I was reading Lisette’s latest post on Medium (link at the end of the post since that's a bug for some reason) and started writing a reply when I suddenly realized I've been typing for 20 minutes. So instead pouring 800 words into Medium's comments here's my structured, articled yet definitely not as beautifully written. Lisette is the master of adjectives and colorful descriptions, go read her stuff.
I was supposed to be a journalist.
Well, kinda. After excessively watching X-files I thought I want to be an FBI agent but that went by pretty fast. Let’s go off the assumption that for a decade “a journalist” was the direction I was heading. Eventually, I found out fairly fast that journalism, the way I perceived it at the time, happens at the very top of the pyramid where the journalist can lean on the strong back of an editor and the ecosystem which houses his\hers articles.
So I became an editor, then an editor-in-chief.
I think that it was my position as an editor, almost 12(?) years ago is where I found one of the main fundamental guidelines that keeps me going to this day -
It’s all about the people
Fast forward a decade, I’ve been a product manager in tech for a little over 10 years now and regardless of the company, the product, the team, management and all the background noise, the thing that keeps coming back and keeps me in focus is the fact that in tech, much like in editing a homepage or writing an article, there are people using it on the other end.
The best thing about having people using\reading products we make is the fact for a period of time we get to make a connection and touch people’s lives. And how awesome is that during time where people are using things we put thought and hard work into we have the option to change their lives for the better?
I’m sure it all sounds It’s all very idealistic and far fetched. Things like “your product make people’s lives more awesome” is stuff you read out of pitch decks and brand guidelines and is usually so high up there that is has good potential to stay an ambition at best. It was only recently, call it 2 years that I found out what works for me and what has put in much more value in every code snippet, excel spreadsheet, presentation or blog post.
Back in the day, I was reading “Nonviolent communication (is it really $5 on Amazon now?!) and among the many things I took from NVC as a framework there was the idea of “true giving" and empathy I was really attracted to: At a very high level, the idea of true giving the way I understand it is doing whatever you're doing out of joy and intent (or that way Marshall Rosenberg phrases it: “the joy of a little child feeding a hungry duck".
And to me, doing things out of joy involves a great deal of empathy. Circling back to my journalist life, one of the first things that I heard is that it’s a good thing to “put yourself in your audience’s shoes” and to an extent, I’ve amplified it to putting myself in my user’s shoes, staying for a while with hopes that I can leave some of myself behind.
From doing the empathy thing for a while, I can tell that it’s sometimes scary, especially when workplaces are all about normalization, consensus and buzz words. Empathizing with users often means exposing my (or the brand) vulnerable self so a true human connection can happen. It takes practice, it’s scary but pays off for me every time.
Going back to Lisette’s post, I was reading the parts that talk about burnout, all nighters, co-workers that create pressure to stay all night, answering Slack messages over the weekend - all real things in tech, and tried to think where so I stand in all this.
Working on the same product for 5 years and doing product management for a little over 10, I don’t feel burnt out and in fact it’s not even on my top of mind. That’s not to say that everyday of my product life is unicorns, smiling emoji with sunglasses and charts that go up and to the right but whenever it’s intense, I go back to what’s important - touching people’s life, even for a brief period of time and leave them in a better state than I found them.
This is why I do what I do.