Understanding the Technical Foundation with Microsoft

Product School hosted Kovid Gurrala, Product Manager at Microsoft,  for an #AskMeAnything session. Kovid answered questions on being a technical PM, challenges he faced, and top skills in Product.

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Meet Kovid

Kovid is a product professional with a technical background, highly skilled in Android development, Java, C#, and stakeholder management. He is currently working at Microsoft, where he started as a Software Engineer and became a Product Manager. He promoted a worldwide address verification, which detected suspicious credit card transactions and
prevented credit card fraud. 

Kovid led 20+ teams across four different organizations to ensure compliance set forth by the USA Department of Justice. He collaborated with RISK and Trade team to build an ML Algorithm that protects the company from trading with fraudulent customers and non-compliant entities. Before this, he was a Software Engineer at Visa and a QA Analyst at Zoom data, a high-performance BI engine and analytics company. 

What’s a Product you developed that you love?

That’s a hard question to answer as it changes frequently. However, a Product that I’ve developed a lot of love for recently is Public. It’s a trading app with a social networking element to it. During the pandemic, like many, I too have explored different hobbies and have developed a love for Trading. I found their policies to be transparent and growing well with the increase in interest from the general populace after recent events (GameStop, Robinhood etc.)

remote work

In your opinion what are the pros and cons of remote working, as a Product Manager?

I believe there are a lot of good and bad elements to it; however, the future is uncertain until the pandemic is over. Because we’re not receiving a true remote work experience currently as we’re all quarantined as well. I do believe that remote work provides us more flexibility to spend time with our loved ones and with our chores. However, it has become a bit more challenging to share ideas in the remote world. At least for me personally.

I’m a very visual learner and teacher. So, not being able to draw complex systems on a whiteboard or to learn visually and in person has made the day-to-day work responsibilities a little more challenging in my opinion. However, I look forward to the future with optimism post-pandemic.

Is it Possible to Work Remotely as a PM

What were some of the challenges and surprises for you in moving from engineering to product management?

Surprisingly, I did not feel too much friction between Engineering and Product. I believe the reason is due to my way of thinking and structuring a problem. Even as an Engineer, the growth in my career will eventually fall to customer empathy and solving the right problems. I approached the design of a solution with the customer in my mind so it never felt like I was solving different problems. However, the process was different and it took a little while to be accustomed to constantly writing and reviewing documents. Apart from that, I found the two roles to be more similar than different when looked at from a high level.

Here are 3 Reasons Software Engineers Make Great Product Managers

What do suggest for a QA engineer to switch to a Product Owner?

I would start with being honest with yourself and the way you want to grow with your career. There are a lot of rewarding experiences as a QA Engineer and Product Owner.I would start with learning more about the role utilizing the many resources and talks available at Product School. If being a Product Owner appeals to you, then try designing products on your own to be familiar with the thought process of a Product Owner. Ex: Design a Highway; How to measure the success of a Chat App.

Once you feel comfortable with understanding the customer pain points and structuring your answers, try out some open roles for a career change.

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Where do you see the future of work as it relates to cross-functional collaboration? How would this affect the day-to-day of a Product Manager?

I certainly have a bias towards the office as I find the knowledge transfer via a whiteboard in a conference room to be more effective than an online video call. However, I do believe that the future will be more Hybrid. As many have had a chance to work remotely over the last year, there are some clear benefits that cannot be ignored (more time, more flexibility, etc.)As a Product Manager, you are bound by your customers and stakeholders. The best way to serve them is to be wherever they are. So, I believe that a Hybrid approach will be more effective to be able to serve a wide range of stakeholders. Time will tell which direction is made more sense after the end of the Pandemic

What is one of the best examples you can give to explain Influence without authority?

Influencing without authority is a key PM skill.The critical first step is to ensure that you and your stakeholders are solving the right problem. Once you have established the problem to solve, supporting data and company priorities are excellent tools to build trust that you are doing the right thing by your customer and stakeholders.

What advice would you give someone without a technical background?

As a PM, technical skills are highly dependent on your customers. In my experience, it is important to understand the technical foundation of your customer rather than be able to design the technical solution. This is highly dependent on the size and culture of the company of course. I would work with the technical leaders in your company to learn more and be a more effective PM within your company. They are the best sources of technical skills needed to be a successful PM in your company.

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How do you validate problems? What framework do you use?

There’s in no singular framework that I’ve found to be useful for the variety of problems that come across my plate. However, I’m a firm believer in Lewis Lin’s CIRCLES method as a foundational piece to get started.

You might be interested in 3 Ways to Validate Your Product Hypothesis

What do you recommend for a design-oriented product manager to do to increase technical skill/desirability?

There are a variety of Product Managers across the industry. If you are interested in a technical PM role, then it is paramount that you be able to converse in the technical lingo of your customers.

I would look more into being a Design PM as it’s a more natural transfer from your existing skillset. But, technical skills aren’t too difficult to pick up either. There are plenty of tech boot camps that can give a good foundation of tech skills. I have had experience with the Coding Dojo foundation and do recommend them to develop a good starter technical skillset.

What’s your biggest mistake that you always regret but that grew you significantly as a PM?

I found my biggest growth opportunity to scale and meet the demands of my problem. It is critical as a PM to be able to delegate responsibilities and hold the stakeholders accountable. I have made mistakes in this regard by trying to do too much but have made significant strides which has helped me solve more complex problems in an efficient manner.

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