A web show where Poornima Vijayashanker, the founder of Femgineer, interviews guests on topics related to startups, entrepreneurship, software engineering, design, product management, and marketing. Sponsored by Pivotal Tracker.
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Jun 3, 2019

Just when you thought you had a handle on your job... it’s time to lead a team! Time to be responsible for others. Their career growth, emotional well-being at work, and job satisfaction.


You’re excited by the new opportunity and want to grow into this role, but it feels like you are starting from scratch. You felt highly competent in your last role. Now it feels like there is a steep learning curve ahead of you, and you may or may not have mentors or role models to help.


If you’re already in a leadership role, maybe you chose it or were promoted into it based on previous performance. But you may or may not have a lot of experience leading a team through a number of contexts such as tight deadlines, conflict situations, peacetime, and re-orgs!


As a result, in the first few months of your transition, you might have struggled to feel like you’re making progress. Overrun by meetings and constant context switching has left you feeling unaccomplished at the end of your workday. You wonder if you're using your time wisely.


You might be left asking yourself, “Am I doing this right?” And, “Should I go back to being an individual contributor?”


I’m here to tell you that all these doubts are normal.


It might not seem normal because no one took the time to map out what a day in the life of a leader would look like. Or maybe they did but only shared the glamorous parts ;)


Well, it’s normal to have doubts, and it does get better!


In this month’s Build episode, we’re going to tackle the topic of being a first-time leader, and to help us out I’ve invited Lara Hogan, who is a coach and trainer for managers and leaders in tech. She is currently the Co-Founder of Wherewithall a consulting and advising company dedicated to helping tech startups and non-profits grow and execute with ease. She was previously, a VP of Engineering at Kickstarter and a Director of Engineering at Etsy.


Lara has a new book coming out called Resilient Management, and in the Build episode, she’ll be sharing insights from it.



Here are the highlights with approximate timestamps:

  • @5:00: Why Lara chose to focus on helping new leaders and managers hone two skills: human growth and resiliency
  • @7:30: How every team (old and new) goes through four stages of development: forming, storming, norming, and performing, and what you as a leader can do in each stage to support your teammates
  • @10:00: The six core needs we all need at work, and why even missing one might have caused you to feel emotions like unappreciated, distant or detached, or underwhelmed
  • @14:40: Why Lara no longer suggests using a README to help your teammates get to know you, and what to do instead, especially when it comes to setting expectations
  • @16:30: Know what you are optimizing for—instead of fixating on a management style or philosophy
  • @18:00: How to spot areas of friction and handle them!
  • @20:00: Why many first-time leaders default to mentoring (aka advice giving) and need to switch to coaching (guide teammates to discovering solutions)
  • @24:20: Do highly functional teams even exist?
  • @24:45: How to handle delivering bad news because as leaders that is one of the things we often have to do

Want a copy of Lara’s new book Resilient Management? Leave a review for Build on iTunes, then hit reply to this email to let me know you left a review, and I’ll share an e-book copy of Lara’s book with you! (Limited to the first 5 people who respond.)


Here are some additional resources Lara mentions in the episode for you to check out:



Build is produced by Femgineer (

May 15, 2019

We’re living in an era where there is more than one path to gaining freedom and flexibility, though often it takes some trial and error to achieve it. Gregg Goldner is an example of someone who was tired of missing out on important life events and wanted more freedom and flexibility in his career. In the last episode of Build, Gregg shared his journey going from being a school teacher to a software developer. He chose to be a freelance software developer because he valued honing his craft. This choice meant he’d had to find work and clients who valued his talents. If you’ve haven’t had a chance to check out the episode yet, you can watch it here or listen to it here.

Another approach to gaining more freedom and flexibility is to be your own boss and start your own company. In the beginning, you may choose to do most of the work yourself, but there will come a point in time when you will need to hire someone because you’ve hit the limits of your expertise, or how much work you can realistically do.

While hiring help may seem like a panacea it comes with its own set of challenges. Add in limited time and budget to find a quality hire, and the challenges grow.

I’ll admit that it’s taken me more than a decade to find people I enjoy working with, can rely on, and learn from. I won’t claim that I know how to hire the perfect people every time—frankly, they don’t exist. What I've learned over the years is how to come up with the key criteria needed to source talented individuals, suss them out, and help them grow over time. I've tested and tweaked the strategies when hiring people in startups and growth stage companies.

In today's Build, I'll be sharing these strategies with you. The episode is taken from a live online group coaching call I hosted last year with first-time founders who were hiring technical talent, but the strategies also apply to hiring managers who are looking to fill non-technical roles. Even if you aren’t the person making a hiring decision, it’s a valuable episode to learn how you may be evaluated in the future!

As you watch the episode today, you’ll learn the following:

  • The pre-work you need to do before you start recruiting

  • How to source candidates through your network as well as online and offline channels

  • How to evaluate a candidate's work history, projects, and references

  • How to vet people who are reliable, can communicate clearly, and will produce high- quality work

  • The difference between vetting a freelancer and a firm—as well as how to avoid the ‘gotcha’ moments!

Want more help recruiting, onboarding, and retaining talent?

Check out our previous episodes on what to expect from new software engineering hires, how to onboard new software engineers quickly, and how to keep newly hired software engineers motivated. If you're looking to hire product managers, you'll find the following episodes on hiring product managers, interviewing them, and training and retaining them helpful. Finally, if you’re looking for UX designers, tune in to our episode on sourcing, vetting, hiring and working with UX designers.


Build is produced by Femgineer (

Apr 30, 2019

When I was in my early 20s and someone told me to prioritize freedom and flexibility, I’d cringe and think, “Yes but how?”


Over the past fifteen years, I’ve asked this question to people I’ve met. Through trial and error, I’ve learned to incorporate or tweak parts of their how to fit my needs. As a result, I’ve learned there is more than one how, and to be wary of those who claim there is only one!


One approach we explored earlier this year was building a Company of One. Paul Jarvis and I explored how he went from being a freelancer and providing a service to scaling his business to create products. In the Build episode, we shared some of the common themes. If you missed the episode, you can check it out here.


This month, I want to rewind and explore the first part, becoming a freelancer.


Becoming a freelancer is one approach to gaining more freedom and flexibility. And while it’s easy to glamorize being your own boss, it can take time (many years) to get a business off the ground.


You have to figure out how to market yourself, manage clients, price your service, and still have enough hours left in the day to do the work!


All of these tasks can leave you feeling overwhelmed. To help you think about the transition, gain some perspective, and most importantly, work through the overwhelm, I’ve invited Gregg Goldner, who is a freelance developer and President of Two Sun Traders, LLC to share his experience.


Whether you are a freelancer, want to be one, or are just curious, I’d highly recommend tuning into this week’s episode to learn the following from Gregg:


  • Why Gregg wanted more flexibility in his life and chose to transition from being a music teacher to a software developer
  • How he made the transition to becoming a software developer
  • The skills he learned from having been a school teacher and how they applied to software
  • The experience that led Gregg to choose to be freelancer instead of a startup founder
  • How he initially priced himself, then changed his pricing over time
  • The importance of honing your craft
  • How he interviews clients and picks projects


I loved this quote from Gregg because it showcases how you need to focus as a freelancer:


“Putting on every single hat and then realizing I don’t like half those hats. Wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to do those things? What are my strengths and weaknesses, and how can I find people who have different strengths and weaknesses?” — Gregg Goldner, President of Two Sun Traders, LLC


In the episode, Gregg mentions a number of resources, here are links to them:



If you’ve been following Build for a while, you may recall I did an episode with Jessica Hische who is a letter, illustrator, and type designer a few years ago on a similar topic: How To Prepare To Strike Out On Your Own And Pursue Your Creative Calling. Listen to the episode here. I always find it helpful to revisit a topic and compare notes, plus some people’s voice resonates more than others, so I’d highly recommend you check out that episode too!


Build is produced by Femgineer

Apr 1, 2019

I am the self-appointed family travel agent. Though if you ask my partner and the rest of my family members they’d agree that I am the best person for the job.




Because over the years I have become adept at making sure I don’t overlook the details when planning a vacation—you know where the devil hides! And who wants the devil to turn up on their vacation?!


Unless of course, it’s a blue devil ;) #marchmadness #goduke


I take the time to read through ALL the descriptions and fine print, talk to customer support agents to find out if there are any additional fees, and make sure that family members who have accessibility needs like my 10-month-old baby and 82-year-old grandma will be taken care of.


Once I’ve done all this planning, I know I have truly earned my vacation ;)


Despite all my effort, there have been times when things didn’t turn out as planned. Like the time I booked a home in India only to find out that the address was incorrect. The host mixed the street name with the city name. We would have had to drive 3 hours after 24+ hours of travel, but I called customer support and they resolved the issue for us quickly.


It was a positive customer support experience: responsive, seamless, and efficient. As a result, I continued using that service to book my travel, knowing that if something screwy happened I could count on them next time.


But there are other companies whose customer support agents place me on hold—for more than a few minutes. When the agent returns, they tell me that I’ve reached the wrong department. Then they transfer me to the “correct” department. Once the transfer is complete, I have to repeat what I told the first support person to the second support person, all the while hoping that they can help me resolve the issue. They can’t. When I look at how much time I’ve spent, and the exorbitant fee or unreconcilable charge, I am frustrated and vow to never do business with them again!


I know I’m not alone.


No one likes being at the receiving end of a bad customer support experience. It’s easy to place blame on customer support, but it’s not their fault because the problem originated somewhere else—when the product or service’s feature was being created.


Someone designed the experience in a way that wasn’t particularly customer friendly, and then it became a challenge to change the experience because of the silos that formed in the company between teams: sales, marketing, product, engineering, and customer support.


At the start of a company, teams are usually flat and highly collaborative, but over time, silos start to form, slowing things down, making it hard to innovate, and distancing teams from their customers.


Is it even possible to slow or stop them from forming? And to enable everyone across teams a chance to interact with customers?


Well in today’s episode of Build we’re going to answer these questions and more, We’ll show how silos form of overtime, some best practices for keeping silos at bay, and what to do once they have formed to break them down.


To help us out I’ve invited Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré who is a B2B SaaS Consultant with 20+ years of experience in online marketing, and a champion for customer success.


As you tune into today’s episode you’ll learn the following from Nichole Elizabeth:


  • Why everyone on a team including software developers and engineers should have a chance to interact with customers, not just people who are on the customer support, sales, and marketing teams
  • How to empower teams to break down silos, and a framework for evaluating experiments and features that factor in constraints
  • When to automate and when to interact with customers
  • How silos form over time, how to avoid them, and what to do once they’ve formed
  • Why when building B2B products it’s important to focus on making your customers successful not happy
  • Why you need to rethink off-boarding customers and make it easy for them to leave


“When everyone on the team is aware of the voice of the customer, everyone is super excited about what is going on (with the product).


If you really want to stand out right now it isn’t pricing, it’s team alignment and customer experience.” — Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré


In the episode, Nichole Elizabeth mentions a number of resources, here are links to them:



Build is produced by Femgineer (

Mar 25, 2019

We began this month exploring the theme of career transitions. In the first Build episode for this month, we talked about why even if we want to transition in our careers, we don’t and get stuck in a role. If you missed the last episode of Build you can check it out here.

If you were wondering how to get unstuck, then today’s episode is for you! We’re continuing our conversation with Amy Sun who is a partner at Sequoia Capital, a venture capital firm. Amy began her career as a product manager, transitioned to a product manager and most recently became a venture capitalist. Having gone through a number of transitions herself, she’s learned to navigate them in a number of contexts.

Even if you aren’t going through a transition yourself, it’s a valuable episode to tune into, because as a teammate, hiring manager, or leader you may find yourself working with someone who is going through it, and you’ll be equipped to help them out!

As you tune into today’s episode you’ll learn:

  • How to avoid being typecast into a role and be your own advocate

  • How to figure out what companies are looking for within a role

  • How long it can really take to go through a transition and how to keep your motivation up

  • Why short trial periods can be helpful, and how to set expectations and criteria for grading performance

  • How to get feedback and build awareness to improve

  • How to transition between companies versus across roles within a company

  • How to fill in skills gaps, build trust with peers, and present to leaders

“The opportunity won’t just present itself one today. Believe that you want it. And then tell people you want it. Sometimes you’ll get push back. Even if you do, you have to continue to fight for it, if you believe that’s the path that you want to go down.” — Amy Sun, Partner at Sequoia Capital



Build is produced by Femgineer (

Mar 12, 2019

Career transitions are tough for all of us. Leveling-up or transitioning into a new role or field is challenging because we have to prove that we can do the job, especially when our resume doesn’t reflect relevant or exact experience recruiters or hiring managers are looking for.


The countless rejections may cause us to want to stay in our current role and hope that someone will acknowledge our skills, talents, and efforts.


However, we cannot build a career on hope alone!


In today’s episode of Build, we’re going to share what holds people back from advocating for themselves successfully, and in the next episode, we’ll dig into ways you can make the transition happen.


To help us out, I’ve invited Amy Sun who is a partner at Sequoia Capital, a venture capital firm. In case you’re curious, Amy’s firm Sequoia Capital has been investing in companies since 1972. They have invested in 250+ companies, and some notable ones are Apple, Google, Oracle, PayPal, Stripe, YouTube, Instagram, Yahoo! and WhatsApp.


Last year at Grace Hopper, Sequoia Capital was the sponsor for a workshop I was co-teaching with Karen Catlin, which gave me the opportunity to meet Amy. After the workshop, Amy and I had the chance to chat, and I learned about her exciting background and thought it would be wonderful to share it with you.


What surprised me was that Amy didn’t start her career with the intention of becoming a venture capitalist; her first real job was as a snowboarding instructor!


After graduating from college, she began her career in tech as a product marketer, then eventually became a growth marketer and product manager.


As you tune into today’s episode, here’s what you’ll learn from Amy:


  • How to deal with the inner critic inside each of us who worries about: “What people are going to think” and get your foot in the door in spite of it
  • How to suss out if you are missing experience
  • How to handle roles that are and aren’t clearly defined or vary between companies
  • The value of shadowing people and doing your homework
  • How happenstance and luck play into transitions


“If you think about your career as the sum of all the knowledge you have—it’s not like you’re throwing away all the experience you’ve had in the past to start from scratch. Having a diverse set makes you more uniquely qualified for certain roles. So rather than holding yourself back by thinking: ‘Oh I don’t want to start from the ground (zero), and all my experience before is useless,’ think about it as compounding upon each other.” — Amy Sun, Partner at Sequoia Capital


Build is produced by Femgineer (

Feb 11, 2019

In the last episode of Build, Sarah Doody, who is a UX designer and entrepreneur, and I debunked many myths and misconceptions around UX (user experience) design, as well as the benefits to having a UX designer on your product team.

In today’s episode, we’re going to switch gears and talk about what UX designers can do to stand out, and then share how companies can go about sourcing, vetting, and hiring a UX designer. Finally, we'll talk about how they can work with software engineers and product managers.

I always learn a ton from Sarah, and I found this episode to be really insightful because aside from being a UX design herself, Sarah has reviewed the portfolios of 700+ UX designers!  So whether you are a UX designer yourself, or looking to work with one, I’d consider this a must watch Build episode.

Here’s what you’ll learn from Sarah:

  • How to find and reach out to UX designers
  • 3 Things UX Designers can do to stand out
  • What UX designers can do if a past project hasn’t yet launched or there was no clear result
  • How software engineers and product managers can work effectively with a UX designer
  • How UX designers can avoid being overwhelmed by projects that aren’t related to the product

Here are links to the resources Sarah mentioned in the show and some additional resources to check out:

  • Design Value Index
  • Slack / Facebook Groups Related To UX
    Designer Hangout:
    With Candles (for junior designers):
    User Defenders:
    UX Careers Tribe: (this is my group)
    Design X:
    Mixed Methods:
  • UX Career Resources From Sarah
    UX Portfolio Formula (use code BUILDSHOW for 50% off):
    Free UX Portfolio Blueprint:
    UX Careers & Job Interview Playlist:


Build is produced by Femgineer (


Femgineer's Confident Communicator Course 2019 is coming up! To learn more visit:

Feb 4, 2019

Happy February!

It’s a brand new month, which means new Build episodes.

If you’re new to Build or maybe missed episodes here and there, know that I’ve previously covered a number of topics related to design like design sprints, product debt, product redesign, accessibility, being a freelance designer, creative confidence, the rise of the design executive office, designing with empathy, and the art vs science of ux design.

It turns out all those episodes weren’t enough, and there’s still a lot to cover!

So this month we’re going back to the theme of design, and start by covering why it’s important to work with a user experience (UX) designer. Given the significant shift to designing user-friendly interfaces, it might feel like I am preaching to the choir. However, some companies still struggle to justify the work of a UX designer. Plus, given how young the field is, it’s continually evolving, and people are always writing in and requesting I cover design :)

People still aren’t sure how a UX designer adds value, how to go about hiring and vetting them, and how they can work with software engineers and product managers effectively.

Just like how software engineering has become more specialized over the years, design has faced a similar change. However, people still grapple to understand the nuances between a graphic, visual, and UX designer.

In today’s episode, we’ll dive into the different types of designers out there. Then talk about some of the myths around user experience design. In next week’s episode, we’ll talk about what UX designers can do to stand out, how companies can go about hiring and vetting them, and how they can work effectively with software engineers and product managers.

To help us out, I’ve invited Sarah Doody who is a UX designer and entrepreneur (formerly based in NYC).

You’ll learn the following from Sarah:

  • Benefits of having a UX designer on your team from the beginning
  • How to think of user research as an investment
  • How to co-design and how it helps handle pushback and the handoff period
  • How design-minded companies outperformed S&P 500 for ten years

Here are links to the resources Sarah mentioned in the show and some additional resources to check out:

  • Design Value Index
  • Slack / Facebook Groups Related To UX
    Designer Hangout:
    With Candles (for junior designers):
    User Defenders:
    UX Careers Tribe: (this is my group)
    Design X:
    Mixed Methods:
  • UX Career Resources From Sarah
    UX Portfolio Formula (use code BUILDSHOW for 50% off):
    Free UX Portfolio Blueprint:
    UX Careers & Job Interview Playlist:


Build is produced by Femgineer (


Femgineer's Confident Communicator Course 2019 is coming up! To learn more visit:

Jan 21, 2019

Do you ever feel like you’re caught between making personal concessions and compromises in order to advance professionally?


I felt this way less than six months ago.


I was getting ready to transition from maternity leave back to work. Part of my transition plan was to initially work part-time so that I’d have time to rest and take care of my little one. Running my own business would give me the freedom and flexibility I needed to do this.


However, during my maternity leave, I became overly concerned with providing for my little one. As I transitioned back to work, I decided I need to think about taking on more clients.


A dear friend of mine had advised me to create a document with non-negotiables so that I wouldn’t be tempted to make concessions and compromises for things I needed from a client.


But I was concerned about how clients would perceive my non-negotiables.


In today’s episode of Build, I’m going to share how I went through this transition last year.


Once you’ve listened the episode, I’d like to know what was the last career transition that was spurred by a life event for you? How did you manage to pull through without compromising on what you needed? Feel free to tweet your response to @poornima.


Build is brought to you by Femgineer (


Femgineer's Confident Communicator Course 2019 is coming up! To learn more visit:


Enjoyed this episode and want to support the show?

To become a patron of the show visit:


## Easy to Set Non-Negotiables But Hard To Stick To Them Transcript


Career transitions are tough. Especially when they are spurred by life events.


They can feel endless, overwhelming, and cause us to shortchange ourselves by making concessions and compromises on what we need.


In today’s Build episode I’m going to share a recent transition I went through and how I managed to get through.


So stay tuned!


Welcome to Build. The show that debunks a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies and your career in tech.


I’m your host Poornima Vijayashanker.


I had previously mentioned that I’d be experimenting with the format of Build, so today’s show is a solo show with just me.


I’m curious to hear your take on it. As always, feel free to leave a comment below. I don’t always have time to respond but I’m always listening, reading, and learning from audience members like you ;)


Last year, in the midst of my maternity leave I started to worry, more so than I usually do, and specifically about money.


I had previously written some blog posts about how I had gone through a round of interviews at companies, and ultimately decided that running my own business was going to provide me the most flexibility and freedom.


Somehow all the logic had seeped out of my postpartum brain and been replaced with a need to provide for my newly born child.


Despite being a good saver, and being a part of a dual income household, staring at my medical bill for the delivery made me worry about all the unexpected expenses that would start creeping up.


I’m a strong believer that I tight budget isn’t enough. You also have to make money.


So I thought about all the things I could do. I could answer all the emails that were piling up from recruiters or I could start working on the course I wanted to offer in the fall.


But this was 6 weeks into my maternity leave, I was having a really hard time summoning the energy to do something new.


Not to mention having the time to do it.


I’d need time and energy to either prepare for interviews or market a new course. Plus I’d have to persuade others that I was credible.


I re-read my own advice, and realized I needed to find a way to cash in on credibility that I had already built up without compromising on my non-negotiables.


That meant instead of proving myself to someone new, I needed to go back to working with people who knew I was credible.


I called up a client that I had worked for back in 2014 and 2015 to see if they needed help. They did and they didn’t need it until I was done with my maternity leave. So the timing was on my side.


There were just two catches: I need to commute up to SF and they had reduced their contractor rates.


Both of these directly conflicted with 2 of my non-negotiables, which were working commuting only two days a week and my rate.


I decided I wasn’t going to budge on how I priced myself, and told my client to check if there was more budget.


I reminded my client that I was reliable, and they remembered the quality of work that I had done.


I was also fortunate to have others vouch for me.


I put the ball in my client’s court and waited patiently for their response.


My client came back and asked me if I would accept working 2 days at the rate that fit into their budget.


I happily agree to the terms because it was exactly what I needed as I transitioned back to work.


What I re-learned is that you can go back to a client or company, especially if you have built up credibility there, and it helps to have more than one person vouch for you.


Finally, I re-learned the importance of having set non-negotiables.


As I was negotiating on the phone call, I made sure to pull them up and have them stare right at me!


Now, if you’re willing to share, I’d like to know what was the last career transition that was spurred by a life event for you? How did you manage to pull through without compromising on what you needed? Please let me know in the comments below!


That’s it for this episode of Build. Feel free to share it with your teammates, your friends, and whomever you think might be going through a tough transition.


And subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive more episodes.


Ciao for now!

Jan 14, 2019

In the last episode of Build, Paul Jarvis who is the author of Company of One and I, challenged the commonly held myth that that you need to you need to keep growing and scaling your company, otherwise you’re not innovating and you’ll soon start to stagnate.


We also debunked myths related to it such as falling prey to a big competitor and needing to be a leader who cannot fail.


The big takeaway was to question growth for growth’s sake.


The episode might also have brought up a number of questions for you like, “What about me? I work in a BIG company! Does that mean I’m not innovative? Do I need to run a one-person business? Do I have to be ant-growth?”


Absolutely not!


The Company of One doesn’t mean to be prescriptive or claim that there is only one way of doing business. Rather it’s building awareness for what is changing, and how those changes could help you. For example, if you are looking for more flexibility and freedom, you could work remotely or you could build a lifestyle business.


And if you’re still wondering, “How Poornima and Paul? How do I do these things?”  Well, tune into today’s episode. In it, we share some of Paul’s proven best practices.


As you tune in to this episode you’ll learn the following from Paul:


  • Why studies of companies often deviate from best practices, and what really happens when companies grow too quickly
  • Why Paul killed off profitable products and lines of business
  • The “gotcha” moments Paul went through as he was building his company—how they have served as proof for his best practices
  • How you can apply the Company of One mindset to a big company


“A company of one isn’t just a one-person business. It’s not anti-growth or anti-revenue. It’s just a business that questions whether growth is right for founders, employees, and customers, and for the long term success of the business.”

— Paul Jarvis


Want  to receive a copy of Paul’s upcoming book Company of One?


If you become a patron of Build on Patreon at the Silver or Gold tiers, I’ll make sure you receive an e-book copy of Paul’s book as well books from other authors I feature on the show. And if you’re one of those who loves a signed copy of a hardcover, then consider being a Platinum Patron. To become a patron visit Build’s Patreon page here.



Build is brought to you by Femgineer (


Femgineer's Confident Communicator Course 2019 is coming up! To learn more visit:


Enjoyed this episode and want to support the show?

To become a patron of the show visit:

Jan 7, 2019

Happy new year! I hope your 2019 is off to a great start :)

If you’re curious what I’ve been up to and what I have in store for 2019, I’ll tell you right off the bat, I do not set goals or resolutions at the start of the year. Instead, I review my progress every quarter to see what I want to keep doing, what experiments I want to run, and what I am going to cut or put on the back burner!

Taking a broad approach has served me well in running my business, balancing it with the ever-growing demands on my time as a new mom, and most importantly, managing overwhelm. So I won’t be sharing my goals for 2019 or if I’ve resolved to exercise more or less. And I certainly won’t be telling you to do more ;)

But I get that there may be other people in your life who are going to be bombarding you with messages around setting resolutions and goals as it relates to your career and personal life.

Don’t get me wrong, resolutions and goals serve as great guardrails, but there’s no need to artificially set them at the start of the year.

So is it OK to not always be growing personally and in business?

Well, if you’ve been tuning into Build for a while, you know I love to bust myths and misconceptions on it, as they relate to building products, companies, and your career in tech. To kick things off for the show’s fifth year, I thought we’d start with one of the biggest myths around building a company: you need to keep growing and scaling, otherwise you’re not innovating and you’ll soon start to stagnate.

This is a BIG myth that permeates company culture in tech, but, as it turns out, you don’t always need to grow, and continual growth isn’t always desirable.

In today’s Build episode, we’re going to be debunking this myth, and to help us out, I’ve invited Paul Jarvis, writer, entrepreneur, podcaster, designer and online course teacher. Paul is the author of the new book Company of One: Why Staying Small Is The Next  Big Thing For Business.

As you tune into today’s episode you’ll learn the following from Paul:

  • How you went from being a designer to an entrepreneur
  • How he started a service-based business and slowly transitioned to offering products
  • Why he decided to not build a BIG business and the concerns he had around his decision
  • 4 myths around building a big company
  • Why it’s OK to stay small 

In next week’s episode, Paul will share some best practices around building a company of one.


Build is brought to you by Femgineer (


Femgineer's Confident Communicator Course 2019 is coming up! To learn more visit:


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Dec 10, 2018

Last week on Build, we shared what allyship is and why it can help build inclusive workplaces. Anytime new approaches like these come out our defenses go up because it can be challenging to change mindsets and best practices. Plus there’s some fear around what the unintended consequences will be.


I hear ya!


Here’s the thing about allyship, you don’t need to get the green light from someone at the top or put in a ton of effort to make an impact. Turns out there are everyday actions that can benefit your team and workplace and make you a better ally.


In today’s episode, we’ll be sharing them with you to help you get started as an ally!


To help us out, I’ve invited Karen Catlin, co-author of Present! A Techie’s Guide To Public Speaking, a leadership coach, and an advocate for inclusive tech workplaces. You may recall seeing Karen in a few episodes from last year on mentorship.


I invited Karen back on to the show to talk about the work she has been doing coaching allies.


Given Karen’s rich career in tech spanning 25 years, she has a lot of experience to draw from, and it has inspired her to help other become better allies and create inclusive workplaces.


Here’s what you’ll learn as you watch today’s episode:


  • How You Can Get Started Being An Ally
  • How Karen went about testing a number of simple everyday actions people can take to being an ally
  • 3 simple everyday actions you can start to take immediately
  • How Companies Have Benefited From Allies Taking Simple Everyday Actions
  • A Best Practice For Being A Better Ally In Your Community


Want to get in touch and learn more from Karen?


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.




## 3 Simple Everyday Actions You Can Do To Be A Better Ally And Create An Inclusive Workplace Transcript


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     In the last episode, we talked about what allyship is, and why it's important for helping with diversity in the workplace today. If you missed that episode, I've included a link to it below this video. In today's episode, we're going to dive into some best practices on how you can become a better ally through simple, everyday actions. So stay tuned.


Welcome to *Build* brought to you by PivotalTracker, I'm your host Poornima Vijayashanker, in each episode of *Build*, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. Now two big misconceptions that a lot of folks have when it comes to being an ally for diversity is thinking that they need to have a green light from some high level executive in order to have their initiative come out, and thinking that the initiative has to make a big impact in order to even pursue it.


Well it turns out that there are some everyday actions that you can do that will cause a ripple effect and improve diversity in your workplace, and we're going to share what those are in today's episode. And to help us out, Karen Catlin is back. Karen is my co author for our book Present, she's also a leadership coach and an advocate for diverse and inclusive workplaces. Thanks for coming back on the show.


Karen Catlin:                     Thanks so much for having me again.


What Allyship Is And Why It’s Important


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Yeah, so let's do a quick recap for people who might be joining us. Tell us what allyship is, and again why it's important today.


Karen Catlin:                     Mm-hmm (affirmative), so allyship is simply using your position of privilege to make more inclusive workplace, and help other people be successful if they don't have quite as much privilege as you. And this is so important today, because we have a war on talent, it's hard to hire people so you want to cast a wide net and keep those people once you've hired them, keep them productive and working hard at your company, and stayed, staying there.


And, there are all these studies showing the economic benefits, benefits of improved innovation, problem solving, and decision making. So that's why it's important.


How You Can Get Started Being An Ally


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Yeah. So let's talk about how people can get started, because I'm sure there's people in our audience who would love to get started as an ally.


Karen Catlin:                     Yeah, so it's really not that hard. And I love the way you started out saying you don't have to have a huge initiative, you don't have to be the VP of people at your company, or head of diversity and inclusion to start being an ally. You simply I think need to just start paying attention to what's going on around your workplace, and raising awareness yourself, and if you're not really aware of like what are some of the things I could be doing, it's fine to ask someone who is an underrepresented gender, or minority, just ask them for some feedback of what are some of the challenges you're facing, and what's one thing I could be doing to help you out?


How Karen Catlin Went About Testing Simple Everyday Actions People Can Take To Being An Ally


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     So in your upcoming book, you provide a myriad of best practices, but before we dive into some of those, let's talk about how you went about testing these practices.


Karen Catlin:                     So I start testing these ideas actually on Twitter.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     OK.


Karen Catlin:                     About four years ago, I started a Twitter handle called @betterallies. And it was anonymous, it still is anonymous until this show actually.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Yeah.


Karen Catlin:                     And I started tweeting simple, everyday actions that someone could take to create a more inclusive workplace. And my whole goal was that I didn't want it to be, you didn't have to feel like you were the head of people at your company, or head of diversity and inclusion to make a difference. It really was something that the normal person could do. So I started tweeting these ideas based on my experience working in tech, based on coaching clients I had, as well as the research that was being published at the time of the challenges that are happening in tech workplaces as well as other workplaces by people who are underrepresented.


Based on the reaction, I kind of started realizing, OK that works, that's helpful, that's not so helpful, and where it was helpful it was really helpful, and I started getting again, positive reinforcement that these messages were making a difference to the people who were consuming them. And checking out my Twitter handle too it's like, there's some, you can use Twitter Analytics to find out a little bit about your demographics.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Mm-hmm.


Karen Catlin:                     And I have about 50% followers who are men, 50% women, so I know that there are a lot of men who are paying attention to this and appreciating the content.


How Companies Have Benefited From Allies Taking Simple Everyday Actions


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Nice. I know you've coached some men, so do you mind sharing maybe one or two examples of how these best practices have helped their team, or their company?


Karen Catlin:                     Sure. One that's just so memorable to me is I was coaching a man about, he wanted to hire more diverse talent for his team, and we started talking about just different aspects. I asked him just so how does the team socialize today, like you know, to go out to lunch or after hours? What's social life like for the team? And he looked at me, and he said, oh, you mean I probably should've told those guys going to the strip club for lunch last week that that's not cool? I'm like yeah maybe that wasn't exactly the most inclusive social event.


He honestly like, bless him, he just hadn't realized how other people might feel that they couldn't go out to lunch that day with some of the team members, right. Another example is some of the language we use, and I know Pivotal Tracker I was reading a blog post that they now have something in their daily stand up, and in their bill process for the week called the Inclusion Thing of the Week.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Oh, cool.


Karen Catlin:                     And they just come up with the idea of something they can be doing to be more inclusive, and they talk about in their daily stand ups and everything, and one of them was simply don't use the word “guys.” Some people may be thinking, “Wait a second Karen, what do you mean? Guys is gender neutral, we use it all the time.” To them, I always like to say well if you were a woman, you need to use a public restroom, and there was a door marked guys, do you go in? Probably not.


Or if someone were to ask you, a man, how many guys did you date in high school? They're not thinking women, right there, right? So “guys” is not gender neutral, so that's another thing that as Pivotal Tracker learned is a simple thing they could do. As I've started coaching other people too, examples come up such as, “Well what's your spirit animal?”


Well maybe that's not very inclusive because spirit animal is actually an important part of some Native American cultures, and spiritual component of it. So it's really kind of appropriating their culture. So I can't believe this is such a beautiful example of an alternative. Why not use patronas instead from Harry Potter right? So just swap that out, and have everyone feel that they can be included in the conversation.


Best Practice #1 For Being A Better Ally And Creating An Inclusive Workplace: Reviewing How We Give Feedback To Women Versus Men


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Got it. OK so let's dive in now and have you share three best practices from your book.


Karen Catlin:                     Yeah. So the first one I'll share is all about performance feedback. People who do research into performance feedback have done things like study performance reviews, written performance reviews, thousands of them, and found that there is gendered difference in how we give feedback to women versus men. Some of that gender difference shows up in the form of the feedback that we give to women is more vague.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     OK.


Karen Catlin:                     And with men, it's more specific. We're telling men more often that this is how your work has impacted the business, here's how you can keep impacting the business, here's a skill you need to learn to have a bigger impact on the business. And with women less so, it's more vague. And at the same time there have been studies showing that we actually tend to hold back from giving constructive feedback, the hard feedback, to people who are different than us.


So whether that's a different gender, different race, or so forth, we hold back from giving the constructive feedback probably because we don't want someone to think that oh he's only giving me that feedback because I'm a woman. So as a man we might think I don't want to give a woman feedback because she's going to think I'm sexist if I criticize her. I don't want to give a person of color feedback if I'm white, because they're going to think I'm racist, right.


So we hold back, and we soften the feedback. But that doesn't do anyone any good, right.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Yeah.


Karen Catlin:                     We really need that feedback, constructive as well as the positive feedback to keep growing our careers. So in the book there's a whole chapter on giving feedback with best practices of doing things like looking at the language you're using, and are you actually tying the feedback that you've giving someone to their performance? And to the impact they're having on a business?


Are you providing skill based suggestions about how they can grow their career that way? And, at the end of the day, are you writing reviews of roughly the same length for men and women, for all of your staff? Because that's one indicator that you might be skimping on the feedback, real easy thing to check.


Best Practice # For Being A Better Ally And Creating An Inclusive Workplace: Give Credit To An Idea’s Owner Publicly


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Nice. Well that's a very comprehensive best practice, thank you for sharing. Do you have another one?


Karen Catlin:                     Sure, pay attention to what happens in meetings. So much of tech and frankly any workplace is driven through meetings. And, in meetings there are a number of dynamics at play that really prevent people who are in the minority from speaking up and fully participating. Perhaps it's that they are interrupted, we've talked about that already.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Yep.


Karen Catlin:                     And number of reasons why that might happen, but if that is part of your culture, or perhaps there are some repeat offenders who interrupt frequently, that could be something you could be paying attention and stopping. It could be that the ideas are not being credited appropriately when women or people in minority positions are bringing them up.


It may be that someone's asking a question, like in a client meeting of what they, they asked the question to the person who they think is in the power position of the meeting. Probably a man, when really it should go to a woman. So redirect that question to well, you say something like, that question would be best answered by Poornima, the founder of Femgineer, like throw that question to the right person. So look for ways that you can create more inclusive meetings by just paying attention to these social cues that are happening.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Got it. So this is great in meetings, but I think sometimes we're not sure if we're doing it the right way. So is there a way we can solicit feedback from our peers, from our boss?


Karen Catlin:                     Yeah, why not use the back channel?


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     OK, yeah.


Karen Catlin:                     The back channel that's in any meeting, I mean we all use them right. The DM's or the text messages, private chats to just like touch base with people, like what did you think of that point they just made? Or did I clarify everything I should've clarified? We're constantly using the back channels, why not just ask people in the meeting that you trust, have someone DM you when you could've been a better ally, when you could've stood up for someone who was interrupted or had trouble making a point in the meeting, or whatever it is right. Use the back channel.


Best Practice #3 For Being A Better Ally And Creating An Inclusive Workplace: Saying No To Office Housework That Isn’t Your Job


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     OK. Your third best practice that you'd like to share with us.


Karen Catlin:                     Yeah, so the third one is I think I'll choose office housework. So office housework is the stuff that needs to happen in any office and it's no ones job really to get it done, and it's important work, but not really leading to business growth, career growth, and so forth. The classic example is taking the minutes at a meeting. When that's not your job.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     OK.


Karen Catlin:                     That's your job, that's not office housework, that's your job. But if it's no ones job and you just have called a meeting and someone needs to take the minutes, it often falls on the shoulder of a woman sitting around the table. The problem with that is the person taking the minutes is usually a step behind, so they're not participating in the meeting at full force so to speak, so they're being left out, their voice is counted as much. They're also put in a subservient position to maybe their peers who are sitting around the table, and that's not fair, and that might have longer impact right, well beyond the meeting.


So it's much better to set up a rotation.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Yeah. Actually did that at my second startup, yeah.


Karen Catlin:                     Excellent, so you were a great ally there. But office housework isn't just meeting minutes, it's also things like maybe it is someone's got to clean up all the comments in the code before we ship it off to our partner, or to make it open source, right. That important work needs to happen, but it doesn't really lead to career growth, right. It could be oh we need someone to mentor the intern again this summer, Susie did it the last five summers and she's awesome at it, right.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Right. Maybe Susie doesn't want to do it again, she wants to do something else, yeah.


Karen Catlin:                     Exactly, because the first time yeah maybe there's some career growth area, you learn to mentor, you learn to have that leadership skill, but the fifth time you've probably mastered it and maybe it's time to spread the wealth.


A Best Practice For Being A Better Ally In Your Community


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Yeah, that makes sense. So these three are great for inside your company, do you have maybe a couple best practices you would share for the community at large?


Karen Catlin:                     Sure, so I think we should think about our networks, the networks we build professionally. Our networks, and there's research on this too, that they become very homogenous, or just like me, because we meet people and hang out with people, and connect with people, and stay in touch with people who we share some common interest with, right. So it's not that that can't cross gender bounds, or racial bounds or anything like that, but we tend to have networks that are primarily just look like us.


So the impact of that is that then we only have people who are like us that we connect with opportunities, whether that is to get a new job, or to speak at an event, or some other career growing opportunity, right. We recommend people in our network. So the call to action here is diversify your network. The next time you're out at any kind of professional event, go say hello and introduce yourself to someone who does not look like you.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Yeah.


Karen Catlin:                     Whatever that means right. Start a conversation, see if you can't connect them with an opportunity, and reverse might happen to. So diversify our network I'd say is the first one. The second thing is, and this is such an important part of being an ally is, don't just be a bystander, or like I don't do these bad things, right. Be an upstander. When you see something bad happening, don't just like say that's not my problem, like say something, and see something, say something.


There is a story that was shared on Twitter just I think a week or two ago of a woman saying that one of the worst things that ever happened to her as a public speaker was that there's a man who asked a question during the Q&A and kind of demanded to know was she single, because he wanted to pursue things with her. And at the time, I mean I wish there had been an upstander in the audience who would just stand up and say basically, hey dude, we don't do that here.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Right.


Karen Catlin:                     That's all it takes, defuse it and put the guy in his place, and show some support for the woman.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Yeah. Well you remember when I was in Canada, I fortunately had a team that helped when I had a heckler in the audience, and just kindly took this gentleman outside, and I could kind of move on with my Q&A, so it helps to have those folks in your kind of corner.


Karen Catlin:                     Yes, absolutely.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     So be one of those people.


Karen Catlin:                     Be one of those people, yes.


Better Allies: Everyday Actions For Creating More Inclusive Engaging Workplaces


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     So I know we just scratched the surface. So tell us more about the upcoming book as well as how people in our audience can work with you.


Karen Catlin:                     Yeah, so the book is *Better Allies: Everyday Actions for Creating More Inclusive Engaging Workplaces*. And you can get in touch with me at, but I really encourage you to follow @betterallies on Twitter, or other social channels, we're on Instagram, Pinterest, and Medium as well. And there's a newsletter also so if you go to you can get the subscription link to the newsletter.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Wonderful, thank you.


Karen Catlin:                     Yeah, thank you.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     Well I can't wait to read Karen's book, and that's it for this episode of *Build*. Be sure to share this episode with your teammates, your friends, your boss, anyone who you think may be wanting to be an ally, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode. Ciao for now.


Dec 3, 2018

As the year comes to a close, you’re probably getting ready to attend a holiday party, maybe your company’s. And maybe you’re concerned about what to talk about with your teammates and boss. Diversity and inclusion may be hot buttons to stay clear of, especially with people scrutinizing practices and scoffing at the benefits.


But you know it’s important…so what can you talk about? How can you set your team and company up to see a change next year?




Wondering what it is and how to be a better ally? Well in today’s episode, we’ll cover what allyship is and how it can help you build a more inclusive company.


To help us out, I’ve invited Karen Catlin, co-author of Present! A Techie’s Guide To Public Speaking, a leadership coach, and an advocate for inclusive tech workplaces. You may recall seeing Karen in a few episodes from last year on mentorship.


I invited Karen back on to the show to talk about the work she has been doing coaching allies.


Given Karen’s rich career in tech spanning 25 years, she has a lot of experience to draw from, and it has inspired her to help others become better allies and create inclusive workplaces.


As you watch today’s episode, you’ll learn the following:


  • What an ally is and what allyship is
  • How people can develop an awareness for allyship
  • Why you don’t need to be a leader to be an ally in your company
  • Why men care about being an ally
  • How to spot or approach an ally to work for

Want to get in touch and learn more from Karen?


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


## How Being An Ally Can Help You Create An Inclusive Workplace Transcript


Poornima Vijayashanker:         You've probably read a number of headlines around discrimination in tech. Despite all of the diversity initiatives, it seems like change is pretty slow. So, what can we do to make change faster, both in our teams and our companies? Allyship. If you're not familiar with what allyship is, well, in today's *Build* episode we're gonna talk about it. So stay tuned.


Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode of *Build*, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. As you're well aware of, diversity is a hot topic today. There are a number of practices, but people are scoffing at their benefits and they're wondering if there can really be anything done in the near term.


Well, there is a new approach called allyship. In today's episode, we're gonna share how allyship can help you and your company. To help us out, I invited Karen Catlin. Karen is my co-author on our book, Present. Karen is also a leadership coach and an advocate for inclusive tech workplaces. In the episode today, we're gonna be talking about what allyship is, why it's important, and in the next episode, we'll be sharing some of the best practices that you can put in place every day.


Karen Catlin:                  Thanks so much for having me on the show again, Poornima.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Yeah.


Karen Catlin:                  It's great to be here.


Why Diversity And Inclusion Have Been On A Decline In Tech For Two More Than Two Decades


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Thanks for coming on. You've had a rich career in tech. Why don't you share with us what you've done, as well as problems you've experienced over that time?


Karen Catlin:                  Yeah, so I spent about 25 years working in tech. I started out as a software engineer writing code for a living, and over time moved into management roles, and eventually into executive leadership. Most recently, I was a VP of Engineering at Adobe Systems. During that time, I definitely saw this interesting thing happening where there was a decline happening in the number of women coming into the field. There's a lot of research that backs this up, but there are just fewer women studying computer science. Not that that's the only way you get into tech, but it is definitely a key way, here in Silicon Valley, to get into tech.


So, there's a decline happening with the number of women who are into the field, and at the same time, women leave tech at twice the rate of men at that mid-career point. As a result, over the 25 years that I spent working in tech, I really saw the impact. I saw that there were a lot fewer women around and less diversity in general.


Beliefs That Have Held Leaders Back From Creating An Inclusive Workplace


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Were there specific problems that maybe you incurred or you saw happening within the companies?


Karen Catlin:                  Yes. And I worked for some really good companies, so I don't wanna throw my companies under the bus that I used to work for at all. But I will say that most of the men I worked with really, firmly believed that their company was a meritocracy, that you got ahead based on your merits, that if you worked hard and did good work you'd be recognized and promoted. But the numbers just really didn't back that up. In any company there are more women in the entry level, and as you get up to the C level, it just declines like a pyramid. So, definitely there was something going on.


Personally, some of the things I witnessed...and I think this will resonate with a lot of women who are watching this, is something called bro-propriation where you say something in a meeting, as a woman, and it's a pretty good idea but it kinda falls on deaf ears, doesn't really go anywhere. And then in the same meeting, a little bit further on, somebody says the same thing, usually a guy because there's mostly men in the meetings. A guy says the same thing in the meeting, and gets all the credit. We call that bro-propriation, because a bro has appropriated your idea, of course. That happened to me so many times.


Examples of Unconscious Acts That Contribute To A Lack Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace


Then there's also this thing, and it still happens to this day, where people give me what is called an unconscious demotion. An unconscious demotion...I bet this has happened to you, too. You meet someone for the first time and you might say, "Oh yeah, I work in tech." And they say, "Do you work in HR or marketing?" That's an unconscious demotion. Nothing wrong with those fields at all, but if you're a woman who's already in a very male dominated field, like engineering, computer science, tech in general, it's like this yet another reinforcement that you don't belong there. That's just not cool.


It happened to me just a couple months ago. I was visiting my husband at his office and I met one of his new colleagues. Sure enough, he said, "What do you do?" I said, "Well, I used to work in tech, was VP at Adobe for a long time." And just told him something like that. And said, "Oh, well at Adobe, were you in marketing or HR?" I mean, literally, he said those words, and I just kind of...I wanted to punch him. But I ended up just sort of smiling and saying, "Actually, I was a VP of Engineering."


So those are just a couple examples of things I've seen. I could share some more, but I think you probably have some more questions you wanna get to.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Yeah, of course. It's unfortunate that you're experiencing this and seeing this happen inside of your companies and other companies. Were there things that you were also seeing in the community at large over the years?


Karen Catlin:                  Yes. Definitely started seeing...First of all, in support of women as well as other kinds of diversity, there's a lot of activity going on, a lot of conferences, a lot of discussions, a lot of research. All of that's great. And I'm starting to see men wanting to also really get involved and help with diversity initiatives, help support women in their companies, and so forth. I saw that first hand. I also saw it at places like the Grace Hopper Celebration.


The Grace Hopper Celebration...I mean, you and I know. We've been there a number of times—


Poornima Vijayashanker:         It's the largest technical conference for women.


The Origin Story of Better Allies: The Bingo Card At Grace Hopper 2014


Karen Catlin:                  Yes, exactly. In 2014, there was something called the Male Allies Panel. It was a panel of men who were leaders at their company, and talking about what they did for women in terms of allyship, to support them, to champion them, and so forth at their workplaces. Unfortunately kinda fell flat. It fell flat because ahead of time, some women were upset that men were taking up valuable stage time at this conference, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Sure. Yep.


Karen Catlin:                  Some women also were concerned that these men really weren't the best allies.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         OK.


Karen Catlin:                  So they created a bingo card. They created a bingo card of phrases they expected those men to be saying that would show exactly how far they still had to go to become real allies. They handed the bingo card out, right? And of course, during that panel, the men were saying different things and falling short, and the women were checking off those bingo squares and started yelling bingo at different points during the panel.


Now, when I heard about this...I wasn't at that panel, I sort of was following it on social media. When I heard about this, I sided with these poor men. These were actually good men, their hearts are in the right place. They wanna do the right thing. They just don't know exactly what women need. They certainly don't know what people of color need, or you put those together, women of color, and so forth. So, I see people wanting to do the right thing but not quite knowing what to do.


Why Diversity And Inclusion Initiatives Are Important Now More Than Ever                              


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Got it. Why is this even important, right? There's so many of these diversity initiatives that come out and benefits just are slow-coming or maybe not existent at all in some people's eyes. Why do you think this is important?


Karen Catlin:                  Yeah. First of all, especially in the whole me too era right now, you kinda hope that people just wanna do the right thing, and it feels maybe like a moral imperative to support people of all types of backgrounds. So you kinda hope that. But at the same time, there's so much research that shows that diverse companies are more economically profitable and successful, that there's better decision making, there's more innovation, there's better problem solving. It's so many benefits that have been proven in social science and economic research studies coupled with it's the right thing to do. Then you layer on top of all of that, there's a big talent shortfall in tech as well as across the whole United States in terms of we've got the lowest unemployment numbers in...I don't know, in a generation. So, we have a problem finding the talent to fill a position, so why wouldn't you want to cast the widest net possible?


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Yeah.


Karen Catlin:                  One more thing. Women can lean in all they want and all they can, but until we start changing our workplaces so that things that have always been done a certain way change, the women aren't going to be successful. We really need to start looking at our workplaces and changing our workplaces.


Why Workplaces Are Slow Or Resistant To Change And Embrace Allyship


Poornima Vijayashanker:         OK. What do you think is hindering that change?


Karen Catlin:                  There are a couple of reasons. I would say one is this is the way we've always done it. Why would we bother changing? An example of that is, well, I've always hired the best people for my network. Why would I go outside of my network? Well, if you don't go outside your network, and your network is your best buds, people who are probably just like you, you're gonna continue hiring people who are just like you and you're gonna have homogenous hiring, right?


So, if we've always done it that way, maybe that's something that's holding us back. Another is that there might be concerns that we are taking away something from men who are in positions of privilege right now, right? If we hire more women or people of color or whatever underrepresented minority you wanna fill in the blank there, if we hire more of those people, there's gonna be less opportunity for me. That's not exactly a growth mindset. If you think about hiring the best people, assembling the best team, the pie and the opportunities are just going to expand and there's gonna be larger slices for everyone as a result. That's another thing that's holding people back.


The third, I'll say, is that there's just, at times, a lack of awareness. Unless you're living these situations of being interrupted or having your ideas appropriated and so on, and so on, you just might not be aware it's happened to other people. You might not be aware that...even walking around a trade show floor and seeing maybe a sexy pinup image on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker or something, or a laptop sticker even, you might just think oh, that's sort of funny, not thinking about how a woman might feel is she sees such a sexualized image on a conference swag giveaway. So I think that we need to raise awareness as well.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         What drew you into this?


Karen Catlin:                  What drew me into this is this desire, especially after hearing about the bingo card in, at the Grace Hopper panel of all the male allies, that, coupled with just hearing from man after man that I would just be talking to, maybe casually, or coaching, men really being curious of how can I help here, I really do care about diversity. I wanna create a diverse workforce. I wanna work with all kinds of people. I care. I'm a good person. But what am I supposed to do? There really seemed to be this desire without the information.


Why Karen Catlin Decided To Become Coach Others Into Becoming Better Allies


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Why did you decide to embark on this mission?


Karen Catlin:                  I decided to embark on the mission because I felt like I couldn't not get involved. I really felt like I had a unique perspective. I had been working in tech for 25 years. I understood this industry. I also had this desire to really help make the industry more diverse. I really wanted to have an impact.


I started tweeting. After that Grace Hopper conference, I started a Twitter handle called @BetterAllies. I started tweeting answers to this question of what am I supposed to do, and simply talking about here are some simple, everyday actions you can take as an ally to be better for people of all sorts of underrepresented groups in tech.


So I started the Twitter handle. Then I started a newsletter and started getting some really positive feedback from both of those channels. People say Twitter is just a cesspool and everything, but I actually have fan tweets that I get.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Nice.


Karen Catlin:                  People like my content. So I got positive reinforcement there. My newsletter is growing like gangbusters, so super happy about that. Again, positive reinforcement. I just decided recently that I had to write a book on the topic, too. I had to take the best of what I learned on Twitter, through what I've been tweeting as well as the reinforcement I was getting there, and the content from my newsletter, and create a book for people to be better allies.


What Is An Ally And What Is Allyship


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Let's dig into what allyship is. What is an ally, and then what's allyship after that?


Karen Catlin:                  Yeah. So, an ally is someone who uses their position of privilege to help someone who has less privilege. So, in tech, that typically is a white, straight, CIS man who has a lot of privilege. They can use that position of privilege to help others. They can do that by doing things like mentoring, sponsoring, championing, speaking out on behalf of them, looking for opportunities, connecting them to different opportunities, being just somebody who's an all around good person, but not just sitting still, not just not being a bad person, but actually taking action to help promote other people.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Got it. So taking initiative.


Karen Catlin:                  Taking initiative, yes.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         You already touched on this, but who can be an ally besides the straight, white male?


Why You Don’t Need To Be A Leader To Be An Ally In Your Company


Karen Catlin:                  Definitely. So, allyship is not limited at all. That's the beauty, it's anybody can be an ally. You can be a leader at your company. In fact, I'll share a quick story about a leader that was my manager, a senior vice president at one point in my career. I still remember this time. I had just started working for him. I was new to the company, and I was in a very senior meeting with him. I heard him say, "Well, what I learn from Karen is the following." And then he said something.


I thought at the time, first of all, I didn't say those exact words. So he took what I had shared with him in a one-on-one earlier and reframed it in the company speak. So he taught me how to speak the language as a result. But also, what a shout out he gave me. What he, the SVP, learned from me, was the following. So that's a great example of how a leader who has a lot of cred within the organization can be an ally.


But an individual contributor can be an ally, too. An individual contributor sitting in a meeting and noticing someone might keep interrupting another person, might just pull them aside later and say, "Hey, dude, do you know you interrupt a lot?" And just raise awareness. So it's really a job for everybody.


Why Men Do Care About Being An Ally


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Yeah. I know we're gonna go into more best practices. Thank you for sharing those. I also know that there may be some people in our audience or just wondering are men really interested in this and questioning if they really care. Maybe you can share from your experience.


Karen Catlin:                  I'm sure there's some men who don't care, and that's fine. But there are so many men who do care. I get emails from people, they don't even know who I am. They're just emailing to or DM'ing the Better Allies handle, and they're asking for advice. They're asking for advice about...well, with everything that just recently happened around Judge Kavanaugh and the hearings there, how do I actually support women at my workplace who might be feeling upset about the way that Dr. Ford was treated? I'm getting emails, and messages, and questions of things like well, I just got this great job and I'm thinking about taking it, but hiring me is like the opposite of improving diversity, 'cause I'm a white guy and I really care about working at a diverse company that values that, so help me...Should I take the job? And the answer was yes. If you want the job, take it and go in and be an ally and a champion for diversity from your position of privilege.


So, I hear about that. I get questions of just how can I...I want to respect women I work with. Is it cool to invite them out for coffee, for a one-on-one, just to get out of the office. Can I do that? So, there are so many men who are thinking about this very thoughtfully and really want to make sure that they are being supportive and doing the right thing.


How People Can Develop An Awareness For Allyship


Poornima Vijayashanker:         That brings up a good point, that you wanna be well-received should you choose to become an ally. How can people develop an awareness and make sure they're headed in the right direction?


Karen Catlin:                  Here's what not to do. What not to do is to assume you're the knight in shining armor riding in to save the underrepresented person from whatever-


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Princess, yeah.


Karen Catlin:                  The princess, whatever. Because there are a lot of women who don't need to be saved, frankly, and don't want to be saved and so forth. And so, instead, what I recommend you do to make sure that you're having the right kind of impact, is look for systemic changes as opposed to one off changes where you are maybe just saving the day. What I mean by that is, let's say you notice that someone on your staff is being substantially underpaid for her grade level. You could make just that fix, potentially, if you have the budget and assuming you have control over their salary. You could change the budget for that one person, her compensation.


But better is to look more holistically at your department or the company and request that a salary review be done by gender and perhaps by other minority kind of aspects, such as race, or sexual orientation, and so forth. But make a systemic change, not just a one off. So that's something that’s a best practice to follow.


How To Spot Or Approach An Ally To Work For


Poornima Vijayashanker:         For our audience out there who maybe want to work for an ally, how can they approach and spot one.


Karen Catlin:                  If you are thinking about in an interview setting, like let's say you're going to a company you wanna be working for, someone who is going to be a good ally for you, perhaps your manager, or perhaps coworkers, during that whole interview process, you can literally just ask them. It's like, so what have you done to support a diverse, inclusive workplace here? Just ask them to give you some examples. And then I think you'll be in a pretty good situation for seeing whether or not they're going to be the kind of allies you want them to be.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Well, thank you for coming on the show, Karen, and sharing what allyship is. I can't wait to read your upcoming book. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about it.


Karen Catlin:                  The title of the book is Better Allies: Everyday Actions for Creating Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces. It's coming out early 2019.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Now, Karen and I want to know if you've acted as an ally inside of your company, what did you do and what was the impact that you experienced. Share it with us in the comments below this video.


That's it for this week's episode of *Build*. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode where we're gonna be diving into more best practices for becoming an ally. Ciao for now.

Nov 12, 2018

Last week on Build, we shared why it instead of rebuilding or redesigning an existing product, it might make sense to build a brand new product, and we walked you through how some folks on the Pivotal Tracker team arrived at their decision.


When you start building a new product, you have the best of intentions to revise old processes and move away from bad habits. But it’s easier said than done. So this week we’re going to share some best practices for keeping a new product on track!


And to help us out Lisa Doan and Vera Reynolds are back! You’ll recall Lisa is a product manager at Pivotal Tracker, and Vera is a software engineer at Pivotal Tracker.


As you listen to today’s episode you’ll learn the following:


  • Why it’s important to set a mission and vision for a product and what happens when you don’t
  • What being user-centric looks like in practice
  • How to create a balanced team and have members weight in on decisions during planning meetings
  • How to hold yourself and your team accountable inside a larger organization
  • How to remind people of best practices
  • How to go about testing a new product


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


## 5 Best Practices For Keeping A New Product On Track Transcript


Poornima Vijayashanker: In the last episode of *Build*, we talked about why, instead of doing a rebuild, or a redesign, it may make sense to build a brand new product for your company. If you missed that episode, I've included a link to it below this video.


In today's episode, we're gonna dive into some of the best practices for keeping that new product on track. So, stay tuned.


Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode of *Build*, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions, related to building the products, companies, and your career in tech.


In today's episode, we're gonna be sharing a number of best practices to keep a new product on track, as you're building it, and to help us out, I've invited Lisa Doan, who is a Product Manager at Pivotal Tracker, as well as, Vera Reynolds, who is a Software Engineer.


Thanks for coming back on the show, Ladies.


Lisa Doan:  Thanks. Happy to be here.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. Let's do a quick recap from the last episode on why you decided, instead of doing a rebuild or a redesign, to build a new product.


Vera Reynolds: Yeah. So, initially we thought we were just gonna rebuild Tracker, and when we went out in to the world, we realized that the problem space was just way too big and that net was cast too wide and so we need to follow the pain and find what were the most effective things we solve for our users. You have to understand that Tracker does what it does well. They are other competitors, absolutely, I'm not here to toot my own horn but it's a pretty good product. And so we found that there are other problem spaces that we could talk that are adjacent to Tracker that could complement it in a nice way and so that's we ended up where we are.


Poornima Vijayashanker: OK, so whenever we have the chance to build something brand new we want to start with the best practices, new best practices. I'm sure you've both experience this as well as you were assembling your team. What were some best practices and how did you go about learning them.


Lisa Doan:  So on the product side we had to adopt a lot of new practices. So when Tracker was built back in 2006, product was less of a thing but since then, things like lean startup have emerged, lean product, user centered design and we needed to catch up on those things. And so we brought in an innovation coach who helped us learn how to do experiments and really think about product in a lean fashion. And so we've been doing a lot of practices around that.


Poornima Vijayashanker: And I remember in the last episode you talked about how your innovation coach also helped you with a mission and a vision


Lisa Doan:  Yeah.


Best Practice #1: Set a Mission And Vision For Your Product


Poornima Vijayashanker: So how did that come about or what did that look like?


Lisa Doan:  Sure, so when she arrived we had been doing endless research and so she recognized that we were paralyzed and that the first thing we needed to do was pick a direction and that's what the mission and vision were tools to help us do. Where they came from is, the designer and myself had done plenty of research in the years prior about what the major problems our users were facing on Tracker. And so we had a couple ideas of what we wanted to address with the new tool and so those were incorporated during a workshop where everybody on the team was throwing out their ideas and what they wanted this new tool to be, how they wanted to solve problems for users. And after, I think a whole morning of just workshopping it over and over we finally arrived at a mission that everybody could really agree on.


Poornima Vijayashanker:                     So what was the mission that came out of this?


Vera Reynolds:                I'm gonna paraphrase it a little bit. Our missions to empower individual contributors on a team to align around shared goals.


Best Practice #2: What Being User-Centric Really Looks Like


Poornima Vijayashanker: So I've heard you through around user centric a lot. It seems like it's a new direction that you're going in. How is this different from what you were doing before with agile.


Lisa Doan:  Tracker was born by engineers for engineers and for the majority of our span as a team, we've been a very engineering centered. A lot of our leadership is former engineers who worked on the project. All of our product manager back in the day were extremely technical. I was the least technical PM and I have a degree in computer science. And so we always had this mindset of doing the best engineering possible but we were less focused than we should have been on what our user needs were and that's been a huge cultural shift that we've tried to instigate with our new team, which is, let’s think about the user first. Let's always question why we would build something before we build and that's a muscle that we've really had to really grow and exercise a lot is, rather than just coming up with an idea and just immediately building it is, let's go make sure this solves the user problems, validate that the user actually has this problem. And just really having a discipline around that.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Is that because the user is different so maybe you're not dogfooding it as much as a builder.


Vera Reynolds: We do actually dog food our current product. So that was one of the first, we were our own first user and I do think that helps with keeping that front of mind, but as an engineer, I've always been getting used to getting candid stories, not so much asking about why we were doing it. It may have been my experience but from what we've learned from our users, that's not unique and there's not necessarily anything wrong with that, however we feel like a balanced team where everybody is involved and has is user centric to pull it up again, provides the better product.


Best Practice #3: How To Create A Balanced Team And Have Members Weigh In On Decisions During Planning Meetings


Poornima Vijayashanker: So let's talk about those balanced teams next 'cause I think that's the thing that's new to right, in your approach. What's a balanced team.


Lisa Doan:  So we like to think about it in terms of three spheres of influence, and so you have a sphere that's very concerned with the user, and so typically that falls to a designer. And then we have the sphere that's concerned with the business and so typically the product manager has been responsible for that. And then we have the engineering side, who's concerned about, usability, who's concerned about building, using the best patterns. And so balanced team isn't about specific roles and filling them but it's that, at any given time someone can weigh in for each of those spheres. And so at some point, whenever you're making a key decision, someone should be able to represent the user, someone should be able to represent the business and someone should be able to think about technical fusibility and the engineering impact of that.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Got it. So as you're moving forward and building this product, you have each of those spheres weighing in on the decision.


Lisa Doan:  Sure, an example of that is when we go to IPM stories, and we're-


Poornima Vijayashanker: What's IPM?


Lisa Doan:  Iteration planning meeting.


Poornima Vijayashanker: OK.


Lisa Doan:  And so as a team will go through the stories that are coming up next and talk about any concerns that we might have. A good example of that now is, sometimes I'll bring a story to the team, and the engineers are capable of challenging me and saying OK, what is the evidence that we should actually build this. Whereas before the engineers were like, "OK, we'll build it." But there wasn't that conversation about what is this actually doing for the user. So it has great impact that we see.


Best Practice #4: How To Hold Yourself And Your Team Accountable Inside A Larger Organization


Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. So while you are a new team you have assembled, you're still operating in a bigger organization. But I know your goal was to stay more startupy and the best startups are always keeping an eye on time as well as money. So how did you hold yourselves accountable?


Lisa Doan:  When we first started we...this was a huge challenge for us. We went out and started to do research, but it became this endless research thing and there was no one asking us...well people were asking us when are you gonna build, but we couldn't tell them. We had no idea. Everything was just so vague and open at that point and so we introduced a concept, which I believe comes from the lean startup of metered funding. And so in the startup world, you're only alive as long as the money is there and so you're always trying to convince your investors that they should continue to give you funding. In the enterprise world that doesn't really exist. You have a team, there is funding for you already, and so you just continue using that and there isn't anyone whose making sure that you're making good on it. And so we introduced what we call a growth board. And so we have some stakeholders within Pivotal across different business organizations who will meet with us every six weeks and will hold us accountable to our learning. And so every six weeks we show up and we say this is what we learned and that's how it's affecting our direction. And they make the decision on whether we should pivot, persevere or kill the product.


How To Remind People Of Best Practices


Poornima Vijayashanker: So it's great that you're following this framework of pivot, persevere and kill, but let's get real here. I'm sure there was a time where you felt like, "Is there  ever gonna be a light at the end of the tunnel?" And if so how did you reinforce or remind people of these best practices?


Vera Reynolds: Oh yes, there were times. And I haven't been with the team for as long as Lisa has so I'm sure she has even more times that she can conjure up, but for me there were definitely moments where I questioned what we were doing, I questioned why we were doing it and that's where that balanced team really shone because it wasn't just me from my engineering perspective. It was having those question, I think having designers, PMs and testers with us was really...we were up lifting each other and helping each other move along and get through those tough spots.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Lisa, anything you wanna add to that?


Lisa Doan:  Yeah, there were definitely a lot of times where we were just really

concerned about, is this even the right direction? What are we doing? There was so much ambiguity and that's an extremely uncomfortable place for many of use. The place we came from is, we thought of features and then we built them and there was this security in it. And the new world we were in is, let's go find problems, let's validate those problems. And the practices were new, it was a huge cultural shift. You're asking people to do things that are outside of their role. And so there was a lot of just stress for the early months and just trying to figure out, is this even viable? Are we even doing the right thing? Was this all just a mistake?


Poornima Vijayashanker: And so how did you put that team together?


Lisa Doan:  Well like Vera said, we had great people on our team and we still do and we hold each other accountable to our learnings. And so fortunately having all these different perspectives can bring a lot of light. And so sometimes as a PM, if I'm very down about something then the engineers can bring a point like, "Oh but the user said this in this one user interview." Which is something we never had before.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Oh, cool.


Lisa Doan:  But now they're involved and they can bring up just as much evidence as I can and it's extremely helpful when times get difficult.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. So it's having another, basically set of eyes and ears to pinpoint things that might have gotten overlooked. That's awesome. I know you're currently in beta, but let's switch gears and talk about some of the positive outcomes that have resulted from doing this new product.


Lisa Doan:  Absolutely. We've seen a tremendous cultural shift, not just in our team but across the broader Tracker team as well. And so as I mentioned, we came from a veery engineering centric place and so we started to see the other teams start to adopt a lot of lean practices as well. Another huge benefit is, as soon as people started to see us start to get momentum they saw that it was directly related to having a vision and mission. And so now those teams have also gone out and established their own vision and mission which is helping to drive their futures forward and their work forward as well.


How To Keep Stakeholders Involved


Poornima Vijayashanker: And last time we talked about stakeholders. So coming full circle, how do they feel about this?


Lisa Doan:  They're really excited. Our growth board is really enthusiastic and supportive of us. They're also able to connect us to different parts of the organization, and so we've seen tremendous outreach from different parts of Pivotal that are very interested in what we're doing and very excited to join and help us. And so that's been a wonderful outcome of ours so far.


Vera Reynolds: They still keep us on our toes.


Lisa Doan:  Yeah.


Vera Reynolds: It's good to have that positive energy.


Best Practice #5: How To Go About Testing A Brand New Product


Poornima Vijayashanker: I know you're in a beta phase right now. How are you going about testing?


Lisa Doan:  One example I can give, is just last week an engineer and I, we walked over to someone on a different team and we asked them to use our tool, and we sat there and we observed them going through the various steps, and just cringing as they get to steps that are like, "Ooh we gotta clean that up, we gotta fix that." But also seeing that it helped them in their day to day jobs and that was really exciting.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, so doing some usability testing.


Lisa Doan:  Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker: OK. Anything else?


Lisa Doan:  We're continuing to do evaluative research and so that's making sure that they're not just on our very specific persona, but we're validation that the problem exists beyond just that persona and how we can potentially solve for various scenarios.


Poornima Vijayashanker: I know we've covered a lot and there's probably a lot more we can talk about when it comes to new products and staying on track. What's one thing you would love our audience to just always remember.


Vera Reynolds: I would just say if you're engineers, question what you're building and question your PMs.


Poornima Vijayashanker: No that's great. Alright well thank you both, Lisa and Vera for coming on the show and sharing some of these awesome best practices.


Lisa Doan:  Thanks for having us.


Vera Reynolds: Thank you.


Poornima Vijayashanker: You’re welcome.


Well that's it for today's episode of *Build*. Be sure to share this episode with your friends, your teammates, and your boss and subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive more episodes of *Build*. Ciao for now!

Nov 5, 2018

Happy November!


November is one of my favorite months mostly because I love Thanksgiving. Last year I had a wonderful time celebrating it with Meghan Burgain, Femgineer’s Community Manager in Bordeaux, France. We had a Frenchgiving, and had the opportunity to share how Meghan works remotely.


This November we’re going to be tackling a new theme on Build: building a brand new product.


If you’ve been building a product for a while, you know it’s natural to start accruing tech debt and product debt. And there comes a point where it becomes really hard to add new features without paying down the debt through rebuilding or redesigning the product.


However, there may come a point where neither of those makes sense, and you may be evaluating building a brand new product.


The Pivotal Tracker team recently did this. In today’s episode, Lisa Doan, who is a product manager for Pivotal Tracker and Vera Reynolds, who is a software engineer for Pivotal Tracker, are going to walk you through how they came to the decision to build a brand new product.


As you listen to today’s episode you’ll learn:


  • What spurred the conversation to consider building a new product
  • Why the team chose not to redesign or rebuild the existing product
  • What the team did to identify the problem it was solved with the new product
  • Why the team held off on coding and building and what they did instead
  • Why software engineers benefit from being involved in the research phase of a brand new product
  • How to recruit new teammates to help build, and identify knowledge gaps


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


## Why Build A Brand New Product Instead Of Rebuilding Or Redesigning One Transcript


Poornima Vijayashanker: It can be really tempting to want to redesign or rebuild a product that's been around for a while. But often, it's much more of an undertaking to do that redesign and rebuild, and it can be easier to instead build a brand new product. The Pivotal Tracker team had to do this recently and in today's episode. they're going to share how they evaluated building a brand new product. So, stay tuned.


Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode of *Build*, innovators and I debug a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies and your career in tech. When you've been building a product for a while, it's natural that you start to see tech debt and product debt accrue to a point where it backs you into a corner and it's really hard to add new features without rebuilding or redesigning it.


But at some point, it may not make sense to keep adding to that product and instead, you may want to build a brand new product. In today's episode, we're going to dive into why you may decide to build a brand new product instead of redesigning or rebuilding your existing one. To help us out, I've invited two lovely ladies from the Pivotal Tracker team. Lisa Doan, who is a product manager for Pivotal Tracker as well as Vera Reynolds who is a software engineer on their team. Thanks for coming on the show you two.


Vera Reynolds: Thank you for having us.


Lisa Doan: Yeah, thank you so much.


Poornima Vijayashanker: I know that Pivotal Tracker now has been around for over 10 years, has over 100,000 active users and there's just been a lot of features, and a lot that you've accomplished in the past 12 years. And so, adding to it might have been a challenge and that's why you decided to go a slightly different direction.


What Spurred The Desire To Re-Evaluate The Product


But before we even go and talk about that new direction, let's talk about what even caused this to happen. Let's get in a time machine, go back in time. What spurred the change for a different direction?


Lisa Doan:  It was really a confluence of a lot of different things happening all at once. On the product side as a team, we were frustrated because we weren't able to really deliver major features that our customers had asked for. On the engineering side there was a lot of tech debt, and a lot of frustration working in the code base. And on the customer side, there was also a lot of frustration that we hadn't really put out major features in a long time and our product had somewhat stagnated.


All of that led to us realizing that we needed to do something big, but there were so many things in our way that we wanted to deal with. That's kind of what led to the origin of our project.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Can you give us a timeline, like roughly when did that start?


Lisa Doan:  I think as a team we started to recognize about a year ago that something big needed to happen. It's just been a gradual process since then.


Signs That The Product Needs To Change


Poornima Vijayashanker: Looking back, can you point to maybe a cause or several causes that led to the product starting to decline?


Lisa Doan:  Sure. The product was actually born out of an internal team. Pivotal itself started as a consultancy. Back in 2006, there wasn't a great backlog management tool, and so the engineers built one that suited their needs. But because of that, Tracker was always a bit of an accidental product. We built it for our own needs. But, clients would then ask to take it home after engagements and then it just grew virally there.


Because of this, we never really had a clear mission or vision. It was just something that we built that we had a problem and then we solved for. That over time became a problem because we added all these different customers, but they had varying problems and we didn't have anything to pin our work too. We didn't have a strong opinion on which direction we should take the product so that led to lots of different features that were kind of scattered in how they addressed user problem.


Why Choose NOT To Redesign Or Rebuild A Product


Poornima Vijayashanker: I know in the next episode we're going to talk a lot about how you changed your engineering and your product team's whole process, so we'll pause on that. What I want to talk about now is why you decided against redesigning and rebuilding Pivotal Tracker.


Lisa Doan:  In maybe October of last year, as a group we had finally realized that we were at this point that we needed to make a big call on something and the initial thought was like, yeah, let's just rebuild. it's just so much easier, the code base is so challenging. No one wants to work in it anymore. Because it was an accidental product, there was never a strong architectural vision so it was all sorts of different tech stacks everywhere.


So, we decided that we were going to have this team go out and they would re-envision Tracker. We even called it Tracker, but Better. Really quickly we realized that wasn't such a great idea. Tracker was built for a specific problem, which is backlog management. That was the problem in 2006.


But here in 2018, the problems are different. There are lots of different backlog management tools that any team can choose and tailored to their specific needs, and Tracker has kind of falling behind on some of those things. At the same time, the problem that all of our customers have is around knowing what to build.


Teams now know how to build software pretty well and there are lots of tools they can choose from, but how do they choose the right product to build? Tracker doesn't solve for that in any way at all.


Two Paths: Maintaining The Existing Product And Building A Brand New One


Poornima Vijayashanker: So, you make the decision that you're going to build a new product, and the Pivotal Tracker team is going to continue building that because there are two different needs, kind of two different missions and visions. Let's dive into what happens next with the new product.


Lisa Doan:  One of the goals for our team was to go back and reconnect and realign with a larger organization. Tracker kind of had its own destiny within Pivotal, and we wanted to make sure that both Tracker and whatever initiative we started with our team were more aligned with Pivotal. One thing we did is, we went back and talked to our leadership and we talk to other users within the organization to make sure that we were following their pain and solving the right problems for them, whether it's within Tracker or within your products.


Poornima Vijayashanker: You're at a point now where Tracker is continuing to be built by a team. You form a new team to discover what this new product is going to have in it.


Lisa Doan:  Sure.


Identifying THE Problem To Solve


Poornima Vijayashanker: So, what are some next steps?


Lisa Doan:  From Tracker, we knew there was a big space of problems that our users were dealing with, and so we wanted to really dig into that. Another goal that we had was bringing our team closer to the Pivotal Organization. Overtime, Tracker had sort of become a silo on its own, so part of our team's goal was to reconnect with the broader organization and make sure our product is aligned with that.


So we went out and talked to various stakeholders. We talked to the CEO, we talked to the leadership in cloud and R&D and understood where they think the business is going and how we could support that. We had to rebuild a lot of those bridges, but it's been extremely valuable because they provide us input that we didn't have previously that helps guide us in terms of the decisions we make when we're building this new product.


Poornima Vijayashanker: What became the focus of this new product?


Vera Reynolds: To get a little meta, we've been using Tracker to develop Tracker. It's a great tool, and it allows teams to go fast. However, what it doesn't help with his direction. One thing we've noticed is that we as a larger Tracker team have been going fast for a while, but we've been struggling with direction. That's the problem space we're trying to solve with the new product, east to compliment Tracker in a way that allows you to find that direction and continue on it.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Got It. So you're now in a new problem space. Then, did you start getting your hands dirty? Did you start writing code? What's the next thing that you did after that after you defined the problem space?


What To Do Before Coding And Building A Brand New Product


Vera Reynolds: We did a lot of research. I say that kind of tongue in cheek a little bit...


Poornima Vijayashanker: How many months?


Vera Reynolds: I'm an engineer, so it was a learning experience to put it mildly.


Poornima Vijayashanker: How many months of research do you think you did?


Vera Reynolds: We did about four months. Is that right?


Lisa Doan:  Yeah.


How To Experiment Before Building And Coding


Poornima Vijayashanker: A lot of the time that you were doing these, were you also running experiments or something else?


Vera Reynolds: Yeah. We actually had a Lean startup coach that worked with us for some time. She really helped us understand those practices because there was a lot of paralysis early on. As we started exploring this new problem space, there was just so much that we, not hadn't thought of, but we hadn't seen eye to eye for a while. There was a lot of things we could solve, and you get a little bit distracted like a dog and a pavilion of squirrels or something.


So, our coach really helped us develop a practice where we create experiments, like you said, we talked to users and we had really a defined assumption so we're trying to debunk, or prove. We did about 30, I think, experiments before we started building. So, we took it really serious.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Wow, 30 experiments. What did these look like?


Lisa Doan:  There's a huge range. We did a lot of generative interviews where we just sit down and talk with customers. We've also generated prototypes, put those in front of customers and see how they interact with them. We've also done fun things like feature fakes and experiments with the existing products to get a feel for what our customers are really looking for.


How A Feature Fake Can Help


Poornima Vijayashanker: What's a feature fake?


Lisa Doan:  A feature fake is where you build the facade of a feature and you present it to your users as if it's a real thing, and then see how they interact with it. If they like it; and then you gather feedback around that to see whether or not they had a positive experience or if that's something they might be interested in before you actually do any of the work to build it for real.


Poornima Vijayashanker: After 30 experiments, I'm sure you uncovered a lot. How do you decide to whittle things down?


Vera Reynolds: Some of the things we've done came from Pivotal Labs like discovery, framing and inception, those are early stage meetings that help you scope your work and decide what you're going to build. You have to remember, we were still in that phase of research and we were always trying to keep each other accountable about not building things prematurely and not building too much. We use those practices and we had a meeting where we wrote just the bare minimum stories we needed to accomplish in order to have an MVP and started there.


How To Pare Down Customer Insights And Scope A Prototype


Poornima Vijayashanker: After 30 experiments, I'm sure you've got a lot of customer insight. How do you whittle that down?


Vera Reynolds: As part of every experiment, we wanted to end on a headline or major learnings and pain points that our users needed to be fixed. That kind of gave us a list that we could start with. We started there and wrote down features. We actually aren't continuing experimenting as we're building. We're validating prototypes and making sure we're only building the minimum things and only building what we need.


How To Handle Knowledge Gaps On The Team


Poornima Vijayashanker: Got It. Did you ever run into knowledge gaps where people on your team didn't know?


Vera Reynolds: Yes, yes we did.


Lisa Doan:  So many knowledge gaps.


Vera Reynolds: Pivotal Tracker is a very engineer-centric team. For better or worse, and I think there are strong engineer practices, but I've never had done user research until this team so there was a lot of knowledge gaps there for sure. For me as an engineer, and I'm sure Lisa can agree as well with Lean practices and experimenting fast and focused learning, things like that.


How To Assemble A Team To Build A New Product


Poornima Vijayashanker: Got It. How did you go about assembling your team together because I know like you said, you had your Tracker team and then there was a new team together. How did that come about?


Lisa Doan:  Where we were in the beginning of the years is, we were still believing that we were going to rebuild Tracker at the time. And so, moving forward with a new product we knew we needed people on the team who were willing to step out of their roles a little bit. We knew we had to step into this big body of research. We also had so many engineers on the Tracker team that we also wanted to keep involved in and teach some of the practices.


So, we added engineers on our team in addition to myself and a designer. Engineers who are very empathetic, who care a lot about building features that users care about and love. That was something we definitely look for when we were adding people to our team.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Let's talk about how you assembled your team because you mentioned there was the Tracker team and now you have a new team for a new product.


Characteristics To Look For In Teammates


Lisa Doan:  We were pulling from the original a Tracker team. But going into the new product, we knew there was a huge body of research that had to be undertaken. So when we were assembling the team, we were looking for people who are extremely empathetic and could really dig into...Would be willing to adopt some of the skills that we were lacking on the team. Things like user research, talking to customers. So, we looked for engineers, testers, designers and PMs who were very focused on understanding the user's problems and then trying to iterate our way towards a product for those people.


Poornima Vijayashanker: To recap, you have a conversation at the beginning of last year or some point last year where you decide you're going to build a new product, you go out dialing to stakeholders, and then from there you decided, OK, we're going to assemble a team, fill in knowledge gaps. What happens after all of that? You start building?


Vera Reynolds: Eventually. Like I said, it took about 30 experiments to get to the point where we started building, but it was a happy day. It was a happy day on the team. We started building around June, and we have just recently began rolling out our MVP. So, it's a pretty exciting time.


The Importance Of Having A Mission And Vision


Lisa Doan:  One major thing that we haven't talked about yet that was critical to our success so far is that we had to come up with a mission and vision. Prior to having that, we were just sent out into the world with this idea of we're going to re-envision Tracker, but that's so broad. That's such a huge space. Tracker has 100,000 users and they're all across the board. They could be just a small startup team, it could be multiple enterprise teams that are using this product.


So, it was extremely difficult to know where to start. And because of that, we ended up in a place of paralysis because it's like, do we attack this problem, that problem? Who knows? We ended up spinning for a while, so when our innovation coach arrived, that's the first thing she noticed. The first thing she went about doing is getting us to agree on a mission and vision.


That was really a huge turning point for us because whenever we can make a decision, we would bounce it against that and ask, is this in service of our mission? If not, then we would have to readdress it, otherwise we felt comfortable moving forward. That really started the ball rolling, is just having something to point at and agree on that this is what we're choosing to focus on.


Why Software  Engineers Need To Be Involved In Tasks Aside From Coding


Poornima Vijayashanker: Was there anything else that you you needed to do before you could start actually coding?


Vera Reynolds: I think the important part was to not head down into coding and not come up for air. We are trying to keep engineers involved in research, continue to spin a that track and not go off and just build. I think that's the most important thing to remember for us now.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Is there anything else that you did before you dug into building and writing code?


Vera Reynolds: Not really, that was about it. However, we were all trying to remind each other to be mindful of not go on the rails of building and start going fast as we did previously on Tracker, and really be mindful of that user-centric value.


Poornima Vijayashanker: I know we're going to share a lot of these best practices in the next episode, so I'm going to end it here. Thank you both for coming and sharing how you decided to go and build this new product instead of doing a rebuild or redesign.


Vera Reynolds: Thanks for having us.


Lisa Doan:  Yeah, thank you.


Poornima Vijayashanker: Now I want to know, are you thinking about doing a rebuild, redesign, or maybe building a brand new product? If so, what's been your approach? Let me know in the comments below this video. That's it for today's episode of *Build*. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode where we're going to go into more detail around how to keep a new product on track. Ciao for now!

Oct 9, 2018

In last week's Build episode, we talked about why if somebody doesn't understand your explanation for a technical concept, it's not OK to just tell them to look it up or Google it. We also covered the effects of doing this, the main one being that you don’t come off as someone who is credible!


In today's episode, we're going to dive into the specific tactics for how you can explain abstract technical concepts to an audience of either lay people or one that may be a little bit more advanced.


Anne Janzer is back to help us out. Anne is a prolific author and recently published Writing To Be Understood: What Works and Why.


Here’s what you’ll learn as you listen to today’s episode:

  • What things we need to take extra time to explain
  • How to gauge your audience’s level
  • How to handle mixed audiences and explain in a way that is inclusive
  • How to avoid “dumbing down” an explanation
  • Why writing out an explanation is harder than sharing it verbally
  • How to pick analogies that are going to resonate with your audience
  • Which contexts to apply these techniques to


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


# 3 Techniques To Improve Your Explanations And Be Understood Transcript


Poornima Vijayashanker:           In the previous episode of Build, we talked about why if somebody doesn't understand your explanation for a technical concept, it's not okay to just tell them to look it up or Google it, and if you missed the episode and the reasons why it's important for you to explain, then I've included a link to it below. In today's episode, we're going to dive into the specific tactics for how you can explain abstract technical concepts to an audience of either lay people or one that may be a little bit more advanced. So, stay tuned.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           (pause)


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. Now, we've been talking about the importance of breaking down abstract technical concepts as the person explaining them. In the last episode, we uncovered why it's important as the explainer to take the time to explain things in a way that your audience is going to understand.


In today's episode, we're going to dive a little bit deeper to give you specific tactics that you can use the next time you're presented with having to communicate something to a teammate or to a lay audience.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           And to help us out, Anne Janzer is back. She is the author of a number of books that range on topics from writing to marketing, and she's kind of a cognitive science geek. So, thanks again for joining us today, Anne.


Anne Janzer:        Thanks for having me back.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah. So, I know in your upcoming book, you've got a range of techniques, and I want to kind of tease out just a few for our audience, and I know it focuses on writing, but I'm sure a lot of these techniques apply in a number of contexts. Maybe you can share with our audience some of the contexts that you think these techniques could apply to.


Anne Janzer:        Really, yes, I think they apply any time you've got to communicate about a complicated topic to someone who doesn't share the same background you have on that topic. So, it can be whether you're writing an email to somebody or presenting to investors, maybe trying to explain to your family what the heck it is you do for a living.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah.


Anne Janzer:        That can be a challenge if you work in tech, I know. There's all sorts of things, and it certainly applies to ... most of this applies to writing as well as speaking. The challenge with writing that's different than speaking is that when we're speaking, I have my body language, I have my voice, and I can see if you're checking out, checking your mail, or confused.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Right.


Why writing out an explanation is harder than sharing it verbally


Anne Janzer:        It's very obvious, and when I'm writing, the reader's not present when I write, and the writer's not present when they read. So, everything's just on the paper. So, you have to work harder to really advocate for the reader as you are doing the work of planning and writing and revising so that it really, you can be almost present with them.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           So, let's talk about the things that we need to take extra time to explain.


Anne Janzer:        Right, so, here's the main thing. It's abstract topics.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Anne Janzer:        Technology is itself just layers of abstraction, right, and you work in this silo of abstraction, and that person works in that silo of abstraction. Maybe I know storage, and you know Cloud infrastructure, right? They're really related things, but they're different things, and when people are faced with abstract ideas, this is part of human reasoning. We are animals that abstract things.


Anne Janzer:        There's a couch, and there's a table, and they're both furniture. Now, everybody's comfortable if I talked about furniture, you know what I'm talking about, but when it gets to technology, you can get to the point where people aren't comfortable with that, and so what we need to do is try to figure out a way how to take something that is abstract and sometimes intangible. It's just an idea, and make it concrete so that people can understand it.


What things we need to take extra time to explain


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Now, what are the specific things that we need to take extra time to explain?


Anne Janzer:        So, when we work in the tech industry, we're dealing with abstract ideas all the time, abstractions, and it's just layers and layers and layers and abstractions, and so we come up with a lot of words and terms and jargon that is short hand, and it's absolutely essential for us to communicate with each other, right, but it's not always essential for us to communicate with someone outside of our field.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Anne Janzer:        And that is often the biggest barrier for people understanding what we're talking about when we're talking about technology, is the words that we use, the jargon and the abstractions that we use. So, that is the thing that the very low hanging fruit to take care of when you're writing or speaking, is what abstractions and what jargon am I using that could cause problems?


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah. I've also noticed for a lot of my students and audience that they may have something that's internal to their company. So, yeah, sure something like HTML, okay, we get that that's an abstraction because of the acronym. It's kind of buzz wordy, but then they have something internal where they say, oh, we use this thing called an OKR, and they just assume everybody in their company knows it. Somebody on the outside's like, OKR, what is that, right?


Anne Janzer:        Right.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah, so how can we kind of figure out what things we may think are specific to our organization or even our team, are not necessarily commonplace.


Anne Janzer:        Yeah, so you have to get a little loose. I like to print out what I've written, and maybe highlight anything that is term, an abstraction, maybe anything that is abbreviated, capitalized, acronyms. You know what they are.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Right.


Anne Janzer:        And for each of them, you need to ask two questions. Is it maybe, is it possibly unfamiliar to my audience, and is it necessary? So, if it's necessary to use it, the only way to talk about it, or everybody talks about blockchain is blockchain, right? Okay, I had to use the word blockchain. There's a law, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah.


Anne Janzer:        I have to use it. If it's necessary to use it, but it might be unfamiliar, then it is on you to define it or show an example the first time you use it, or use it in such a clear context that there's no confusion. If it's unnecessary and unfamiliar, if there's another way to use it, get rid of it. You're just adding unnecessary cognitive load to the reader.


Anne Janzer:        So, necessary or unnecessary, familiar or unfamiliar. I mean, you don't have to strip out furniture. You know, you don't have to strip out acronyms or things that people really should all know who are in your audience, but you do need to be anything that, yeah, maybe they know it, but maybe they haven't encountered it that many times.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Right.


Anne Janzer:        So, they're going to have to do a little bit of extra work to fill in the blanks while they're listening to you or reading.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           So, is there a way we can gauge the audience level, because I know a lot of times people assume, well, I'm talking about this new framework, this new technology, and it's in the title of my talk. This conference is about this talk. So, I just assume everyone coming here is going to know what this is. Why do I really need to take an extra 30 seconds, one minute, PowerPoint slide, et cetera to explain this? Won't it seem like I'm "dumbing it down" for them?


How to avoid “dumbing down” an explanation


Anne Janzer:        Yeah, right. I think you don't want to dumb down for people. You want to respect their intelligence, but you also have to remember someone at the conference just came out of three other sessions. Someone picking up your article may be like, wait. Why do I want to read this? It's in the title. I forgot. I mean, people come from very interruptive and context changing day, and you need to help them reset even if you think that everybody coming is showing up for that reason. They may not be. They may be showing up for other reasons as well.


Anne Janzer:        So, it's always worth trying to put yourself in the audience shoes for a moment, and say let's say I'm new to this industry, and I'm showing up here to learn. What should I assume the people ... what that person might know? What if you were on your second week of your job, and you show up at your talk, or you pick up your article? You want to help that person as well as the next one, right? You want to help your audience. You should be doing this to try to be understood, and you would like to be understood by them.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah, or that person that got dragged to the talk, because hey, your buddy was like, this is going to be an amazing talk. I know the speaker, but you're like I don't know what this thing is.


Anne Janzer:        Yep. Yep. If all goes well, you'll be one of the speakers that people go to hear your talk even if they don't know what your subject is about, because you're so awesome as a speaker.


How to gauge your audience’s level


Poornima Vijayashanker:           So, how do we know who's going to show up, or how can we gauge the audience level before we write our post, our book, or give our talk?


Anne Janzer:        I think we have to try to put ourselves in the seat of the audience, the mind of the audience. Try to figure out who the people might be, and answer these three questions about them. What do they already know? Where are they coming from? And give them a little range. Don't assume everybody is at the top of the knowledge range there.


So, what do they already know? How do they feel about the topic? Are they there under duress? Are they there, because they're really fascinated by it, because they think it's a hot investment opportunity? I mean, there's a lot of different things that could be motivating people to learn about your topic, and it's interesting to know what they are. And what makes them curious? How can you engage their curiosity, and bring them in to learn more about what you're trying to explain? Because when someone's curious, they're going to be paying more attention. They're going to be coming with you as you explain your thing with them.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah.


Anne Janzer:        So, you have to give them a reason to be paying attention.


How to handle mixed audiences and explain in a way that is inclusive


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Sometimes we're in a mixed audience, though, where our teammates are there, some stakeholders, it's internal, or we're in an external conference or an event where there's people of varying levels. We don't necessarily want to bore the people who already know what we're saying, and we also don't want to talk down to the people who are beginners. So, how can we explain in a way that is inclusive?


Anne Janzer:        Yes, that's a challenge, and it's something that you're going to have to play with and balance, but I think it's important to remember that nobody gets upset if you quickly define a term the first time you use it, and you can also use to guide people who are different ranges, by using an interesting example.


Anne Janzer:        So, the people already know it find value from the example. People who don't know it, learned it, hear what you're saying. So, if you're talking about artificial intelligence and recommendation algorithms, right? Most of your audience may know what that means, but a few may be just like ... and then so you can say, you know, like when Netflix recommends, or the other day I went on Netflix, and I got a recommendation to check out this story. Now, you've anchored it in something that is an experience that everybody has. You've level set the people who weren't so familiar with that term. You've brought them right back up, and you haven't really bored the people who do know what it is.


Anne Janzer:        It's doesn't take a heavy lecturey touch to do this. You can do it through an example, through a story.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           So, I think that brings us to the first tactic. Let's dive right in.


Technique #1: Why using analogies or metaphors helps people understand your technical explanation


Anne Janzer:        Great. So, one of the first ways to explain technical concepts, this is something that you probably do instinctively all the time, which is to use an analogy. In fact, tech is just filled with metaphors and analogies. Like I said, we have files and folders, and we have, which there's no real folders on your computer.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Right.


Anne Janzer:        There is not little folder. It's an icon, but it's an analogy that we're working with. So, metaphors, analogies, they can serve two things, actually. One is they can help explain what's happening or give us a useful way to engage with stuff that is amorphous, and two, they can actually connect on a different level.


Anne Janzer:        So, I found this metaphor the other day about, or analogy, about using units. It's kind of like driving a stick shift car, right? So, it gives you more power, more control, but learning it can be kind of uncomfortable, and it takes a little while. So, now if you've ever driven a stick shift car-


Poornima Vijayashanker:           I have, and I burned the clutch.


Anne Janzer:        You've learned, or your burned a clutch, right. So, when I used that analogy, we had a shared experience, and you're like, okay that makes sense to Unix, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Right.


Anne Janzer:        That's interesting, but you also, the part of you that's listening to it probably, I did this thing with my hand, right? I have a physical memory of driving a stick shift. I have a physical memory of learning and the rabbit, the jumping thing that you do when you're like burning a clutch.


So, if you were listening to me or if you were reading those words even, the little parts of your brain that are involved with the physical memories or the visual memories of seeing something, those parts of your brain fired. Metaphor actually connects on a way beyond just our reasoning, thinking mind. People in functional MRI's, they show if they read a story, the action part, so their brains are actually firing as if they're doing the thing that they're reading about.


Anne Janzer:        So, our brains are not really ... we know rationally what's metaphor, but we also sort of connect on a different level. Now, if that happened while you're talking about Unix, that's a win, right? You're now more engaged. It's a little bit interesting to you, right? You've gotten the meaning, but you've also just become a little bit more interested in sticking with the experience of reading or listening.


How to pick analogies that are going to resonate with your audience


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Right, but I've also seen that backfire sometimes where you pick a metaphor, or you pick an example that you think the audience is going to get. Let's just call a spade a spade, and say there's a lot of sports analogies out there that get used, and the person on the receiving end's like, I don't know the first thing about baseball.


Anne Janzer:        Yeah, or that's like the 11th inning. It's like no.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Or do you mean cricket? Yeah.


Anne Janzer:        Exactly.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           So, how do we know that our example or our metaphor that we choose is going to be universal?


Anne Janzer:        Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           How can we kind of test it out?


Anne Janzer:        Yeah. Testing it is exactly the thing. I mean, the analogies work if there's a shared experience. Sometimes you can have an analogy that isn't a shared experience. I think about the book, The Black Swan, or use The Black Swan, the story of the black swan as an analogy for an unanticipated risk. Something we assumed we didn't exist, because we didn't see it, right?


Anne Janzer:        That has to be explained. So, sometimes analogies are great, but it needs to be explained, but most of the time we want our metaphors to teach, not to need a lot of teaching.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Sure.


Anne Janzer:        So, we need to understand the audience. We need to be empathetic and understand where they're coming from, and give a little explanation if we suspect there are cultural differences.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Anne Janzer:        And be aware, too, that metaphors, because they activate those other parts of our brain, if you use a metaphor of a clown, and your audience is people that have that clown phobia thing.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           That's true.


Anne Janzer:        Do you know what I mean?


Poornima Vijayashanker:           It might activate the wrong part.


Anne Janzer:        You can activate the wrong things. Metaphors are powerful, and they can go in unexpected directions. So, be careful, especially across cultural. Working in tech is so multicultural. We need to be quite cautious with the metaphors that we use.


Technique #2: How storytelling helps an audience understand your explanation


Poornima Vijayashanker:           And what about the second tactic?


Anne Janzer:        The second tactic is, again, what we're trying to do is make something that is abstract more real to the reader, to the listener, and one of the best ways to do that is through story.


Now, I was an English major in college, and when I was in freshman year, a couple of my friends took a creative writing class. They were also English majors, and I saw them terrified. Every time they had to turn in a story, they'd pull all nighters, and I said to myself, oh my God. Storytelling is scary. It's stressful, and it makes you stay up all night. I am not doing any of that. Forget it. I'm a nonfiction writer. I'll be a literature major, and I'll go into technical writing, because there's no story involved.


Anne Janzer:        Well, so, years later of course, I was wrong. The best writers, when I read these books, I tell you the writers I admire who write about cognitive science, they use story incredibly effectively. They are not fiction writers. Story doesn't mean fiction.


Anne Janzer:        So, using story is a great way to connect with people, and it's something that we all need to do. Like I just shared with you a story about my personal transformation through that story. It's not that hard. I'm not a master storyteller. I didn't follow a three act structure. I didn't have rising and declining. I mean, you can do all that.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Right.


Anne Janzer:        But a story can be very simple. It could be a moment of time when you realized something. It could be a certain situation. The best advice, for me, I had to shed my preconceptions about storytelling and just try something very simple. Just experiment with it, and gradually get a little bit more confidence.


How short stories can help get your point across


Poornima Vijayashanker:           I've noticed that especially with folks who are very technical, that I do a lot of public speaking coaching with, they have an aversion to starting with a story, because their preconceived notion is, oh, it's going to be long winded. The audience is going to tune out, pull out their laptop, cell phone, whatever, and is this really necessary?


Why can't I just cut to the chase and say today I'm going to talk about a distributed denial of service attack? Right? Yeah, okay, you kind of like cut to the chase.


People get it, but it's so much more compelling if you were to say, six months ago, we were under attack. We were facing a distributed denial of service attack.


Anne Janzer:        Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           And then all of a sudden, the audience is like, what's that? That sounds terrible, right? And it's just a very simple switch.


Anne Janzer:        Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Like you said, it doesn't have to be long winded. So, how can we help our audience understand that when you're presenting a story, it doesn't have to be a poem. It doesn't have to be 400 pages. It can be pithy.


Anne Janzer:        Right, I mean, there are stories all around you. Any time you take an abstract technology and you look at a human interaction with it, there's a potential for a story.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           And use case.


Anne Janzer:        I mean, a use case is a story.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah.


When to NOT tell a story


Anne Janzer:        And actually, it's more interesting the more...not a ten page use case. God, no. Just a little short blip of this person using this to do this. It can be a story. It doesn't have to shouldn't be a long thing. And don't give someone a story when they're asking for data. That drives me nuts.


Anne Janzer:        It's like you go up and say, what happened to the sales last year? Let me tell you a story. Oh, God, don't do that.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah.


Anne Janzer:        I mean, a story has its role.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Right.


Anne Janzer:        It's not something that you should be overwhelming people with, but it's a really powerful tool for either engaging their interest, engaging their curiosity, or explaining something, because they come along with you as they understand it.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah. So, you could say something like oh, the conversion rate went up 75%, or went down 75%. You want to know more? Happy to give you the details.


Anne Janzer:        Yeah. Yeah, exactly.


How being brief helps you build credibility


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Nice. So, in the previous episode, we touched upon this desire to be long winded, and you mentioned how people often do it, because they want to come off as being credible. They worry, oh my gosh. If I take my 500 word bio and cut it down to 100, someone will miss something. They won't know that I wrote 200 books, or that I met with the Dalai Lama, and that's really important for being able to speak on Bitcoin. Right? So, how can we help our audience realize that it's okay to be brief, and it's not going to cost us our credibility?


Anne Janzer:        Right. Yeah, it's not going to cost you your credibility, and in fact, it's probably going to increase your credibility. People, again, credibility is based on being understood, and when we include too much, people perceive it that we're busy talking about us, and our needs, and not focusing on the reader's needs.


Anne Janzer:        So, if you are talking about Bitcoin, and you're an expert on Bitcoin, then just craft a bio about Bitcoin. I mean, people can link and find out more about you-


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Right.


Anne Janzer:        ...if they are so interested. Get them curious about you to find out more. That's awesome, but don't throw out everything at them in the bio, and put some of that stuff in your bio as opposed to in the body of your talk. You don't have to be, first let me tell you about my five startups or something, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah.


Anne Janzer:        I mean, people can look this up. You want to get them curious enough to look up the stuff rather than you feeding it to them, because if you think about everybody. We have so much stuff. I think that we're all reading less and less online. So, if you show up with 50 really great words, people will read them. If they see a block of 300 words, they're going to skip the whole thing.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah.


Anne Janzer:        I mean, if you want to be effective, be brief. Be concise, and give the reader what they're looking for rather than what you feel you need to be saying.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah. So, it's all about that topicality. What is it that the crux of the subject is, and how does your bio, your credibility fit into that?


Anne Janzer:        Absolutely, and you will be credible if you show up and give them useful stuff. That's going to be important.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah. So, what's the final tactic?


Technique #3: How tone and style impact an audience’s understanding


Anne Janzer:        So, the final tactic is to think about the tone and style that you're writing in or speaking in. Now, tone is kind of like brand. It's not something that you assert. It's something that other people interpret, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Right.


Anne Janzer:        So, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah, that makes it really hard.


Anne Janzer:        It makes it hard. It makes it hard. That's why you actually have to get out and test your stuff. You have to test your writing. You have to test your speaking. You may think that you're showing up one way, and people may be interpreting it another.


Anne Janzer:        In speaking, we've got things to do, and you are expert in that to show up with a different tone, a different persona. In writing, all you've got is your words.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Mm-hmm.


Anne Janzer:        So, there's some leverage that you can use in looking at, we've talked about them already, abstractions, the jargon. That has a huge impact on the tone of the written piece.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Mm-hmm.


Anne Janzer:        So, going through and stripping out unnecessary abstraction, stripping out unnecessary words, actually makes the piece stronger. Sometimes when we add words like very and really, it weakens our prose, which is crazy. So, I mean—


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Qualifier words.


Anne Janzer:        Qualifier words just go through and cut them out in revision. Make your thing stronger by being more to the point and quick. The sentence length, you know, sentences don't have to go on for pages and pages. Short sentences. Not the way we speak, because obviously I ramble when I speak, but when I write, my sentences are short and to the point.


How to iterate and find your personal style


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah. Well, these are all great tactics. Now, I know it's going to be a challenge, and it's going to take some work, some iterations. The first time we try some of these tactics, we may fall flat. So, how can we go about iterating?


Anne Janzer:        So, yeah, you're going to need to find your personal balance for what feels comfortable for you, works with the subject, and meets the audience needs, and that balance may change with everything you do, every talk you give, every blog post you write may be a little bit different. Well, hopefully not every blog post, but you're going to find your personal style and tone, and you're going to have to test things out.


The other thing to remember, even while we talk about brevity, is repetition, that people don't necessarily catch things the first time it goes past. In fact, they rarely catch things the first time it goes past.


Anne Janzer:        So, if you can find a way to repeat, iterate within your talk, or iterate within your article, by repeating your message in a slightly different way, a different example. Eventually it's going to sink in and have an effect. So, you may hit these readers with this thing, and these readers with a second occurrence, and these readers with a third occurrence when it's expressed in a slightly different way.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Anne. This has been really helpful. I know our audience out there is going to get a lot of value, and will hopefully start to employ these tactics as they have to—


Anne Janzer:        I hope so.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           ...communicate those difficult technical concepts, whether it's inside their organization or outside.


Anne Janzer:        I certainly hope so. Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah. So, how can our audience get in touch with you?


Anne Janzer:        So, my website is my name. Anne with a silent E, Janzer, and you can find information there about the book, Understood, which is on Amazon and hopefully all the other places that you would buy books. We'll see. And also I have a regular blog about writing. You can sign up for that there, and I'd be happy if anyone had any questions, wanted to reach out to me. I'd be happy to hear from you.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah, wonderful. Well, we'll be sure to include the links below the video and in the show notes.


Anne Janzer:        Great, thanks.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           That's it for this week's episode of *Build*. Be sure to share this episode with your friends, your teammates, and your boss, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive more episodes of *Build*. Ciao for now.


Oct 3, 2018

Confession time…


A few years ago when someone asked me to explain a technical concept and I couldn’t successfully get through to them or didn’t have time, I would send them this link. ;)


And it seemed funny the first couple of times I did it.


It wasn’t until someone did it to me that I realized how obnoxious it was. I eventually stopped asking for them for help, because I knew they weren’t very good at explaining things and didn’t have the patience to help me.


I also realized that I didn’t want to be like them. I needed to get better at explaining technical concepts. Ever since then, I’ve been on a quest to improve how I communicate technical concepts when I write and speak to people and audiences of varying levels.


Part of my discovery led to me Anne Janzer. Anne is a prolific author who has recently written a book called Writing To Be Understood: What Works And Why, and she’s also a cognitive science geek!


I sat down with Anne to debunk the misconception that if someone doesn’t understand a technical concept immediately, then it’s their fault. They're too much of a layperson, and they should look it up. But it’s actually the explainer who needs to do a better job of explaining, and in today’s *Build* episode, we’ll explain why!


In next week’s episode, we'll provide techniques on how you can get better at explaining technical concepts to a mixed audience or to a layperson.


As you listen today’s episode, you’ll learn the following:


  • Why people on the receiving end of an explanation find the explainer to be less smart if the explanation cannot be easily understood
  • Why people are bad at explaining technical concepts using simple language
  • Why we assume our audience knows what we’re talking about
  • Why people may not get our explanation
  • The three questions to ask yourself about your audience before you communicate with them
  • Why we have a tendency to overexplain
  • Why overexplaining isn’t helpful either and being brief is better



Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


## Why Doing a Bad Job of Explaining Technical Concepts Hurts Our Credibility Transcript


Poornima Vijayashanker:  Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies and your career in tech.


Now one huge misconception that we all face is that when we're trying to explain a technical concept, if someone doesn't immediately get it, we think, you know what, it's their fault. They're too much of a layperson, and we advise them to just look it up. Turns out, the person who's explaining the technical concept, it's actually their fault for not explaining it.


I know that might seem counterintuitive, but in today's episode, we're going to explain why the onus falls on the explainer and in a future episode, we'll give you some techniques on how you can get better at explaining technical concepts to a mixed audience or to a lay person. And to help us out, I've invited Anne Janzer, who is the author of a number of books ranging from writing to marketing and she's kind of a cognitive science geek. Thanks for joining us today, Anne.


Anne Janzer:    Thanks for having me Poornima. I'm happy to be here.


Poornima Vijayashanker:   So you've got a new book coming out and it's all about explaining technical concepts and being understood. Maybe you can dive into the origin story for what inspired you to write this book.


Anne Janzer:    Sure. So, the title of the book is *Understood*. So it's about writing to be understood and it came from two things in my life. One, is that I spent a lot of my time in the technical industry as a freelance marketing writer working for dozens and dozens of different companies trying to explain these really geeky technologies to a business audience. So that's familiar to most of the viewers.


But second, I also, as you said, I'm a bit of cognitive science geek so I love to read all these books about the brain and psychology and behavior and behavioral economics. You notice that some authors are really good at explaining this stuff. And you think, so there's parallels between what they do and what I was doing, which is explaining complicated, abstract topics. So are some people just like born better at this? I don't think so.


I took a close look at what these writers do, now I've called up and talked to some of them about what they do which is great. It turns out that there are just methods and techniques and approaches that we can all use to become better at being understood when we're talking about something to people who don't share our knowledge about it.


Poornima Vijayashanker:   So it's great that there all these experts who understand why this is important, but for our audience out there, they're not sure why this is important. We can dive into that in a little more detail.


Why people on the receiving end of an explanation find the explainer to be less smart if the explanation cannot be easily understood


Anne Janzer:    Yes. So you may not feel like…you may feel, well, I'm the expert. It's not on me to make sure that everybody understands. It's not my problem basically, if I'm explaining it. But it is your problem. It really is and the cognitive science shows that.


When you explain something that's complicated and you use words or terms or even writing techniques that they don't understand, you are giving the audience extra cognitive load. You're making them do extra work, not to understand the thing that you're saying, but even to get through to the thing that you're trying to explain to them.


Research shows that when people experience cognitive load, certainly while reading, they don't assume that the writer is smarter, they actually assume that the writer is less smart. So when they don't get it, they don't think, gee, I must be stupid, they think, they're not so smart.


Anne Janzer:    There's a study by a guy named Daniel Oppenheimer, who's now at Carnegie Mellon, but he did this back when he was at Princeton. I have to read the name of the study because it totally illustrates what it's about. “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity or Problems with Using Long Words Unnecessarily.”


Poornima Vijayashanker:   Nice. Yeah.


Anne Janzer:    Which is great. And in the study they had people look at the same passage written two ways. One in a more straightforward way, one more complex using longer words or one piece sentence construction, let's say. People who read the more complicated ones rated the author as being less intelligent.


In one case, even when they knew that the passage was by René Descartes. They were reading translations and they're like, this is René Descartes from his meditations. They're like yeah, he's not that smart. If they read the more complicated one. So if you want to show up as being an expert you have to be understood. And it's on you. It's on you to do that.


Why people are bad at explaining technical concepts using simple language


Poornima Vijayashanker:   So why do you think people get into this habit of being long-winded or maybe using big words?


Anne Janzer:    I don't mean to be critical of it, because we all do it. It's a natural thing. If you work in a tech sector for a long time, you're surrounded by people who are all using these abstractions and these terms. You master the complexity of the subject. You're a part of a social group of people who have mastered that complexity. So it's natural to want to speak in a way that people around you understand, use those words.


But you need to remember that these abstractions that now come easily to you. Like now you can ride a bike, but a toddler can't ride a bike, looks up at the person riding the bike thinking, yeah, that looks really hard. So that's the situation. That you're really comfortable with these abstract terms, but if you're talking to people outside of your domain, outside of your area, those terms are much more difficult to operate with.


Why we assume our audience knows what we’re talking about


Poornima Vijayashanker:   So it's natural to evolve and get into this in crowd or you're surrounded by people who know. You kind of expect other people to know and then when they don't, you're kind of like, well, just Google it, right. So how can we get over this? This expectation that our audience just knows.


Anne Janzer:    Well, we have to remember that we suffer from the curse of knowledge, which is hard for us to remember not knowing the things that we not now know. So some of the times it's not that we're being dismissive of our audience, we're just assuming that they know the things. That these things are familiar to us are familiar to them.


So you really have to get outside of your own head for a moment and try to put yourself in the perspective of your audience. That's why the title of my book is Understood. It's not like, explaining, it's understood, because it doesn't matter what the words are coming out of your mouth or your pen. It matters how it sinks into the audience's mind.


Why we need to incite curiosity in our audience

Poornima Vijayashanker:   I don't know about you, but I definitely had a few college professors, their names will go unnamed. In their 101 class, kind of expected me to know certain things or to, again, spend the time looking it up. So how can we combat that as well?


Anne Janzer:    So that story drives me crazy because the purpose of a 101 class and the job of the professor of that class is to give people enough information but also to incite their curiosity so that they can learn enough to figure out if they want to pursue that field. If they want to learn more or what is useful to them from that class.


And in many ways, we all are in that same position as that 101 teacher. When we're talking to people who aren't familiar with our area, our job too, is not to tell them everything I know or expect them to step up to what we want to talk about. Our job is to incite their curiosity about our topic so that they'll pay attention and get something and to give them a little bit more and to lead them into it. That's a whole different way to think about explaining complicated stuff. It's not like I'm going to dump all this stuff on you you need to know. It's I'm going to pull into this topic and bit by bit get you interested in it, tell you how it applies to you and see what goes from there.


Why people may not get our explanation


Poornima Vijayashanker:   So it's good to know that we may suffer from the curse of knowledge and that not everyone is going to have a same level of expertise as us. What are some other things that may get in the way of people understanding when we communicate technical concepts to them?


Anne Janzer:    There's a couple things to be aware of and one is that sometimes people think they understand already and you have to work around their existing models of what's happening. People think they understand what's happening, for example, to their data when they go onto a website and use it and then go away. The data stays where they left it. Right?


And that's not always the case. So sometimes they think they have an understanding of something. We always talk...if you think about how do you understand using storage. How is stuff stored on your computer? You think, well, I've got a disk, maybe you think you have a directory and then I have a folder and I put files in it. That's nothing like what's really happening underneath. The file may be distributed over many areas of the disk. Some stuff is not on disk, it's in memory.


Poornima Vijayashanker:   It's in the cloud.


Anne Janzer:    It's in the cloud. You can't come up to people and say no, you don't know what's going on, you're wrong. So you need to understand what their understanding is and figure out how to work around that.


And then there are the topics that people, they want to cling to their understanding of it. They don't want to hear about something that disrupts their understanding of it. That's why, if you search for a swimsuit on a website and then you go to the New York Times and it's serving you an ad for that swimsuit that you just searched for. It can be really distressing, these retargeting ads, because they show us something that we don't want to hear about, which is that we're leaving this huge digital wake of data around that people can use. We find that distressing because we don't want to hear it, but it's there.


Poornima Vijayashanker:   So there's the concept of challenging people's current understanding and then there's a concept of ignorance is bliss.


Anne Janzer:    Yes, right, right.


3 questions to ask yourself about your audience before you communicate with them


Poornima Vijayashanker:   So those are both things that we need to be aware of. How can we know...because I know in the next episode we're going to dive into how to get around this. But how can we at least develop an awareness to know which camp our audience may be in?


Anne Janzer:    That's the key thing is to think about your audience. I think you need to answer three questions about your audience before you go to speak to them or before you write for them. It's what do they already know about the subject and this requires that you put yourself in their perspective. You may have to talk to people that are like your audience.


How do they feel about your subject? Do they have resistance to hearing the message? Is this something that they like talking about? Are they curious or are they showing up for your talk under duress because they have to? That's something you want to know too, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:   Yeah. My boss is making me come to this.


Anne Janzer:    My boss is making me come to this. And the third thing is what makes them curious? What can you use to hook their interest in the topic? What going to make them want to explore more about it?


Why over-explaining isn’t helpful either and being brief is better


Poornima Vijayashanker:   Now one final thing I've noticed, especially with a lot of my students and audience members is they can be on the flip side, where it's not the case that they think they're the expert, but they feel like they really need to go down this path and be very, very long winded about an explanation instead of favoring brevity. So how would you recommend to kind of balance that?


Anne Janzer:    So there's two things I want to get at. One is that you need to make a careful distinction between what you want to talk about and what the audience needs to hear. There may be a small overlap and maybe you can widen that by making them more curious, but you need to respect what their needs are. And that's the hardest thing for us as writers to do.


When I worked on this draft, I wrote this whole section and I thought, this doesn't serve the book. I had to delete 10,000 words and just put it aside because it wasn't what the audience needed. It wasn't what the readers needed. So that's one thing.


Why we have a tendency to over-explain


And then second, I would look at the reason why they feel they need to explain everything and often I think it's an attempt to assert some kind of credibility. Credibility is such an important issue, right?


It's such a critical issue for speakers, for writers. But the way that we often go about asserting credibility can work against us. If you say, well, I'm going to get up and first I'm going to list off all my accomplishments so they know I'm serious. Or I'm going to just take them through every little experiment, every little process I did to get to this so they see that I worked really hard.


These things work against you because the root of the word credibility is believability. That's what it means. Well, to be believed you have to first be understood. So to be credible, you need to be understandable and that means you're going to have to cut out that stuff. People will respect you more, think more of you if they can really understand what you're saying. So if you were meeting their needs rather than asserting your own. So if you come at it from that way, it gives you an understanding for how to be more brief. What to cut and why to cut it.


Poornima Vijayashanker:   Well thank you so much, Anne, for sharing why our explanations may be convoluted and of course, why we need to do a better job at explaining them. I can't wait until our next episode where we're going to dive into a number of techniques and tactics to help our audience out there when it comes to explaining these.


Now Anne and I want to know, when was the last time you had to explain something that was complicated, maybe some technical jargon. Were you misunderstood? And if you were, how did you get over that misunderstanding? What were your techniques? Let us know in the comments below this video. And that's it for this episode of *Build*. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode where Anne and I are going to dive into some techniques to help you be more understood when you're explaining those technical concepts to your audience and to your teammates. Ciao for now.

Sep 23, 2018

All this month, we’ve been sharing best practices around hiring and interviewing product managers. If you checked out both episodes, you might be thinking: “This is a lot of work! How can we be sure we’ll end up with a stellar product manager, and that they won’t quit in three days or three months?”


We get that hiring and interviewing are just two pieces of a larger puzzle around talent management. And of course it’s not enough to just attract top talent; there’s more that needs to be done to make sure they stay motivated and productive. So to quell your concerns and help you figure it out, we’re going to do a deep dive in today’s episode around what to do after you hire a product manager. We’ll be sharing why current practices often fall short of meeting a new employee’s expectations and some alternate best practices for onboarding, training, retaining, and evaluating the performance of product managers.


Jeana Alayaay, Director of Internal Products and Services at Pivotal, is back this week.


Here’s what you’ll learn in this meaty episode:


  • How to onboard a new product manager and set expectations
  • Why you need to have a development plan ready for your new product manager and how to walk them through it
  • Why an annual performance review is too late to check in and provide feedback, and what to do instead
  • Why even a seasoned product manager will benefit from coaching and guidance as part of their onboarding process
  • What success metrics look like for a new product manager
  • How to evaluate your product manager’s performance in the midst of changes that are beyond their control
  • Why it’s good to set granular expectations around deliverables and milestones
  • What to do when your product manager stops performing or suddenly quits


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


# How to Train and Retain Top Product Managers Transcript 


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK Jeana, we've covered a lot already. We've talked about some of the best practices when it comes to sourcing Product Managers, and then interviewing them. And, all of this before we even get into training, and retaining them. So, please tell me that we can guarantee for our audiences, we're going to find that mythical, or magical unicorn Product Manager.


Jeana Alayaay:      Unfortunately I don't know that they're findable. Because, I don't think unicorns are turnkey. But, I do think you can develop unicorns for your company, or your specific context.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK, but what if they leave in three days or three months? That's a lot of effort.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah, oh man. That's tough, we'll cover that. Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK, let's get to it then. Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. Now, over the last couple episodes we've been sharing some best practices when it comes to sourcing, as well as interviewing and hiring top Product Managers. But, I'm sure you're still worried if your Product Manager is going to be the right fit, or maybe you hire them only to discover that they weren't quite a top performer as you thought they were in the interview process.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Well fear not, because Jeana Alayaay is back. You'll recall, Jeana leads the Product Management, as well as Design team. We're going to share some best practices when it comes to training, as well as retaining your top performers so that they don't just up and quit. Thanks for joining us again.


Jeana Alayaay:      Thanks for having me again.


## Conversations to have with new product managers


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. OK, so like I said, we've taken a lot of time to kind of address the criteria for how to find candidates, and source those candidates. But then, we gotta make sure that these people are going to perform, and stick around. What do we do next?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah. So, I think the big thing is having a development plan that's shared with you and your Product Manager, right? I know that sounds a super simple common sense thing to do. But, it's amazing 'cause when we hire these top performers, we sort of expect them to just go on their merry way, cut wood and hull water. Then, one day they'll leave, right? We always think, "Oh, it's because it's more money," or whatever the case may be.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Sure.


Jeana Alayaay:      But, often the feedback is, "I just didn't feel like I was growing." Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Hmm, mm-hmm.


Jeana Alayaay:      Having that conversation at the beginning and saying, "Hey, how do you need to grow, how do you want to grow, and how can we have an actual development plan that puts you in the way of the opportunities to get you that growth?" Up front is really important.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK. What if they don't know?


Jeana Alayaay:      Then you're going to have to figure it out together.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Mm-hmm.


## Don’t wait for the annual performance review to check in


Jeana Alayaay:      I think that obviously folks who tend to be a little bit farther in their journey tend to have a better idea. But, you always have folks who are just starting out. I think just coming up with some things initially, and then iterating your way towards it is totally fine. I think just having a lot of checkpoints there, right? I don't mean a development plan that you check in once in the annual performance review. I mean, something that you're visiting in every one on one.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK.


Jeana Alayaay:      That, you look at every quarter and you say, "Are we making progress against goal?"


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      With those folks who don't know, "Hey, what are we seeing, where have we gotten feedback, what are your feelings on this now that you've sort of been in the works for a while?"


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah, so let's backtrack a little bit and just talk about onboarding.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


## How to onboard a new product manager


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Do you have some best practices when it comes to even onboarding a new Product Manager coming into your organization?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah. Have them spend a lot of time cross functionally at first.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK.


Jeana Alayaay:      Spend some time with the engineers, spend some time with the designers, spend a lot of time with leaders, those folks who, they're going to need to get alignment and decisions from.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right, mm-hmm .


Jeana Alayaay:      I think there's just a lot of up front networking that needs to happen, that we sort of gloss over. 'Cause we always want them to sort of jump right in.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:      And, just start doing things. But, that will get you only so far until relationships really come into play. And so, I always like to sort of invert that model and say, "Build the relationships first." The doing thing, that will happen.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK, got it. For yourself as either the Hiring Manager, or as the Manager for this new candidate.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


## Why even a seasoned product manager will benefit from coaching and guidance as part of their onboarding


Poornima Vijayashanker:        How do you think about coaching them, or training them?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah. I think the first thing is to come forward with really clear expectations. One of the things that I say is, I haven't seen a Product Manager who's blown my mind in less than a year.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK, yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      Let me explain more of that. Even if you bring in a fairly seasoned, or senior person, right? They just don't even know the landscape, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      So much of their job is moving people in the landscape. It's like, to expect them to be here when they don't even know who those people are, is the wrong expectation to set for both of you. I think saying, "Hey, I expect you to be cutting water, and hulling water in three months. At six months, I think you're going to have a good sense of what's going on. And, at a year you're really going to start to be able to make strategic moves with people."


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK.


Jeana Alayaay:      I think that's actually a good approach.


## How to evaluate your product manager’s performance in the midst of changes that are beyond their control


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Got it, so kind of set some milestones. But, what if there are barriers? The company's goals change, or the product goals change.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Or, some giant customer comes in and takes up all of the priorities.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        How do you kind of back channel that, or bring it back into their specific goals, or their career development?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah, that's a great question. I would say this sort of harkens back to what I consider to be a red flag for a Product Manager, is not asking for help. The other side of that is top performers are really great about raising their hand and saying, "I need help." Or, "I think something is changing." Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      They're actually out there in the woods.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:      Sort of getting a sense of how the Earth is moving.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      So, sometimes they're the best person to say, "I think the tides are changing and we should pay attention to that." I think having, again, a lot of frequent touch points and saying, "Hey, is the roadmap changing? Should it change? Has the strategy changed? Are there things in the business that are evolving, that are going to affect us?" And, having that be a part of the regular conversation is super important.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Got it.


Jeana Alayaay:      If we're waiting to the point that it's already changed, and we're in a fire drill mode.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      It's too late.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:      The feedback loop is too long.


## What to do if a product manager isn’t meeting your standards


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yep. OK, so we're putting in a lot of effort to onboard, train, and consistently coach them. But for whatever reason, after they've been a product manager for you for a few months, you notice that they're just not really performing. They might have been stellar in that interview process, but something just isn't adding up.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        What do you do?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah. I think the first thing I do is sort of turn the mirror back on myself and say, "Have I actually set expectations clear enough." Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:      'Cause often they just don't know what their job is. The flailing that you're seeing is them trying to figure that out, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Mm-hmm.


Jeana Alayaay:      We have this expectation that they're going to know exactly what to do-


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:     ...And, they don't. Maybe it's not you. Maybe it's somebody else in the system that has a lot of impact on their day to day work. I think the next thing is actually having a conversation about it. Are they aware of it?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:      And, can they actually give you some guidance about how to coach them, right? I think that you have folks who have a lot of self awareness. And so, saying, "Hey, I think we're struggling. What do you think is going on here?" And, seeing what they say. Then say like, "OK." If there's awareness there say like, "Why do you think it is that you're struggling? How do we get you the help that you need?" And, just having a very explicit conversation about it. I think it's totally death by a thousand cuts. Have the conversation early and often, and don't wait until it's gone on-


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:     ...And on, and on for too long.


## Why it’s good to set granular expectations for deliverables


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. I think even in the expectation setting, getting very granular. I know some organizations expect their Product Managers to do all the wire frames.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yep.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Maybe do some consistent usability tests, and other organizations are like, "Oh no, we don't expect that from our Product Managers."


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        "That's like something a Designer does." So then, when the Product Manager doesn't deliver a very concrete thing, they're kind of like, "What are you doing?" Right?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        But, they never conveyed, "These were some things we expected from you."


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        They just kind of conveyed the high level, "Improve our conversion rate."


Jeana Alayaay:      Yes.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        "Monetize our product. Get us out there, and get more customers." Right? I think you kind of have to have that balance of, "Here's the super granular stuff, here's the high-level stuff." And, maybe for the high-level stuff you figure out how to go out and do it. Maybe that's talking to customers.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yep.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Maybe that's something else.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah. I think, again, keeping a really tight feedback loop on that is really important, right? Knowing that they're not sure what's going on.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Sure.


Jeana Alayaay:      Or, you haven't gotten granular enough. Opening up that feedback channel is really important.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Mm-hmm.


Jeana Alayaay:      I even say, "Hey, if you're not getting the information you need from me, bang down my door."


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:      "Please, early and often."


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      I think the other bit is like, that I forgot to mention, is make sure that they're shadowing a Product Manager who's already hit their stride in their work, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK.


Jeana Alayaay:      So, that they have a sense of what the day to day should look like, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:      Not to say that it should look exactly like that, but they know what normal is.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Sure.


Jeana Alayaay:      You know? 'Cause it's like, how else will they know that you're supposed to do the wire frames, or you're not supposed to do the wireframes.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right, right.


Jeana Alayaay:      It' know?


## How onboarding and expectations differ for the very first product manager


Poornima Vijayashanker:        I think it can be a challenge though in a smaller organization.


Jeana Alayaay:      Sure.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Where, this might be the first Product Manager.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yep.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Maybe they're taking on somebody's responsibility who was the Lead Designer.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Or, the Chief Product Officer.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yep.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        And so, now they're taking on a bunch of tasks like daily to-do's, but then they also have the higher level kind of road mapping, thinking about where they're going.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah, so Product Manager, if you're stepping into this role, make sure you do stakeholder interviews up front, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK. Oh, that's good.


Jeana Alayaay:      So, when you get into that org, go in, figure out who's doing the work, who the leaders are, and saying, "Where do you need me to fill in the gaps? Where do you need me to take the load off you? What is the plan for this?" Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      If you're the first on any team, figuring out what the hiring plan is—


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay: super important, right? 'Cause that's how you can figure out where you're going to water between rocks, where you're going to need to fill in.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah, that's a good point.


Jeana Alayaay:      If the plan is to hire more and more Designers first, right? Probably don't focus too much on taking up all that work. Focus somewhere else, like, "I'm going to have to do more of this sort of classic Product Manager backlog stuff, because we're not going to hire them until later." Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


## Be sure to introduce your product managers to stakeholders as part of their onboarding


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah, stakeholder interviews, have a sense of what the hiring plan is, make sure you get milestones from them. Say, "OK, I know that we don't have the funds, or the time, or whatever to hire today. When do we expect to hire?" Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      So, you can even manage your expectations around how long your works going to look like this.


## What to do when your product manager stops performing


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. Even after all of this effort, right? We have open door policy, we're coaching, they're giving us feedback. Somebody just stops performing, and all of our efforts aren't going to kind of turn this candidate, this employee around. What do we do?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah, so I think when we first get the sense that it's not working, it's a service to them and to you to actually explicitly say, "This isn't working. What are we going to do about it?"


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.


Jeana Alayaay:      I know that seems like, again, very simple. But, you'd be surprised how many managers struggle to actually have that conversation. It's like, often the person doesn't know that they're not performing until they're put on a PIP, or they're asked to leave, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      Again, saying early, or when you actually believe it's become true that like, "Hey, this isn't working." That's a really important step. 'Cause one, you're giving them the opportunity to turn it around. And, you're also giving yourself the opportunity to think differently about the problem. Let's say you go through all of that. I would say, coach them out, right? Have an explicit conversation about, "This doesn't seem like the right fit. How can I help you get onto the next thing?"


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Mm-hmm.


Jeana Alayaay:      Now, of course there's extenuating circumstances where there are like-


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Sure, right.


Jeana Alayaay:     ...Crazy things happen with the job or whatever. But, I feel like that's a different case.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK.


Jeana Alayaay:      Usually it's just like, they no longer meet the needs of the org, or the orgs changed.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:      Or, they were the right person two years ago, but not the right person today.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      All those sort of things. It's usually fit things.


## What does a product manager’s performance review look like


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. Which brings up the kind of overriding question which is, the performance review, right?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Having to wait six months, or a year.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        And, the performance review for a Product Manager is definitely different from your Engineer's, where things are a little bit more, I wouldn't say this in every case, but a little bit more cut and dry.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        People are writing code, it's quality, it's tested, it gets out there, or they're fixing bugs. In a Product Manager role, it's a little bit more nuanced, where they may come back to you and say, "Well, here are all the things that I've done. But, now I'm stuck because the stakeholder won't move us forward."


Jeana Alayaay:      Yep.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Or, "I'm stuck because marketing needs to have a bigger budget to attract more customers so that we can then convert and monetize them."


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        So, how do you kind of structure that performance review?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah. I think this goes back to having a development plan early on, and actually keeping a pulse on it, like a very frequent pulse on it. It comes up, at least in passing in my one on one's biweekly, certainly monthly, and then on the quarter, and so on and so forth. I think the product, to what you're saying. The product management cycle is much longer than the dev or design cycle.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      I think it is harder to get strong signals.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


## Why it’s OK to iterate on goals


Jeana Alayaay:      But, I think there are success metrics that should be in the development plan that you're sort of measuring as you go, and you should also be iterating on them. Again, the thing that would alarm me, is if they hadn't told me about said stakeholder that's blocking them, until the performance review.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah, right.


Jeana Alayaay:      Right? That's the wrong time to tell me. I would say, that's a performance issue, versus being blocked, you know?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      'Cause, if that was a thing that I could have tried to help you solve six months ago, we should have done that six months ago. I'm not sure why we're waiting-


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Sure.


Jeana Alayaay:     ...Waiting on it till now.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      The things that I would think of as a performance issue, performance issues are usually communication based.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Mm-hmm. What are some specific success metrics?


## What success metrics look like for product managers


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah, so the success metrics that I like to put in Product Managers plans are usually learning goals, right? At any given time, a product is in a specific life cycle. Thinking about what part of the funnel you're focusing on, or how you're trying to develop out that product and say to yourself, "OK, what do we need to learn as a team in order to get to the next phase for that product?"


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Mm-hmm.


Jeana Alayaay:      And so, having learning goals for Product Managers that point to that is really important. Things like, "We should go out and learn from users, like what the next problem is." I'm being super generic here.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Sure.


Jeana Alayaay:      But, "Do we have evidence about what platform we should develop out next?" Not so quantitative, but really like, "Hey, are they out there seeking the problem, moving the org in the direction?" Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Mm-hmm.


Jeana Alayaay:      'Cause that's a lot of their job, is do we see evidence of movement.


## What to do if a product manager quits


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Got it, OK. Finally, despite all of your best efforts someone just ups and quits. Because, this is such a critical role, how do you respond?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah, I guess it really depends on the circumstance. I think the first question I would ask myself is, "Did we give them enough permission not to buy in the interview process." Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Mm-hmm.


Jeana Alayaay:      There's always extenuating circumstances. Something with the family, they were offered double somewhere.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Sure.


Jeana Alayaay:      I don't know what those things are. But, there's other things like they came in, and it's not at all what they expected it. That's the thing I want to fix.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Mm-hmm.


Jeana Alayaay:      If we didn't give them a good sense of what the environments going to be like, I think that's on us. Again, I think the other bit is, make sure you always have your list of 20 people that you're going to hit up next.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. Of course, of course. Go back and see our first episode on that.


Jeana Alayaay:      'Cause you just never know when you're going to need to fill a role. You just don't know, you should always be prepared.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right. I think it's also, it is a bit of a challenge though to suss some of that out in an exit interview because people want to leave, and they don't want to burn bridges, or they're kind of like, "I don't want to spell this out for you. I mean, if you don't know why I'm leaving, I don't know if you'll ever know." Sometimes that happens to-


Jeana Alayaay:      Right.


Poornima Vijayashanker:       ...It might not be your specific fault as the Hiring Manager-


Jeana Alayaay:      Totally.


## Why underperformance may not be limited to a single employee


Poornima Vijayashanker:       ...It might be a team issue, it might be kind of a company wide, or a leadership issue.


Jeana Alayaay:      That's right.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah. Having a postmortem within the working group, I think is a way that we've addressed that in the past, right?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK.


Jeana Alayaay:      'Cause, I totally agree with you.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      During the exit interview, they don't want to say all those things.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:      They don't want to air all the laundry.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:      So, I think having a postmortem as a team and saying, "Hey, so and so left. What do we know about that? Context?" Right? "What are the different perspectives here, what did we see, what did we not see?" Again, we can't all possibly have the information.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


Jeana Alayaay:      So, getting all that data from the different places, and pulling it together. At least to have a clear picture of what might have happened, super useful.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Thanks a lot Jeana, for sharing your best practices when it comes to sourcing, interviewing, hiring, and retaining Product Managers.


Jeana Alayaay:      Thanks for having me, it's always fun to chat.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. That's it for this week's episode of *Build*. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel, to receive the next episode. And, be sure to share this episode with your friends, your teammates, and your boss. Ciao for now.


Sep 16, 2018

Last week, we dug into the various product manager personas, and how to go about sourcing candidates. 

This week, we’re going to talk about another critical step when it comes to hiring product managers: interviewing.

Unlike interviewing engineers and designers, where you can test their ability to code and design and their responses provide tangible results, it’s harder to formulate questions related to one’s skill and abilities as a product manager that will produce concrete responses. Let’s face it—product management is more nuanced because it often requires people to have experience analyzing data and making decisions related to the goals of the business, in addition to some technical skills. Exposing the spectrum and depth of these capabilities can make interviewing product managers a challenge. For example, it maybe easy to evaluate if someone can organize a backlog of user stories, but harder to evaluate whether they are really capable of creating and prioritizing a product roadmap that balances out various business goals and milestones to an acceptable level of quality and depth for your team.


Plus a product team usually has one product manager who interfaces with many engineers and designers, so hiring the first product manager who is going to gel with all those people puts them under a lot of scrutiny.


To handle all these challenges, many companies end up crafting their interview process to resemble a standardized test that candidates end up studying for, rather than demonstrating key skills that they will be using to support the team and product. It’s no wonder some of the best candidates fall through, and companies feel stuck with a product manager who underperforms.


This episode is a must watch if you’re a hiring manager who is concerned about losing a talented product manager, or you’re a product manager who is trying to assess a company’s interviewing process. In this episode, we’ll share some best practices around interviewing and coming up with objective criteria to use when screening candidates.


Jeana Alayaay, Director of Internal Products and Services at Pivotal, is back to help us out.


As you listen to today’s episode, you’ll learn the following:


  • Why there is such a thing as being a bad interviewer
  • How to prepare the people who will be interviewing candidates
  • How to expose skill sets during the interview
  • How to regroup after the interview
  • Why candidates that don’t meet a checklist are sometimes still hired
  • How to set expectations with candidates when your company is going through a period of change
  • How expectations and the role are different when you are the first product manager on a team


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


# How to Interview Product Managers Transcript


Poornima Vijayashanker:         In the last episode of *Build*, we talked about the various personas when it comes to the product manager role and how to go about sourcing candidates. If you missed that episode, I've included a link to it below. Next you're probably thinking given how nuanced the product manager role is, how do you go about actually interviewing and making sure they have the right skill set?


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Often this can cause the interview process to become really fragmented. You start to see some interviews that are very technical, others that try to expose business skills, and a third set that might just involve mostly soft skills. If you don't have that right set of criteria or practices, some of the best candidates can just fall through the pipeline. In today's episode, we're going to expose some of those best practices, stick around.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies and your career in tech. We've been talking about the product manager role, how nuanced it is, how to source candidates and also, how to go about interviewing. Given how nuanced it can be, it's a challenge to set objective interview criteria as well as consistent practices to expose the skills that you need for your company and for your team.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         But fear not, because in today's episode, we're going to share some of the objective criteria and some best practices that you can adopt for your interviews. To help us out, Jeana Alayaay is back. You'll recall that Jeana leads the product management and design for Pivotal's IT group. Thanks for joining us again.


Jeana Alayaay:      Thanks for having me again.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Yeah. I've got to admit that I've gone through a number of product management interviews myself. After spending countless hours doing interview questions related to technical skills, business skills and then having done the work of actually leading teams, building products and shipping them, I was surprised by the feedback that I got from some of the interviewers saying I needed to do even more to get the role.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Why does this happen? It makes people feel like maybe you just need to answer the questions a certain way to get through the interviews so it’s like taking a test instead of knowing the information.


Jeana Alayaay:      I think there's three things here. I think one, there's a total disconnect between the job postings and what a company is actually looking for. I think the way that I've thought about it is, a job posting is actually part of the company's larger marketing collateral. So, you're not actually going to get the real deal on culture. This thing, it's never going to say like, "Hey, looking for a PM to walk into a super hostile environment." It's never going to say that.


Jeana Alayaay:      And so, I don't know that we can change that bit. But, I think what we can say is like, OK, where's the next touchpoint with the candidate? And it's with recruiting right? I think doing a lot of upfront work with recruiting sort of improves this, but I'm jumping a little bit ahead here.


Jeana Alayaay:      I think the second problem is that the hiring group itself isn't actually aligned on what sort of profiles they're looking for. You have anywhere from two to nine interviewers who are going in interviewing the candidate, they get to the end of the process, pull together all that data and you can't actually agree on whether or not to hire the person because no one ever said, "This is what a good candidate looks like." Or even better, "This is what a bad candidate looks like." As we all know, sometimes it's hard to know what good looks like, but we can definitely say what bad looks like or, this isn't going to fit.


Jeana Alayaay:      I think the third related thing is that the interview process most often doesn't actually resemble the environment that the candidate would actually be walking into should they get the job. A lot of companies have this prisoner's dilemma process where you go from person, to person, to person, to person and they ask you...Sometimes it's on script, sometimes they have their own scripts, but that doesn't actually resemble a product manager's job of doing a lot of work in groups, going around getting alignment like a lot of collaboration.


Jeana Alayaay:      I just don't think it resembles the environment at all. And so again, they get to that end of the process and they say no because they don't think the candidate's going to be successful in the environment but they've never actually given the candidate the chance to demonstrate whether they would be because it doesn't look anything like that.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         So then how do you get that criteria or how do you build that into the interview process?


Jeana Alayaay:      I think in general we don't put enough time into hiring. We put a lot of focus on the hiring manager, but we don't talk about the other interviewers. Everything from like, what is the group looking for to, are the interviewers themselves actually prepared to interview? I've come across these interesting situations where the interview process for one company or another posted on Glassdoor and that team says, "We've got to change the interview process because the candidate will know what to say."


Jeana Alayaay:      I go, "Well, do you actually know what questions to ask to get at that data outside of following the script? Do you know in your gut what you're looking for? What the company is looking for? Can you ask that question 10 different ways?" We don't often talk about whether the interviewers themselves are actually prepped to do this work.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Totally, there is such a thing as a bad interviewer.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah, absolutely and so you end up with like again, two to nine people who are doing totally different things and none of that's really giving you a clear signal about whether or not this person is going to be successful in this company.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Yeah. How do you then prep the interviewers and then convey the criteria back to the candidate?


Jeana Alayaay:      Two part here. I think one is, you actually need to train interviewers. At least on my team, I don't have folks interview who don't have experience interviewing. So, they should actually have to shadow other folks, cross-discipline and within discipline that have interviewed before and actually understand what that process should look like. And, understand from the hiring manager what they're looking for.


Jeana Alayaay:      Sending somebody in cold no matter what level they're at, you're not going to get the best outcome out of that. I think going back to the recruiting process, I think it's totally fine and good to tell the recruiter to tell the candidate, "Here's what they're looking for." And I think this is a lot like the Glassdoor problem that I was talking about before. I've heard people push back against that and say, "Well, then the candidate's going to know."


Jeana Alayaay:      And I say, "I'm not sure that that's the case." In our case at Pivotal, we hire for empathy, but I'm sure you can ask questions of the candidate to figure out whether or not they're empathetic. If you're relying on the candidate saying, "yes I'm empathetic," you've already gone off the rail.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Yeah, and I think a lot of times candidates either don't necessarily follow the instructions they've been given or they decide to go off on their own tangent to make sure that they appear good in front of the interviewer's eyes. So, there's definitely different ways in which they can miss the mark, but if you can give them some crystal clear criteria of what to expect and what the interviewers are going to want to see in terms of their resume or their experience. I think that's more helpful. Now, in terms of the actual interview, do you have a set of practices that you recommend?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah. I actually usually step in in the second interview because I think it's really important they encounter the hiring manager early on and then at the end. I reiterate what the recruiter has said, which is like, "Hey, these are my expectations for the role," and I give them permission not to buy. I think this is really important because you're interviewing them, but they're also interviewing you and so you've both got to want to be there. And so, I think giving a candidate the chance to say like, "no, this isn't actually for me," before shepherding them into this longer interview process is important.


Jeana Alayaay:      The other thing I've talked about before, make sure you've prepped your team on how to interview and also set really clear expectations. I actually have a document, a really detailed document outlining what I'm looking for, things to watch out for, responses that I might expect, different scenarios that you might end up in. That way, the interviewers go on, they feel prepared and we get more consistency out of the responses.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         You do even list a bank of questions?


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         OK, that way it's not the same person or multiple people asking the same question or you found out that 50% of the interview was in data analytics and you're not even hiring for that.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah. And then, they're all sort of different versions of the same question. I always say like, "Hey, you folks are interviewing, figure out a way to say this that feels authentic to you, but this is what we're trying to get it. This is the data that we;'re trying to get from the person."


Poornima Vijayashanker:         I think that's helpful. I think also having the responses, like what the expectation is for some of the responses because some of the feedback that candidates either get or don't get is how detailed the response should have been. They may think they need to be pithy and save the interviewer time and just scratch the surface when the interviewer is really looking for, "No, I expected you to spend 30 minutes to highlight every single corner case of this particular product feature," or whatnot.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         I think it’s helpful if you have that bank of what should the response actually look like. Kind of like a test where at the end of the day you can go back and say, "This is how we graded you because this was the answer we were looking for."


Jeana Alayaay:      Yeah, and little ticks are helpful for that. I would say, if they're expecting a long answer, there's no reason why you shouldn't say to the candidate, "Say more," or, "Could you elaborate?" I think we too often just let the candidate fall into the dark and it's like, if you're after something, let's set them up to actually give the responses that we want.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         What do you so for new roles though? Because, this is great where maybe somebody left the company or got promoted and now you're filling this role. But in the case of a brand new role, I think a lot of time people don't even know, as in the interviewers, the hiring manager are like, "We need them to do this and this, but what else do we need them to do?"


Jeana Alayaay:      I think this is where it's really important that the hiring team actually get into a room beforehand and put a stake in the ground. You're not going to know 100% what you need the role to do, but you have some sense of it and people have an idea in their mind. It's really important that that idea come out in a way that's accessible to other people because otherwise you end up in the problem that I was talking about before which is, everyone has a slightly different idea and it has even less structure than you would for a role that already exists, so everyone's really all over the place.


Jeana Alayaay:      It's like Poornima goes in and she's like, "I think we need a data person," I go in and I'm like, "I think we need a community person." Ll and behold, we end up revving on this for months, and months, and months unable to fill the role.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Yeah, I think oftentimes what happens is people don't know what they want and then the poor candidate's like, "What did I do wrong? I spent all this time preparing, followed the job description and listened to what the interviewer said. I just feel like I'm lost." Then it ends up being a branding issue for the company.


Jeana Alayaay:      Yup, and it's a really resource-heavy activity. I always ask, "Do we really want to send folks in who don't know what they want?" I know that we want to fill this role, but if we can't take 30 minutes or a couple hours to put some shape around it, is it worth us even opening up the pipeline? Those are conversations that don't happen enough and are hard to have.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         So then, how do you go about...Once you do have some candidates, you've walked them through the pipeline, how do you go about consolidating the feedback from each of the interviewers? Because again, there's definitely some tough interviewers who were aiming for 100%, 110% and then there are some people who are like, "This person knows 80% to 90% and they seem really coachable. We can all pull together and get them up to speed." How do You consolidate that feedback from all the individual?


Jeana Alayaay:      The first thing we do is actually jump into a room and do a Roman vote. We have everybody vote whether or not to even move forward with the candidate.what I've found in the past is, you could be in there for an hour talking through the candidate did this well, they didn't do this well and like five people have already decided that it's a no. So again, just being respectful of everybody's time like, "You don't need to do that."


Jeana Alayaay:      So, first let's get a count of who wants to move forward, who doesn't. Folks who are a no, it's important to have a few of them speak up and add some color to why they think it's a no, and then also on the yes side. Then again, a document or some sort of info radiator that captures what you are looking for to begin with is really important to bring to the table and say, "OK, here's what we're looking for. How do each of these candidates match this or don't match this?"


Jeana Alayaay:      I even include things like coachability and humility. Sometimes you're looking for somebody who's super coachable and so you've got to go around and say like, "Hey, I know you didn't hear what you wanted to hear, but are they coachable?" Reiterating what we're looking for, not do they know everything. Points like that become really important in synthesizing that data.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         For you, do you do an anonymous vote first and then once you have the yes/no counts then do a deeper dive? Because, otherwise people can get colored right?


Jeana Alayaay:      It's a silent vote, and a Roman vote's really interesting because you all do it at once. You do a one, two and then...Up is yes, sideways is move with will of the group and down is no, I are I have something to say. So, everyone votes at the same time. We start off that way then we move in. We usually reserve at least an hour afterward to talk it through.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Some companies rely on a unanimous set of votes and some leave it up to the hiring manager to make the final decision. How do you view either one?


Jeana Alayaay:      I can't say for sure because it has to be right for that culture, but I would say I consider myself to be a tiebreaker more than the person who makes the decision at the end of the day, though functionally I often am. You know, thinking about your hiring team, these are the folk or should be the folks that your candidate's going to work with. And so, if you don't actually respect their opinion, you've got one problem. And if they weren't prepped for the interview so they don't know what they're looking for, you've got another problem. I don't think either of those is solved by me making the decision right? That's a problem we should've solved a couple hours ago versus now.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Got it. And, any red flags or signals that you want to watch out for in candidates?


Jeana Alayaay:      For me, it's over-solutioning. What I like to see is a lot of curiosity and deep attention to the problem. I don't know if this is the best analogy, but we often refer to our project managers as like bloodhounds. It's like, you really want folks whoa re seeking after the problem and they're asking five why's. When they find a problem they say why and why again, why again and why again and that we're not jumping into solutioning.


Jeana Alayaay:      We're in this really interesting moment in time in the industry where it's actually super easy to build. And so it's like you don't want to build too quickly because all that stuff's going to be maintained. It's so expensive to maintain and maintain that thing into the future that you don't want to build anything you don't have to build. So, I would say if they're over-solutioning, I consider that to be a red flag.


Jeana Alayaay:      I think the other one is not engaging with the audience. You have a few different versions of this. Sometimes they're only focused on the hiring manager even when you have gender dynamics going on and whatever the case may be. You want to see that they're engaging with the whole room and that you're starting to get a sense of the type of communication that you're going to see from them on a day-to-day basis.


Jeana Alayaay:      Sometimes that actually means putting them into uncomfortable situations. In a later stage of our interview process, I actually throw them curve balls and I say like, "OK, something's gone wrong. What are you going to do about it?" To get a sense of how they think on their feet, whether they accept the situation with grace, whether they'll reach out for help.


Jeana Alayaay:      Another big red flag for me is product managers who are uncomfortable saying, "I don't know." Because, then we're hiring somebody who wants or thinks they should be a hero persona and is not going to rely on the wisdom of the group to make decisions. They're going to feel like they need to go away in a cave. You just can't do that with the types of products we're building because it's too multi-part. If you've got hardware and software and business or supply chain innovation, there's no way any one person knows all the things.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         What about feedback? Some companies are very strict about saying, "Nope, we absolutely don't give candidates feedback afterwards because of X, Y, Z reason." Others might give a little teaser, and then I've seen others where they're like, "We want you to come back in six months or even sooner than that so here are very deliberate things to work on for the next round."


Jeana Alayaay:      Two of those things resonated with me. I think one is giving feedback about why they weren't a fit today is really important. In most cases, it's because they're not a fit today, it's not because they're not a fit at all, sure there's always folks we're like, "This is never going to work," but that's not often the case. So, saying like, "Hey, here's what we were looking for. You weren't a fit for today, but maybe you would be a fit in the future for this specific scenario and here's what we'd be looking for," I think is a fine conversation to have.


Jeana Alayaay:      I don't know that nitpicking folks is necessarily productive because again, there's a lot of personal biases that go into that and I don't know that that's the best use of your time or the candidate's time.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Sure, that makes sense. Sometimes when we're giving this feedback, or even when we're consolidating this feedback, we have this light bulb moment where we're like, "Oh, actually this candidate doesn't meet our one, three or 10 check boxes, but for some gut reason we feel compelled to want to hire them." Has that happened to you and how do you justify that to your team?


Jeana Alayaay:      When thinking about some of those checkboxes, and some that I'm familiar with across the industry, I think specifically about technical skills, and that's a broad term, that could be anything. But, if you're hiring a product manager, is that the most important thing? And I'm not saying hire somebody that's never built software, that's not, that's not what I'm advocating for.


Jeana Alayaay:      But, I do think we put too much stock into that where it's like, "Hey, there's a reason we have developers and data scientists and all of that." There's a lot of folks on a team who can pick up that specific work. So, thinking about what you actually want them to be doing and whether or not they fit that. Then again, thinking about whether they're coachable. Let's just suspend this belief here and say that we're always hiring smart people and I hope that's the case, though sometimes I've gotten in a room with other hiring people and there like, "Well, we should hire smart people."


Jeana Alayaay:      And I think, "Is there someone here that's not hiring smart people?" So, let's just say we're always hiring smart people, looking at what ramp time is for that person. Maybe they just need a few extra months to marinate in some specific hard skills, but they have all those other soft skills which are a lot harder to acquire. A lot of those soft skills are years, and years, and years and very experience-based.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Right. Well, thank you so much Jeana for sharing your best practices when it comes to interviewing product managers.


Jeana Alayaay:      Thanks for having me.


Poornima Vijayashanker:         Yeah. Now, Jeana and I want to know, what are your best practices when it comes to interviewing product managers and candidates. Let us know in the comments below this video and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode where we'll talk about how to train as well as retain your product managers. Ciao for now.

Sep 9, 2018

To build a product, you need a team of engineers, designers, and the glue that keeps them together: product managers!


The role of the product manager has dramatically changed over the past decade, and because it’s still a relatively new field that’s in flux, companies often struggle to find candidates, which in turn makes it hard for candidates to understand what companies are looking for.


So all this month, we’re going to focus on a number of best practices for sourcing, hiring, interviewing, and retaining product managers.


In today’s episode, we’ll focus on giving you a lay of the land, starting with how product management is evolving and how to go about sourcing candidates for a product manager position at your company.


To help us out, I’ve invited Jeana Alayaay, the Director of Internal Products and Services at Pivotal.


This episode is chock full of helpful best practices for both product managers and those looking to hire them. As you watch, you’ll learn the following:

  • How product management has evolved over the years
  • Why you need to think about the type of product manager you are looking for (hint: there is more than one persona!)
  • How to communicate the key criteria you are looking for in a candidate
  • How to build a pipeline of candidates
  • How to train recruiters to help screen candidates
  • How to stop hiring out of desperation
  • Why it’s actually helpful to give candidates a quick no


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


## How to Hire Product Managers Transcript


Poornima Vijayashanker:        I know I'd love to just wave a magic wand and find top technical talent. But I've learned over the years that it takes a lot of effort to source, interview, hire, and retain that talent. It's become even more challenging in a new field like product management where company criteria changes as well as the skill sets that candidates have. So if you're struggling to find those product managers that are going to be the right fit for your company, stay tuned because we'll share a number of best practices in today's episode on sourcing candidates.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by PivotalTracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode of *Build*, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies and your career in tech. When you got a lot going on it's very tempting to want to take short cuts to hire candidates. But those shortcuts can often backfire causing you to hire somebody that may not be a good fit for your team. And when it comes to a role like a product manager where they're going to be interfacing with a lot of different people as well as teams, you want to make sure you got the right fit and you may need to put in a little extra effort to make sure you get that candidate.


## Best practices for sourcing product managers


Poornima Vijayashanker:        In today's episode, we're going to talk about some best practices when it comes to sourcing product managers as candidates for your company. And to help us out I've invited Jeana Alayaay, who leads product management and design for Pivotal in their IT group. Thanks for joining us today, Jeana.


Jeana Alayaay:       Thanks, Poornima.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Jeana Alayaay:       Good to chat with you.


## The evolution of product management and the role of the product manager


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Thank you. So you've been a product manager for quite a while now and you've seen it evolve as a role, so walk us through the evolution that you've seen and why it's come about?


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah, so I think to answer your question about how product management has changed, think about how the market's changed. So there's a lot of touch points with technology and consumers and businesses and so the expectations for what quality and user experience look like are increasing, increasing, increasing. So in order to accomplish that like product teams have to do a lot of cross-discipline collaboration in order to create and maintain that experience. It's actually this one big people problem. One of the main jobs of product management is really to manage that people problem. So the folks who are both good at that and who want to do that work are really sought after.


Jeana Alayaay:       Before, when we think about product management we think more about project management which is like who's managing deliver in the backlog. And now we're thinking more about like who's managing people ecosystems within a product organization?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK. So that means inside of the company, not people as in users.


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah.


## Types of product managers


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK. Now you and I both know there's also a lot of personas out there when it comes to product managers. There's the growth hacker, the workflow warrior, the community, the creator or connector and then somebody that manages platform, data or just mobile. Do we need all these personas? What's kind of the...Are there a lot of differences and nuances between them?


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah. That's a great question. I love personas because it gives you a sense of who to look for out in the wild but I don't know that a persona is going to solve the problem of the modern product. So I think what we're looking at is products are these big spaces now. They're multi-part, they're multi-platform. They have a lot of different pieces and components themselves can be considered to be products. When you're thinking about managing that you should really be thinking about managing a team. Not having specific people on specific verticals and I'll tell you why.


Jeana Alayaay:       So when you hire specific people on specific verticals what you get is a bunch of individual contributors doing their own thing and that team is unable to elevate the bigger product or offering right at the higher level. So you just sort of miss the mark on that I think.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Got it. OK so kind of keep the skillset in mind for each of these but think a little bit more higher level.


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah.


## Take stock of the skill set you need from a product manager for the long term


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Now this is the second PM team that you're managing and building at Pivotal. What did you learn from your first experience that you're applying now?


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah, so I think the thing that I was talking about earlier was really think about the makeup of the team like the skillset, and figure out how to compliment the skillset and build it out very intentionally. So I think when I first started as a hiring manager so to speak or a team leader, practice manager, I thought, "Yeah I'm going to hire a person to do this and hire a person to do that and hire a person to do that." But the job itself is so cross-functional that no one actually really works in isolation. So really you need a bunch of people who can pair up and actually combine skills in different scenarios.


Jeana Alayaay:       And so thinking about that, I think OK what do I need in three months, what do I need in a year? What should this team look like, rather than what do I need now. And I think that's counterintuitive because by the time you have a wreck open there's a little bit of desperation there because you need somebody to cut wood in hot water. You can fall into the trap of hiring somebody that you need today but not necessarily the person you need tomorrow, if that makes sense.


## How to uncover and communicate the key criteria you’re looking for in a product manager


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right, especially if your product evolves or the strategy evolves or if the market evolves as well. That's actually a great segue into my next question which we got engineering, that's become very nuanced. There's front end there's back end and then there's specialization within that for the same kind of thing with a product manager, how do I determine my needs and set up the sourcing criteria for my team?


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah, that's a good question. I think the best thing to do is actually look to your team for that information. So I think as hiring managers, we're sort of set up into the system to make the decision in isolation but I think you can't actually know all the things that your team is experiencing on the day to day. So having your team do that gap analysis is really important. And having explicit conversations about what's working, what's not working, were we missing. Were you missing the mark? What kind of people do we need? Having that conversation is super important because I don't know that it is most that...Sorry let me back up. Most of the time the problem is not actually hard skills so to speak it's hard and soft skills. And so the thing that your team is missing is not somebody who can do really awesome data analysis or code or whatever, it's usually who's going to manage the most hostile, fiscal stakeholder group that you can think of.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        So what are those conversations look like or how do you bubble that criteria up?


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah, so I think my team prefers more structure so we usually actually do a work session where we sort of dump and sort what those needs are, what problems we're solving for. And really what I think my job is is to make sure that we're looking, again, three months, six months, a year, even two years out and we're not just solving for we have a super painful thing right now but where's the team going? How do we see the organization's needs changing, how is the team going to have to shift its responsibilities to meet those needs? And have that be a very, very explicit conversation.


## How to source product managers


Poornima Vijayashanker:        So once you got that criteria, the next challenge is where do you find people that meet this criteria? What have been your watering holes?


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah, so unfortunately I don't have a magical answer to this but for me it's been referrals. And even like intercompany transfers. So I like to keep the profiles of the next three hires in my head with me and I sort of talk about them out loud, to my network, both inside of the company, outside of the company. So I think there's a lot about just letting the universe know that you're looking and then folks will come. I think the other part of that is to always be looking. So I think if you get to the point where you're looking and you need to fill a pipeline you're probably already too far behind.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah that makes sense. So then creating that pipeline so that you have a constant list of potential candidates, how have you gone about doing that aside from the two techniques you just mentioned?


Jeana Alayaay:       I think it should be part of a hiring manager's weekly workflow. So I don't think this is a thing that you do in fits and spurts. I think it's a thing that's like every week you look at your list. You're trying to build out 20, you're trying to build up a list of people to talk to. You're going through resumes, you're sending out emails just saying like, "Hey, I would love to be introed to anybody who's going to be interested in product management sometime in the next year."


## How to build a pipeline of product managers


Poornima Vijayashanker:        That brings up another question of if you were looking to hire two or three candidates at the end of an interview round or maybe over the next few months, what's your magical starting number? What does the funnel look like? Is it one x, two x, 10 x, how many?


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah our team's lucky to have a very high conversion rate but I think conversion rate is different company, company, team to team. So think about that and then think OK so how many people do I need to actually interview in order to get to that number and then well the pipeline should be three times that size. So, if you need 20 interviews to get to the one then you need 60 people in the pipeline.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Wow, so that's 20 first-time interviews.


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah.


## How to train recruiters to help screen product managers


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK, got it. And what are some other steps you would recommend people do as they're considering sourcing candidates so prior to the interview phase?


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah, so I think there's a big disconnect between usually recruiting and the hiring team. So I think having a lot more thoughtful conversations about what you're looking for is really important and it's where I've been successful. So I think even having a recruiter sit in on an interview with you so they better understand what sort of questions you're asking, what you're trying to get at and then actually having a debrief and sitting down with them and saying, "This is what I liked about the candidate. This is what I think was not a good fit. This was a red flag." Things like that so that when they're doing the initial screening in the future they have a better sense of where are you going to land with this person.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Got it, so iterate and give them that feedback as you're in the midst of the interview and make sure that that goes out back to the sourcing step. Is there anything you would recommend in terms of job descriptions? Because I know that can also be a real challenge for the people writing them as well as the candidates reading them and there's usually a mismatch that happens.


## What to include in a job description and screening process for product managers


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah. I wish I had something more to say about this. I think there's a problem which is that the job descriptions as you seen are super generic. And I think part of that is because they're sort of part of a company's marketing collateral. So what you're never going to get in a job description is looking for a PM to walk into a super hard conversation. They all sort of read the same. And so thinking about that initial screening process is the place that I chosen to fight the battle around because I've tried to fight the job listing battle but it's not worth it and for some of those reasons are good reasons, right. And so thinking about OK let's say they get to the recruiter, what does a recruiter going to say to them what's that conversation going to look like and put a lot of effort into that.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Got it, so prepare them but yes the job description maybe a little bit more vague and then make it more specific as it goes down the pipeline so as you have that initial recruiter call and then maybe the initial phone screen.


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah, and I think one of the things I like to tell recruiters, which they know but it's good to say it out loud, is like let's all try to be respectful of each other's time so it's like they're looking, we're looking. We shouldn't move people through the pipeline that we're not actually interested in. And the first step to making sure that that happens is let's not move people through the pipeline who are obviously not good fits.


## Why it’s actually helpful to give candidates a quick “no”


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah that's a good point, and I think I've certainly experienced that challenge first hand is getting that quick no is often better than waiting months and months to discover, "Oh, maybe you weren't the right fit." Or they changed their requirements or changed their company's strategy so candidates are much more thankful when you just say no in a couple of days and save them time so they can go on to the next set of interviews.


Jeana Alayaay:       Yeah exactly. And it's like now might not be the right time but that doesn't mean that candidate's not a good fit in the future so I think just thinking about it as partially a networking exercise where it's like you don't know when they're going to come back around. You're going to encounter them in another company so just being super respectful within the process I think is really important.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Well, thank you so much for sharing how you think about product managers and how to go about sourcing them.


Jeana Alayaay:       Thanks for having me, Poornima.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah, and I can't wait until next week where we're going to dive into some of the interview techniques. And for all of you out there, Jeana and I now want to know what are some of the product manager personas that your company thinks about and what are some techniques that you've employed to sourcing candidates? Let us know in the comments below this video and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode where Jeana and I will be sharing some of the best practices when it comes to interviewing product managers. Ciao for now.

Aug 6, 2018

In the last episode of Build, we debunked a number of myths related to bitcoin, blockchain, and other cryptocurrencies.


Despite all the myths and hype these technologies have staying power in the market. But we get that you might be skeptical. So we’re dedicating today’s episode to showcasing how they are being incorporated into valuable applications that are making an impact in the market.


And if you’re still concerned about the volatility behind cryptocurrencies or how to get involved without losing your shirt, we’ll dive deeper into each of those topics.


Our guest, Audrey Chaing is back. You’ll recall Audrey is a crypto trader as well as a Blockchain analyst and consultant, and blogs on Blockchaing.  


Here’s what you’ll learn from today’s episode:


  • How Bitcoin, Blockchain, and Cryptocurrency Are Being Applied To Financial Services, Identity, and Supply Chain
  • What Is An ICO (Initial Coin Offering)
  • What Causes Volatility In Bitcoin And Other Cryptocurrencies
  • What Are Cryptocurrency And Bitcoin Exchanges And Marketplaces
  • What Are The Up And Coming Business Applications For Blockchain Transactions
  • How Blockchain Is Being Used To Monitor Identity
  • How To Get Involved In Learning, Building, and Investing In Blockchain


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


# How Bitcoin, Blockchain And Cryptocurrencies Are Being Incorporated Into Valuable Applications That Are Making An Impact In The Market Transcript                  


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     In the previous episode, we debunked a number of myths related to Bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies. If you missed that episode, I've included a link to it below. In today's episode, we're going to dive a little bit deeper and talk about some of the cool applications that have come out of Bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies and let you know which ones are here to stay and how you can get involved. Stay tuned. Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. In today's episode, Audrey Chaing is back. You'll recall that Audrey is a crypto trader, as well as an analyst and consultant. Thanks for coming back, Audrey.


Audrey Chaing:                Thank you.


Bitcoin, Blockchain, and Cryptocurrency Applications: Financial Services, Identity, and Supply Chain


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. Today, we're going to talk about some pretty cool applications of Bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies, and why they're here to stay, and how our audience can get involved. Let's kind of dive right in. Let's talk about, what are some of the applications of each of these?


Audrey Chaing:                Sure. To be honest, everyone's still trying to figure out the killer use case, but there's a lot of really exciting work happening. They tend to fall into kind of three buckets. One is financial services, which we are kind of more familiar with, with the cryptocurrencies and things like that, cross-order payments, remittances. Another area is identity, and another area is supply chain, and so—


What Is An ICO (Initial Coin Offering)?


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Let's start with the financial services. I know there's a lot of ICOs, initial coin offerings. What are those?


Audrey Chaing:                Yes, initial coin offering, that's basically how a new cryptocurrency comes into existence. I mean, it's almost a new way to fund a startup that is related to blockchain. They could be doing any number of things. An example could be, "We're doing distributed storage, so then in order to buy and pay for services, you have to use our token coin." Yeah.


What Causes Volatility In Bitcoin And Other Cryptocurrencies?


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Got it. What's causing a lot of the volatility now in the market then, as it relates back to these ICOs?


Audrey Chaing:                A lot of it is, frankly, just speculation, because people have heard of how much money that some others have made in cryptocurrencies, and people are interested because they want to make a quick buck. Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah.


Audrey Chaing:                Also, for the people who are less familiar, there tend to be different stages of a sale in an ICO. You would get kind of in-the-know institutional investors that would come in on the early rounds and get a very large discount. Then they might have several rounds of sales, and then by the time you reach the crowd sale, they might also have a tiered, "If you get in now, you get a larger discount. Wait till next week, you still get a discount, but it's smaller," and so—


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     So it is very much like fundraising—


Audrey Chaing:                It is, yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     ...from like venture capitalists or angel investors.


Audrey Chaing:                Now, the difference is that you get liquidity a lot faster. If your token ends up getting listed on exchanges, that means you can start trading right away. Sometimes there are kind of lockups for the large institutional investors, but that is one big difference.


What Are Cryptocurrency And Bitcoin Exchanges And Marketplaces?


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. Actually, let's dive into that. There are a lot of other applications in the financial services, like what you just mentioned, exchanges and marketplaces. What exactly are these? Walk us through.


Audrey Chaing:                Yeah, sure. Actually, just to clarify, too, ICOs, the tokens could be in any number of industries. It doesn't have to actually relate to financial services. Some of the more straight financial services use cases might be...There's something called It's in the Philippines. A lot of Philippine workers work internationally, remit money back to their homeland. This actually is interesting, because it brings on a lot of the unbanked population, so there's...In order to participate in our current banking system, you need to have a minimum amount of deposits in order for it to even be worthwhile for the bank to have you, and a lot of people don't have that. Now, with crypto, integrated with our current banking system, you can use the app to send money to friends, and they could go to an ATM and pick up cash, or just the corner store, pick up cash. You can pay for your tuition that way, your cell phone bill, all sorts of things.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Very cool.


Audrey Chaing:                There's also, there are traditional ways of sending money around, which is Western Union, wire transfer, which tend to be slow and relatively costly, but now with crypto, it can happen a lot faster and a lot cheaper.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Got it.


Audrey Chaing:                Those are kind of the financial use cases, but you asked about exchanges. There are many. A lot of the reason that there are so many is because there are so many coins, and not every exchange will have all of the coins you want to trade. Most people in the U.S. would be familiar with Coinbase. I think they have a pretty good brand name, and pretty on top of their regulation, their...It's easy to use. However, they only trade four different coins, so if you want a coin that is not one of the four that Coinbase has, what you have to do is put your fiat, or your U.S. dollars, into Coinbase by some either Bitcoin or Ethereum. Identify what other coin you want. Let's say you want Monero. Right? Then you have to find which of the exchanges has Monero, send your Bitcoin over to that one, and then buy your Monero that way.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     In the previous episode, you started to hint at some business applications for blockchain. Not the cryptocurrencies, but just the underlying technology. Why are people using this for business?


Business Applications For Blockchain Transactions


Audrey Chaing:                I guess going back to the kind of large categories, we already talked about financial services a bit, but let's talk about supply chain for a second. Right? There are some very interesting proof of concepts going on. I can talk about a couple. One is with prescription medication. You can basically track that it is legitimate, right, it's not like a fake or copy, and then you can make sure that, say, it needs to be refrigerated, that it was taken care of the whole way through.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     How do you, how can you tell that?


Audrey Chaing:                Kind of like, well, you could kind of use sensors to say that, "OK, the temperature never reached above X amount that would make the medication bad." You could, kind of like how you already scan along the way, say, a FedEx package, you could track all these different stages and have them write to the blockchain.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     OK, got it.


Audrey Chaing:                Then since it's on the blockchain, you can't go back and edit the database. Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Right, so basically, it's stuck there, and then people can see the audit trail because it's on-


Audrey Chaing:                Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     ...blockchain.


Audrey Chaing:                Exactly. Another interesting use in supply chain is provenance for food. For example, if you are eating bacon and you are interested in, "Where did this pig come from?" All the way from which farm, what it was fed, how it was...The whole process of how it reaches you, you can now track that.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Very cool. How does somebody then get onto the blockchain to have the entire supply chain and each of these transactions listed?

Audrey Chaing:                Yeah, so blockchain, in the traditional sense, is a public blockchain, so you, or I, or anyone could go onto, for instance, and look up any Bitcoin wallet or Bitcoin transaction. There is this idea of permission ledgers, which, especially, some enterprise are looking into because they don't want everyone to have access to everything, but in the traditional sense anyone can look it up.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah, but then it's only as good as the reporting, right?


Audrey Chaing:                Yes. There is this kind of...When you try to mesh the real world with the digital world, how do I know, "So-and-so is attesting that this is true. Well, is that legitimate?" Then, so that is something we definitely need to think about when we try to kind of mix the digital and the real world.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Got it, yeah, so going back to your bacon example, if somebody forgets, maybe in the packaging stage or one stage before that, to list a transaction, what happened, then the public isn't going to know what that is, so there is going to be still a hole in it.


Audrey Chaing:                Yeah, so these are the things that are being kind of worked out right now, with all of the kind of proof-of-concept work and research.


How Blockchain Is Being Used To Monitor Identity


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Very cool. What's another application that you think is here to stay for blockchain?


Audrey Chaing:                Identity is another area where there's a lot of work, a lot of interest, kind of how it could look like in the end. Right? You could have full control over your data. For instance, if you had your medical data here, your social media data here, your shopping data here, you could say, "I want to grant you this particular piece of information," and you can even decide to be compensated for it or not. That's kind of the self-sovereign identity piece. There's already some work happening in this area in governments, even. The government of Finland, they have this blockchain-enabled card for refugees. This card will be an identity card, but also, they load it with money, so that's one interesting use case. Estonia now has e-citizenship, so there's a lot of interesting stuff going on.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     I know one concern that our audience may have is, which of these things are fads? Which of these things are here to stay? It sounds like some of the things that are more groundbreaking, like identity and supply chain, are here to stay, but can we really know?


Audrey Chaing:                Yeah. Actually, we can't. That's a good warning for anyone trading crypto or getting to blockchain is that there's a lot of potential. It's very exciting. However, there are some real technological hurdles, including scalability. That's the largest one. There are a lot of smart people working on it, including like off-chain solutions, but we won't know for sure. Yeah, I would say if you're going to invest, I think it's smart to have something, but don't put in more than you would be OK losing, because that is a possibility. You could completely lose it all.


How To Get Involved In Learning, Building, and Investing In Blockchain


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah, and in terms of investing and learning about applications of blockchain, or getting involved in building something on the blockchain, what would you recommend?


Audrey Chaing:                Well, I guess there are a lot of choices, but not a whole lot of great resources, to be honest, so you have to decide kind of like what kind of do you want to build on an existing chain? Do you want to build your own? I mean, building your own is quite a undertaking, but people have done it. I think the best way would be just start. There's no, it's very, not a whole lot of documentation, not a whole lot of tutorials. There are meetups all over, so I'm actually a part of Oakland Blockchain Developers and SF Ethereum Developers. They have people come in and do technical talks and sometimes code labs. That really helps, but it's very, it's not fun to work with yet.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah.


Audrey Chaing:                Right?


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     OK.


Audrey Chaing:                It's very early, and-


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     So not for the faint of heart, but maybe for those—


Audrey Chaing:                Yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     ...who want to get in, eager—


Audrey Chaing:                And it changes very quickly. I mean, even if you're looking at Solidity, which is what a lot of people use for Ethereum, the syntax changes frequently.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. Well, that also might also be a good thing, so for people who are eager to always be at the cutting edge—


Audrey Chaing:                Yes. It's definitely-


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     ...and want to be involved.


Audrey Chaing:                ...cutting edge. You know what's shocking is, sometimes I talk to people, and I'm like, "Yeah, I've written a smart contract in Ethereum," and people are like, "Oh, my God," so just like this is crazy that this is like a thing, but it's so early that not very many people have done that.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Audrey, for sharing all your expertise when it comes to Bitcoin, blockchain, as well as cryptocurrencies.


Audrey Chaing:                Thank you for having me.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. That's it for today's episode of *Build*. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode. Ciao for now. This episode of *Build* is brought to you by our main sponsor, Pivotal Tracker.  

Jul 30, 2018

Got a laundry list of questions that have gone unanswered when it comes to blockchain, bitcoin, and the myriad of cryptocurrencies out there?


Questions like the following: What’s going on with the boom and bust cycles? Are cryptocurrencies really here to stay? Are there really a myriad of applications for blockchain? And how can one get started playing around with the technology when bitcoin has such an expensive price tag, and blockchain is so challenging to develop on?


Well, we’re going to answer all these questions for you and more by kicking off this month with today’s Build episode that debunks a number of myths related to blockchain, bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies. In next week’s episode, we’ll share some of the cool applications that are making an impact in the market and prove the staying power of these technologies.


To help us out I’ve invited Audrey Chaing who is a crypto trader as well as a Blockchain analyst and consultant, and blogs on Blockchaing.  


Here’s what you’ll learn from today’s episode:


  • How to go about explaining the differences between Bitcoin, Blockchain, and Cryptocurrency in simple terms to friends and family
  • How bitcoin works with public key and private key encryption — and what is public key and private key encryption
  • Why People Think Bitcoin Transactions Are Anonymous Or For Criminals
  • What The Real Value Is Behind Bitcoin
  • Whether Bitcoin Will Replace Credit Cards And Cash
  • Other Cryptocurrencies Besides Bitcoin
  • How To Get Started Playing With Cryptocurrencies And The Blockchain


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


The Real Deal Behind Blockchain, Bitcoin, and Cryptocurrencies Transcript


Audrey Chaing:                            So congrats. How far along are you?


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Thank you. Yeah, seven and a half months.


Audrey Chaing:                            Great.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     So just 10 more weeks to go.


Audrey Chaing:                            Awesome, awesome. Are you ready?


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     To be honest, no. Kinda spent junior's college savings on Bitcoin.


Audrey Chaing:                            Well, you never know. By the end of this interview, it might be totally back up.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     That is true.


Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. You're probably wondering what's going on with Bitcoin and Blockchain, the boom and bust cycles, and whether cryptocurrencies are here to stay.


Well, in today's episode we're going to unearth some of the common myths, and in a future episode we'll dive into some of the applications to let you know what's really here to stay.


And to help us out, I have invited Audrey Chaing, who is a crypto trader as well as a Blockchain analyst and consultant. Thanks for joining us today, Audrey.


Audrey Chaing:                            Thank you for having me.


Difference Between Bitcoin, Blockchain, and Cryptocurrency


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. So, let's first talk about what's the major differences between these three: Bitcoin, Blockchain, and cryptocurrencies?


Audrey Chaing:                            Sure. So there is a common misconception that Blockchain is the same thing as Bitcoin, and that's actually not true. The reason why people get confused is because they were kind of invented at the same time. So in 2009, someone named Satoshi, this is a person or a group. We don't know. They're kind of anonymous. They came out with a white paper that describe the Bitcoin protocol. And so that was how Blockchain technology was born. But Blockchain is much bigger than just Bitcoin.


So Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency but Blockchain refers to this technology.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Got it. And what got you interested in this?


Audrey Chaing:                            So basically, it has everything to do with everything I've done in my career. I studied computer science at MIT but graduated in the dotcom bust, so I ended up on Wall Street for about a decade. And then after that I founded two startups. So the technology, the finance, the startup entrepreneurial part, Blockchain kind of encompasses all those things.


But specifically how I got started was back in 2013, I decided, "Hey, I might want to start my own companies." In order to do that, it would be good to refresh my programming skills because it had been a little while. So I took a Stanford online [MOOC 00:02:44] startup engineering, taught by [Balaji Srinivasan 00:02:47], who's pretty well known in the Blockchain space. And so our final project was to build a Kickstarter clone. And there was a leaderboard and you moved up on that by tweets and Bitcoin funding.


And so friends and family, they're like, "Great. We want to support you. What the heck is Bitcoin?" And I'm like, "Don't worry. Just tell me in dollars and I'll trade it for you." And so that's how I got into doing that. And then I realized, "Hey, it's really volatile. I can trade this like anything else and try to make some money off of it."


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. Awesome. And so now, you are independent and you blog on Blockchaing.


Audrey Chaing:                            Mm-hmm. Yeah. So it's Blockchaing, and it's basically Blockchain and add a G, dot org. I name actually is perfect for this.


Myth #1: Bitcoin Users Are Anonymous


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. Wonderful. So, on this show we love to debunk a number of myths and misconceptions. I am sure Bitcoin and Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are just ripe for this. So, let's start with the first myth, which is Bitcoin users are anonymous.


Audrey Chaing:                            Yeah, it's actually pseudonymous. People have that idea because there are these wallets that are this big string of numbers and letters, but since everything is on the Blockchain you can trace at any point. You know X wallet paid Y wallet at this time, this and that. So even though you don't know who necessarily who owns X wallet or Y wallet, you know that that happened and you can trace that. And actually, law enforcement has already started doing that.


How Bitcoin Works With Public Key and Private Key Encryption


Sometimes it's really easy to out yourself as well, so there's public keys and private keys. If you post your public key somewhere, then that now is associated with you. Even if you don't think anyone can track you, then maybe they can actually. But that's why there are now privacy coins where that's much more of an anonymous thing.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Let's backtrack a little bit. What's public key?


Audrey Chaing:                            So, in cryptography there's a private key, public key. They're mathematically related, and they can be used to...For instance, I'm sending you an email and I don't want the whole world to see it in transmission, so what I can do is if you send me your public key and the public key's OK to share, I can take my message, encrypt it with the public key, send it over and it'll just be garbled, and then you can take your private key and decrypt it that way.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Nice. So it's a way to encrypt signals, messages, any sort of data?


Audrey Chaing:                            Mm-hmm.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     OK. So let's get back then to talking about some of these myths. Now, what's perpetuated this myth that Bitcoin users are anonymous?


Why People Think Bitcoin Transactions Are Anonymous Or For Criminals


Audrey Chaing:                            So, I think people think it's anonymous because there are transactions that are wallets, but there are no names or identities necessarily associated with them. So it's a long string of numbers. However, that's not fully true at least in the case of Bitcoin because, yes, you have these numbers that are not associated with people, but you can trace the movement of funds and kind of what happened with what.


So, if wallet X decides to send 5 Bitcoin to wallet Y, you don't know who owns wallet X, you don't know who owns wallet Y, but you do see that it was sent. And there are many ways that you can kind of out yourself by accident, therefore someone knows that I own wallet Y for instance.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. So, another myth: Bitcoin is beyond the law and it's for criminals.


Audrey Chaing:                            Yeah. So there's a lot of people that talk about Bitcoin along with drug deals and things like that. There's good reason for this because there are things like Silk Road, which was a black marketplace that got shut down. But you know, having said that, the black market will's been around a long time, will persist, and no matter what sort of medium you use, it'll still be there. I don't think that the levels have increased due specifically to cryptocurrency. And actually, the largest source of money laundering is the U.S. dollar.


So there's that, but also on top of that there are a lot of legitimate companies getting very interested in Blockchain technology, not just Bitcoin, that's one thing which a lot of companies are actually invested in, but Blockchain technology as a whole, a lot of Fortune 500s, names that you would hear are investigating into Blockchain.


Myth #2: Bitcoin Has No Market Value


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. And we'll get into that in the next episode for sure. So, let's talk about another: Bitcoin has no value. It's not backed by anything.


Audrey Chaing:                            This is true. It is not backed by anything. Some people like to point to, "Well, you know, there was electricity put in, and that's proof of work, calculations." But you know what? A lot of things don't have intrinsic value like the U.S. dollar. It's just that the government says it's worth something, and we have all collectively agreed it's worth something.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     OK. So that's actually not a myth. That is true. It is-


Audrey Chaing:                            It is not backed by gold or anything like that, yeah.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Got it. All right. The next one: Bitcoin is not secure.


Audrey Chaing:                            So, secure could mean a lot of different things. In one sense, Bitcoin is more secure because the's a distributed database, so a lot of people have copies, therefore you have no one point of attack. So in the Equifax half for instance, they were holding a lot of people's data. I know I was definitely affected. You were probably affected. But there's [nodes 00:08:15] everywhere. You can't just take down one and get everybody. You actually have to get over 51% to trick the system.


In one case it's kind of more secure, but one thing that I do want people to understand is that we've become used to things being reversible, so if someone got your credit card number, they made a bunch of transactions, you can call your company and say, "You know what? That was not me. Can you reverse it? Can you credit me," right?


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Right.


Cryptocurrency Works Like Cash


Audrey Chaing:                            And we're all very used to that. That's not how it works in cryptocurrency. It's like cash. If someone steals it from you, it's gone. You can't be like, "Oh, can you just reverse that back."


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Right. OK. So it's's sunk cost. You're not gonna ever get it back.


Audrey Chaing:                            Basically, yeah, like cash.


Myth #3: Bitcoin Will Replace Credit Cards And Cash


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     OK. Next myth: Bitcoin will replace credit cards and cash.


Audrey Chaing:                            So, I don't think most people think that is the point of Bitcoin. So, the point of Bitcoin is that it's a store of value, and it's done a good job doing that. Having said that, there is potential for other cryptocurrencies to potentially be more of an everyday go buy your coffee with it. Some include maybe Bitcoin cash or Litecoin. They're a little faster, a little cheaper.


But one thing to keep in mind right now is that scalability is a huge problem. So if you're talking about these Blockchain systems, right? We're doing eight to 30 transactions per second, credit cards handle about 5,000 transactions per second, so it's like a really big difference.

Bitcoin Energy Consumption Explained


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah. So actually, that brings up a good point. A lot of people have said that given how intensive each transaction is, Bitcoin can be a huge energy consumer. Is that true?


Audrey Chaing:                            Yeah, I think that's...there's people that have been running mining rigs in really cold places and it heats their home.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Oh, OK.


Audrey Chaing:                            Yeah, which is kind of clever. So yes, there is an energy cost. People are aware of it. There are a lot of other consensus mechanisms. So proof of work is just the first one, right? If we think about email when it first came out. You can complain, "Oh, this is not efficient," or whatever, but it was the very Version 1, so that's Bitcoin and proof of work and these whole calculation things and using up electricity.


But there are a lot of other ways to reach consensus. Examples include proof of stake, and there's a lot of other ones in the works now where you're not actually calculating. And there's actually an interesting idea of what if you did proof of work but it actually did something? Because right now you're doing calculations but it's not really adding to anybody. If you did almost like a Mechanical Turk in that we're doing calculations but it's actually helping us solve something, then you could be doing two things at the same time.


Myth #4 Bitcoin And Blockchain Are The Same


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Got it. All right. And last one, which we talked about in the beginning: people think Bitcoin is the same as Blockchain.


Audrey Chaing:                            Mm-hmm. Yeah, and I understand why because in the media people usually talk about Bitcoin because of the price moves. People are interested in that, right? A lot of people haven't even heard of the term Blockchain, and when they do they think it's the same thing. But yeah, Bitcoin is one cryptocurrency. There are now over 1,500 cryptocurrencies. They are all using the Blockchain technology, but it's very possible to work with Blockchain and not even have a currency.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     OK. So what is the Blockchain technology, then?


Audrey Chaing:                            So that's basically...if you've heard of distributed ledger—


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Mm-hmm.


Audrey Chaing:                            That might be driving you. But at the very very base, it is a large database that everyone has a copy of.


Other Cryptocurrencies Besides Bitcoin


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Got it. All right. So, what other cryptocurrencies are out there?


Audrey Chaing:                            There are a lot, and I would recommend if you wanted to look into them, CoinMarketCap has a list of all of them basically. But some of the ones you may have heard of, like Ethereum is a really big one. Some quarked off of Bitcoin so there's Bitcoin cash, Bitcoin gold. There's any number of coins that exist and sell through ICOs, which I think we'll talk about later.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Yeah, great, thank you. So, for our audience out there who...they're gonna want to arm themselves and be able to tell fact from fiction, how can they explore Bitcoin, Blockchain and cryptocurrencies and know that they're getting the right information?


Audrey Chaing:                            Yeah, it's really hard because there is information out there but it is hard to say what's real and what's not, and the people really deep in the community, you look at things like Reddit and Twitter, but if you're just starting out...This is actually why I started writing because I didn't think there were very many good resources out there. But one that's quite good is They do introductory stuff all the way down to explaining zk-SNARKs.


How To Get Started With Cryptocurrencies


So there's stuff out there. I think the best way to get learning is actually to just go buy some cryptocurrency, because once you have something on a line, you'll want to learn how it works.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Nice. And hopefully there's something that's cheaper than Bitcoin that we can all purchase.


Audrey Chaing:                            So here's another thing...another common misconception is that you need to buy one coin at a time. You really don't. You could do like .001 on any of these things.


Poornima Vijayashanker.:                     Oh. Very cool. Well thank you so much, Audrey, for helping us bust all of these myths and sharing your expertise on Bitcoin, Blockchain and cryptocurrencies. I know our audience out there is gonna get a lot of value out of this. If there's a question or a myth that we didn't answer today, be sure to let us know what it is in the comments below this video. We'll be sure to answer it. And subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode, where Audrey and I will talk about a number of applications that are hopefully going to stick around that you can get involved in when it comes to Blockchain and cryptocurrencies.


Ciao for now.

This episode of *Build* is brought to you our main sponsor, Pivotal Tracker. We'd also like to thank our Platinum Patreon Patrons: Corgibytes, the Develop[Her] Show, Dee Gill, and Jamie Hand.         

Jun 20, 2018

In the last episode of Build, we exposed a number of myths about current augmented reality and virtual reality trends, and how new products are evolving by learning from predecessors like Google Glass.


If the episode piqued your curiosity and left you wondering how you can get started or where you can find more resources, today’s episode is for you!


Rose Haft the CEO and Founder of Lumenora is back. Together we’re going to share some the applications of augmented reality and virtual reality that are here to stay, and how you can get started tinkering with the technology.


You’ll learn:


  • How 200+ companies are using augmented reality and virtual reality
  • Why augmented reality and virtual reality isn’t just limited to industries like gaming but others like healthcare are adopting it
  • The software tools and resources that are available today — making it easier for early adopters like you to start tinkering and developing applications!


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


Episode Transcript

Poornima Vijayashanker:           In the previous episode of *Build*, we shared some of the most common myths and misconceptions related to augmented and virtual reality. If you missed the episode, I've included a link to it below. In today's episode, we're going to do a deeper dive into some of the applications of augmented and virtual reality, and talk about how you can get involved and your hands dirty using the technology. So, stay tuned.


Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker, the founder of Femgineer, In each episode, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. In today's episode, we're back with Rose Halt, who is the CEO and founder of Lumenora, and we're gonna be doing a deeper dive into augmented and virtual reality, talking about some of the applications, as well as how you can get started using the technology. Thanks again for joining us Rose.


Rose Haft:               Yeah, thanks for having me.


How 200+ Companies Are Using Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah, so, let's go ahead and dive in. Last time, we talked about some of the myths. This time, I want to talk about some of the applications, so maybe you can walk us through what you're seeing in terms of use cases for AR and VR.


Rose Haft:               Yeah, so even though people think that AR and VR is done. We talk about on the last episode, there are over 200 companies who are using it today.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Wow.


Rose Haft:               Which is pretty significant. They're using it to help reduce errors in production lines, helping to provide instructions where people might not have a lot of experience in a job, and helping to make sure that everyone is doing what they're supposed to do when they're supposed to. So, a lot of optimization.


How Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality Is Helping The Healthcare Industry


There are companies starting to work on Healthcare, trying to help to improve the patient-doctor experience, and that's another prominent one that's starting to take off. And then also in gaming. I'm sure you guys have all seen a lot of gaming videos of your friends on the internet, and so that's another one that people really like, and enjoy.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah, I think the gaming one has been going on since the 90's, right? So, that's definitely one that's sort of here to stay. So, are there any other applications? I know I've seen some stuff around simulating things like surgeries, anything else that comes to mind?


Rose Haft:               Yeah, absolutely. So, on that surgery front, being able to train people and have the opportunity to practice something, before doing it in real life has been known to increase the likelihood of success. And so, people who are going into surgery it's really helpful to know the doctor has practiced a couple more times on a specific patient with similar body types, and expectations, and unique scenarios before they go in for a dangerous surgery. So we're really starting to see them being used to help humans make fewer errors in general, which is really interesting. As we're increasing the robotic technology to create machines, that can do things perfectly, we're also helping humans to do things perfectly.


Additional Applications And Use Cases For Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Well, I don't know if perfection is necessarily the goal, but that's good to hear that that's what they're aiming for. So, are these just trends, or are there more applications that you see coming down the pipeline?


Rose Haft:               Yeah, these definitely aren't trends. There are people who are starting to get to know and understand, and the right tools are being built now, from software and the hardware perspective, that will allow people to start adopting them. Today, I just had an interview with somebody who has tried using it in a business setting, and there's still some issues that they're running into even with billions of dollars being put into developing headsets. And so, as an engineer, I'm trying to...they say laziness is one of the virtues of being an engineer, and trying to do things right the first time, so as a startup, after people have put a lot of money in, we're able to take a hard look at some of the reasons why people aren't able to use them, and be able to put them design to prevent those flaws, and make them more adoptable.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah, so it's gotta be a really high cost of production right? And for people in the audience who want to play with the technology, it costs like several thousands of dollars just to get a headset, and then of course there's a software being developed, so how are you seeing the cost come down, or how companies trying to bring down those production costs?


Rose Haft:               Yeah. So, companies like mine know the importance of these technologies. I've spent time in India and Peru, and I've seen how much a lack of similar tools has really made an impact on the world. And so, we're designing specifically to have a headset that can be used as functional, works great, and has a price point we can't fully disclose that yet, but ours won't take thousands of dollars to actually use and integrate with. We don't need to buy an expensive laptop in order to work with it. Our will be able to work out of the box, for about the cost of a cell phone, what you'd find now.


Software Languages And Platforms Compatible With Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality


Poornima Vijayashanker:           And what about the software that goes in it? Since, nothing yet is standardized, are company's thinking about this? How can our audience develop applications?


Rose Haft:               Yeah. So, Android is probably one of the easiest ways to get started. Android, if you know how to build apps, and there are a lot of tutorials, you can start to integrate with some of the same systems that will work on a phone, as well as a headset like ours. Most headset companies do integrate in that ecosystem. So, that really helps. Otherwise if you're more familiar with HTML or CSS, you can go to, and there's also a Slack channel where you can get help learning how to use HTML and CSS to build applications using just regular web browser technology. It's a little more technical than that, but it's a good place to get started. And then, also Unity is another big skill that people can...another software platform that people can use in order to get started.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Oh, great. So, it's good to see that this same software platform is being leveraged, and it's not new languages or new frameworks that people have to adopt, except for maybe a couple things, like you mentioned, Unity.


Rose Haft:               Yup. So, I know there's a lot of different software languages to learn, and that can be very overwhelming. For the most part, all of them will talk to each other in some sort of way. And so, if you are wanting a specific language to write in, usually C or C++ is pretty universal, it'll allow allow you to plug in with one platform or another. Java, as well.


How To Deploy Software Application On Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Headsets


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah, and what about the actual way to sort of put the application into these headsets, is it all internet enabled? How does that work?


Rose Haft:               Yeah. So, every headset will have its own SDK that you can access and download, typically through the internet, and something you have to work directly with the company, and so it really depends on what you want to use. Android tends the easiest, because you can buy phones for less than $100, and you can start building and testing with that. And a lot of them are really functional and capable.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah. Maybe you can help us break down what SDK is.


Rose Haft:               Oh yeah. So, SDK is our software development kits, and so it'll have standardized code that will help you to talk to the hardware, or talk to other pieces of software, to make sure everything is compatible. For instance, with the different display systems, there are specific ways in which the display will be changed, so it has a coherent image, and that will be part of an SDK.


There’s A Market Need For More Software Infrastructure To Support Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality Products


Poornima Vijayashanker:           So, to draw an analogy to when mobile devices were first coming out. A lot of these platforms had emulators that you could put on your computer so that you didn't have to have every single device. You didn't have to have an Android phone, and a iPhone. Are there similar emulators being developed?


Rose Haft:               There should be. I haven't developed specifically for other headset companies. I'm trying to keep the IP stuff differently, but Android does a really good job with emulators, and it should work standardly, and each headset company will have an easy way to integrate, make it look the same on their headset, as well.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           OK, so maybe a market opportunity for some enterprising audience member out there.


Rose Haft:               Yeah, absolutely.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           But certainly, that opens the door for testing. I'm sure there's a lot of testing frameworks out there as well.


Rose Haft:               Yup.


Resources To Help Early Adopters Like You Get Started Tinkering and Building Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality Applications


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Wonderful. So, for those that want to get started, you already mentioned a few resources. Do you have any other resources out there that you can share with our audience?


Rose Haft:               Yeah I think if you're wanting to get started, it is really great to you find a mentor, or somebody else in the space who has worked, joined Slack channels and communities, and also talked to people who have been in the industry for a while, and find out what's worked, and what hasn't worked, what they need help with, and a lot of people are very willing to take the time to share knowledge, and information to help you move forward and get started. So, never feel ashamed to clarify, to ask for help, and to make sure that you're getting started and doing things in the best way.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           Yeah, wonderful. And we'll be sure to share those links with our audience out there. Thank you so much, Rose, for coming on the show today.


Rose Haft:               Yeah, thank you for having me.


Poornima Vijayashanker:           That's it for today's episode of *Build*. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive our next episode, and share this episode with your friends, your teammates, and your boss. And a special thanks to our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker for their help in producing this episode. Ciao for now. This episode of *Build* is brought to you by our sponsor Pivotal Tracker.

Jun 20, 2018

Remember Google Glass? Yeah it didn’t quite take off did it… It was just one example of a failed attempt to productize virtual reality. Its short lifespan along with a number of other products since the 90s has probably got you thinking that there is just a lot of buzz around augmented reality and virtual reality.


While the technologies seem exciting, you might be on the fence when it comes to investing your time and energy exploring the technology.


It doesn’t help that the cost associated with production and acquisition of the devices, and the limited toolset have made them both a challenge to tinker with.


But I have some good news for you: much of the market is changing! There some great applications that are disrupting businesses and industries like healthcare, and a number of resources making it easier to build.


In today’s Build episode we’re going to dive into the major differences and similarities between augmented reality (AR) versus virtual reality (VR). Then we’ll debunk the many myths around AR/VR. And in next week’s episode, we’ll share some of the cool applications that are coming on the market and a number of resources to help you get started!


To help us out, I’ve invited Rose Haft who is the CEO and Founder of Lumenora.


As you listen to today’s episode you’ll learn the following:


  • What are the major differences between augmented reality (AR) versus virtual reality (VR)
  • Why products like Google Glass failed to take off and what new products are learning from its demise
  • Why you haven’t heard from companies that are actually making a mark
  • Why big companies like Facebook are investing in a more long-term strategy
  • How Rose Haft got introduced to AR/VR and how her company Lumenora is approaching the market


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


Episode Transcript

Poornima Vijayashanker:        Wondering what all the buzz is about when it comes to augmented reality and virtual reality? Well, stay tuned to find out more. Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode of *Build*, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. You've probably heard that augmented reality and virtual reality are the way of the future and maybe you're reluctant to join all the buzz. Well, I don't blame you. In today's episode we're going to debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to augmented reality and virtual reality and then in the future episode we're going to talk about some of its applications. To help us out, I've invited Rose Haft, who is the CEO and founder of Lumenora. Thanks for joining us today, Rose.


Rose Haft:          Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.


Are augmented reality and virtual reality the same?


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. Why don't we just get started by introducing to our audience, in case they're not familiar, what exactly is the difference between augmented reality, AR, and virtual reality, VR?


Rose Haft:          Absolutely. Yeah, so augmented reality and virtual reality are a way to have a computer interface that's very close to the eye that allows for there to be a different way to interact with the computer than what you're used to today. Augmented reality makes it possible to see what's happening in the real world that everyone else can see, with a little bit of image overlay that will help to display text, or data. If you've heard of Magic Leap, it'll also help to display holograms and things that look very lifelike. The difference between augmented and virtual reality is that in virtual reality you have your own environment and you're not able to access any of the exterior world, so you're completely immersed inside of that environment. It makes it a little bit more difficult to see what's happening elsewhere, but there are a lot of really useful applications for being fully immersed and reasons why people really enjoy using it.


Why Rose Haft (CEO and Founder of Lumenora) Got Interested In Augmented And Virtual Reality


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Maybe you can tell us what got you interested in augmented and virtual reality and then we can talk about why you decided to start your company.


Rose Haft:          I got interested in augmented and virtual reality in high school. I knew I wanted to be an engineer and I had an opportunity to work as an intern at one of the local prototyping facilities. At that facility we were working on building advanced headsets for the military. I really had a chance to see how having a hands-free tool that could be worn can really do anything from help to save lives, as well as help to communicate silently between people. I thought it was really interesting, a different way of interacting in technology, than had ever been there before.


Why Building Headsets for Augmented And Virtual Reality Was Challenging And Led To Limited Product Adoption


Poornima Vijayashanker:        What inspired you to start your company Lumenora?


Rose Haft:          Yeah. After working at several companies, including working at Meta helping to design the Meta II, I realized that there were a lot of logistical and engineering reasons why people weren't able to build the headsets that I felt like were ideal and also why those reasons are also part of the reasons why people don't want to adopt them. I was studying at Stanford a little bit of biomedical engineering and how to use sensors, like you would in surgery, and I thought it'd be great to incorporate them into a headset. Again, there were logistical reasons to doing that. After I found a partner company that could help solve one of the major problems in the area, and with my unique background in design, knowing how to design things differently, was really a great match to build something that is more advanced, more capable, and people actually want to wear it and use it.


How Businesses Are Applying Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality To Their Business Processes


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. Do you mind sharing the application of what you're working on?


Rose Haft:          Yeah. Right now, we're kind of fitting into the maintenance repair and operations space. There are over 200 companies internationally that are using it to do things like supply chain management, companies like BMW who build cars find it useful to make sure they're choosing the right parts and putting them together in the right way, and making sure that their quality process, you don't have to go back and double check work, they're doing it right and the first time.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Got it, so it's really a training platform—


Rose Haft:          Yep.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        For people, yeah.


Rose Haft:          We're adding in extra features and we're doing some fun and cutting edge things that will help to even more improve those industries, especially training. In order for people to learn skills, and trade crafts, and the majority of Americans who hold the same job title need to go to school to learn these things, and how to work on specific machines, and machine types. We'll be integrating a real-time training system where you can learn a new skill or a craft in real-time and you don't need to have the several years of school, so we'll be able to adopt robots faster, and self-driving cars, and those sort of things.


Why People Have Been Reluctant To Adopt Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality Products


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Very nice. You mentioned early on that there's been a lot of reluctance to adopting this new technology, AR and VR. Why is that?


Rose Haft:          There's a lot of reluctance for a variety of reasons. People haven't found that they're stylish enough, or cool enough, and also really haven't found the benefits. They've really only seen the detriments and pullbacks as far as feeling like their security is being threatened or their privacy would be threatened because of the ability to record and take in information. I think the use cases are just now starting to be developed. One of my favorites is there's a 3D graphing app, and so you can use it for calculus. I know we're doing some fun and cutting edge things that really will help the average everyday person meet typical goals and those sort of things and it'll make it better and easier to adopt once those use cases are there.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah, and we'll hold that thought. We're going to dive into those use cases in the next episode. There's also a lot of myths being propagated right now and I think one of them, because of the lack of adoption, people just are saying that AR/VR is dead and there's not much going on. Is that true? Are people not building these headsets anymore? Are they no longer investing in the technology infrastructure?


Rose Haft:          Yeah, that's absolutely not true—


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK.


Rose Haft:          Whatsoever.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Why You Haven’t Heard From Companies That Are Actually Making A Mark In The Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality Market


Rose Haft:          There's still a lot of investing to try to find the right solutions and the right designs, so people can actually wear them and adopt them. I know companies like mine have tried to stay as much out of the media as possible, because people have spent billions of dollars trying to find the right solution, and as soon as you put something out there, people feel like they can help themselves. Working on companies like mine who are working on very proprietary things, or making sure that they're developing and building strength, and so we're doing a lot of things in the background that can't be seen quite yet, and eventually will come to mainstream once we really feel like we'll be able to offer something that people really want.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Are there any other myths that are being propagated, aside from the one around it being dead?


Rose Haft:          Yeah. People think they're ugly.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right.


What Led To The Demise Of The Google Glass And How New Products Are Learning From Its Failures


Rose Haft:          The glass hole is the scared term that's used and we're building something that will be a lot more sleek and stylish and have a lot more options in order to wear it and have it look different. I think the use cases that we're developing will be cool enough and necessary enough that people will want to adopt it anyways.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. You're seeing a lot of friction just in terms of the adoption because of change of behavior because people don't see this as prevalent, so that makes sense. There's already a number of big players in the market today. Facebook has Oculus. Google, like you mentioned, used to have Google Glass. What exactly is the difference between some of these big players, and maybe what you're building, and what you see other people building?


Rose Haft:          The main differences between each of the companies are the form factor and the tech-


Poornima Vijayashanker:        OK.


Rose Haft:          The technology that's being used to develop them. There are several different optical technologies that are used and those really make a big difference in what a headset looks like. Most of the virtual reality headsets have a screen like your cell phone that's in front of the eyes and there are lenses that help you to see an image clearly. That's one type of technology. Companies like Google have something called a beam splitter inside the Google Glass and while it's a smaller form factor, it has limited capabilities. Companies like Vuzix have something called a wave guide that has limitations around it as far as the brightness of the image, and the amount of the screen that's able to be filmed. That might be a very technical explanation, but-


Poornima Vijayashanker:        That's OK, we have a very technical audience.


Rose Haft:          Well, this is...I'm hoping to share-


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah.


Rose Haft:          Relevant information. The biggest difference between each of the systems is the way the computer image is generated so somebody can see it. Those are really the big three ones that you see right now. Meta has a direct reflection. I helped to come up with that design. I built a...Meta hired me because I had built a prototype and they thought my prototype was cool and they hired me on to help with that.


How You Can Separate The Fact From Fiction Around Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah, that's awesome. When our audience out there is trying to evaluate between fact and fiction when it comes down to augmented reality and virtual reality, what would you say to kind of arm them?


Rose Haft:          Yeah. In order to help understand the difference between fact and fiction in an augmented and virtual reality environment, a lot of companies are going out and giving a lot of information and showing pictures and those sort of things, without actually having a product. It's really important to look at how close is whatever is seen actually able to go out and be used in the world.


Also, companies that have a lot of hype, where they are getting the most press and it seems most exciting, aren't necessarily the ones who are building the most useful tools. I think it's kind of...Companies can be like people. If they're kind of showing off a whole lot, but not really putting anything behind the game, then there's probably a problem with it.


Otherwise, I encourage your audience, everyone out there, to really learn the science behind what's happening. Part of the reason why we've been able to do things differently at Lumenora is because I knew the science, and I was able to go through and do things differently, because I knew the limitations of the methods trying to be implemented. Science, and also fact check, and double check if something's actually ready, or usable, or wearable.


Why Big Companies Like Facebook Are Investing In A More Long Term Strategy Around Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality


Companies like Facebook who have a five-year plan in order to build something and they've talked about that at F8 and those sort of things, they haven't necessarily released anything publicly to show what they're working on, and those are the companies that are more genuinely putting an effort into creating something useful before they go out and get credit for something they've not yet done.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. No, that makes a lot of sense. Well thank you so much, Rose. This has been really eye opening for us. I appreciate you coming on the show and sharing.


Rose Haft:          Absolutely.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. Rose and I want to know, do you have any questions related to augmented reality and virtual reality? Let us know what they are in the comments below. That's it for today's episode of *Build*. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode where we'll do a deeper dive into talking about some of the applications on augmented and virtual reality. Chow for now.


This episode of *Build* is brought to you by our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker.


Jun 18, 2018

All this month we’ve been talking about remote working as it relates to recruiting, training, and retaining remote works. We started out by tackling how to recruit remote workers for people who may be new to it. Then we discussed how to train, hold accountable, and retain remote workers.


In the final episode for this month, we’re going to address a BIG concern that often holds people back from recruiting and managing a remote team: the nature of the work that needs to be done.


Most hiring managers we talk to are OK with hiring a virtual assistant to handle day-to-day tasks. But when it comes to a mission critical project like launching a startup or handling very important client or customers, going remote seems too risky, and people opt for hiring a team on-site.


In today’s episode, we’ll talk about why it boils down changing your process depending on the nature of work your remote workers are doing.


Holly Cardew the Founder of Pixc is back to help us out. Holly has grown and scaled her team across Australia and Asia. And has done so in a number of job functions spanning both the business side with roles such as virtual assistants and marketers, to the technical side hiring software developers and designers to build the product.


As you listen to today’s episode you’ll learn:


  • How to manage a remote team that is working on a mission critical project
  • How customers and clients benefit from a team of remote workers
  • Why facetime is still important for remote teams—especially when kicking off a project
  • How to facilitate facetime amongst remote workers
  • A simple first step for people who are on the fence about hiring remote workers


Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.


## What A Remote Team Needs To Be Successful When Working On A Mission Critical Project Transcript


Poornima Vijayashanker:        In the last two episodes of *Build*, we shared a lot of the benefits of remote working. We also shared some best practices when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees and the processes you want to put in place to keep everybody productive.


In today's episode we're going to share how these processes will change depending on the nature of work so stay tuned.


Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode of *Build*, innovators and I debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech.


We're continuing our conversation with Holly Cardew who is the CEO and founder of Pixc on remote working. Thanks for joining us Holly.


Holly Cardew:       Good to see you again.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. Every episode of *Build* is inspired by amazing audience members like you, sharing your experiences and asking insightful questions. Today's episode is also inspired by an audience member, Kai. I want to start by reading an email that Kai sent me because I think it could help many of you who are out there.


How to manage a remote team that is working on a mission critical project


Kai wrote, "Hi Poornima, I've been following your show since the pilot episode with Ben Congleton on building a remote team and recently caught the one you did with your team mate Megan as well. Thanks for revisiting this topic of remote working over the years. One thing I've been curious about is how processes change when you're managing a critical project versus a normal day to day? I know for things like startups, or mission critical projects, coordination appears easier when everybody's in the same location. I say "appears" because it can also be a huge distraction. What do you see are the trade offs and how does a remote team dynamic change between a critical project versus normal day to day tasks? Sincerely Kai."


This is a great question Kai, and Holly and I are going to tackle it. So, if you're watching this episode, thank you for writing in. OK Holly, let's start with Kai's first question, which is, what are the trade offs when it comes to these mission critical tasks versus sort of the day to day?


Have remote workers be within a few time zones for mission critical projects


Holly Cardew:       I think mission critical tasks, you really need to understand what needs to be done and stick to that goal and that time zone. Also, understand that other people, aren't maybe in different time zones and you may need to stay up a bit late or go to bed, you know, I mean may not go to bed till 5 am. Whereas day to day tasks, it doesn't really matter when they happen in the week.


For us, what we've really done is we've kept all our tech and product in Europe. So they're not in the same location, but they are in a similar time zone, so the time difference is really 4-5 hours, five hours max. Which allows everybody to communicate, but I think it can be beneficial, again to have somebody in another location in case there is a customer issue with the technology side.


Categorize tasks as asynchronous versus synchronous tasks to help remote workers collaborate


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. So what we did early on was actually break this up into asynchronism, what we like to call sort of those day to day tasks that people can do whenever they have availability, and then synchronism, where it's like you said, something that's customer facing, something that's critical, or something that requires a lot of coordination and figuring out that 3-5 hour time difference where everyone's kind of, be in the same day versus you have a problem, someone's asleep, you don't necessarily want to wake them up, right?


If it's a customer facing issue than it can be a challenge, but I also like what you said about having people in different time zones in case it's a customer issue and then you've got more hands to kind of help out over the various time zones.


Holly Cardew:       Definitely.


How customers and clients benefit from a team of remote workers


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Do you have any, do you have a specific example you'd like to share with us?


Holly Cardew:       So as I mentioned, we definitely have taken product in Europe. We do have a project manager in the Philippines but that's OK because she understands that the rest of them are in that time zone, so she will work with that time zone. For our content and marketing, it's kind of, Europe but Western Europe and then flows over into America. That works absolutely fine.


There's about, maximum there's eight hours difference, with social media included but they don't mind that because they've just set a time, each week to get the tasks done, but as you said, it's tasks that sort of come and flow. You don't need to do it at a certain time, it's not critical that you know, our social media post went up one hour difference, doesn't make that much difference to us as a B to B software company, but I think for customers, so customer service is really important because customers can not wait 12 hours. They can't wait eight, they need a response within 20 minutes.


Facetime is still important for remote teams—especially when kicking off a project


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. Now I will say that even aside from the time zones, another thing that I've found helpful is when you're kicking off a project, or you do feel like it's something really mission critical, it can be helpful to have people at the start of the project, all working together. Early on I will do either a retreat or maybe coordinate with some subset of the team, do you do anything like that at Pixc?


Holly Cardew:       We haven't yet. We've actually, we're talking at the moment about having our first meet up. Somewhere in Asia, so sent out a Google form with potential dates of what would work, but I think it would be really valuable for people. If you are located closely together, what we will do is try to meet up at conferences.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Oh perfect.


Holly Cardew:       Or, you know other events, or you know if I'm traveling to Indonesia I'll try and meet up with a team member, but for us we haven't yet done the in person thing yet.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Yeah. I think it's also good that you said you meet up with your employees, right. So, even if it's just a one on one or kind of a smaller group getting together that can be really valuable.


Holly Cardew:       Yeah, I've also said to them, like give them a budget to travel too. So if there's a lot of them in Asia, it's quite cheap to travel within Asia, so they could meet up for a dinner or lunch.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Oh, great.


Holly Cardew:       So it doesn't necessarily mean it's just for the project, it's again, links back to the culture, because if you create a good culture and they have a social gathering together, then when they do go away they sort of understand each other a bit more.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Right and it stills helps to kind of elongate that process and they feel like they're part of team and not just somebody working somewhere in some part of the world.


Holly Cardew:       Yeah. Definitely.


A simple first step for people who are on the fence about hiring remote workers


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Wonderful. Any final words of wisdom for our audience out there when it comes to recruiting remote talent and retaining them?


Holly Cardew:       I think when I speak to people and they're like I've never hired someone remote, what should I do? I think the first step is having a virtual assistant for yourself. So those tasks that you do every single day, that you could pass to someone else, just try it. Have someone 10 hours a week, or even five hours a week so it's one day a week, doing some of those tasks and you'll soon build a culture that works for them.


The other thing is I would really think about them as not outsourcing or part of someone else's company. I stick with hiring individuals and not agency's or outsourcing companies. Then I send them birthday cakes and cards just because it makes them feel included in the bigger vision and bigger company and picture rather than just doing a task at hand.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        Oh yeah, they're definitely contributing to the overall company so that's good. That's good that you recognize them. Well these are all great tips Holly. Thank you so much for joining us.


Holly Cardew:       Thank you.


Poornima Vijayashanker:        That's it for this week's episode of *Build*. Be sure to share this with your friends, your teammates and your boss, if you are thinking about putting in place a remote working culture. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode. Ciao for now!


This episode of *Build* is brought to you by our sponsor PivotalTracker.


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