This week is a little emotional for me. I was promoted to Principal Product Manager at Microsoft. I also submitted my second book Enough. Seeking less in a world of more to Amazon.
I had been working hard over the last 6 years since Xamarin was acquired. For the first couple years, I had no idea where my career would take me next. I was quite young and really just seeing where life would lead me. I had done all sorts of roles at Xamarin, but one of the primary roles would be getting my hands dirty with the tech and finding incremental ways to improve the product for all our users.
I had come from a role that focused primarily as a developer supporting developers. Talking to them. Understanding their frustrations and pain. Empathizing to work together and find a solution. I’d spend copious amounts of my spare time to learn something about everything to do just that. I’d study every day to become just a little bit more knowledgable about how people wanted to build software using our tools and how our software is built to enable them to do just that. I had eventually found my own unique perspective of these processes with the help of many people who are eons smarter than me (you know who you are, thank you for being a part of my life).
What I didn’t know was that the role I was in would actually become something more formalized. While most people today couldn’t tell you what a “product manager”, “program manager”, or “PM” does and it’s often an inside joke on most teams that nobody knows what PMs do(even the PMs sometimes), I had always been fascinated by the role as described by Joel Spolsky.
He had noticed that software development was getting so complicated that none of the programmers had the time to figure out how to make software that was either usable or useful. The marketing team was ranting and raving about customer needs and nobody had time to talk to them or translate their MBA-speak into actual features. There was a lot of product design stuff that took a lot of work: talking to users, running usability tests, reviewing competitive products, and thinking hard about how to make things easier, and most programmers just didn’t have the time (nor were they particularly good at it).
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but the role sounded like a natural extension as to what I had been doing for multiple years prior. The industry however started to shift to more formal definitions of “Product Manager”, “Technical Program Manager”, and “Engineering Manager”. Here’s an easy way to think about them with Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How:
- Product Manager(PM) – Why and What
- Technical Program Manager(TPM/PM) – When and Where
- Engineering Manager(EM) – How and Who
I wanted to get especially good at the “why” part of the job. The “why” part of anything is always the most interesting to me. Like Joel’s statement on PMs, I saw a similar problem in my own life. Life was getting so complicated and I had no time to figure out how to make it meaningful. Down the rabbit hole I went in search of my “why”. This took me down multiple roads of entrepreneurship, leadership, psychology, and even spirituality. I’d even start to see overlapping patterns of these business whys such as “jobs-to-be-done”, “hidden wants / pain”, and “product visions”. I’d start to familiarize myself with all of these new ideas by implementing them in my own life before my work. I’d give things in my life “jobs-to-be-done” to balance my digital wellbeing and work-life balance. I’d uncover my “hidden wants / pain” by asking the question “why?” enough and working on expanding my awareness of how I should measure my life. I’d even put up a vision board in my office with a picture of an illustrated man that says “Principal Product Manager” just to visualize it everyday although it’s just a silly title. Maybe a little cheesy for most people, but it worked for me.
I started to see just how powerful these ideas are if you sit on them long enough. I’d create my own theories. By theory, I mean a statement of causality. I’d start to see results in my personal life that would extend into my work-life and gave me some of the biggest leap-years in terms of personal and professional growth. I do find it rather absurd to apply business jargon or business concepts to one’s personal life as it’s usually the opposite way. But you could really just give these a different name and nobody would bat an eye. Simply trade in “jobs-to-be-done” for “intention”, “hidden wants / pain” into “suffering”, and “product vision” meaning “purpose”.
I had started to get more comfortable in my life to understand my intentions, suffering, and purpose. When I was younger and studying computer science, my intention was to work with Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood after reading their blogs about software, business, and life. That was one of my jobs-to-be-done. I would “hire” myself to train hard enough to land a job working for my early idols. I never thought it would happen though. I went to a state school. I was a mediocre programmer. But that never stopped the intention. Just in the last few years, I even had the opportunity to do just that. To work at a company they both founded. This was my early version of a “dream job”. To go through the notorious Stack Overflow interview loop I kept reading about and I was even successful! I proved to a younger version of me that I could fulfill my intentions even if I didn’t end up taking the job. This intention had all started simply because I saved that book from its inevitable demise.
The last year for me had been one of getting more comfortable with my suffering. This was my last year in my 20s and entering the big 3-0. I had all of these dreams written down and only a few had been accomplished. I had gone back to school and realized that a MBA was a huge waste of time. That I couldn’t be bothered to learn in a forced environment of monitored fact repetition through a webcam from someone in another country. I’d take on to read books based on my curiosity to learn more about business and leadership than I’d ever get in a MBA program. I found that the more that I would surrender to the suffering of non-accomplishment, the more successful I would be in accomplishing more in my life. A strange paradox to experience in itself.
While going through a year filled with pain, I had started to build an awareness to my purpose. Previously, I just went with the flow of life and seeing where it took me. I got much more specific in what I wanted in life. I had to unlearn many things such as trying to impress other people like my family and friends who I foolishly thought would care. Nobody cared but me. I also had to give up these lofty comparisons to other people in the world I’d see only through a tiny blue screen. I had to re-center myself and realize that my purpose is inside if I looked hard enough. I started to do the very things I loved to do as a kid again. To write and express myself. To play sports and push myself beyond comfort. To share and teach the world everything I know. To laugh and have fun. I had become me again.
Life had started to shape itself around work for the first time since I started working when I was 18. The opposite had been true for too many years prior. I had started to get more done in a single day than I would in a week previously. I woke up to see the big picture of it all. I had found myself creating my dream job in the process.
So here’s a theory. If you put a thought in your mind for long enough, you will cause enough action to see it come true. You end up living the life you hoped to live. Don’t measure your life by the amount of money, the degree, the promotion, or the places you traveled by the time you die. Nobody is going to care how high up on the org chart you achieved nor how much money you have in your bank account when you’re gone. What really matters is how well you helped other people be better people. You can’t do that until you help yourself. I had to learn to help myself again in the last few years and it all led to this.
I had forgotten that I am enough and I will always be enough. That when I felt like I was enough, I could help others feel the same. Forgive my hubris as I write this final line, but I am proud of myself. Thanks for reading.