Editor’s note: this content was updated in 2021 as part of our 7th Anniversary celebrations. That’s right, 7 whole years of Product School! Come and celebrate with us…
Product Managers come from many different backgrounds, and end up taking many different paths. The same goes for our Product School certification students!
That’s why we like to take the chance to chat with them about their experience on the course, and what they’ve been up to since.
Kwame Egerton II is a consultant for Accenture, working as an AI Product Manager for a Big 5 Tech Company, and also as a Senior Program Manager. He recently obtained his first certification as a Product Manager with our PMC certification. We caught up with him about his experience, what his day to day is like at Accenture, and his work on the Affordable Care Act website (Healthcare.gov).
What ignited your love of tech/the product world?
I would say my passion for tech started pretty young…as far back as the iPod, I can say I’m going back to my roots. It was an amazing transition for me, being an 11 year old going from CDs and walkmans, to having my whole music library in the palm of my hand. This transformation in how I listened to music really sparked my interest in technology. The transformation allowed me to see how technology and innovation can improve lives. Even as a young 11 year old, I began to think about how Apple created such an amazing product. How did Steve Jobs have this vision and put together a team to bring it to life? The iPod really started my interest in product.
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This early interest led me to study Systems and Information Science at Syracuse University. With this major, I knew I wanted to be between both the business and technology. My thought process was that I wanted to have a skillset to understand how to create a product roadmap, monetization strategies, how to conduct competitive analysis, as well as being able to speak an engineer’s language by taking courses in C#, Java, SQL, and web development.
How did you get your start in the Product world?
As a consultant at Accenture, I’ve worked on 11 different projects across 6 different industries in both the public and private sector throughout my career. As far as my first stint within product, it was actually at the start of my career when I was working on the public sector or federal side of Accenture. The particular client was Health and Human Services, the federal entity that owned the website for the Affordable Care Act. I did requirements gathering with 30+ client stakeholders to determine what features will be included in each release.
It was a huge initiative and very impactful work that mattered. Being able to provide affordable healthcare to citizens within the United States was something I was truly passionate about. This passion allowed me to clearly define business requirements documents and user stories for engineers to create new features that will be implemented during each release.
The overall engagement went well and was a success. I led a team through four different releases to production. I was very pleased with the velocity and throughput and so was the client.
Are there any unique challenges or any differences between ‘regular Product Management’, and working on a cause for social good?
When you think about a normal consumer facing product, you’re thinking about how to make that customer experience best and being the voice of the customer. For a cause for social good, it’s being the voice of the customer, but it’s times 10.
Being able to understand the exact need for individuals who don’t necessarily have healthcare within the United States. How exactly would they want to interface with the front end of the website to apply for the program? Due to the high priority nature of a cause for a social good, it took an even deeper empathy as it relates to being the customer voice.
It was great, being able to wake up every day and understand, the work that I’m doing is making people’s lives better. It was impactful, and it incentivized us to work even harder on that product as we were making the world a better place.
You’ve also worked in an e-gaming environment. What was that like?
The e-gaming environment at Scholastic was actually at the start of my career. I interned at Scholastic before I started at Accenture. This was during my senior year of college, the work environment was great. I studied agile software delivery in school, and I completed class projects utilizing agile but being able to take those learnings and work in an agile based team was exactly what I needed. We had two week sprints, daily standups, and backlog refinement sessions. It was great to take the learnings from the classroom and be able to implement them in the real world.
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We were able to design and develop an academic video game for Scholastic. This product differed from how Scholastic typically went to market as of course they’re known for selling physical books. Being able to think of different ways to engage and teach children outside of the normal medium of books was a great experience.
At Accenture you transition from Program Manager to Product Manager. How would you characterize the difference between these two roles?
When it comes to program management, skill sets that are important to have are being able to create clear project plans, business cases to receive sign off from executives, clear and concise status reports that go directly to stakeholders, and the ability to work cross functionally across teams. So really being able to be that driving force behind ensuring whatever that program is, it gets done well and on time, if not early. I learned a lot of the written communication and people skills in program management roles.I also learned how to understand exactly what the roles and responsibilities are for each cross-functional stakeholder for a program.
In comparison to product, important skills consist of being able to create a product road map, tie different features within that product road map to business outcomes where we can monetize technical implementations, and being able to create user stories for engineers to build features.
Each role required a different hat to be worn, but I feel like as far as those programs skill sets, it allowed me to understand the entire lifecycle as it relates to delivering software. It allowed me to improve my skill set from a communication standpoint when I did transition into more product roles. Transitioning from program to product was helpful. I love the fact that I have both the product and program skill set because when working with a program manager, I understand exactly what their day to day tasks include. I understand different hardships that program managers face and understand how to make their lives a little bit easier. So I think it’s great to have both skill sets.
What’s a typical day to day like for you at the moment?
Currently at Accenture, we’re working with a public sector client to create a virtual assistant to help with rising unemployment rates. We’re utilizing artificial intelligence and natural language processing to allow for individuals to type inquiries into a virtual assistant. This allows for a computer to answer their questions instead of a human.
There was a point in time where 100,000 phone calls were made to call centers related to unemployment benefits. There’s not enough human capacity to manage that workload. Our goal was to implement a solution that allowed for increased automation and process improvement, as well as increased efficiency. From a technical perspective, we’re utilizing Miro. This is a platform that allows us to create conversation flows. We transition those conversation flows to engineers so that they can build out the functionality within AWS LEX.
In regards to my day to day, it’s extremely busy. My first meeting is typically at 7:00AM and my day ends around 10:00 PM. Being able to build out this virtual assistant is again work that matters. Our efforts allow for individuals to apply for unemployment insurance easier. This results in people being able to put food on the table for their families, pay their rent, and to have peace of mind during uncertain times. In regards to the social nature of the work itself, it was another amazing opportunity that I loved to do every single day.
What do you think is a Product Manager’s most valuable skill?
Being the CEO of the product. Being able to have that vision related to the impact of your products on the customer. So putting the customer first, being that customer voice, being able to think through exactly how the customer would want to interface with the product, whether it’s a mobile app, website, or physical hardware.
Do you think that’s a skill that develops more over time or is it something that you sort of have to have from day one?
I think it develops over time. When you do your competitive analysis, you have insight into what different competitors are doing within your industry. Being able to take that step back and plan the future impact of a product over a two year time period within a product roadmap is a skill set that comes with experience.
It’s a skill set that comes after you go through that exercise three to five times. I think it is something that takes repetition to master rather than something that people are great at up front.
You recently obtained your certification in Product Management (PMC), congrats! How did you enjoy it?
I liked it a lot, I learned a ton. I felt like I’ve been able to take a lot of those learnings and implement them directly within my career, which was my goal.
I’ve used the product framework of identify-plan-design-develop-launch-assess-repeat on multiple client accounts. Detailed discussions on quantitative versus qualitative data was also helpful. I had a high level understanding prior, but to take a deeper dive into the differences between the two as well as going through different use cases, helped me to strengthen my skill set. My product capabilities increased exponentially as a result of taking the course. I loved it. It was great, it was fantastic.
How did you learn about Product School?
I learned about Product School through a former client. It was a hospitality client in Silicon Valley, I was working within the product org there. One of the PMs who worked within the organization was doing a speaking engagement at Product School. Having a platform focused on improving the product skill set of individuals who are in the industry, I think that’s what really ignited my interest in Product School.
What was your experience like with your instructor, Joel?
Joel was great. He was the Head of Product at a startup in New York. His experience was fantastic. He was able to share use cases from prior product interviews that he went through that really gave clear and concise examples related to the product life cycle itself. He did a great job of answering all of my questions.
He did a great job of facilitating the material while also making it fun too.It was in a virtual setting, but it was engaging. He ensured to make the material intriguing to the audience, by keeping things light as well as keeping things informative at the same time.
Meet Kwame’s Instructor: Joel Palathinkal
Dr. Joel Palathinkal is a Technology Product Leader & Venture Capital Investor, and has been named the Top Instructor two years in a row. He’s the Chief Product Officer/Managing Director at both Sutton Capital (a fintech/investment firm) and Genesis Block Ventures (tech focused hedge fund & venture fund). In the past, he was the Head of Product at Northwestern Mutual for the Digital Consumer Experience/Investment Platforms, the Head of Product at FactSet, and held Senior Product Leadership roles at large media firms like NBCUniversal, CBS and Hearst Magazines.
What advice do you have for people who are looking to get into Product Management in 2021?
My first piece of advice is to go to Product School and get a certification, so you can become a product expert.
The other thing is to network with people in product. Networking is essential to land roles within product, whether it’s at a big consulting firm like Accenture, or if it’s directly within industry for Google, Facebook, or Netflix. Having a network of individuals in your court who are your supporters, and who are amplifying your voice for possible career opportunities is essential.