This week Product School hosted Andrew Yu, a Senior Product Manager for the Biden Campaign and a former Product Manager at LinkedIn, for an #AskMeAnything session. He explores topics like finding your PM superpower, influence without authority, learning how to code, and how to be a PM without permission!
Meet Andrew Yu
Andrew, currently working as Sr. Product Manager for the Biden Campaign, former LinkedIn PM, has been working at the intersection of Design and Engineering for over 8 years, supporting various well-established enterprises. Currently, he leads the company’s efforts at LinkedIn where he helps build professional online networks. Andrew began his professional career as a Strategic Analyst at BUILD, empowerment through entrepreneurship program for low-income youth, where he has also contributed as a Youth Coach/Mentor.
Parallel to his volunteering work, Andrew began attaining various Engineering positions during which he closely worked with the senior design teams to implement new functional requirements. He first broke into Product at CirrusOne, where he transitioned from a Full-Stack Software Engineer to a Product Manager. Today, he is driving the Network Growth at LinkedIn, defining company product strategy to deliver quality product features.
Be a PM: Superpowers, Mindset, Influence, and More!
You seem to be in the midst of the fast-paced change, including high-pressure situations. What is the core PM mindset that helps you succeed in such scenarios?
The ability to thrive in ambiguity and operate under uncertainty I think is one of the best traits for a PM. Being adaptable, and fine without structure is a superpower, especially if YOU can be the one to bring structure and organization to that situation!
Product Managers say: “Influence without authority”. How do you deal with this and make sure that everything works smoothly?
Always look for opportunities and gaps. If you provide value to the team in ways that others can’t or won’t (e.g. setting up the meetings, writing the specs ahead of time, proactively sharing out wireframes), then your proactivity and ability to identify opportunities will resonate and will be the implicit authority. You will gain respect and others will view you as a leader the more you do this!
You also might be interested in Product Management Skills: Influence Without Authority
I am a young professional (college grad) going into the industry and I would love to know if you any tips for those just starting out/trying to gain more experience.
I love the concept of “permissionless apprenticeship” coined by Jack Butcher (he’s a fantastic designer and entrepreneur). Don’t ask for permission, and point out features, create wireframes and PRDs for companies you admire and send them to people. You might not get a response, but most people will love the proactivity. Keep doing it, don’t wait to get permission from someone to be a PM. BE a PM.
Communication in PM is key. Would you say that being less of a talker/networker and more of a thinker is a no-go when trying to break into Product? What are personalities that won’t work well in a product management role?
I think you should be able to do both, the best PMs are able to balance and leverage both types of communication skills:
- Deep thinking and the ability to communicate those thoughts with precision.
- Be a human who can talk to other humans in a real way. Communicate and build rapport with genuine people skills. Strive for both for sure. You don’t want to only be able to use your right hand (to use a sports analogy), you want to be ambidextrous.
I have a background in journalism, digital marketing and media management. Do I need software development knowledge to help me transition to PM?
The short answer is no you don’t, but my real personal answer is – you should understand how software works. Great thing is, there are tons of resources out there and you can build an app from scratch following a tutorial for ~2-3 weeks. I HIGHLY recommend this.
Being able to code even a little bit, and building a small app from scratch is IMMENSELY helpful and competitively advantageous. It’s not as scary as you think either! I went from zero codings (philosophy, political science in college) to learning to code and LOVING it!
Interested in Coding? Check out 7 Ways Learning Code Helps Product Managers Be Great [Infographic]
Do you find yourself upgrading your emotional intelligence when it comes to dealing with your partners and building relationships?
For me, personally emotional intelligence (EI) is actually #1. My short advice, you won’t find this in books, it forces you to look outside and interact with people to strengthen these skills, which is the only real way to do this.
My actionable advice would be to ping people directly in DMs on Twitter, hop on video chats with interesting people (especially during covid). Get super uncomfortable, seek discomfort, and learn how to talk to as many new types of people and gauge how they communicate back, what motivates them, etc. You won’t learn this from books, period. Some are helpful as supplements like Dan Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence.
PM Experience: Key Recommendations and Advice
Any books you’ve read recently that you’d recommend?
I do love books, but honestly the best PM resources have been youtube videos, and twitter. Check out Shreyas Doshi on twitter and follow the rabbit hole from there! Also Lenny Rachitsky, Hiten Shah, and other Product leaders. Keep an eye out for articles, blogs, newsletters, and books.
You might be interested in our Free Product Management Resources
What has been the most noticeable changes in switching from a role at LinkedIn to one w/ the Biden Campaign?
In the biden campaign, there is a lot of highly time sensitive initiatives with lots of ambiguity and no room for churn/back and forths – this helps drive things forward very fast (we don’t have a choice, election is on the line) . It’s also very clear what the mission and objectives are and we know that there are clear deadline (e.g. election day, vote certification dates, inauguration day).
I am interested in how LinkedIn handles the intersection of their business needs with product needs. Specifically, how do you strategically decide what items will drive ROI?
The eternal question and trade-off! One great thing about LinkedIn is that we have very clear north star metrics and company vision/mission, which makes it clear and easy to prioritize.
Transitioning from an engineering role to a product role, do you feel you had an advantage?
Absolutely, as I mentioned earlier, I graduated college with no real technical skills and I made it my mission to learn how to code because I wanted to be tech literate and I was also genuinely interested (software imho is one of the coolest things human beings have ever done in history, the scale, ingenuity, creativity, etc).
The resources are PLENTIFUL now. We live in a completely different age, and you can continue to code through the rest of your life once you’ve learned. For example, I’m doing a finance python class right now for fun – highly recommended you all learn at least a bit of coding. I did it, and I was a liberal art major!
Do you have any tips on juggling multiple highly aggressive product timelines, and keeping everyone on board, without dropping the ball?
- I love personal knowledge management (PKM) tools e.g. Evernote, notion, roam, so I would highly encourage having a great set up i.e., specifically be able to retrieve any information at a seconds notice
- More importantly, if you are highly PROACTIVE in your communication, you will minimize your chances of dropping the ball. OVER communicate, constantly update folks to the point that you’re maybe even annoying them! That’s 10x better than dropping the ball, and folks will appreciate it.
What career advice would you give to someone who is stuck in limbo for the past year in job hunting?
I’m a huge believer in shaking things up and betting on yourself. There are tons of ways to break out of a rut (new OKRs with your manager and team, getting on a new project, etc) but for me personally, I love shaking things up with big moves. You are forced to face yourself, your weaknesses, your discomforts, and it will hurt – but once you get out of it and you’ve bet on yourself and won, your self-awareness, confidence, and skills will accelerate.
Don’t miss our next Ask Me Anything session where you’ll learn what you need to become a better Product Manager! Check our upcoming AMAs here.