This week, Product School hosted Valerio Magliulo, Facebook Product Manager, for an exclusive #AskMeAnything session. Valerio shared his experience working at Facebook and what it takes to be a successful PM in any company. Valerio also touches on building frameworks for decision making when working on product teams.
Meet Valerio Magliulo
Valerio is a Product Manager with expertise in AI, and experience across start-ups, scale-ups, and large tech. He’s currently a Product Manager at Facebook, working on reducing misinformation on health topics across the platforms. Previously, he worked at Google Health as a Product Manager while being a Mentor for Google for Startups. Valerio began his careers as an Investment Banking Analyst at Credit Suisse, and after nearly 2 years, Valerio went to work at Uber leading the UK expansion.
He then worked at an early stage food delivery startup, Pronto, as Head of Ops. Soon after, he was the second Product hire at Monzo Bank, and experienced its growth from 30 to 700 people and from 30k to 3.5m customers. Valerio’s educational background includes a Bachelor of Science in Economics and Finance from Bocconi University in Milan and a Master of Science in International Finance from HEC Paris.
How does the PM role vary across teams and companies? Is the work culture similar or does it have a lot of variation?
One of the things I’ve experienced in my career is indeed how wildly different the role of PMs varies depending on the company or the industry you’re in. I’ve actually written a blog post about it where I tried to broadly define 3 different categories depending on what the balance of Eng/Design/Product is for the company.
In short, the expectations on Product Managers are so different and it’s important that you really take the time to understand what’s your unique skill set and what you really enjoy doing, so that you can match that with the company’s expectations. Some PMs may focus more on faster product iterations (e.g. Growth hacking), others may well work on very large and complex technical problems (e.g. my work at Google Health).
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When is level (L4/5/6) decided at FB. Is it at offer or after going through bootcamp?
Generally speaking, it’s based on your experience, your performance in the interviews, and what the company is looking for for that particular role. It’s normally decided at the end of your interviews and at the point of offer.
As someone who has transitioned from Finance to PM, how did you prepare for the interviews? What skill sets did you seek to develop?
I think most PMs fall into Product Management either by mistake or by the natural evolution of their roles. I actually joined Monzo as an Ops person, but quickly realized that the biggest wins to increase the efficiency of our Customer Operations were lying in our internal tools. That’s how I started PM’ing. And I’m not gonna lie, it was a huge learning curve for me. First and foremost, I had to pick up a lot of basic technical knowledge, what I call “speaking the engineer’s language”.
As a PM, you’re most effective and impactful when you become the synthesis of all the different x-functional disciplines that are involved in Product Development. I took on a Coursera on Product Development to understand how to go from an idea to a fully launched product at a high level, which came in handy especially at the beginning.
Secondly, I had to learn how to lead by influence rather than authority. I think this is the most important one as most people become quite successful managers by virtue of direct reporting lines.
As a PM, you’re not afforded that advantage so you have to really invest in building trust and confidence in your team to be most effective. I’m still learning to this day, especially given how different the PM roles I’ve had were across the various companies. So it’s important to always keep that learning mindset throughout your career.
How do you handle resistance from leadership on your ideas or priorities?
My short answer is, have a framework for decision making. Your goal is to take out anecdotal evidence and personal views from the equation. I really like building traffic lights. They work in a simple way:
- Firstly, I work to identify what the criteria for success are. These are what you’ll measure your various options against. The main question you wanna ask is: “If there’s an option that satisfies all criteria, would we be happy with that solution?” If the answer is yes, you got your criteria. I would highly encourage you to validate these criteria with leadership first.
- Secondly, I would map out all the various options that you can think of. If you struggle to find options and can only think of one, think again. Look at the opposite spectrum and then find a 3rd option that is a middle ground
- Assess your options against your criteria. Write a clear explanation of how each option meets your criteria.
- Traffic light it! Use 3 colors, red, green, and amber. I normally have the criteria in the columns and the options in the rows so that you have a nice table to color. Make sure that green means good across all criteria, otherwise it’s hard to read
- Make a decision, just do it. Make a recommendation based on the colors you identified. Is there a clear decision with all greens? Are there disagreements with other functions that you need to highlight? This is the place to do it.
What has been your experience working as a Product Manager at Facebook? What do your responsibilities include?
It’s hard to say, it’s only my 10th week at Facebook so it’s all new and shiny for now. I would say that it’s overall been overwhelmingly positive so far. PMs are truly the center of product decisions at Facebook and there’s a huge recognition of their value, which is always important. My responsibilities include defining the strategy for my team, ensuring top-notch execution, liaise with x-functional teams and partners to deliver on our projects, communicate upwards to leadership (including escalating any issue), and keeping the team happy and healthy.
How would you suggest one work towards building their profile to be a suitable candidate for Product Management Roles?
In my experience, you’ll find that most PM roles are actually for experienced hires rather than for graduate students. However, there are many companies out there (incl. Facebook, Google, etc) with awesome entry-level PM programs. These usually are for recent graduates or people looking for a career change and involve multiple rotations across various teams as well as lots of training and mentoring. I would focus your attention on these as you are likely to get the most value out of it and skyrocket your growth. Keep an eye out for when recruiting opens for these types of roles.
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Considering the Covid-19 situation, if you had to introduce a new feature for FB, what would you introduce?
I’m gonna say, I’m a little biased here because I work specifically on COVID-19 misinformation and trying to reduce it on our platforms (IG, FB, and WA). So all the work that my team is doing? Jokes aside, I would be interested in launching a feature to help connect users in need with people nearby, maybe friends of friends, who can provide support. After all, that’s what our mission is: giving tools for people to build community!
What does Facebook screen for in resumes when hiring for a Product/Senior Product Manager?
I would say, first and foremost experience in a high-paced product environment. Things at Facebook change so drastically and so frequently, so demonstrating the ability to adapt to changes is really important. One other thing we look for is how much of a team player you are, versus being a lone wolf PM. Does your CV have a lot of “I did, I accomplished, I delivered” or does it talk about your achievements as a team effort?
How do you respond to features that are rarely used or have low usage, will you drive the features? If yes how do you respond to that problem?
The short answer is “do you really need it?”. In longer terms, how does that feature contribute to the overall success of your product? Is it a must-have? Would additional investment bring marginally positive benefits or is it a waste of time?
There are always some things we need to do just to “keep the lights on” and it’s important those are flagged as such so there are no expectations to make further investments. Equally, you should feel empowered to kill a feature that is not providing value any longer because something has changed in your user behavior or the product itself.
Given your very diverse background from finance to transportation/logistics, and now health, what would you say is your most difficult transition yet and how do you go about transferring the fundamentals?
I would say the most difficult aspect is exactly building the right level of context you need on the field to be successful as a PM. I always look to partner with subject matter experts to focus that learning in the first couple of months. And as you said, really try to bring out the first principles from the things you learn as a PM — doing roadmaps is the same, no matter the field you’re in, same for how you build trust and relationship. These should be the core competencies that you can apply from Day 1 without any background knowledge.
What ethical challenges does being a Facebook Product Manager present and how do you deal with them?
I would say that we don’t face ethical challenges but rather challenges with our own opinions and values. Generally speaking, you’re always expected to right by the user but it’s really important to understand that what we might see as “right” is not the same across the broad spectrum of our user base. We want to create a community that everyone feels included in, not just part of the population. This means taking hard decisions and backing them with as much research and conversations with subject matter experts so that we can be as objective as possible.
How exactly does Facebook fight misinformation on health topics? How deep of knowledge in AI must you have to manage an AI product? How far have you gone into picking up the AI coding yourself to fully immerse in it?
My biggest passion is understanding how to leverage AI to build products that users not only love but understand and trust, which can be quite challenging with the black-box nature of AI.
- We generally introduce community standards that say what is and what isn’t allowed on our platforms and we then build classifiers that scan all content to find those that are violating. When we are certain that it is indeed violating our Standards, we would automatically remove or reduce its distribution. Where we are not certain but quite confident, we would ask our 25k content reviewers for a final determination
- It’s hard to say and it varies depending on the role. At Google, the AI knowledge required for my role was truly deep. I took online courses, sat down with my engineering colleagues to look at code, and really take the time to fully understand the extent of the things they’re doing. I would say that a superficial level is good enough to nail interviews and all the rest you can learn on the job.
How do you optimize your product using analytics especially with respect to Google Health? Any framework we should refer to?
I think data and user research go hand in hand to continuously optimize your product. You can’t do it with just one of the two. I’m not big on frameworks (sorry!) as I believe you should find what works for you, start from first principles, and identify what your priorities are. These should be your guiding lights to help you structure your work.
Can you share the biggest mistake you made as a PM and how you handled it? Also, how to approach such a question in interviews when you don’t have too big of a mistake or failure to recollect?
I think it’s got to be when I thought I could argue my way through a Product decision with the CEO and become defensive about it. The trick is to really build a framework for decision making, as I suggested in one of the other answers.
And in terms of the interview question, I would say that it doesn’t matter how big or small your mistake was. What we really want to know is how you dealt with it, what did you learn and how did you prevent yourself from making this mistake again.
Would it be easier to transition from Software engineering to Product Management vs from Product Management to Software Engineering? Is there a fear of losing technical skills when entering the product space?
It’s probably easier to transition from SWE to PM as most of the knowledge is already there unless you’ve come from a technical degree already as a PM. Again, it depends on the company you join. In some companies, PMs are really technical (e.g. Google requires you to go through engineering interviews as well as a PM) so you can maintain that technical mindset. But generally, it’s always a plus to be able to understand how the product is actually built – just make sure to keep it in checks and not use it as a weapon against your engineers. That’s the best way to lose their trust in you.
For someone who transitioned from a Finance role to PM role, could you give us some tips with how to go about it? What skills to acquire and how to land that job even without having a tag of product management experience?
I’ve actually not directly transitioned from Finance to PM but I went through a phase of working in Operations at some tech companies. That transition was relatively easy as it was both quite analytical and project-based jobs. I then moved into a PM role focussed on Operations, which is why my transition was smooth and easy.
How do you measure performance and skill as a Product Manager in your teams? What can you point to as the difference between an L4 and an L6 to know definitively that the latter is a superior Product Manager?
I would say between L4 and L6 the main difference is between Execution and Strategy. An L4 PM is very much focused on ensuring execution on projects is on point, that they work well with their engineering teams and execute well on a roadmap generally defined by a more senior PM.
At L6, you’re already looking after a portfolio of products or features, generally with multiple PMs reporting directly into you. Your job evolves much more into management and bigger-picture strategy rather than following the engineers’ on execution minutiae.
How often do you find yourself reaching for raw data (database) and do you use SQL to do so?
Everyday! I would say data is your best friend as a PM and the sooner you learn to navigate the databases of your company and be independent in running your own analyses, the more efficient you become at your job. Yes, I do use SQL but we have also platforms we use that don’t require SQL to generate a query.
What unique challenges have you found with leading a remote team? Can you share some strategies for effective co-working in a remote setting?
I’m not gonna lie, it’s a big challenge. As PMs, we rely so much on interpersonal relationships that it’s easy to think that you cannot do that remotely. I would say what has helped me the most is to continue building relationships 1:1 by making the time for them.
Most people struggle to make their voices heard in a live group setting, imagine how easy it is to forget about them in a videoconference with many people! Make sure to elicit inputs from everyone in your team at all times. One last thought is to over-document things: take minutes for every meeting, document every decision, ask everyone to sign off (I add a review table at the top of every doc so people fill that in when they’ve had a chance to review it).
How technical are PMs in Facebook? Are you supposed to know algorithms, networking etc in and out like Google PMs?
I would say definitely less than Google but still highly technical. However, these are all things you learn on the job so as long as you have a passion for it and the right learning mindset, you won’t have a problem. We don’t test any technical skills during our interview process.
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