Interview with a Director of Product Management

The 4th Interview in the series is with the Director of Product Management at NetStreamsPaul Young. Paul is also the author of the product management blog: “Product Beautiful” and has a proven track record in product leadership, thought leadership and problem solving.

1. What's your academic background/training?
I have a B.S. in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas at Austin.

2. What did you do before you where a product manager?
I was a web-based applications programmer (Oracle, PHP).

3. Where did you work before you worked for NetStreams?
Before NetStreams, I was a Product Manager and Product Marketing Manager for Cisco Systems.

4. What inspired you to become a product manager?
I was one of those annoying developers who always asked "why?" "Why are we doing this?" I found myself talking to the Product Managers quite often. I also noticed that the Product Managers were the people that got to work with the Executive team most frequently and had an influence. I knew that I wanted to make a similar impact, so I strove to join that group.

5. How did you make the move from being a developer to becoming a product manager?
I was a developer for a web-based portal that Cisco's service customers used to check service requests and trouble tickets. The product manager for that product went on maternity leave and when she came back, moved to a different product. Because I was intimate with the product's features, I moved into that role. Later Cisco gave me additional services to manage (managed WAN and LAN services).

6. What do you like best about your job?
I like talking to customers! What I really enjoy is talking with customers who bought into our products because they solved a problem they couldn't solve any other way. That's cool - and profitable.

7. What do you least like about your job?
Ankle biters. That is what I call the little tactical things that you have to do to keep the lights on. Quarterbacking products for trade shows, explaining how the trade off process works to your sales team for the 82nd time, and handling hyperventilating Executives who think the sky is falling because of some new competitor.

8. How do you keep up with the latest technologies?
I try to read a lot. I make heavy use of Google Reader to keep up with RSS feeds from favorite tech sites like Engadget. I also regularly read the other Product Management blogs that I link from my site, Product Beautiful. I am always amazed and humbled by the great thoughts and posts that other Product Management bloggers are creating.

9. Describe your PM job in one sentence.
Product Management is 50% strategy, 50% tactical, and 50% listening. Oh, that was supposed to be specific to my PM goes... Directing the Product Management team at NetStreams is all about making sure that we fire the very limited development ammunition we have at the right targets in the market.

10. What's your dream product to manage?
I've mulled this over many times. In general, my dream product is something that is blazing a new trail, a product that is in a greenfield area where I can do real problem discovery and think about new problems being solved in ways that haven't been done before. I would really like to focus on a product that helps people in some way. Software as a Service (SaaS) seems like a wonderful model from a Product Management perspective, because of the ability to quickly adapt the product to new problems and experiment with low overhead. I'm always interested in how other Product Managers are reacting to agile.

11. How would you describe managing product development before you/your company adopted agile?
We haven't adopted agile, mostly because it is less applicable to mixed hardware/software products. The hardware gears turn more slowly than the software gears which can move very fast, but since we sell through a channel, our users can only accept software updates to their hardware so often. So agile would be counter-productive in our case.

12. What would be the top three attributes you need to do your job?
Curiosity , Patience and Good Listening Skills.

13. What do you do when you're not managing products (outside interests)?
I try to keep up my health, so I run and play basketball a couple of times per week. Sometimes my wife and I get down to 6th Street to see my friend Mike Hoffer play with one of his many bands, like Calling Jack Burton (a great 80's cover band if you're ever in Austin).

Paul gives some insightfall comments on how to get along with the engineering/development team - and how to make the transition to from where you current are to being a product manager. Refer to the article"How to become a product manager and How to along with developers" for details.

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