This week, Product School hosted David Siegel, Sr Product Leader at Microsoft, for a special #AskMeAnything session. David answered questions on the qualities to have as a PMs, building new features, using no-code tools, and what to do when you’re transitioning between industries.
David is a Senior Product Leader with over ten years of experience, passionate about building products to solve user’s problems. He is currently working at Microsoft within the Mojang Studios team, the creators of the game Minecraft. David is also a Mentor and Consultant in Product, Development, and Design for founders, product teams, and early-stage startups.
What’s your favorite digital product?
Well, I’m a musician in addition to being a product manager, and I’ve been really impressed with the Mac-based Logic recording software recently! It is a huge step forward and has so much of what even an intermediate-level musician/producer needs. And its integrations are seamless & easy!
Can you talk about your journey through your various product roles?
I started out my career as a social scientist – I have a Master’s in social psych from Stanford! I wandered around a bit though before I made it to Product, ending up in a PM role at an edtech B2C (Leapfrog) company. I started doing some consulting on the side to shore up more skills, then jumped into the B2B world for a few years – I was at Nasdaq (fintech), then FlightGlobal (data analytics for the commercial aviation world), then Business Wire (PR distribution & analytics thereof), then Ridecell (mobility tech) where I was working on new initiatives while managing the SDK team – before going to where I am now! So a twisty, turny road with a lot of learning and breadth.
How important is educational background for getting a product role in Microsoft?
I haven’t seen that to be true. It’s very team by team/org by org though – I will say within the Xbox org, where I am currently, there’s a diversity of backgrounds, where the main similarity is everyone is curious, collaborative, smart & hard-working.
What do you suggest an APM to do so that they transition into a PM role?
I think it depends on what kind of PM you want to be. I’m a generalist, myself – for a variety of reasons. I’d say to be a PM generalist you should make sure you’re very strong in at least one PM skill, where I see these as Research, Business/Strategy, Technical & Design. And make sure you have good comprehensive competencies in the others, but focus on having a superpower for sure.
Do all product ideas really come from user interviews or user feedback? What are some of the other ways to decide what to build?
Not necessarily, no. I actually think product validation comes from customer interviews more than product features/ideas – I think that’s the best/most tactical way of using customer feedback. You can find gold sifting through feedback – but I think your strategy should be informed by more than that.
What do you think one important quality that every PM should have?
I think a focus on storytelling (what are our goals?) while creating collaborative teams! At the end of the day, you are structuring work for teams – and so the ability to encourage collaboration within the context of ensuring the teams know what problem(s) they’re trying to solve is crucial.
What skills are you looking in a dev interviewing for PM role?
It depends on the team and what we’re building in that org, really! But in terms of soft skills: curiosity, collaborative spirit, and probably a willingness to be wrong but still put in positive effort.
You might also be interested in: How Soft Skills Can Save a Business
While moving industries and picking up product roles there, what was your go-to approach to learn the new business? Were there key people you approached or just general research?
I’d always partner with internal subject matter experts – customer service, domain experts, what have you. Leveling up fast was super important jumping into a new domain. And lead with the fact that I am new to the domain; no benefit in misrepresenting myself.
As a UX/UI designer and developer, do you think there’s a particular role/company/market that I’m most valuable in?
It’s probably useful to do a lot of side projects, even if just for yourself, where you try to design/build strategically rather than “just” tactically, which is more what you’ll end up getting hired to do as a designer: execute a vision. Beyond that, I would think a place like Webflow or Figma would want more design-focused PMs – at least one or two on the team.
What do you think about boot camps and these new educational institutions?
Most employers won’t dislike boot camp experience of course, and might like to see that you’re so active about learning – but the key is how you’ve integrated the info. It’s probably more important if you’ve done something with what you learned from a boot camp than whether or not you took one, I’d think. That said, some are great ways of fast-tracking learning for sure.
Is there a difference in skill sets if someone is working in B2B products and now wants to move to B2C domain?
Unfortunately, the answer is it depends. Some businesses really will want only people with B2C experience; some will be more flexible. Whether there’s a skill-set difference depends on what kind of B2B you’ve been in. For instance – healthcare B2B would involve a lot of regulatory consideration that most B2C wouldn’t worry about. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have a lot to bring to B2C, it just means you might have some skills that might not map as clearly. I personally do think they are still very relevant skills!
Here’s a guide to: The Skills Product Managers Need in 2021
Do you have any suggestions regarding no-code tools other than Bubble?
I love Webflow’s product; consider them perhaps as well? But most likely you’ll have to create some kind of hybrid to manage a full marketplace product! Although I have seen this done reasonably effectively in Bubble.
Product roles at large companies tend to ask for years of experience, what are your thoughts on that?
I wouldn’t take the “X years required” as a hard rule at all. I think what’s more important to get an interview is finding a way to network your way in – having a direct conversation with a current PM there to understand what skills really are necessary, for instance.
What are your suggestions for building product strategy skills?
For me, I think the more business types you try to evaluate and build (even just as an exercise) the better you’ll get at it. And reading/listening to understand how really impressive product strategists think will always be useful (Stratechery, for instance).
Figuring out how to build the perfect roadmap? Here’s your template for that!
What your typical day-in-the-life looks like on one of your more hectic days?
Morning stand up with the dev team, maybe a bug triage meeting after and sifting through some more bugs, checking numbers/metrics if I haven’t in a while… I typically have meetings almost all morning, half with my own dev team and the other half typically with whatever other teams I’m either expecting to have dependencies in relation to or that I may need tactical help from, or maybe even relating to farther down the road strategic concerns, to try to start building a relationship and mutual understanding of our work domains to see where we can maybe help one another. And most days have a chunk of time spent on some artifact or another (document – a power point for instance) that I’m using to communicate up to leadership and/or to the broader organization. A post-sprint summary, for instance, or a monthly program review document. So – tactical in the weeds stuff, and then high level storytelling around/up the chain is common almost every day!
What’s been the most difficult part about your job since going remote over the last 14+ months?
Building trust with co-workers! I started my current role fully remote, and so having to find meaningful ways of connecting to provide that “we’re all in it together” feeling has been something that required active focus, versus if we were all in an office together and we could say, grab a coffee on an ad hoc/surprise basis.
What methods do you suggest for identifying pain points when having trouble finding people to interview? For context, I’m working at a startup that needs to get the feedback of people who have undergone/undergoing surgeries for an app
Interesting! It all comes down to the pain point you’re trying to solve. And it depends on who you have access to. But you’ll probably need to connect to trusted authorities – healthcare workers, doctors, insurance companies… to get data. It could be tricky, depending on where you are! Or you find community boards where the people you’re interested in congregate (Reddit?) and reach out to them individually perhaps. It definitely requires a lot of persistence.
What is the top thing you have learned as a PM?
Across the board: I think at the end of the day it all comes down to relationships & collaboration. I honestly wish I could do more favors for people because I had so many kind people work hard to help me get to where I am. I, too, had to put in a lot of work – but opening doors is tricky, whether it’s to a new job, or to get someone on a lateral team to help you (influencing w/o authority), and so on. Probably second is making sure to zoom in and out constantly – need to stay focused on holistic considerations/strategy while also getting deep in the weeds on what’s tactically being worked on every day to ensure you understand and are being understood!
What final advice do you have?
Breaking into product is definitely more a marathon than a sprint! I had YEARS where I felt I was knocking on the door and getting no traction. I just kept trying to learn and be aware of important trends & network & improve. It’s very challenging and it can be very dispiriting, for those of you who are in this situation I’m sure you know what I mean! It definitely requires working to honestly view your strengths & weaknesses & figuring out how to shore up where you could be stronger, but not in ways that are negative to our own respective self-views. It’s probably the most challenging part of being a PM, I think – it’s like the pre-PM version of imposter syndrome, which, to be clear, many, many PMs really do suffer from!