Learning from Challenging Situations with Amazon Senior PM

This week Product School hosted Baruch Spier current Senior Product Manager with Amazon Advertising for an #AskMeAnything session. Baruch shared his personal experiences when working at Amazon and Comcast, gave advise based on his most challenging situations and more.

Baruch Spier, Sr Product Manager at Amazon

Meet Baruch Spier

Baruch is a Senior Product Manager with Amazon Advertising. Before joining Amazon, he worked as a PM with Comcast for four years, building AI products for their Xfinity television and home security services. Baruch’s PM strengths are customer focus and data-driven decisions.

He loves to push hard on new ideas and innovations. His favorite parts of being in Product are engaging with customers, analyzing lots of data, and leading new products through uncertainty and complexity.

Life as an Amazon Product Manager 

Where and how are the Leadership Principles used in the day to day functioning?

Great question! We use them a lot when making decisions. The obvious one is customer obsession, which is generally considered the most important principle. My favorite one to learn about is Disagree and Commit. It’s an important one for forcing action over inaction and arguments.

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What has been the most relevant learning from your Product Management career? 

My biggest lesson has been that strong relationships are more important than being right. It’s still something I’m trying to get better at.

If folks are excited to work with you, you will be able to get a lot more done than if you try to force the perfect answer to other people.

What has been the most challenging projects you worked on?

I’m working on a new API as a product. Our customers will be the external API integrators. It has challenged me to juggle multiple types of customers (3rd party developers + their end-users), and instead of focusing on solid design, I am spending time on data quality and TPS limitations.

two people talking pointing at a paper

What are the most important qualities and responsibilities required of a Product Manager?

I think ownership. It honestly took me a couple of years before I even figured out what my job was and how to describe it. But, I knew that I had to do whatever it took to make sure the product was great.

If you come in with the attitude that you will do anything to make a great product, then you will do great.

Techniques and Advice 

What are the most surprising and difficult things about working with Advertising Products? 

In my role, the customer is the advertiser, who is also a seller, vendor, or author on Amazon. I have had to learn a ton about the relationship they already have with Amazon before they start with ads.

What are some specific things you do to stay customer-focused?

I try to listen to customers as much as possible. This may be through the first-hand conversation, watching User Research interviews, or reading feedback sent in by account managers. There are even Amazon Advertising focused podcasts that I listen to because they feature good customer anecdotes.

Though that is all qualitative data, and I also spend a lot of time looking at our key metrics to prove the anecdotes I hear from the above conversations.

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What are some differences between Product Management and AI Product Management? 

As an AI PM, the algorithm and the platforms that ran them were my products. I defined the metrics for the research scientists to build the algorithms, and I measured the accuracy (precision and recall).

I even spent time hiring data annotators to provide the data sets to train and test the algorithms.

hands typing on laptop

What differs when being a Product Manager at Comcast vs Amazon? What skill sets are more valued or used at both companies?

One word: writing! 

I have to write so much at Amazon. Everything is in a doc. At Comcast, I spent more time putting together PowerPoints than documents.

Also, I had to report upwards less at Comcast. At Amazon, we spend a lot of time keeping our manager and skip-level manager updated.

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How do you make recommendations about whether to build, buy, or partner for key features/tools required for an MVP? Is there a framework or thought process you utilize?

I love this question because it’s legit and tough. Generally, we have a lot of liberty to build because we are already working with an engineering team, so we probably build too much. I would say partner if it’s not what you are good at and buy if you want to be the best at it, but someone is already doing it better, and you can bring additional economic value (likely a bigger set of users).

What trends in the future of Product Management are you most excited or interested in?

I think right now there is a lot of written and taught on becoming a Product Manager.

I don’t yet see a lot on what comes after Product Manager. What does a Product Manager with 10 years of experience do next? I wish I could learn more about what career options I should consider in another five years when I have a decade of experience. I have some guesses about what my options would be, but I’m not entirely sure.

The Transition into Product Management 

Any tips on getting noticed by HR?

Get experience in whatever you are trying to do. If you want to be a Product Manager, get lots of great product management experience however you can.

I started in Product Management as an MBA intern. It was a great way for me to get my foot in the door. If you already work at a tech company, do whatever you can do at least part-time to take on the role of a Product Manager.

You might also be interested in: 4 Tips to Write a Product Manager Resume Recruiters Will Notice + Examples

laptop with coding

How technical should a Product Manager be? 

The only tools that are universally applicable are SQL and excel skills. Otherwise, each role deals with a different technology that you will have to learn about. Just remember that your job isn’t to write code.

How can I enter the field of tech as a Product Manager if I have an educational background in completely different fields?

You need to get product management experience on your resume. Even if it means volunteering for a small startup part-time as their Product Manager, go do that. Good luck!

If you don’t work at a tech company, meet as many people as you can, and be super clear that you want to work as a Product Manager.

But, in general, rockstar Product Managers don’t have to start at Amazon and Google. Plenty of great candidates come with awesome Product Managers experience from companies we didn’t know about. 

I wanted to know what are the chances of an undergrad getting a Product Management role just after graduation?

I think it depends on the company. I am not aware of such a thing at Amazon, but I know other companies do try to take this on.

Another good option is to train as a data analyst. They work very closely with Product Managers, often on the same team, and it is a more common post-BA role. Program Management is another role that you can take as a stepping stone into Product Management.

Join us next week for another #AskMeAnything Session for more insights from Product Managers around the world!


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