Explore a Career in Product Management - Discussion with Christine Fok, Senior Product Manager at LinkedIn
Having spent a few years as a Product Manager @Microsoft followed by working as a Product Manager @LinkedIn, Christine comes with a wealth of experience, both in the tech industry as well as in this role. She shares many useful nuggets throughout the episode, and this discussion can be a great resource for anyone interested in the PM role.
Note: Do you already have interviews lined up? Don't forget to check out our Interview guide for PM interviews in Tech, our Question bank for behavioral questions, and our Question bank for Product Design questions to help you prep for your Product Management interviews!
Here is a summary of our discussion with Christine:
For any product, the end to end owner of the product who is responsible for its success from a technical and business point of view is the product manager. While an engineer might be responsible for the technical design of the product, the product manager is the one who actually tries to figure out what would be the best design for the customer, how it should be marketed and so on. They then work with the engineer to bring the product to life based on their vision.
Christine did her undergrad from Carnegie Mellon University in Computer Science after which she joined Microsoft as a program manager in the Windows division. After that, she joined the Wharton School of Management where she completed her MBA after which she joined LinkedIn as a Product Manager.
So you hear a lot about tech companies in silicon valley being very flexible with timings and giving a lot of perks to employees. Why is that?
So in Silicon Valley I think everyone believes that they hire the best minds from everywhere. So they also believe that the best minds can also make the best decisions about how they want to spend their time. So rather than enforcing a rigid schedule which everyone must adhere to, a stronger emphasis is placed on giving a flexible work schedule and environment so that people can maximize productivity.
Could you tell us a little about your background and how you came about being here?
So like you rightly mentioned in the introduction, I joined Microsoft after my undergrad. Program Manager at Microsoft is very similar to a product manager in other companies. I worked at Microsoft for 4 years and after that I wanted to evaluate what else is out there, which is also why I picked Wharton because it’s not really known as a tech hub. But after 2 years there I realised tech was the best fit for me! So I considered both bigger and smaller companies but then settled on LinkedIn because even though it’s pretty big (publicly listed etc.) it still has a high growth and still feels like working in a startup.
So how did you end up in product marketing?
Microsoft has a program for freshmen in undergraduate colleges called the Explore Microsoft program where you don’t work in any specific discipline, but rather they put you in a team of 4-5 people and give you a project where you lead it from start to finish. So you get exposure to all the different functions in a products lifecycle from strategy to coding to testing and so on. It was during this that I actually got interested in the space and it was because of that that in my third year, during internship season I specifically applied for that role. Then during placement time at Wharton I looked at a few other roles in product marketing, business development etc. But I finally settled on product management because of its extremely challenging nature.
Why is Product Management considered such a prestigious role?
So being a PM is very central to the success of the product. Other people in the team have defined roles engineers would be responsible for the technical backbone, quality assurance would be responsible for testing and so on. However, if the vision of the product which defined each of these roles was not right, the product would fail even if each of these activities was done perfectly. Furthermore since you’re not responsible for the tangible part of the product, the only metric based on which the PM is evaluated is the success of the product and a product could fail for a number of reasons. So the PM has an extremely important role.
What kind of different areas have you worked on in LinkedIn?
I first worked in the communications team where we were responsible for the communication being sent by LinkedIn to our members (Email, Push communications or even SMS) with the goal to deliver the right information to the members which may not be visiting LinkedIn organically. The second role was the news-feed team. When you open the app for the first time or the homepage that you open, what all do you see on the page. So we were the ones deciding what people see.
So could you walk us through the entire process of how you would approach a problem?
At any time we’re actually doing a number of activities in parallel, but in broad terms we’re typically doing the following activities. Firstly, you need to have a clear vision for the product which basically answers “why am I building?”, “who am I building it for?” and “what exactly do they need?” and we answer this by doing a lot of research of both our own as well competitors customers. Typically we will work with a number of people such as marketing researcher or manager to get to that answer. Generally a team will spend around one-third of the total time on a project on this step, but I would say that this is one of the most important parts of the entire process nailing this means you’ve won almost 70%-80% of the battle. Also, a vision will typically undergo a lot of iterations based on conversations within the team as well as evolving customer needs and competitive landscapes. Another important aspect is that once you have the vision it’s very important to align everyone on the team to the same vision. So it’s very important to identify who all your stakeholders are core team, other partner teams which may be affected by the product and other executives in the company.
Secondly, we start prototyping. There are many forms of prototyping starting from just sitting with a customer and talking through the product’s execution. It could be designing a wireframe or a high-fidelity mockup of the product or even be working code which an engineer creates. Prototypes also help a lot in creating the design of the product, validate the vision as well as well as defining the engineering approach (what technology to use etc.), thus bringing everything together.
Thirdly, we then enter the product development phase. The length of this phase is very dependent upon the product complexity. Typically though, you try to do this phase as soon as possible so that you can ship it out to the customer and start garnering feedback.
Fourthly, generation of the go to market plan, which is typically done in close coordination with the marketing manager. Which covers what is the best messaging about the product for the users and what channels would be the most impactful.
Lastly, once the product actually hits the market you need to track its performance and what is good/bad about it so a lot of analytics comes into play. This is why there’s a lot of emphasis during the development phase to ensure that the right kind of trackers are placement within the product to gather data. This is particularly important for products targeted for individual consumers and not enterprises because there the number of customers can number in the millions or even billions. During this phase, a PM would work very closely with a data analyst to understand whether the project is actually doing well.
The performance of a product is measured on pre-defined goals which are defined before the product is shipped out. Some of the metrics which are used are if with each successive version of the product can you get a larger number of people on the product, or maybe get more people to take certain actions on the product it is very important to define these beforehand so that you can place the right kind of instrumentation so that you can track those metrics.
Here are some of the resources mentioned by Christine Fok in this episode:
Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager — by bhorowitz
The Hard Thing about Hard Things — by bhorowitz
How to hire a Product Manager — by Ken Norton
Where are you in this love triangle — by Joff Redfern, VP of Product at LinkedIn
Hope you enjoyed these episodes! :) If you have any feedback to share, or if you have any questions for Christine or Nkem, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at us @LED_Curator