From Humanities to Product Management with Amazon Product Leader

This week, Product School hosted Chelsea Prush, Product Leader at Amazon, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Chelsea shows how a good strategy can help you with any transition in your career, whether it be transitioning into product, to a new product space, or to a role with more responsibilities. Read on to learn how Chelsea creates a career vision and sticks to it.

Meet Chelsea

Chelsea Prush, Product Leader at Amazon

Chelsea is a Product Leader with a special talent for data-driven product design and development. She has been working on product at Amazon since 2019. Before her current role, she was a Product Manager at SecureLink. Her first role in product was at Indeed.com, where she was an Associate Product Manager working on replacing the new CRM. She was promoted to this position after almost one year as a Business Analyst with the company.

For her bachelor’s degree, Chelsea attended the University of Michigan. She majored in Linguistics, Spanish, and Neuroscience. During her studies, she also volunteered in a number of clinics in the University’s health system. She furthermore holds a Master in Technology Commercialization from the University of Texas at Austin.

Coming from a background in humanities, what was your pathway transitioning into the product industry?

Oh my, it was a bit of a winding road for me! I love to share that story though and am hoping to do a webinar with the Product School to talk more about my journey.

In short, when I realized I wanted to be a PM, I sat down and worked back from that goal, laying out the skills I would need and milestones I expected to hit along the way. There is never just one path, and I thought long and hard at each fork, trying to identify which opportunity would be best for me to attain my goal. Even now as a PM I employ the same tactics, always working backward from where I want to get to next, thinking critically about my opportunities so I can keep forward momentum.

Check out: Transitioning to Product Management From ANY Background

person on mountain path that stretches into the distance

Lastly, when getting started, the biggest challenge was getting someone to take a chance on me since I did not have any business or computer science background. Thankfully, once I got my opportunity I was hungry enough that I made sure I took ambitious goals and delivered and kept open and honest communication with my management about what skills I felt I needed coaching in and which opportunities I wanted to receive.

The AI PM space doesn’t seem as matured as regular software engineering- PM interaction. Any advice on what kind of roles/companies to work with to build a career with AI driven product focus?

I too focus on big data and AI as a Product Manager, and you’re right—the space is a bit younger and more agile than other PM roles. It’s an area where you will need to be extra close with your engineering counterparts ensuring that you are guiding the product in the right direction.

Though each company and team may work a little differently, I have found that adopting more standard agile processes and setting up regular touchpoints to dive into requirements and review results of various experiments was the best way for me to ensure that I am able to guide my teams. Standardizing the touchpoints and ensuring that all experiments and enhancements are tracked clearly has ensured that we can test out multiple different models rapidly without losing sight of what our next steps are or missing opportunities for feedback.

Read next: Tech Trends of 2021: The Rise of AI

What can PMs advancing into leadership roles do to be successful as mentors/leads and at the same time shift from an execution-focused to a long-term strategic thinking mindset?

Tough question! In my experience taking on more senior leadership and strategic roles, I found that communication is the most important skill I have had to work on. As a PM, you are the center point of the product, needing to both manage up with leadership in order to drive strategy and manage risks, as well as communicate that vision down to the broader team in a way that can be executed upon.

The best tools I have found to accomplish this is by writing a clear narrative and tying that narrative back closely with metrics around what you expect to impact with your product. Amazon’s PR-FAQ has been an amazing tool in helping me navigate this area, ensuring that I am first grounded in what value I will bring to my end customer and then helping me frame out all of the core questions I need to answer in order to be successful… namely, what will success look like and how will I measure it?

measurement tools

I would strongly advise any PM looking to expand their influence to utilize a similar tool in order to frame and communicate their vision effectively in a way that can both secure investment and provide an end-goal for the team building the product.

As a Junior PM how can I measure my growth and performance to ensure I am really growing? What resources can help me accelerate my growth as a PM?

I believe PMs should measure their effectiveness and growth in the role across 3 primary areas:

  1. Volume & Scale — most typically measured by the number of active users with your product
  2. Satisfaction with the product — how do users like your product typically through surveys like How’s My Driving (HMD) or Net Promoter Score (NPS), and
  3. The ability to achieve business outcomes — each product is developed in order to drive specific outcomes for the business, most notable financial impact, and your ability as a PM to achieve those outcomes are critical.

Beyond these 3 key areas, you can also measure your growth by whether you manage a feature set within a product or a product suite as a whole as well as by whether you are tasked with taking a vision and breaking it down into deliverable features or if you are setting the vision as well.

binoculars overlooking sunrise

While I have been growing my career, I have set milestones on new skills I want to develop and worked very closely with my management to advocate for myself getting those new opportunities and tailoring feedback to help me grow where I wanted to most. My strong advice is to not be shy when it comes to your career, know where you want to get to, and work with your manager to map out the skills you will need and plan for opportunities for you to learn and grow into your next role.

Do you think it’s easier to transition into PM within FAANG, or make a clean break and try doing the PM role at a start-up or smaller org?

There is no one path that works best, but I agree with your assessment that transitioning into product at a large company such as the FAANG companies is challenging. I have seen it done through planned rotations where management is aware of the desired role change and allows you to rotate through a Product Management role to prove in a way that you have the necessary skills. This all depends on the company of course, but that was how I got my opportunity to enter into Product Management.

Transitioning to work for a start-up might allow more opportunities to get in faster, but I will say that having worked as a PM at companies of all sizes, the roles a PM plays varies at each. You will learn countless things at a start-up, but it will likely look a lot different from what you would expect seeing PMs at a FAANG company.

coworking space

Ultimately, my advice is for you to set your goal to become a PM and be open to whatever opportunities come your way. The best way to get into the role is to take an opportunity and prove you can deliver. From then on, there will be countless opportunities for you to pick between as you learn more about the different types of PM roles varying by industry, company size, etc.

What are your tips for a beginner who has just started looking for PM roles in the market?

I have personally found the STAR method to be most helpful when writing my resume and navigating interviews. The structured way of laying out the context, my contributions, and the outcome/impact of my work in a quantifiable way made it easier for others to realize my potential and also boosted my confidence in the skills I had and what I could offer to another company or role.

This method has also helped me quite a bit in learning to talk about my products in an elevator pitch as well, since ultimately the same principles apply whether you’re communicating why someone should care about you as a candidate or your product as a potential tool/investment. πŸ™‚

Any final advice?

Thanks everyone for the great questions! My advice would be for all PMs to set their goals—whether it be a career goal or business goal—and manage it just like you would with a product. It’s not always an easy path as a Product Manager, but one thing that all great Product Managers do well is set a vision/goal, and continue to iterate and optimize their way towards it… measuring what they can along the way to ensure they are on track.

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