My summer in Seattle

I returned to the Bay Area after three months in Seattle. I was there for Indeed University, Indeed’s onboarding program for recent grads. New Indeedians join teams and build new products, which are pitched to senior leadership at the end of the summer.

I was a product lead, which involved mentoring and advising the new grads. Five participants reported to me during the program and I was the product lead for two product teams.

I worked closely with teams to define roadmap, tests, vision, goals, and more. I learned a lot this summer as a product lead.

Ask questions, don’t tell

As a product lead, I was expected to help the teams figure out what to test and build. At first, it was natural for me to say that a particular feature should be built, or that something would be a good first test.

However, I quickly realized that when I took this approach, the team wasn’t learning how to think about product. They were just doing what I said. I had to ask questions instead.

Some valuable questions I found during the summer were:

What do you expect to happen? / What’s your hypothesis?

Simply by getting the team to state what they thought would happen, we were able to draw out some assumptions that we may not have been aware of. For example, one feature the team thought would drive applies: Why would it do that? Do you have evidence to support that assumption? Since there wasn’t evidence that this might actually drive that behavior, we had to consider different tests.

How will you measure this? / What’s your success metric?

Especially with new products, we need to know what we’re going to measure and what we consider success. Sometimes what we want to drive is hard to measure and we need to pick a proxy metric, that is, a metric which can indicate that we are driving the desired metric. Will we be able to access the data we need to understand if a new product is successful? If not, how can we get it?

How can you move faster? / How can we get this out more quickly?

After time spent forming teams and brainstorming, teams had about 2 months to build their products until their final pitch to senior leadership. We had to drive for speed in order to learn and iterate. I found that I needed to ask questions in order to encourage teams to think about how to move faster. Sometimes, this didn’t even involve coding. It could be simplifying a feature, or choosing to use a Google Form instead of building something. Getting to the simplest solution was a skill that was flexed during the summer, as teams had to move fast to learn fast.

By asking questions, I empowered teams to think for themselves. I wasn’t the product manager for these teams, so I wasn’t defining the roadmap; I had to guide them on how to think about product.

Step back so others can step up

I know I’m lucky: I’ve gotten to experience many different things in my life and career. One powerful thing about this summer was learning to take a step back. There are things I’ve gotten to do that others perhaps haven’t. It was empowering to let others take the leads on new things and simply be there to support them.

This ranged from reviewing resumes to public speaking to leading events. I offered my time to practice doing these things, and then I was there if the person had questions.

Product teams also had the opportunity to present to senior leadership every Friday. I decided to never speak for my team; it was on them to answer all questions from leadership. I’ve had the opportunity to work and speak with Indeed leaders in the past; this was their time to connect to them. If I spoke for them, I would be taking away that opportunity.

I’m a co-chair for iPride, Indeed’s LGBTQ+ IRG (Inclusion Resource Group, same as ERG or Employee Resource Group). This summer left me thinking: How else can I empower new leaders and members? I had the opportunity to help develop product skills in new employees; how can I help develop new leaders within iPride? These are skills that I’ll be putting to use right away.

Connections matter

The most valuable thing I did this summer, after all the product and professional mentorship, was connecting people.

I connected experienced employees to new employees. First, I sent out a Google survey to the Seattle office asking anyone who was interested in meeting Indeed University participants to sign up. I would then meet with my mentees and talk about who they would want to meet in this office. This list led to numerous one-on-one coffees and lunches between new and more experienced Indeedians.

I connected visiting employees to new employees. Whenever someone was in town, I’d set up a casual lunch or coffee and invite a number of new Indeedians from Indeed University. This gave them the opportunity to learn about teams and products in other offices. For visiting PMs, I’d often just grab them a room and invite all the APMs. This gave the new employees a network at the company that expanded beyond just the other participants in the program.

I connected the right employees to new employees. Whenever my team had questions, I would often direct them directly to the product team or relevant employee. Because I’ve developed a network at Indeed, I knew who to reach out to. The teams then began to develop their own network and understanding of where to get answers in the future. For example, when teams had questions about how to write a query or get data, I would often direct them to Slack groups or wiki pages with the answers. I can write the query, or I can show them how to get that answer in the future, which works best in the long run.

Ultimately, I received feedback that these connections were one of the most important parts of Indeed University. These new employees were ready to jump into their second quarter with a network of Indeedians who they could rely on for additional support and knowledge.

All-in-all, it was a fun summer. However, I am glad to be back. I was missing my dogs and I’m excited to get started on a new team, Messaging at Indeed.

Photo by Luca Micheli on Unsplash