Product Q&A with Fernando Delgado
Fernando Delgado started his PM career at Google as an Associate Product Manager. Over the 5 and a half years he spent there, he had the opportunity to contribute to various features and launches of Web Search (google.com), Google Maps, Voice Search, Android, and Google+ Local.
Right after Google, he joined Yahoo as a Senior Director of Product Management in the Mobile organization. He put together and led a team that launched Yahoo’s homepage app, which reached the #1 spot in the News category on both Android and iOS, and sustained that ranking for ~6 months. He then joined the Yahoo Mail App team and shipped the biggest refresh of the app in years. It reached the #5 spot of all iOS free apps in 2015.
In addition to building products, he also co-founded and co-led the Associate Product Manager Program at Yahoo. During his tenure, they hired 23 APMs, who ended up contributing immensely to products such as Flickr, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Mail, Gemini Advertising, and more.
Fernando is currently a PM coach and consultant at fernandodelgado.com. He is also an advisor to Product Manager HQ.
In addition to PM coach/consultant gigs, he is a Founder of Quartz Timepieces (http://www.quartztimepieces.com/), a curated watch store and Founder of La Tienda Venezolana (https://www.latiendavenezolana.com/), an online store for Venezuelan physical goods.
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Select questions and answers from the AMA:
What’s generally the best arc for telling your story / PM background in a PM interview?
You should prepare a 2-3 minute speech and memorize it so you can deliver it with the same ease you sing “Happy Birthday”. This speech should contain a summary of your accomplishments, highlights of your career/studies, and something memorable. Something memorable can be a hobby, an idol you have met, a problem you encountered which made you work in tech, etc.
Any tips on creating a “sticky” product?
The most interesting framework I’ve encountered to measure (and shoot for) stickiness is the “Aha moment” – this is basically the set of actions that separate your users into those who are hooked and those who are not. There’s a great article on what it is and how to find it within your product at http://apptimize.com/blog/2016/02/this-is-how-you-find-your-apps-aha-moment/
When creating a feature for a product, how to prioritize the use cases for including in the MVP?
The first thing you want to do is to have a comprehensive list of ALL the features you can think of. This list should be fairly granular. For instance “Sign up flow asking for name, email, password but no profile pic” as opposed to “Sign up”. You then prioritize the list by estimating the impact and the effort each line will have. Pick the highest impact items that are medium to low effort. Once you have that subset, ask yourself: “is this absolutely, strictly necessary for the core use case?” If the answer is No, then it’s not MVP. For instance, if you are working on a news app, you may think adding comments to each article is part of the MVP. It’s probably not. People can still read articles without the ability to write comments.
What’s the best interview question to ask candidates (from your side of the desk)?
That’s a tough question. I don’t know if I would consider it the “best” interview question to ask, but for many years, one of my favorite questions was “How would you build Facebook’s trending topics?” What I liked about it was that it had product, strategy, analytical, and technical aspects. So it was a good combo. Getting all the right ideas is also very tough during an interview. So it helped me separate good candidates from excellent candidates, and excellent candidates from “is this person even human?”
What is the common piece of advice that you find yourself giving over and over to APMs?
I think the most common advice I give to people early in their career is to spend time becoming as technical as they can. This is because it gets harder over time. Once you find a job, it’s difficult to find the time to learn about AI, machine learning, operating systems, computer networks, mobile development, etc. So it’s good to do it while you’re at school, or shortly thereafter. I have a blog post that goes into more details: https://fernandodelgado.com/how-to-become-a-product-manager/
Do you think an MBA degree is required to transition to product management?
An MBA is definitely NOT required to become a Product Manager. In fact, many people in Silicon Valley believe that it’s detrimental to have an MBA if you want to be a PM – they would argue you spent 1-2 years of your life not building products. I don’t subscribe to this school of thought, though. I have met exceptional PMs who have MBAs. The best example that comes to mind is Erin Teague: https://www.linkedin.com/in/erinteague What I do believe is that there are experiences that are more effective (and affordable) at teaching Product Management. For instance, working at a startup, or building a mobile app with friends (as a side project).
I have also seen recruiters not moving forward because past experiences do not match with a job description. For first-timers, how can we bridge the gap?
Some companies are certainly looking only for experienced PMs. Those are tough jobs to get if you’re fresh out of college. However, many companies have Associate or Rotational PM programs, which are aimed at recent graduates. I would recommend applying to those types of companies, instead of trying to “bridge the gap” – they will value your potential more than your experience.
What are the best/most valuable skills for a PM today in your opinion? Do you have some tips for PMs entering new markets? Hacks for understanding/analyzing markets you are not aware of!
- I believe 5 key skills PMs should have are: communication (verbal and written), analytical, technical, strategy/vision, and product sense. At the same time, it’s very important to know how to get stuff done, how to motivate people, and how to lead teams.
- Here’s a hack I’ve heard some people do: build a very simple “coming soon” type of site. Now run advertising campaigns on Google/Facebook pointing to the site. The campaigns with the highest CTR should shed light on what the market wants. So instead of spending months building a product, you spend a few hours building a landing page of what the product may be, and you figure out if there’s interest/demand
With now 15 years of the advent of the modern web, do you believe the role and responsibilities of a product manager are completely defined? Do you think that’s going to change?
I don’t think that time is the key dimension that defines the role of a Product Manager. I believe the team and the product they're working on are more important dimensions that define what the PM should be doing. That said, what I have noticed is that many folks who don’t work in Silicon Valley tech companies are simply unaware of what Product Management is. So I believe we have more of an awareness problem rather than an issue with defining what a PM’s role is.
What the first 90 days like for a Product Marketer / Growth Marketing?
I personally haven’t worked as a Product/Growth Marketer myself. However, from those I have worked with in the past, their first 90 days typically consist of:
- Ensure that you have the right tools in place to implement and measure experiments (this is actually the bottleneck in many instances).
- Create many small+quick experiments and start running them ASAP – they may have to run for days/weeks before you have statistically significant results. You may think that 1-3% gains are not significant, but when you add many of those, the effects compound for massive gains. The best example I’ve seen of this comes from Sergei Sorokin and Kevin Li: http://apptimize.com/blog/2015/09/yahoo-growth-team-what-you-should-tell-your-boss-about-testing/
I see you place an emphasis on technology as a skillset for PMs. Any advice for those of us who are already employed as PMs, but are non-technical, to get ourselves up to speed on the most important aspects of tech we need in order to be the best PMs we can be?
In my opinion, it’s very important for PMs to stay on top of what’s happening in technology – be it acquisitions, new product launches, feature changes, lawsuits, VC investments, etc. I think being informed helps you make better strategic decisions. My favorite sources to stay informed are: techmeme.com, news.ycombinator.com, reddit.com/r/technology, and producthunt.com
If you want to become more technical, there are 2 things I highly recommend:
- Learn how to code, and spend at least 4-6 hours a week doing it. There are many free resources online. Set a project goal and go for it, e.g. build a Facebook crawler or a bot that plays 2048.
- Read 3-4 engineering/technical articles every week. My favorite resource is news.ycombinator.com – you can also get the top links as a weekly newsletter: http://www.hackernewsletter.com/
Do you have any suggestions for finding recruiters that place Product Managers in the Bay Area?
I think that the most effective way to recruit is by having senior PMs (sometimes even VPs) reach out to prospective candidates directly, and invite them for coffee. I’ve personally seen this work very well at Facebook and Yahoo. Recruiters are extremely valuable to coordinate logistics, set the right expectations, and guide the candidate through the process. But when the first point of contact is your potential manager/mentor, the recruiting process is a lot smoother.
My question is – if you had to select the 2 most important skills that PMs needed to apply at all times to be successful, what would those be and why?
I don’t think that just 2 skills are enough to be successful. I believe you need a lot more than that. As I answered in a previous question, I believe 5 key skills PMs should have are: communication (verbal and written), analytical, technical, strategy/vision, and product sense. At the same time, it’s very important to know how to get stuff done, how to motivate people, and how to lead teams. You also asked why, so here’s a story: when I was at Yahoo, Jeff Bonforte (currently SVP in charge of Yahoo Mail and Flickr) interviewed the top 40 PMs at the company – half junior, half senior. He asked them what skills were the most important, and after compiling the list, those 5 stood out from the rest.
What was the most difficult moment in your PM career (product failure or an unfavorable result)? What advice do you have for first-time PMs based on the steps you undertook in those circumstances?
Storytime: when we launched a big redesign to the Yahoo Mail mobile app in October 2015, we left out a bunch of features that the previous version had. Some because we didn’t believe they were necessary anymore, and some because we didn’t have time to implement. One particular feature became a clear pain point for users in the first few hours after we launched: the ability to “Select all” in the Inbox. I asked the engineering team how long it would take them to fix it, and they quoted ~3 days (including testing). I personally wanted a fix within hours and thought that it was as simple as traversing an array. Boy, was I wrong – there are many nuances involved (non-array data structures, messages in server vs client, etc). I made a total fool of myself asking the engineers for a quick fix in front of the entire team, and almost destroyed relationships that took me months to build up. I quickly realized how I was totally out of line and apologized to the key engineers in private. That was a very difficult moment.
What do organizations get wrong about product management that you wish you could fix?
Many of the organizations I’ve interacted with lately (I recently moved to South Florida) don’t really know much about Product Management to begin with. Many assume it’s only about Project Management, i.e. tracking dependencies, dates, milestones, and sending status updates. So what I wish I could fix is educate organizations, so they invest in training their PMs.
How does working as a PM at a tech giant at Google compare to a smaller company? Does the size get in the way of getting things done? If so, how did you overcome this?
One of the benefits of working at large companies is that there is usually a solid PM org that takes care of mentoring and training its members. This is very useful early in your career since you can accelerate your learning by closely observing senior PMs. At the same time, one of the downsides is that a typical product has many PMs. So you don’t have 100% ownership of the product you work on. This means you have to get more consensus when making decisions, and that can slow you down. Some of the best PMs I know are able to operate well on both scales, but it’s actually rarer (and difficult) than one would imagine.
I feel like I’m not learning as quickly as I should in my current PM role at a large tech company in Seattle. Is it frowned upon to try and switch to a different company after only one year?
If you have multiple jobs where you’ve spent 3+ years, then having a single 1-year entry on your resume is probably fine. If you have multiple jobs where you’ve spent < 2 years, that’s a flag for many companies. That said, if you’re not being challenged right now, then find a new role that offers you what you’re looking for. Make sure that you find something you can enjoy for 3-4 years at least. Good luck!
My question is, what should a PM today focus on to build visibility to external companies? Is it more online presence on social media, or more number of shipped products?
In my opinion, it’s far more important to ship great products (rather than having an online presence/social media) to build visibility. When I’ve been in hiring committees, hearing “this is the candidate who was on Facebook’s early growth team” or “this is the person who built Netflix’s recommendation engine” is far more impressive than “this is the person who has 1M followers on Twitter
” or “this is the person who did an AMA for PMs the other day.”
1. How should people with a strong engineering background + experience go about transitioning into a product role? 2. What is the best way to showcase your interest in product management to prospective employers?
- Start doing PM tasks within your team, assuming you can do this without stepping on others’ toes. For instance, ask your PM what you can help with. That way, you start getting a sense of what the role is. Another piece of advice: every time you use a product, ask yourself as many questions as you can: “why did they build the flow this way?” “why is this button here?” “How would I do this differently?”, etc.
- In my experience, it’s a bit easier to convince your current employer to give you a shot as a PM than it is to convince prospective ones – so I would try that first. If they give you a shot, then the next company you apply to will already see you as a PM. If they don’t want to give you a shot, try a different team within your company (if it’s large enough). Good luck!
I have a question for people who are transitioning careers into Product Management. I have been going through lot of articles and blogs where it is mentioned that showing your portfolio or side projects help in showcasing the skill-set required for the role. Could you please provide how can one do that? Also if they plan to do what all should they showcase in that portfolio or project? Is it important to show the entire product lifecycle?
Yes, I agree that showcasing your portfolio/side projects is a great way to stand out from the crowd. What I would recommend is making sure they’re clearly stated on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and personal website (if you have one). During an interview, it’s also a good idea to take out your phone/tablet/laptop and show the interviewer what your portfolio/side projects look like. You don’t really need to cover the entire product lifecycle – showcasing the final product will organically lead to the questions you get asked.
What’s the PM tool that doesn’t exist that you wish did? Or perhaps what tool needs the most improvement?
I believe most of us PMs work with spreadsheets all the time. For instance, it’s common for product roadmaps to be documented as spreadsheets. One downside of spreadsheets is that you can’t (easily) embed/preview images in them. It would be great to have a product with the power and flexibility of Google Sheets, which allowed you to view images without having to open a new tab.