1 hour: 1 product deep dive

I took a product and its company to look into what they are building. If I really wanted to work for that company, I better know what I want to improve. I time-boxed it so I can keep myself focused on delivery of the product that is completed but might not be “perfect”.

30 product managers in 30 days

Before I knew product management is the career path I wanted, I dived into by talking to product managers.


Funny story: At the time of my first chat with product managers, I didn’t even know what Jira was. Everyone was talking about and I was panicking! I used Trello and Microsoft Visual Studios but this “Jira” thing was so foreign but everyone was using it! Later on, I used it at Bell Canada. When I arrived at SortSpoke, I became the go-to for Jira help. 🙂



#10: Engage with the community

There are many events, slack groups, and resources out there related to product. Especially in the Toronto area.


Here are some great product management resources and agile resources which Vishal and I have put together so you can get started.


Overall takeaway: 💎

Passion is a rare gem. Unfortunately, it can’t be taught.

Product people must care deeply about the product we build with the team.