Product School alum Richard Achee is currently responsible for Strategic Partnerships for Google Cloud. He has spent almost a decade at the company. Before, he spent some time in SAP and Oracle. His story is a fantastic example of personal growth and development through professional and learning experiences. While he is not exactly a Product Manager, he works alongside product teams. The course has been very helpful to further his career goals.
His example shows that there are a lot of opportunities in the product world that are different from the standard Product Management career (if there is one!). Knowing about one of tech’s most in-demand careers can help professionals who deal with product teams on a daily basis. Learn about Product Management and more through this in-depth interview with Google’s Richard Achee.
The Beginning of a Tech Career: From a Pull-Out Sofa to Google
“When I first moved to San Francisco in 1997, the dot.com boom was at its height. I rented a room with a pull-out sofa, did temp work at Bank of America, and started researching job opportunities. I mapped out the headquarters of all the tech companies where I wanted to work from SF to Palo Alto, and after work ended at 3:30, I would take the Caltrain to Silicon Valley and head to the first company on my list.”
What a beginning to a career, right? It almost sounds like a movie. Well, this is what happened to Richard. He had a BA in English and joining one of the emergent tech leaders was his dream. How did he attract their attention?
“Imagine a 24-year-old kid with an English degree and 1 year teaching experience going to the receptionist at the largest tech companies in the world and asking to meet a particular global vice president, with no appointment, so I could personally hand them my resume. No one else was doing that, apparently, and I got a call back from everyone I tried to meet with this approach. When you have no experience, a little boldness can get attention. I eventually got a job at Oracle through a referral, often a better way, but the lessons I learned from those experiences stuck with me throughout my career.”
Richard spent almost seven years at Oracle. Then, it was the perfect moment to work in tech. The transition to Web 2.0 (a much more open environment for all sorts of user engagement) was taking place. And advancements in computing and Internet speed were allowing more and more services to take place online. How were companies reacting to this transformation?
“It has been a while, but when I was at Oracle, I spent significant time navigating through the organization to find the right people and teams to get things done. It was a matrix organization, which means ownership and accountability was complex. Sometimes you could spot things missed, and it created opportunities to make an impact.”
“For example, early on in their cloud business, after acquiring Siebel, the transition to new systems created a gap in their ability to track their CRM On Demand revenue stream. I worked with sales, operations and finance to build a model, using SQL to extract data from the data warehouse and Excel to build the complex revenue recognition calculations, to build the new tool. It helped me advance my career, and it made me realize how much I enjoyed using technology to build solutions to business problems.”
More recently, Richard joined Google. He first worked in the Asia-Pacific Region, in Enterprise Sales. During that decade, he accumulated experience in working together with internal and external stakeholders; a real challenge every Product Manager will be able to empathize with. Most recently, he became responsible for Strategic Partnerships at Google Cloud.
“As part of my role, I work with our cross-functional teams to identity key partners, engage their executives to define our joint product and go-to-market strategies, and then making sure we have the resources we need to execute.”
OK, this is his job description in brief. But his team actually do a great deal. Check it out.
“My team sits within the Chrome PM org, and we collaborate with PMs, engineers, strategy, sales, channels and marketing in much the same way a PM would, but with some key differences. While our PM owns our product and the features that are in or out of our platform, we focus on building the ecosystem of technology partnerships and critical 3rd party integrations for our products. Google is innovative and collaborative, and once we start working with a new partner, it often creates exciting opportunities to bring new technologies to market at scale.”
Always go beyond your responsibilities. For better or worse, working in tech implies that you have to stay up to date with changes in the industry. This is a good rule for choosing a promising product job: does it offer opportunities for professional advancement?
“Google is known to be an innovative company, and one of the ways it creates an environment for innovation is by hiring people who love to collaboratively solve difficult problems, and then by giving those people as much autonomy as possible. Of course, I enjoy the other benefits that Google is known for, like the amazing offices, free food, massage chairs and the rest of the perks. It is a privilege to work there. But without the collaborative culture, it would be a different environment.”
“Also, that freedom goes beyond the core responsibilities by giving us 20% time. 20% time means any Google employee has equivalent to a day each week to work on their own projects. Python MC was one of my 20% time projects, and prior to that I helped lead the Google Edu Think Tank, a group of K-12 educators in the U.S. who are driving innovation in the classroom. These projects often required me to work longer hours, but it also fed into my core responsibilities by building my technical and leadership skills.”
Essential Skills: Technical Courage and a Growth Mindset
There is this misguided tendency in the product world to think that hard skills are all that matters. Knowing how to develop a product, using the latest tools, understanding how ML works… Well, they don’t hurt, obviously. But there are many other necessary abilities and soft skills that contribute to successful Product Management. This is Richard’s take.
“I think two of the most important things I have learned are the concepts of technical courage and a growth mindset. Acquiring technical courage means you do not get intimidated by complex technical concepts and terminology. Once you dig into a technical subject, for example, like reading a white paper or book on some aspect of data science or security, you find the core concepts are actually quite simple once you unpack the jargon.
- Technical courage is the mix of confidence, persistence and curiosity to keep pushing into the subject matter, even if it feels like you may never master it.
- It often means you are learning more than you need to know about a subject outside your domain, but you learn it anyway because you never know how that knowledge may be relevant later on.
- A growth mindset is the belief that your abilities can always adapt and expand to new challenges, and that frequent failures are a key part of that journey.
- You collect many wrong answers until you find a solution.
“I think when you combine technical courage with a growth mindset, there is nothing that you cannot learn or achieve.”
“You may need to explore a great deal of content, like reading dozens of different articles, books or videos, and navigate even more technical conversations, before you find someone who explains it in a way that makes sense.”
“I think The Product Book is an excellent place to start, and it directly relates to the Product Manager course with Product School. I also think Good Strategy Bad Strategy is another great one. While not specific to Product Management, it provides a framework for assessing problems and designing effective strategies for anything in work and life.”
Well, if you should decide to embrace the opportunity of becoming a PM; what could you do to make the most of your Product School experience?
“Firstly, respect the opportunity.”
- Commit to the course as if your career depended on it. It is hard to work all day, deal with the daily challenges in the rest of your life, and then carve out 10 hours a week to study for a course that is not mandatory. But if you don’t commit to it, then you are missing a great opportunity to learn and grow.
- You will have an instructor with serious industry experience who is going to invest the time to personally coach you and provide great insights and feedback on your work, and you will get out as much as you put into it.
“Secondly, respect your classmates.”
- While your teammates may or may not have extensive experience as PMs (hence the reason they are taking the course), you will find that everyone in the course had their own unique experiences and is willing to learn and share, and their perspectives and ideas will be highly valuable.
Aspiring or Established Product People: Never Stop Learning
Let’s finish this fascinating account of a product professional’s life with Richard’s commitment to continuous learning. This time, he decided to share his knowledge with young students from underserved communities. This kind of generosity can transform lives, including your own.
“I discovered a recently launched program at Google called Code Next (https://codenext.withgoogle.com/) that focused on exactly that segment of students in Oakland and New York. I started volunteering as a Python instructor and over the course of the next 3 years, I developed a curriculum called Python MC. Python MC is a free 1-year introduction to computer science that uses the music and movement of hip hop to teach Python. Using EarSketch, a free, online live coding digital audio workstation, students use their new skills in Python to write code that remixes music tracks. So far, we have taught 100s of students, and we now see adoption of Python MC in schools across the country.”
“From this experience, I learned that one of the best ways to develop a new skill, or accomplish anything in life, is to have a strong sense of purpose. Volunteering as a computer science teacher gave me that purpose and inspired me to work long hours including early mornings, late nights, weekends and vacations to create Python MC and start to make an impact.”
“Also, one of the best ways to develop mastery is to teach. Nothing sharpens your focus like preparing for high school students. They will challenge you to explain things super clearly and consistently in a way that adults sometimes won’t, and they are so inspiring. It is not an exaggeration to say that the experience has changed my life and my perspective, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. If anyone is keen to learn to code while making on impact, they can contact me at richard[at]found42.com or by tweeting @PythonMc. We are always looking for volunteer coaches, and no prior coding experience is required.”
With some work and by following Richard’s example, perhaps it’ll be you helping out an aspiring PM who sleeps on a pull-out sofa in a few years!