Routes to Product with Lyft Principal PM

This week, Product School hosted Johnny Chang, Principal Product Manager at Lyft, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Johnny answered questions on the various routes into Product and shared some of his experience as a former Product Lead at Netflix.

Principal Product Manager Netflix Johnny Chang

Meet Johnny Chang

Johnny is a Principal Product Manager at Lyft. Formerly he was the Senior Product Lead at Netflix where he focused on users, bringing leadership and vision and simplifying the chaos and chunk vague problems. He has been passionate about computer software from a young age and studied Computer Science in college and grad school, and was a Software Engineer for several years before transitioning into Product.

Is coming from a UX background a challenge for becoming a Product Manager or a plus?

UX background has unique advantage for sure, which is user empathy and product design, and you should leverage it as your strengths. Just know what skills you’re lacking and work on developing them.

Check out: The Product and Design Partnership with Google Director of Product

When is the best time to transition from Software Engineer to Product Manager? 

There’s no best answer to this and really depends on where you are in your career and opportunity that’s in front of you. I’d say if you strongly feel like moving into product, the sooner the better. If you’re still exploring, don’t rush it, be exposed to product, talk to Product Managers, and try a few product-inclined roles.

I am looking to move into a product management role…where and how should I start?

  1. Learn about the product management role, and know what you want.
  2. Confirm it’s really what you want to pursue.
  3. Start looking around for opportunity either directly in product or adjacent roles, as well as starting to develop the required skills.

What would would be your view as a hiring manager when you see a CPA applying for a product role. There are always stereotypes, and I know I should lean into the strengths I’d bring (modelling, stakeholder buying, business strategy), but how do I mitigate some of the perceived weakness (Technical, user, product market/fit)?

Usually I’d start from finance/accounting related to product for entry. I think the only way to get through the stereotype is to tell a good story about your experience and what you’re really good at.

Check out: Unpacking Fintech: Meaningful Product Management

How do you decide what feature should be the next one to be developed on your product? How do you choose the features that will add the most business value assuming you don’t know it beforehand?

This is a big question, but in general it’s a mix of judgement call + limited data you have in hand. Try to balance the two but make sure, you’re making a structural (vs random) decision.

Does project management make a good stepping stone towards product management?

I would think yes. There is an overlapping skillset. For the record, tech project management WAS my stepping stone from pure engineering.

Do you have colleagues with a marketing backgrounds? How hard is for them when compared with technical backgrounds?

I have colleagues from all kinds of background. I don’t think one necessarily always have stronger advantages over others. So be confident, leverage your strengths and work on what you’re lacking!

You might also be interested in: 7 Traits of Successful Digital Marketing Managers – And What PMs Can Learn from Them

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I find it hard to reach out to potential customers. How to reach out to them when your product is brand new and you want to validate it with the market?

Start from your target segment! what is the initial niche you want to reach with your new product, and then work backward to find the right channel to reach them. Is it college students? Housewives? New parents? You know where to find them.

I’m interested in entertainment companies such as Amazon Studios or Netflix. How would you say your time & work at Netflix differed from similar work at other companies?

Similar: always busy, how we manage product and get things delivered. Different? Culture, industry, nature of product, customers.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned at each stage – before becoming a PM, during your time as a PM, and while transitioning to Sr. PM?

In short, becoming a PM is about transitioning not only your skillsets but your mentality. During my time as PM is to always be learning and getting better while ensuring to deliver, Senior the same.

What experience do you have with agile? Are you more iterative or do you prefer to have a solid plan?

Iterative approach is more frequent nowadays. Having that said, you’ll have to assess the phase / nature of the product. Some deserves more careful upfront planning (e.g. enterprise products).

What would your biggest advice be for a Product Manager that has limited technical knowledge? How should they navigate their career progression?

  1. Develop your technical knowledge at the high level. If you’re interested in product role in tech, you should be interested. if you’re not, it might not be the right role for you
  2. Don’t feel too much stress wanting to learn all the technical stuffs in the world. Prioritize what you learn, and selectively get deep (ones that’s related to your work).

What are the top three skills a Product Manager should have?

For me (it might be somewhat different from what you’ve heard): learning new things quickly (and the curiosity), working well with people (and desire to), and structure.

Does the Netflix PM interview typically include questions on the big tech companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft etc.) or does it typically focus on Netflix and the broader streaming video industry?

Depends on the roles but usually it wouldn’t test your knowledge if you don’t come from the industry. Still general but what’s unique about Netflix is that it focuses the most about cultural fit.

You might also be interest in: How to Get a Product Management Job at Netflix

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How do you go about the balance between features that would appeal to mainstream and those that would be valued by more hardcore fans?

Understand the stage of your product lifecycle. In early phase when you’re starting out with the niche before expansion, you want to prioritize for hardcore fans. Later would be different.

Following the changes bought about by the pandemic, what are your thoughts on the PM role as a fully remote position?

It’s different and the same. The same is the typical “how to be a good product manager”. The difference will be how you interact with people. In remote, you’ll have to be more diligent in connecting with people because there’s no serendipitous encounters.

Any tips to be more effective during downtime? My calendar is never full of meetings!

First of all I think meetings (as much as we should prioritize, make them efficient, and eliminate if we can) are important tools for PMs to get information, influence, and make decisions with teams. When your tech partners are busy implementing, you can start conversations with business partners and start planning for the next big things. Just as an example.

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What’s your view on how Product & Marketing should work together when creating the go-to-market strategy and where do you see the divide in responsibility?

Just like any partnership PM has (with design, engineering), there’s not necessarily one way to split the responsibility and collaborate. It’ll be very much depending on strengths and weaknesses and preferences you both have and work out the best model.

Having that said, let Marketing do what they do best. Help you with market positioning and segmentation, how to approach the GTM, messaging, channel partnership and all that when you focus on the business goal and the product execution inward.

What can I do to succeed in landing a PM role, when I’m told I ‘only’ have 2.5 years experience and it’s not enough?

In addition to “don’t give up”, I think there might be a few strategies you might consider.

1) Gradually expand your current role as a PM in startup.

2) As you grow as a PM, look for opportunities that are closer to roles of your dream.

At what point should smaller teams think about investing in internal tools, even though it may “distract” a little from squashing bugs or getting a release out or whatever is top of stack for people that day?

When the team feels the “growing pain”. i.e. there are constant issues or debts coming from lack of structural ways of doing things. And remember, just like rolling out products, process introduction should be iterative as well. You don’t need a big bang full on process in one shot. focus on what’s broken, and test your way through.

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

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