Amanda Carlton is a project manager and software developer at the Denver digital advertising platform company Choozle, founded in 2012. We talked to her about how she got her job and about the skills necessary to succeed in her field. But it’s a two-way street, she says. There are workplace factors at play in success, too.
What are three key traits you think are crucial to being a product manager?
First is learning from failure. Not all products are going to be successful and not all product management processes are going to be successful. The good thing is, that’s okay! Learning from failure is one of the most important pieces of ultimately finding success. Taking risks that could lead to failure, taking the time to learn why something didn’t work and iterating or changing course is not only okay, it should be encouraged.
The role of product manager is new at Choozle as are many of the product processes in place. Building out a new role means that there are many unknowns in what will work and what will not. As my teammate and I research and discover what product processes will work for our team, sometimes we find processes we thought would be successful aren’t. Through continuous retrospectives and iterations we can either remove or improve the processes that just aren’t working. But we are never afraid to introduce new things an account that they might fail.
Second, collaboration. I find that for most of my day I’m working with other people. Whether it’s with other product team members, developers, or stakeholders, it’s important to be able to work cross-departmentally and all come together to find a solution. This skill isn’t just being able to collaborate with others, it’s often times leading and facilitating a group of people to collaborate with each other.
Every seven weeks at Choozle we have something called a Design Week, when all teams (stakeholders, engineering, and product) converge to distill and commit to the essence of who, when and what needs to be solved. The product manager’s main role is to facilitate the discussion and lead collaboration between all the teams. So collaboration is key product manager trait at Choozle.
Third would be empathy. In order to know what to build next, AKA what will add value to your company and your users, you need to first be empathetic about the problems and needs your customers have. Along with empathy, the ability to listen and really, truly understand the emotions a user has surrounding your product is incredibly important. That’s the only way you’ll understand what products and features are important them.
One important trait of the Choozle platform is simple operation for our users. While the industry of AdTech can be complex, we want the operation of our application to be simple for the user. This means that with every feature built, we want to keep in mind our users knowledge of the concept of that feature and create an intuitive user experience.
We approach the solution through the user’s eyes by asking them how they would use the new product, what features are important to them, and why the addition of the new product will be useful. It is important to relay the user’s feedback to everyone on the team so they also understand the users point of view.
Are there certain things about a workplace that you think are crucial to your career?
First and foremost putting an importance on inclusion and diversity is an absolute must. It is so powerful to be in a room, talking through a solution with a group of individuals that have different perspectives and backgrounds than you. I have seen so much progress made in the hiring of diverse candidates in the two years I have been at Choozle, and I hope all employers head in the same direction.
But it’s important to keep in mind that diverse hiring isn’t enough. The whole company has to be on board and value the acceptance of having team members with different backgrounds.
You moved across the country to attend the Galvanize Full Stack bootcamp program. Any advice for people considering a bootcamp?
Going to a bootcamp completely changed the kinds of jobs I was qualified for. I was a vertical sales analyst before coding school and I would have never even thought about applying for a job as a software engineer before bootcamp.
After I finished the program, I was not only able to land a job as a software engineer but my options completely opened up for both the kind of work I wanted to do and the companies I wanted to do it with.
The advice I would give to bootcamp grads sounds clichéd, but it’s true: Work extremely hard and differentiate yourself.
How’s the Denver tech scene?
It’s awesome. It’s growing fast, as is the city itself. There are so many meetups that you could learn something new every night of the week (and get your fair share of free pizza and beer as well). From larger tech companies to small startups, Denver has it all and I’m excited to be a part of it as it continues to thrive in the coming years!