Kickstarting the Early Stages of Your Product Management Career with Google Sr PM

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Bruno Germansderfer, Senior Product Manager at Google. Bruno discussed what it’s like to be a Product Manager at Google and gave key insight on how to get your foot in the door at a top tech company like Google and Apple.

Meet Bruno Germansderfer

Bruno is an experienced Product Manager, currently working at Google. He brings more than 13 years of experience to his position in Product, having held various positions during his career as an Associate Consultant, Head of Product, Director of Product Management and Project Manager.

He also has a background in Engineering as a Contractor, Communications and Reliability Engineer and experience in Consulting with specialties in enterprise, mobile software, and advertising.

Prior to his position at Google, Bruno served as Senior Product Manager at TouchTunes, working on releasing the latest generation of Jukebox for the market. Prior to that, as a Project Manager at Apple, Bruno researched and developed new technologies for future iPod products and co-wrote multiple patents.

What is your advice for someone trying to transition into the Product Management role but has no prior experience in it?

I think Product Managers are most valued for their ability to solve whatever problems are thrown at them. If you have a track record of being able to solve big, open-ended problems by teaming with the right people, I think that’s the right start. Beyond that, I would say the most common way I’ve seen people transition into the role is to just start doing the job when it needs to get done.

 Any techniques for energizing engineering teams and getting them excited and aligned to the vision?

I think the key to this is your relationship with your engineering team. I personally sit with my engineers, I eat lunch with them and I discuss my challenges with them. At the end of the day, rather than trying to get them to buy into my vision, I’ve sort of formed it with them which means more consent.

With so much diversity in your background, how do you think domains expertise value when it comes to working on product you are in?

It depends on the product. Some things require domain expertise and deep knowledge of them. While this is good for some people, I get bored pretty quickly. I’ve been lucky enough to bounce around to things that interest me and so I’ve become more of a generalist which, luckily, my company values.

How do you prioritise features? What do you think about fanatic focus?

For me, I try to take into account all of my stakeholders. While in some cases this is just your boss (or his boss), in a horizontal organization I balance the goals of the company vs. the goals of my organization vs. the individuals who are going to be working on it.

product managers in meeting

I will be switching jobs to a different company to be a PM.  
Any advice on how to start the job / learn the product / align with the team quickly?

Talk to everybody. Get to know them as your coworkers, but more importantly, get to know them as people. Figure out what was going wrong before you got there, why it was going wrong, and what you can do to fix it. Don’t jump into action immediately if you don’t have to.

Spend the first 60-90 days just listening and gaining people’s trust. When you think you understand the company a little bit, you can start implementing your strategy.

Should your first job as a PM be at big companies where we can learn from peers OR at a startup where you can figure out things on the way? Is mentorship from peers and learning best practice critical to see future growth as a PM?

It’s less about the size of the company and more about the opportunity. In smaller companies, you definitely have the ability to explore a lot of areas and cover more than you would at a big company.

There is more risk though, especially if you’re the first PM, that the company will kind of question what you do. If you can find the right management team that believes in your function (or a great mentor to walk you through), I think the small company environment is amazing for a first time PM.

Would an MBA make it easier to start a Product Management career?

I know a lot of MBA’s that used their degree to switch into PM. It’s not necessary for sure, but for some companies (especially big ones), its a good way to get your foot in the door.

While on a phone conversation with one of the companies, the person said that it would be best if I choose a particular sector  
I want to create products for and not be a generalist. I want to explore a lot first but do I really have to choose a particular thing?

There are companies that value SME (subject matter experts) and ones that value generalists. The key to being a good PM is being interested in the topic and wanting to solve its problems. I have a short attention span so I had to be a generalist.

If I was you, I would choose a subject I like, try to get a job in it and work on it for a couple of years. You can always jump to something else if you get bored.

How many hours per week do you actually spend talking to end users (or potentials or recent evaluators)?

It depends on the week, depends on the project. I’m lucky to have great support teams that do the user interviews and I drop in when I can.

What’s the biggest risk for employers when it comes to hiring a PM with no prior experience and how can someone wanting to transition into this role de-risk him/herself?

It depends on how much trust the company puts in you. As a PM, you’re in charge of making the product decisions, and if you go too far down the wrong path with decisions made on poor data that don’t correlate to your user base, it’s expensive for the company to fix both in pure man hours and opportunity cost.

How technical do you end up going at Google, given its an Engineering-led organization. What are some of those activities?

I have a couple of engineering degrees. I would say that my technical capability isn’t “make or break”, but it definitely makes my job easier as I can understand s my engineer’s conversations and make sure that we’re doing what we need to do.

What kind of documents or specifications do you use to develop the requirements document which you can share with the team? Is there any template that you would recommend to look at or use?

Every company has its own template. When I was in startup land, after a few months on the job, I would develop a new requirements doc template with my engineers that fit our working style. I don’t feel as if one form is better than the other, the goal is to communicate what needs to get done to your teams and that is different based on environment and industry.

For someone without formal PM experience, what are your thoughts on reaching out to existing Dir. of PM (who has hiring power) within the same company for side projects? Good way to build credibility?

Definitely. Try to figure out what to take off their plate and start doing the job. If you do a good job at it, when something bigger or more permanent comes up, you’re already trained and its an easy fit.

I’m currently a TPM in the identity management space, do you have any recommendations for any certification classes or books that will help me excel even further as a PM?

I read a ton of blogs and news on a daily basis to understand whats going on in the tech space. I think one of the best reads is Stratechery. It’s a must-read.

What advice would you give for a beginner who is transitioning from Business Management? What should I learn first?

Depends on what you do, but I think a good first step for most companies at this point:

  • Learn how the internet works (networks, infrastructure),
  • Learn how people make money on the internet (eCommerce, Social, Ads, etc),
  • Learn how to build things that work on the internet
    • You don’t need to learn how to program, you need to learn about what’s being programmed and why
two woman in a PM interview

Could you share your thoughts on why someone would hire an internal transfer (me) without formal PM experience vs. hire an external person with formal PM experience (someone else)? What is the positioning here besides product/domain expertise?

Being a PM has a surprisingly large relationship component. The fact that you understand how the company works, who the players are and what the key challenges are will give you a massive leg up. I would leverage that if I was you.

How do you combat an environment (company culture, operating mechanisms, leader decision making process) that do not understand the purpose of product management? How do you influence that if there isn’t enough time to show/prove the value to them (due to vast majority of time is being prioritized for you in the tactical and execution)?

Find out what’s important to your boss’s decision-making process. What data points if any do they use or what kind of arguments do they value? The best way to convince somebody who is stubborn is to figure out the right language/communication method to use with them and push on that as much as possible.

What is your advice for preparing for a PM job interview with a big tech company?

There are a ton of resources online. If it’s Amazon, MSFT, Google, Facebook, etc, people talk about their experiences ad nauseam. When I was interviewing at these companies, I would read Quora threads, Glassdoor reviews, etc. to get any sort of insight into what to expect.

What do you think big companies should keep doing in terms of product strategies to compete with disruptive startups?

Don’t be afraid to cannibalize your own product. Assume that somebody is making something that does what your product does better than you do it.

Final advice for Aspiring PMs?

Take a sharpie, Write the words “ship it” on a post it note and tack it somewhere you look at it every day.

The best product in the world means nothing if you can’t get it into your users hands

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product con LA graphic

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