Meet the mentor | Jack McDonald, Product Manager, Envato
How did you get into product management?
Like many Product Managers, my career path was not a conventional one. I studied Civil Engineering at the university in New Zealand and then spent time in the Markets team at the Bank of New Zealand. My break into product management came when I cold-called the CEO of a cricket technology Start Up based in Wellington. He liked my tenacity and offered me a job in the product team. These days I am applying my trade with Australian success story Envato as a Product Manager in charge of Internationalisation.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
Once I’ve fired up the office coffee machine (it is a temperamental wee thing), I log into my analytics accounts and see how our initiatives are going. We have just launched Envato Elements in Russian and LATAM Spanish and so I am eagerly watching the organic search data and subscription numbers to see if we are making an impact.
After the ritual admin is done, our team of 5 developers and two product people have our daily stand up. This is where we discuss what we worked on yesterday, what we are working on today and what help we might need from others. One of our developers is remote, so it’s also a great chance to catch up.
The rest of the morning is a combination of meetings, status updates, on-the-fly problem solving and scheming up the next initiatives in the product roadmap.
Product Managers engage with a lot of stakeholders across the business which means there is a lot of time spent communicating. The rest of the day I’m making decisions and removing impediments so that the development team can deliver the products that you have defined.
What's your favourite thing about your job?
As a problem solver, I like to build things that are tangible and interesting. My previous jobs in Finance and Civil Engineering didn’t really tick those boxes for me. Also, because software is not a physical good, you have a lot more freedom to experiment, test things and innovate. Product Managers get a good amount of influence and responsibility. We are effectively entrepreneurs working within a larger (often less risky) company environment.
What do you believe are the essential qualities of a successful Product Manager?
You need to have a genuine passion for technology. Often Product Managers are the “early adopters” who like to play around with the latest gadgets and try and solve problems with technology.
Product Managers also have to be able to manage competing priorities, convincingly communicate their product vision and have empathy for the customers they are serving. At the end of the day, if you can’t relate to the users and articulate the importance of solving a problem, then you won’t get buy in from your team who are building the product.
If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?
I took a “Build, Measure, Learn” approach to my career. Instead of being stalled by analysis paralysis, I’ve chosen to test out different career paths and roles until I found something that resonated with me. That’s how I found product.
If I’d had more foresight, I would’ve learned how to code. The ability to programme would be very empowering and allow me to develop the ideas that come to my head. Luckily, I have some absolute guns in our team who are much better developers than I could’ve hoped to be.
Why did you decide to become a mentor with RMIT Online?
I feel very lucky to have stumbled across product management. It’s not the most visible career path and as a result a lot of people who would’ve made outstanding Product Managers never get the chance. Simply because they don’t know the industry exists.
As a result, technology development is often stalled by a lack of skilled talent. Supporting the future of product management is crucial to promoting the growth of technology across the world which will leave the world in a better place. If less people went into banking and more into technology, we would have more innovation.
Why should people enrol in the Product Manager course?
One of the biggest benefits of this course compared to other methods of learning would be the exposure to like minded people and experienced mentors. Learning the tools Product Managers use is important, but having a network of people with good ideas is just as valuable. Chances are someone in the group will have solved a similar problem to one you may be faced with now.