Updated: April 10, 2023 - 12 min read
This week Product School hosted Tyson Mao, Product Manager at Google, for an #AskMeAnything session. He gives an overview of Product work at Google while offering insightful tips and tricks on how to get into the Product space!
Meet Tyson Mao
Tyson is an entrepreneurial and analytical Product Manager with a passion for new situations and interesting problems. He has worked in Product Management developing mobile products for Kiwi and web Products for Zynga. Currently, Tyson manages Hadron Labs, a full-service development shop that assists entrepreneurs and teams with Product, design, and engineering solutions. Additionally, he’s currently working at Google as a Product Manager.
Product Work at Google
“Can you please share the main factors that help you land a job at Google? What can set someone apart from the rest of the candidates?”
Google’s process is designed to be rather objective, and so the main thing you can do to land a job is to be able to showcase your PM skills to the interview panel.
“What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a Product Manager at Google and what steps did you take to overcome them?”
I think some of the biggest challenges that I’ve worked on are when you’re working on a feature that touches multiple teams, these teams may have disparate goals.
Trying to find common ground, and trying to preserve your goals while empathizing with others can be challenging, but is necessary for a consensus-driven culture.
“How do I bring attention to my profile for PM roles at Google? I do have experience in a Product role for a year. ”
Right now is a complicated time for hiring and interviewing in general. I think in general, hiring is particularly challenging right now, mostly because the future is uncertain. It feels that companies, in general, are being more selective about their hiring at the current time, and are being quite targeted in looking for people to fill particular roles.
If you have product experience already, in a normal world, you should be able to at least get a conversation with a recruiter. If not, you can try spending time at other places to strengthen your resume.
You also might be interested in: Prepare for a Product Management Interview at Google
“What would the process be like to get a big product idea off the ground at Google?”
In general, every big idea starts with a series of small ideas, and every big idea requires a team. You need to evangelize your idea and convince people around you to work on them.
“Could you run through your day to day job at Google? How much time and which tool do you use to gather customer insights?”
My day consists of a lot of alignment, meeting with people to go over status updates, and to try to move things forward. I work with UXR teams to gather customer insights, or we can also look at internal metrics dashboards.
Product Ideas, Decisions, Discovery, and More!
“How to think about idea and validate it ?”
It depends on the idea. But in general, you can think about the idea in the space and try to answer a few questions:
Where is this space going? Is there going to be growth?
What’s the market size of this space? Am I solving a big problem?
What about deployment and activation? How hard will it be to get customers? (Getting 100k DAU is different than landing 3 enterprise clients.)
Then I’d also think about the idea:
What can I do to test this? What’s the minimum thing that I can do?
When I talk to my friends, do they think this idea has value?
What about with VCs? Can I get external funding?
There is definitely a lot of contexts, but I answered this question assuming that you were looking to start a company.
Interested in Product Ideas? Check out: 3 Ways to Validate Your Product Idea by Testing a Hypothesis
“You seem to be involved in a lot of projects besides Google. How much time do you contribute to each?”
These days, not too much. My main job takes up most of my time, and I have a family. My philosophy now (though it wasn’t this way 10 years ago) is to try and make sure that with other projects, there are day-to-day operators who can carry the effort forward.
COVID-19 has impacted the operations of some of my businesses though, and so I’ve had to spend a little bit more time winding some things down with Grape & Grain.
“What does validation mean to you? How do you make sure you’re working on the right thing at the right time?”
It depends on your situation, and it depends on the goals that you have. I think there are a few things you can look at:
Are you working on something that will have a meaningful impact?
Are you working on something that needs to be worked on now?
If I don’t do this now, how will it affect my product?
Is there anything else that I could be doing that will have a better impact?
“What kind of data do you prefer: qualitative vs quantitative? What do you look at when making product decisions?”
This depends on the product. You use both, but some products require a lot more quantitative evaluation (how is my data warehouse performing) versus others will be more qualitative (I’m building a new product, will this flow work)?
In this last example, you could try to be quantitative, but for early-stage startups, it’s hard to get enough numbers to extract a meaningful signal. Knowing when to be quantitative and when to be qualitative is an important aspect of making product decisions.
“My team is facing a problem: When the product manager is doing product discovery, the engineers feel like they have nothing to do. This makes the product manager feels rushed and usually they end up with “unfinished” discovery and just go straight to build. Do you have any advice on that?”
One thing to think about is how you can stack your projects so that you have projects that are in different phases going on in parallel. Ideally, if the PM is doing “product discovery,” then the engineers are working on something else at that time.
Transitioning Into Product Management: The Ultimate Guide
“I want to get into Product Management. How do I get started without any experience?”
It depends on what you’re transitioning from, but in general, I would say there are two ways to get into product management.
You can do PM internships over the summer.
You can try to acquire the skills, and get your foot into the door at a company that is willing to hire entry-level product managers.
I think, in particular, mobile game companies seem to be a bit more open to these types of hires, especially in roles where the game is a bit more stable with a live ops management component. If you decided to go down this route, then the primary thing you need to do is to make sure you prepare well for the interview.
You also might want to check out: Product Management Certifications
“How do we transition into Product Management from Civil Engineering?”
You can try to get an interview with a company that is willing to hire. Using your LinkedIn network will help you get past the resume screen, especially if you have referrals. But you really need to be prepared to answer standard product management interview questions.
If someone asks you how many ping pong balls fit in a 747, you need to have a good answer. If you get asked how are you going to build X for Y, you need to have practiced the framework for answering those types of questions, and you want to be able to deliver a smooth, insightful, and concise answer during the session.
“Can you please walk through a day in the life of a Product Manager? ”
A day in the life really depends on where you’re at. At a startup, you probably do a bit of everything and your day may be less structured.
At a larger company, you probably have your routine of standups, 1:1s, and other cross-functional meetings to get everyone on the same page or to move a project forward.
Check out: Inside Look: A Day as a Product Manager
“What do I need to consider when thinking about the product’s north star? How do I make sure I’m not distracted by other short term metrics?”
There isn’t a perfect answer to this. If there were, you’d see some playbook that everyone follows, and people wouldn’t make strategy mistakes. The problem is that products are different, and the worlds that they live in are different.
There are times when short-term metrics are absolutely critical. But this question is difficult to answer because what’s important to you and the product is going to depend on the situation of you and the product.
Who do you work for? How much money do you have left? Are there competitors? Are there regulatory issues? Is it more important to get something out fast or is it better to wait for more features to be finished?
You need to consider everything, and you need to be in the habit of basically thinking about the other areas as a periodic check even when focused on the current task at hand.
“How can one leverage prior technical and mid-level team management experience to become a suitable candidate for PM openings?”
If you have prior technical and mid-level team management, then you should structure your resume to express these things, and use your network to try and get an interview at a company, particularly one that may be interested in hiring entry-level PMs!
“Does a candidate need software development background to land a Product Manager role?”
No, I personally don’t have a background in software development. That being said, you need to be technologically literate. It’s important to have intuition as to why certain things are easy and certain things are hard.
For example: If someone were to ask you how long it would take you to download all of Wikipedia, you should be able to think about that. Similarly, you should be able to discuss how this question might be different in South Korea vs India.
“Any advice for gaining more knowledge in the PM space, any specific books to read, any practical case studies? Can you share anything that could help an aspiring PM?”
If you do a Google search for these resources, you will come across quite a bit. I feel there has been a nice consolidation in resources for PMs, and so the top resources are being more widely used. Also, practice, practice, practice.
If someone asks you to tell them about a challenging problem you have worked on, you should not be coming up with the example on the spot.
You also might be interested in: The 20 Most-Read Books by Top Product Managers
“Any tips and tricks for a product manager in a start up without a product yet?”
In a startup, there is an unending list of things to do. If your startup is very small, you should look at the company and find the biggest impact project. If that means setting up desks for engineers (I’ve done this before), then that’s what you do.
“I am pursuing my undergrad degree in IT Engineering and I want to go for PM position. Can you suggest how I can I develop my skills for that and how to make a resume strong?”
You should read and about things, read about different verticals. For example, What’s the difference between Uber and Lyft? What challenges did Airbnb overcome?
You should practice answering questions like: “How would you build recommendations for Twitter before they had recommendations?” In terms of making a strong resume, you should get feedback, but in general, try to sell yourself in a direct manner.
“For a student and an aspiring product manager what areas of product management would you recommend studying first? In what order do we go about it?”
I’d say make sure you are good at math. How many pianos are there in the world? If ride cancellations for Uber increase by 5%, how do you figure out what happened? Ultimately, you should be able to do 300*5 million pretty fluently if you want to solve these problems!
“Do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers”
I think if I’m to leaving one piece of advice, it’s that the skills that people look for in aspiring product managers are well documented on the internet. You should work on those things and be prepared. In particular:
Analytical skills: You’re going to need to be able to size opportunities accurately and be able to perform data investigations.
Product insight: You need to be able to come up with product solutions in a structured and focused manner.
Your past experience: You have great stories, and you want to be able to tell them well. You need to learn from your stories and learn from your past experiences so that you can become better in general.
For more insights on Product Management, join us for our next #AskMeAnything session!
Updated: April 10, 2023