Reflections on my Product Management Journey

Every life has adversity and hardship. I am under no fantasies that I will be impervious or invulnerable to them; it makes me who I am. But, overcoming the challenges and failures is worth it because what lies on the other side is incredible.


I am ready for the eruptions of possibilities to come.

 

My objective is to tell my story in all its messy brilliance. From the beginning of my career to where I am today, I want to highlight the challenges I have faced in my profession, the lessons I have learned, and the importance of not running away from these obstacles; but instead running towards opportunities.


I hope to get the young women who attend my talks or read my blogs to think about their stories and the magic of moments that pick us. But, also, we select the moments sometimes - just as I have with this blog.


In this letter to my younger product management self, I am picturing Ronke, a recent college graduate about to embark on a remarkable journey.

 

Dear Ronke,


You will be a successful African American product leader, humbled by how far you have gotten in your career. You will be driven, motivated, intelligent, and graceful and will lead with humility. The person you are today evolved throughout the years because of four women who took a chance and mentored you. These incredible women will be there to hold your hand and guide you during the worst days in your career.


Along with your mentors, you will have allies and other individuals you will meet along the way that are invested in your success. They help you bring your own personal and professional ambitions to fruition, and when the going gets tough, they will be there to hold your hand and help you get through the most difficult days and challenges you will face.


There will be professional and personal setbacks or opportunities you will lose for various reasons; you will be passed off for promotions with no explanations, and you will witness your colleagues get promoted instead.


Some days, to prevent yourself from unraveling at work, you will get into your car and drive somewhere so none of your coworkers or managers can see you cry. Then, you will break down in your vehicle while your best friend or mentors talk you out of resigning from your job or making a reckless decision.


You will be powerless at times. But, in the middle of your pity party, you will experience a recognizable shift to gratitude.


The inherent characteristics of product management are indeterminate. When you become a product manager, no one in your organization looks like you. Your manager is not a product leader, so he cannot coach you or empathize with what it means for you to be a product manager, so you will have no one to express your fears of success and failures to.


For this reason, your imposter syndrome and anxiety will be more pronounced, and you will continuously question your abilities and decisions. You do not know this yet, but you will learn to manage these feelings of inadequacies, self-doubt, and insecurity. You will be able to traverse them into success and even help other people who share similar experiences.


You will want to be a product rockstar like Steve Jobs so severely that you will run from your leadership role to a start-up company. You will dive head first and not do the needed research. However, once you are in this role, you will discover the following:

  • It is an engineering-led organization, and no one listens to you.

  • They only want to build their new platform for 10% of the population without market research.

  • You will be cheated out of your total bonus, and when you ask to meet with your boss to discuss it, he will tell you to live with what they gave you.

  • During this meeting, your boss will tell you that you dress like an executive, and it makes you look like you are better than others, that you’re making them feel sad and inferior. That you do not belong in his organization, and he will try to fire you.

Ronke, believe it not, you will stay in this company a little longer. You will hold your head up high and come to work still dressed professionally business casual. During this time, your personality traits will be notched and tallied even outside of office engagements. You will help launch the new platform as you have committed to do.


You will run to a new opportunity in another state, the culture in this organization will enable you to breathe and take care of yourself, and you will also begin to travel the world as you wish.


Ronke, you will move to a new organization. You will be successful here; however, your hiring manager will leave, and you will have a new manager who has never been a product manager before. Despite how he treats you, your colleagues and the rest of the organization will admire your work. Years later, you will have confirmation that all your skills were overshadowed by your managers' racial prejudice.


Ronke, you will move to another state to be with the love of your life, and you will once again move to another organization. But, you will be efficient here as well.


As part of your review, your manager will comment that you are too happy, and cheery, and people will not take you seriously, perhaps making you miss out on promotions and opportunities. You will thank him for the feedback but decide to run your race on your terms with guidance from your mentors.


The pandemic will happen, and one of the biggest lessons for you will be the value of using your leadership voice to give back to the product management community. You will finally realize that your voice was already there, and it didn’t need any changes - you just needed to subsume the power you had.


Ronke, you will go on to build your website with your best friend, write blogs, create your podcast, conduct product webinars, and even be asked to speak at conferences. You will have magazines that write about you and how you bring innovation to product management through diversity—even being invited as a guest on other product management podcasts.


While your product management brand is rising, you will get laid off by your employer. However, you will find it's not so scary because you finally have realized your value and have a lot to offer the world, with a partner beside you ready to help you face the challenges that may come, the eruption of possibilities.