What Women Bring to Tech Product Management: Advice From a Pro

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Yes, it’s a field that many perceive as being dominated by men, but I think that women bring a unique perspective as well as many strengths to the product world.

By Kate Hare (Chief Product Officer, Photobucket)

I’ve been in product management for over 16 years and I would not want to do anything else. Why? I love the excitement of analyzing people and how they use technology, and then building something entirely new in order to make their lives better.

Technology has changed our lives a lot in the last decade, and it will continue to do so. Examining the intersection of human behavior and technology is something I find endlessly fascinating. Just think about how many times you’ve praised your smartphone and its amazing ability to help you navigate your world! But you’ve probably also cursed your phone whenever it does something funky. There’s nothing more frustrating to consumers than a clunky interface or app.

Yep, we product folks get all the praise as well as all the blame. The product team is largely perceived as being responsible for all the kinks and glitches in a finished product. Yes, it’s a field that many perceive as being dominated by men, but I think that women bring a unique perspective as well as many strengths to the product world.

Being a woman in product management has its challenges but it also has its benefits. I think being a woman helps me empathize with the user and their challenges with technology. It helps me create a better product experience. I think about and approach problems differently from your average product guy. I use a combination of intuition and analysis. I’m very good at reading people and that helps me get issues and problems out in the open so they can be solved.

This skill carries over into our group and benefits the workplace. I’m also convinced that being a female leader has helped me build incredible teams over the years. I’ve been able to use a lot of my nurturing skills to help people understand what they are good at and then position them for success and career advancement. This has led to more efficient and effective teams and positive company morale.

Many people ask about my personal path into product. I got into product because I grew up in Palo Alto (on the Stanford campus) and technology was always around me. My father was a Professor at the Business School and a technologist himself. When I was 7 years old, he was able to get two computers talking to each other with me on one while he was on the other. This was an incredible thing to do in 1977! Growing up in the 1970s, I watched The Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels, and they became my female role models and heroines. These women represented strong, intelligent problem-solvers who used their feminine skills to their advantage.

In the 1990s, I studied architecture and design in college and after college I worked on digitizing the plans for Apple’s Research & Development campus in Cupertino. As fate would have it, I later worked for Apple in that same building! My career path changed in 1994 when I met someone who was working at IDEO in Palo Alto. He graduated from Stanford’s Product Design program, whose focus was to teach students how to create designs using the principle “form follows function”. The shape of an object should be based on that object’s intended purpose. In other words, a user should be able to know what an object does just by looking at it.

During this same time, I saw the “Internet” for the first time and began building web pages. I actually worked for an internet startup before the term existed. This was a pivotal moment in my career when I decided that I really wanted to design products and I began to pursue product design. After studying at Stanford’s D-school, I worked in product management at Oracle and Apple. Those companies shaped my approach to product management. My passion for user-centered design as a practice was solidified while working on the complete redesign of the ACT! Contact Management experience (Client, Web & Mobile). I learned first-hand how important it is to know the users needs and desires, especially when they have a history with the product.

I’ve used these experiences over and over on all of the product rewrites I’ve led. What I find exciting is that when a product “ships,” there are constant tweaks and improvements that get made as the users begin to use it in their everyday lives. I love to hear users comments. They are always so appreciative. I’m moved by this response from users. I know how much I strive to have every user feel this positive sentiment about the experiences I help create for them.

 

Women 2.0 readers:  Are you working in product management? We’d love to hear your advice for women wanting to break- in.

About the guest blogger: Kate Hare oversees product management, user experience and customer service for Photobucket. Kate has more than 16 years of experience delivering award-winning consumer and business products and building strong product organizations for both early stage companies and some of the world’s most successful companies. Prior to Photobucket, she led product management and user experience for Webroot Software’s 2011 consumer release, which garnered PC Magazine’s highly coveted Editor’s Choice award. Kate grew up in Palo Alto and attended Stanford’s Product Design Program. Follow her on Twitter at @kateahare.