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· 4 min read
Yiyang Hibner

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Authors: Linda Long & Manjusha Natarajan

We attended the Women In Product conference recently and here are some key learnings. We also shared some resources obtained from the conference for the benefit of our readers.

The main takeaways are:

  • Always start with the customer
  • Intersection of AI/ML and Product Management

Always start with the customer:

The biggest take-away from the conference for me was the importance of starting with your customers, and how it can be broadly applied to more than just the product that you are managing.

In my favorite session Presenting to Senior Leaders by Susannah Baldwin, Ph.D., she shared how it can be applied to presentations. If we treat our Presentations as our products, then the way we prepare and deliver our presentation should all center around our audience. The first step to prepare for a presentation is to ask ourselves what our audience wants, and not what we know/want to talk about.

I naturally start each presentation with an agenda because it’s easy. However, knowing my audience has a short attention span and has very limited time, it’s much more powerful to start with an executive summary that quickly gets to the bottom line. Similarly, it’s easy to make a lot of slides with all the information that I know, it’s much harder but also more powerful to think exactly what the audience needs/wants to know and reduce slides to only 10, not 35.

Due to my fear of public speaking, I usually want to deliver the presentation as fast as possible, ideally without interruptions. However, if I start with my audience, especially if my audience are senior leaders, I would try to leave room for discussion because this way they can seek out any additional information that they need to make a decision.

The other areas we can apply this product thinking and start with our customers include the job market and our day-to-day work.

In Day 2’s keynote by phyl terry, he talked about treating ourselves as a product and the importance of establishing candidate-market fit, similar to how we try to find product-market fit.

In the session by Prajakta Joshi, she talked about being a good report. We spend a lot of time discussing what makes a great manager but we rarely talk about how we can also reduce friction for our managers in our work relationship.

Focus on the customer has also been echoed by Ami Vora in her keynote. She also suggested some tactical suggestions to learn more about our customers. These include

1) Search for reviews and instructional videos, 2) Look at internal customer support tickets, 3) Try to use your product in another language, and 4) Test how fast you can complete the most important task.

Intersection of AI/ML and product management:

AI is highly talked about in the media and the tech industry currently, thanks to chatGPT. Three takeaways on AI product management are:

(1) Embrace AI, don’t fear it. AI can automate monotonous parts of a PM job such as some project management tasks, writing/editing articles, reading long documents. This way, PMs will have more time to focus on product intuition and strategic thinking

(2) In large companies, data research precedes product development lifecycle and it’s the PM’s job to balance research quality and user value. Compared to a consumer tech PM, AI PMs sometimes have to balance more expensive resources such as research scientists and GPU costs

(3) Although Large Language Models (LLMs) such as chatGPT are gaining popularity now, AI/ML PMs have existed for a while in business areas such as Trust & Safety, Ranking , Recommendations and Fintech risk prediction to name a few. Depending on the business area and the layer of the technology you’re interested in ( application vs data layer) you might not need deep ML technical skills to break into AI product management.



On Product Management:

  • Build by Tony Fadell
  • Outcome over output by Josh Seiden

On Communication:

  • Women, Language, and Power by Susannah Baldwin


· 14 min read
Yiyang Hibner

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Guest Post Author: Yogi Sharma

I was a timid child and always tried to please my dad. After his second marriage, my tendency to please evolved into a fear of upsetting our family's unstable equilibrium. It was only after my stepmother’s death, my dad’s second re-marriage, and my deteriorating relationship with my second stepmother that I realized I was drowning in emotional turbulence.

It was a dark and cold December night. I wanted to speak up to my stepmom. In the small Northern India village I grew up in, the dew from mustard fields outside made the air unusually cool, but the anxiety in my chest and choking feeling in my throat were so overpowering that my palms sweat and my body burned. I could feel the tension in the air, that palpable tension I’d felt ever since she had arrived -- a perpetual ceasefire that could erupt into war any time. The cause of that tension? A seemingly simple one: My dad insisted that we call our stepmom मम्मी (mummy). I insisted on not calling her that. I reserved it for my late mother, who had died a decade earlier. This seemingly simple issue had caused us to go from strangers to passively hostile.

I had chickened out of talking to her several times before (did I mention I dislike conflicts?), and I was feeling both the fear of having the conversation and the fear of chickening out yet again. The walk from my room to the verandah seemed long, as long as the lead up to this conversation, which was three years in the making.

Speaking up is hard. Confrontations are hard. Uncomfortable conversations are hard -- in the short term. And for several good reasons.

But, letting resentment simmer is harder in the long run. Getting on the same page with people by having uncomfortable conversations is incredibly rewarding for our career and emotional health. I am not courageous, but I learned to be comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. With simple and consistent practices of reframing our thoughts, words, and actions, we all can become better at speaking up. And trust me, it is worth it.

Why don’t *we* speak up?

Why did I not speak up and have that conversation with my stepmom years before?

Or perhaps a more relatable example: why did I not speak up to my manager when he misrepresented my work and threatened to fire me? In a small, dark cubicle, the two yellow couches we sat on were comfortable. But the news he gave me was far from comforting.

“Yogi, you are not meeting expectations for your job. You’d better get your act together,” he said.

I felt suffocated, not from the lack of space but from the lack of understanding.

“But I finished one of the two big projects I committed to, and we are exactly halfway through the year. What do you mean?” I somehow mumbled.

“Yeah, if you don’t get your act together, I will have to go [be fired], and I won’t go alone [I will fire you before I go].” He closed the discussion.

I was stunned. I felt deceived. I knew I was doing well but did not know how to begin to express that. My thoughts raced. I would be fired from my job. My visa would be revoked. I would be kicked out of the country. It is hard to speak up in such a state of mind!

We don’t speak up because there is a lot at risk when we are engaged in a conflict -- at least to our lizard brain [1]. Speaking up can lead to overt conflict. The other person might think we are selfish and disapprove of us. We have evolved to avoid disapproval and selfishness because, in tribal times, these behaviors could lead to severe consequences [2]. The brain we have evolved with has not changed significantly for the last ten thousand years [3], so our primal lizard brains are still wired to avoid overt disapproval. In fear of repercussions, it is easier to keep quiet.

We don’t speak up because speaking up opens us up to being wrong and loss of respect. If we stand up for something, we feel we need to defend it. We might feel ashamed or lose self-respect if we are not able to. In my experience, speaking up with a reasoned mind (not as an emotional outburst) requires me to think through the situation from another's point of view. It is hard to do when a tense situation has endured for a long time. Many times, I start to speak up about something that has bothered me for a long time, only to realize that I cannot respond to small challenges from the other side. Preparing for a difficult conversation is homework. Lacking the time and energy, it is easier to keep quiet.

We don’t speak up because any issue that is worth disagreeing about is complicated. It is hard to untangle such situations over a single conversation. Our desire to see tangible results makes it hard even to initiate such conversations, which sometimes spread over several weeks or months. It just seems easier to keep quiet.

These factors were at play when I could not speak up to my manager. I was afraid of losing my job. I did not have the resilience to defend my work. The manager-employee power-play made the situation more complex. I did not know where to start. So, I froze and left utterly dejected.

With my stepmom, I was afraid of the situation getting even worse, I did not know where to start as the situation had festered for many years, and I did doubt myself -- maybe I was the one at fault. So, I had just kept quiet.

Speaking up is worth it

Speaking up is hard, but it is essential for a healthy professional career and for personal well-being.

Research has shown that speaking up and not letting issues fester leads to less stress, increased productivity, better collaboration, and overall successful teams. Speaking up and lively participation reduce stress at work and in our personal lives [6].

Reduced stress and burnout resulting from honest communication also lead to improved work performance [7], trusting professional relationships, and effective collaboration.

In his book Principles [8], Ray Dalio points out how a culture of radical transparency and improved communication leads to better employee performance, improved revenue, and fewer errors in the long run. In particular, he suggests doing this by “creating an environment in which everyone has the right to understand what makes sense and no one has the right to hold a crucial opinion without speaking up.”

That being said, there are some real risks to speaking up if the other side (especially if there is a power difference) simply does not want to understand. Jocko Willinks in his book Leadership Strategy and Tactics [10] mentions that such a situation is rarer than it first appears, but suggests that in such a case, it is worth cutting your lossnes and leaving the job -- respectfully.

Learning to speak up

We now know that speaking up is as valuable as it is hard. How do we actually do it?

Here is a three-pronged approach to speaking up when doing so is uncomfortable: clarifying thoughts, words, and actions. These are about reframing uncomfortable conversations (thoughts), preparing for them (words), and taking tiny steps to move them forward (actions). Anyone can master these steps with consistent practice in situations big and small.

1. Reframe your thoughts

Thinking of difficult conversations as signs of disapproval, selfishness, and disrespect makes them hard to have. These impressions come from our lizard brain and are not as likely or damaging in the modern world -- a place in which the lizard brain did not evolve.

An empowered way to view speaking up is to honestly serve the relationship and team, searching for a win-win resolution creatively and showing people you respect them enough that they deserve the truth. I have seen people leave teams because they were not willing to speak up for what they wanted. That does not serve anybody. By speaking our truth and being determined to find mutually beneficial resolutions, we can creatively turn “1 and 1 into 11.” [4].

Speaking up is about truly respecting people and coming up with common ground in a kind way. It is easier to give up on somebody and view them as an adversary but more rewarding to understand them, find common ground, and view them as allies. Speaking up is generally viewed as an act of aggression, unkindness, and disrespect. But we can talk about our disagreements with kindness and respect, which takes some difficulty out of a difficult conversation. A popular blogger and speaker and an inspiration of mine, Steve Pavlina, improved his public speaking with dramatic effects when he started to view the audience as his allies, not adversaries [9]. He started to “speak with them” instead of “speak to them” in his speeches. If he can speak with a crowd, surely we can speak with one person.

Once I reframed my thoughts about the conflict with my manager by viewing it as a service to my team (others were being harassed similarly) and approached it with respect and kindness, the subsequent conversations were made much easier.

2. Reframe your words

Even when we have all the right intentions, our words matter. If the conflict at hand has been festering in our minds for a long time, resentment typically builds up and turns our thoughts into a convoluted mess. Speaking up from such a state of mind is not a recipe for resolution, as our frustration is reflected in verbal and non-verbal communication.

To have a genuine conversation, it is useful to untangle the situation privately first, at least a little bit, by writing and journaling. Prepare the outline of communication and some phrases you want to say in a conversation. Keep that piece of paper with you, letting the other party know that this conversation means a lot to you and you have prepared. For difficult conversations, I collect 3-5 bullet points about what I want to talk about, write them on a piece of paper to keep them handy and tick those bullets off during the conversation to keep myself on track. You can use these notes to write some phrases to use, ideas to bring up, and a general outline of the conversation. It does not make a difficult conversation a piece of cake, but it makes it much more doable.

3. Reframe your actions

Even when we have the right mindset and preparation, the road ahead for most uncomfortable conversations is not clear. It takes two to tango after all.. The end goals of speaking up are lofty (e.g., meaningful career and honest relationships), but they can be uncertain and so far in the future that it can create hopelessness in us. To untangle a complex situation, it is helpful to start small and concrete. For example, if someone has been disrespectful to me for a long time, it is hard to start the conversation with this abstract concept. It is more productive to start with something small, for example, something specific that they said or did. Conflict resolution is a marathon, not a sprint.

Bill Gates observed: “We underestimate what we can do in ten years, but we overestimate what we can do in a week.” A single conversation happens in a moment in time, and it isn't reasonable to expect a lot from just that conversation. So, learn to appreciate whatever amount gets accomplished in one conversation, as Mahatma Gandhi pointed out when he said: “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

When we arm ourselves with a reframing of thoughts, words, and actions, or rather disarm ourselves and become vulnerable through these reframes, uncomfortable conversations are bound to become much more doable.

What next?

I was unwilling to have difficult conversations with my stepmom and manager because I feared making things worse, losing my job, or losing my relationship, but such fears are typically false alarms.

I proposed to my stepmom that I call her मौसी (mausi: a word for mom’s sister or close friend), not mummy. She was absolutely fine with that. She wanted to reduce the tension as much as I did, if not more. Our actual conversation lasted about three minutes, and I could see the relief on her face. She was burning in the same hellfire, just on the other side of the emotional barrier we had erected between us. Now, 16 years later, you would have a hard time telling that she is not my biological mother.

After a few days of wallowing in my own anxiety, fears, and tears, I reframed my thoughts and decided to speak up with my manager too. To reframe my words, I collected different viewpoints of my work performance from peers and corrected my own perception. I started small in our communication by letting him know that his assessment was not accurate. After 4 months of back and forth, I ended up getting a rating of 6/7 (greatly exceeds expectations) instead of the initially proposed 3/7 (meets most expectations). The success of my speaking up went much further: my manager started to respect me more and asked me for advice and input on many things relating to our team.

Despite the value of speaking up and research supporting the benefits of honest communication, we all continue to have disempowering beliefs about uncomfortable conversations. But these beliefs don’t have to hold us hostage. We can become aware of them, acknowledge them, and then reframe our thoughts, words, and actions to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” [12]

As Tim Ferriss points out: “A person's success in life can be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” [11] Are you ready for the next level of success by learning to approach uncomfortable conversations? Speaking up is not only a service to yourself, but also to the people around you and to the world at large. So, let us help build a more empathic world, one conversation at a time.


[1] The Lizard Brain is the most primitive part of the brain that has evolved over millions of years. It is responsible for our fight and flight response.

[2][...] “groups with a strong sense of unity and identity can benefit from kin selection behaviour such as common property and shared resources”, from In tribal times, disapproval could lead to expulsion from the tribe (during the tribal times of our species’ history), which could lead to survival difficulties and possible death.

[3] The talented mosquito by Seth Godin:

[4][Hindi: One and One Make Eleven | Los Angeles Public Library](

[5] The truth of the Boiling Frog fable is contested ( But the sentiment behind it -- that we tend to make changes when there is a big wake up call, not when the things get worse slowly -- is self evident in my experiences.

[6] MILLER, K. I. et al. (1990) ‘An Integrated Model of Communication, Stress, and Burnout in the Workplace’, Communication Research, 17(3), pp. 300–326. doi: 10.1177/009365090017003002.

[7] Chen, J.C., Silverthorne, C. and Hung, J.Y., 2006. Organization communication, job stress, organizational commitment, and job performance of accounting professionals in Taiwan and America. Leadership & organization Development journal.

[8] Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio.

[9] Personal Communication with Steve Pavlina. His blog is available at:

[10] Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual by Jocko Willink.


[12] Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. Book by Susan Jeffers.

· 5 min read
Yiyang Hibner

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Let’s all take a moment to think of a weekly routine -- you work hard on weekdays, and spend time with family and friends on the weekends. Unless you eat out every single meal, there’s something you can never skip --- which is going to some certain grocery stores.

There’s a chain grocery store that’s really behind on technologies -- they handwrite all their labels, there’s no app, there’s no loyalty rewards program, there are no delivery options, there’s no self-checkout, there’s no discount any time of the year regardless of any holidays in America. However, this chain grocery store has developed a huge amount of followers all over the country. I am definitely one of them! There are a lot of Instagram non-sponsored fan-based accounts, books about this grocery store’s success as well as one official podcast. Any guesses on which grocery store this is?

Yes, this lovely place -- aka my happy place is Trader Joe’s! I am a huge fan from day 1 - I listened to all Trader Joe’s podcasts, I will go there at least once a week to try the new products like “Everything but Bagel” yogurt dip or Brookies (brownies + cookies) and get my weekly staples (like chicken dumplings + spinach). Yes, I know I am not good at cooking but somehow stir-fry Trader Joe’s frozen food (with some “Everything but Bagel” seasoning) makes me feel like a celebrity chef. Even better, I get inspired by simply walking inside and looking at store art and new decorations - the crew members, the artsy environment, and the pure awesomeness of trader joe’s just make me and many others so happy!

You may be wondering: how did Trader Joe’s get here? How did it amass all these crazy followers like us without spending millions of dollars on ads, without fancy technologies?

After years of observations through in-store experience, podcast listening, Instagram reading, I summarized in a few points on what makes Trader Joe’s stand out and successful, and how we can learn from it.

The biggest advantage is Branding. The start of Trader Joe’s came from its founder Joe Coulombe in 1958 in the LA area. 20 years later, Germany’s Theo Albrechet (who also owns Aldi) bought the company and few of us know that today. Why? Because Trader Joe’s has kept its independence and culture flavor unique. When we talk about Trader Joe’s, we think of them as the neighborhood-friendly store that keeps the price low for years and it’s true. Trader Joe’s has been the leader in organic and gluten-free products and compared to Whole Foods, it won’t cost you a whole paycheck. Trader Joe’s has kept true to its branding with the in-store arts, free samples, funny Fearless Flyer written all by its own employees. It’s branding is so good that usually we think frozen food is unhealthy, but for some reason, frozen food from Trader Joe’s is magically much better and can get us all excited. Similarly at big corporations, we should think how we can keep our core brand true to our values -- the kind that will make us stand out and unforgettable.

The 2nd advantage is quick turnaround for feedback, not just from “the Captain” and “the Crews” who work there but also from customers. There are “Crew Tastings” where they learn how the food was made, harvested etc. to gain a broader knowledge of Trader Joe’s products and provide feedback. Trader Joe’s really listens to customers’ concerns and implements the changes. For example, have you ever wondered why they sell bananas individually but not in 4 or 5 bundles? It actually has not always been like this. Their CEO Dan explained it in their podcast. One day he was in a store and saw an old woman walking up to the bananas, looked at all of the packages but walked away without putting these bananas in her cart. So Dan asked her: “Ma’am, if you don’t mind me asking, I saw you looking at bananas but you didn’t put anything in your cart.” Then she said: “Son… I may not live to that fourth banana.” The day after that conversation, the chain decided it would only sell bananas by the singles and it has been 19 cents for almost 15 years. That’s the amazing speed of taking action and making changes. Whether you are an entrepreneur or working to climb the ladder, always listen to your customers and incorporate feedback into the product life cycle. The extraordinary result might surprise you in different ways.

The 3rd advantage sounds cliche - but it’s all about that positive workplace. Trader Joe’s hires people that embrace its uniqueness with some sense of humor and they truly care about its products and customers. The people at Trader Joe’s are also as happy as their lovely customers! Whenever I go to checkout or just look at items in the store, these crew members will make personal comments on how they cook the food and they genuinely ask how your day is. Because they love Trader Joe’s as a workplace and enjoy working with each other, we can feel their passion from their smiles and chitchat. Looking back at my previous experiences, the ones I enjoyed the most also brought me valuable friendships. People come and go at companies, but the connections we make are the things that stay.

Trader Joe’s stands out as a grocery store chain magically because they keep true to their branding, because they have a quick turnaround for feedback, and because they create and keep a positive workplace. I hope whenever we shop at Trader Joe’s, we can get inspiration not only from its beautiful frozen aisles but also from its inner beauty and eventually create our own brands that everyone cannot stop talking about! What do you like the most about Trader Joe’s? Tell us in the comments!

· 8 min read
Yiyang Hibner

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Yiyang Hibner:

Chris has always been one of my favorite managers (not just because we share the same birthday!) He led my path into product management and gave me valuable lessons earlier in my career. One of the key lessons Chris taught me was the idea of “Ask questions but with thoughtful solutions”.

The typical advice people get is “Don’t be afraid to ask questions”, and that’s how we improve. However, when I first started as a PM, I got into the habit of asking questions even though most of the time I knew the answers already. Chris encouraged and enlightened me to think further, still to ask questions but show my thinking process too, instead of asking for the sake of asking/learning.

Chris also demonstrated what lifelong learner would look like as a PM leader. He had taken classes in Tableau for semester-long certification and inspired everyone on the team to learn beyond what’s required on the job.

Among all the places I have worked for, Points undoubtedly has the best culture - nurturing, kind, coworkers treating each other as families, and also people have quite some sense of humor. I am very grateful for calling Chris my friend and my trusted circle. Whenever I have any issues to discuss, he’s always down for a coffee chat.

Allison Hall:

Over the last 9 years, I have had 9 different managers. When I think about those who stand out from the crowd, what comes to mind are those who I felt genuinely cared about me, my career, and my overall happiness.

The great managers I’ve had created a safe environment for me to be myself. I could bring any problem to them, even if I wasn’t ready to eloquently chat about it, and know I would be heard. They listened. They asked questions. They understood what motivated me and what excited me. They also understood what frustrated me, when I needed to vent, and when I needed advice.

Most managerial relationships I’ve had started out very similarly. They ask you a few questions, want to know your goals, and share how they are here to support you however they can. Sometimes, the true support stops there. I’ve had times where my successes are used as a boasting tool for my manager themselves, my one on ones are really a time for my manager not me, and managers where we don’t even have 1-1s or a relationship at all. Good managers mean those words they say when you first meet. Their actions back this up. Yes, they may be proud of their role in your success, but they understand it’s your success. They celebrate you, push you, and motivate you.

I’ve also had the fortunate opportunity to become a people manager in recent years. As I strive to create a safe and caring environment for my teams, a key thing I’ve learned is flexibility. Every person is different and my job is to learn how to aid each individual. Take goal setting as an example. Some people want OKRs, some want vague focus areas, and some want formal individual development plans. Many people aren’t sure what they want. I build my ability to understand what might aid individuals and offer different tools to help them be the best person they can be.

Managers are constantly pulled in different directions and must balance business results & team happiness. Ultimately, a great manager listens, learns, iterates, and invests in the individuals on their team. They set a clear vision, help people focus, and show people they matter. Great business results will follow.

Tanvi Shah:

Looking back, I realize that I have been very lucky to have some amazing managers in my 13+ years of career. I now understand that there is not one formula of a good manager. As I grow in my career, I hope to pick up all the good bits of my managers.

When I was a junior PM ready to grow and do more, my manager realized my need to grow and do a variety of things. Whenever I asked her for more work, she gave me every new opportunity that came up. Because of that, I finally ended up working with an amazing team. This manager gave me growth opportunities and helped me find a niche that I have come to love.

As a senior PM, my managers helped me ask the right questions, told me that sometimes good enough was great and taught me the 80-20 rule for doing things. As work became busier and time was short, one manager taught me about work life balance by explaining that I was not doing brain surgery and just moving pixels at the end of the day. It helped me reduce my work related stress and reminded me that I worked to live and not the other way around. Along the same lines, another manager taught me how to do my best and leave the rest.

As I became a people manager, my manager showed me how to see the strengths of my team and fill in the gaps as best as I can. He also helped me realize that documentation in this remote world helped align teams, stakeholders and leadership better.

To sum it up, all good managers have been great listeners and their empathy has been a balm. They have been able to tenderly tell me where I could do better and then clear the path for me to excel. I have also realized it’s important to remember that every manager is a human being first and making that connection is the first step to building a great relationship.

Don Rosenthal:

Great managers lead by example, and work with you to find the best use of your skills, provide pragmatic advice, and make it clear that they have your back. They also realize that you only do inspired work when you are engaged, believe in the mission, and yes, are having fun.

I had three managers at Google. They were all amazing, each in their own way.

One’s superpower was as an advisor. She gave me enough leeway to figure things out on my own, but I learned that when I came to her with questions, she always had amazing insight. Kind of like that person at the conference table during your presentation, who you are not sure is paying attention? And then they have that one insightful comment that cuts through all the confusion and clearly describes the best path forward? Yes, she was paying attention to my progress on my goals, and often even had proactively worked in the background to have things in place for my best next steps by the time I came to her for advice.

Another excelled at being my friend. Strange to say that about a manager? Well, I was having tremendous problems in a toxic working relationship, and he was there to listen, smooth things out, find other options for me, and even come to my rescue in meetings where those interpersonal issues were putting up roadblocks. He found other projects for me to work on and worked to extricate me from the toxic situation. I wound up supporting a great team that was doing amazing work, and were at an inflection point where working with a PM was of real value to them.

The third astonished me by his dedication to helping me find the best fit in his organization. And that’s not hyperbole. I had never experienced a manager who was as dedicated to the success of his reports as this person. He did research, discussed options with his leadership, and provided valuable information for me to review. He consistently made it clear that I did not need to wait until our weekly 1:1 to engage with him, and due to his being an even earlier riser than I was, usually had something waiting for me in my inbox by the time I sat down at my computer. We were in the midst of working out an engaging, impactful, and yes, fun twelve month plan for me when I was (to his surprise as well as mine) laid off with 11,999 other Googlers.

Many folks aren’t lucky enough to even have one great manager to work with -- you know, like that one teacher who really reached you and made more of a difference in your life than they’ll ever know (unless you were kind enough to reach out to them at some point in your career). But I had three in a row. And I am trying my best to pay forward what I learned from them.

· 4 min read
Yiyang Hibner

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Author: Shilpa Vir

Effective communication is a crucial skill that every professional must master to succeed in their career. As a young woman starting out in my profession, I was eager to make my mark, establish myself as a thought leader and be able to influence others. I devoured books and online resources on how to "find my voice," "speak up," and "communicate clearly."

And for a while, I felt like I was making progress. Until I had a particularly heated meeting where I butted heads with a colleague about the direction of our product while the remaining team watched, clearly scared of getting in the middle. The meeting went nowhere and left me feeling frustrated and stuck.

I discussed the meeting with my mentor, asking how to make my colleague “listen to me”. He said “listen to him first”. What? No, no no! I needed to communicate MY brilliant idea. His reply was, “I bet he’s thinking the exact same thing.”

It was then that I realized that I had been focusing too much on expressing myself and not enough on listening to others and that listening is an essential component of effective communication. As the famous quote by Harvey Mackay goes, "Two monologues do not make a dialogue."

When we listen, we best connect with people, solve problems, and truly understand our audience’s needs. This all leads to better relationships and business outcomes.

  • Listening to others shows them that we value their opinions and that we are interested in what they have to say. This in turn, fosters trust and respect, two essential ingredients for influence.
  • Listening helps us discover insights, gain new perspectives, and broaden our knowledge. By being open to hearing different viewpoints, we can broaden our understanding of issues, which can lead to better decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Listening to others helps you refine your ideas. When someone pushes back on our ideas and we truly listen instead of listening to respond, we can discover constraints and weaknesses of our initial ideas and work to improve them, leading to better products, services and business results.
  • Listening demonstrates humility and a willingness to learn. When we are seen as someone who is willing to listen to good counsel, others are more likely to offer valuable advice or help out.
  • Listening helps us avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. By actively listening to others, we can ensure that we're on the same page and avoid miscommunication that can lead to disagreements and tension in the workplace.

If you want to be more influential in the workplace, start by listening more. I would be the first to admit that it is hard. Not only was I an ineffective listener, but I also used to interrupt people mid-sentence to respond (rude!!!). It has taken me deliberate and continuous effort to be a better listener and I am happy to share my tips and tactics to help you listen more than speak:

  • Be present. One of the most important things we can do is to be fully present when someone is speaking to us. Avoid distractions such as checking our phones or looking around the room, and focus all our attention on the person speaking. Make eye contact, nod your head, and lean in slightly to show that you are listening.
  • Don't interrupt. Let the speaker finish what they have to say before you respond. Don't rush the speaker or try to finish their sentences for them. This could be hard for some, but be patient. Breathe when you are tempted to interject.
  • Ask “what” and “how” questions to learn more. This shows that you are interested in what the speaker has to say and that you are trying to understand their point of view.
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage the speaker to share more information and perspectives. This can help us gain a better understanding of the topic and show the speaker that we're interested in their thoughts and ideas.
  • Summarize what you have heard. This shows that you have been listening and that you understand what the speaker has said.
  • Be respectful. Even if you disagree with the speaker, be respectful of their opinion. Separate the idea / proposal / data / argument / opinion being discussed from the speaker and do not make any personal comments.

Remember, listening is an active process that takes effort and attention, but if you are willing to put in the effort, it can be a powerful tool for communication and understanding. So, if you want to be more influential in your workplace, start by listening more and truly engaging in a dialogue.

· 4 min read
Yiyang Hibner

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Guest post Author: Julie Bornstein

Who has impacted you the most in your life? How and why?

My mother. She was a force of nature and raised 3 daughters while working as a psychiatric social worker, sitting on the school board, singing in the choir, chairing the Wellesley Club (and yelling at my dad to come home in time for dinner.). She was fearless, practical and very engaged. With my mom as my role model, I always knew I would have a career, a family and great friends. She was always my biggest cheerleader too. (I wrote this Linkedin post with an article on my mom I found from 1972.)

What hobbies do you have when you are with your family/friends? What about when you are alone?

My favorite hobby is traveling with family and friends (is that considered a hobby?). I love getting away, getting tons of quality time with the people I love most, relaxing (something I find hard to do at home), and exploring new places or even just hanging out on a beach. Everyone is happy and it feels like the most special and memorable times come from trips.

I also love to play tennis, take walks, dine out, watch movies… Though I’ve always considered work my favorite hobby.

When I’m alone, my favorite hobby is to shop. Online, in stores, anywhere. I also love to do this with friends.

I spend a lot of time advising people on their businesses as well, which is always gratifying.

What’s the first thing you did after your start-up "the Yes" had been acquired?

Two things - Bought an apartment in NYC, something I've been meaning to do for years but hadn’t had the time, and got re-engaged in the reproductive rights movement through financial support and personal involvement. I’m committed to aiding the efforts to provide all women in America access to abortion care. It is truly inhumane (and dystopian!) what is happening in some of these Red states.

What’s the most recent TV show you have seen and why do you like it?

I just finished “Daisy Jones & The Six”. I loved it, it was such a fun, well told story with great music and fashion, to boot. I love comedy and “realish” life stories the best. I can’t stand anything with violence, which cuts out about 75% of shows these days…

What do you care about the most in the workplace? Or a friend?

In work, I care a lot about creating a supportive and transparent environment that really allows people to do their best work because they feel motivated, convicted and supported. The best culture is one that really feels like you’re playing a team sport (and winning:) I also value a place where people have fun, can laugh, and people can have a sense of humor.

In friends, I think I value the same things. Caring and supportive, fun to be with and a good sense of humor, and loyalty, of course!

Any advice for people who got laid off in a recession?

Figure out why that job wasn’t the best fit for you. Do some soul searching. Ask for real feedback in an easy to access way if you can’t figure it out on your own. (Maybe write a few questions and ask your old boss to fill it out honestly.) Then figure out what you really want to do and make it happen. The hardest part of job searching is figuring out exactly what you’re meant to do. Once you identify that, it's a lot easier to convince others.

· 2 min read
Yiyang Hibner

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Author: Tanvi Shah

We write our performance reviews once a year (in most companies). And we spend a day or two thinking and writing everything achieved in the last year. While writing the reviews, you are often frustrated (takes too long to write), and either far too critical about yourself or overestimating the work that you have done.

I haven’t been able to take out all the agony of writing a performance review but tried to minimize it as much as I can over the years. If you want to hear more about this topic, I will be speaking at the ADPList conference. Come join me.

Let’s dig into the 3 steps.

1.Performance review is a year long process, so start early and start soon

  • It is necessary to think about reviews as a marathon. You prepare for it all year long. You do practice runs, stretches and hydrate yourself before the final race.
  • Make a note of all the good work you have done, impact you have achieved (think metrics or ask your PM/DS) and co-worker praise through the year.
  • Summarize frequently what you did, what you learnt. Take time to reflect often.
  • Also, start thinking about point 2 and 3 described below. Don’t wait until the end of the year.

2.What next and how to get there?

  • Look up your career ladders, either at your company or borrow it from google and run it by your manager.
  • Find the level you are at, the next level you want to achieve, and what’s needed to get there.
  • Start filling those gaps by talking to your manager and mentors.

3.Build relationships early and check-in often

  • A big part of the reviews is the soft skills and the relationships you build.
  • Understand your field of influence. Start with a list of stakeholders, your managers (direct or indirect), peers and anyone else essential to your job.
  • Build a strong relationship with your circle of influence. This circle influences 50% of your reviews. So, start building those relationships with 1:1s, coffee chats and more.
  • Be genuine, earnest and curious about the other person.

Do you do anything more for your performance reviews? Leave your tips in the comments.

· 5 min read
Yiyang Hibner

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Guest post author: Mohd Irtefa

What was your biggest fear when you quit your corporate job while expecting a kid? How did you address this concern from Tuganai and other family members?

You know, when I made the decision to leave my corporate job and start my own company, fear wasn't really something that crossed my mind. Sure, there were uncertainties and risks involved, but I was filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation for the journey ahead. I was fortunate to have strong, supportive women in my life (my Co-Founder Dani and my wife Tuganai) who helped me believe in myself and my vision. And at the end of the day, I realized that there's never going to be a "perfect" time to take the leap and pursue your dreams. Starting a company is an emotional and instinctive decision, not a logical one. When you feel that fire in your belly and that sense of purpose in your heart, sometimes you just have to take the plunge and trust that everything will work out in the end.

How do you divide child caring tasks with your wife Tuganai?

When it comes to dividing child-caring tasks, I have to give credit where credit is due - my wife is an absolute superhero. With a demanding job and a toddler at home, she manages to juggle it all with grace and skill. While I try to do my part, I know that my contributions are small compared to hers.

As our daughter grows and changes, we've found that our approach to childcare has to be flexible and adaptable. One thing I've learned is that there's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to parenting. It's a constantly evolving process that requires patience, love, and a willingness to learn. And at the end of the day, I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to be a dad and watch our daughter grow into her own unique person.

What are some surprising things to you as a father? What about as a start-up co-founder?

Let me tell you, being a father and a startup co-founder are not for the faint of heart. It takes relentless dedication and grit to excel in both roles. As a father, you have to put in the time and effort to be there for your children and your partner. And as a startup co-founder, you have to be prepared to face the daily grind of building something great. Forget the feel-good stories you hear on "How I built this" by Guy Raz. Success in the real world requires an unwavering commitment to hard work and perseverance.

What do you struggle the most at this moment in your life?

Sleep! I don’t remember the last time I slept for 8 hours straight hahaha.

What do you want your daughter to learn from you?

When it comes to what I hope my daughter learns from me, I have to say that I'm more excited about what I'll learn from her in the years to come. That said, if there's one thing I want her to take away from our time together, it's a deep-seated passion for taking risks. As an entrepreneur, I know that the biggest rewards come from pushing beyond your comfort zone and pursuing your dreams with everything you've got. I hope my daughter sees this in me and is inspired to do the same. But, ultimately, the most exciting part of being a parent is watching your child grow and learn, and I can't wait to see what she teaches me along the way.

Describe a typical day of yours during week day v.s. Weekend

Weekdays are jam-packed for me, pun intended. As the founder of a remote company, I start my day by diving into our support queue and tackling emails. We hold daily standups to touch base with the team and offer support as needed. The bulk of my day is spent in customer meetings and conducting recruiting interviews. It's a never-ending cycle of building and growing.

Weekends, on the other hand, are sacred family time. My wife and I take our daughter to local hotspots like parks, bookstores, and libraries. We cherish these moments together and use them to recharge and refocus. It's a reminder that there's more to life than work and that family is the most important thing.

If our readers want to learn more about your company (hiring/investing), what is your pitch?

“If Jam didn’t exist, I would jump off a bridge…” this is a direct quote from one of our customers. It sounds hyperbolic (maybe even crazy!) but that’s what he said when we asked what he would use if Jam didn’t exist. We built Jam for engineers and product managers to give them back their precious time. 80% of an engineer’s time is spent investigating why a bug happened. With Jam, when you report a bug, all of the necessary context that an engineer needs to solve a bug are embedded in a link. Whether you're an engineer or product manager, Jam streamlines your bug reporting process, so you can focus on what you do best: creating. If you are reporting and fixing bugs, you should sign up for Jam (it’s free!).

· 5 min read
Yiyang Hibner

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Author: Parul Goel

In 2018, I took some time off from work and spent a month in Spain. I traveled through Malaga, Cordoba and Barcelona eating jamon, drinking wine and soaking up the sun. During my trip,I had the opportunity to enjoy three Flamenco performances, one in each of the cities I had visited. Flamenco, for those of you who are new to it, is an art form that includes music, song and dance. You can watch this video on YouTube as a pretty good sample of what a Flamenco performance is like if you have not seen one.

The shows were very different in their settings and styles. The one in Malaga was held on a small stage in a basement with a small group of performers. In Cordoba, I enjoyed the performance under the stars on a warm evening. The scale was still smallish, but still bigger than the one I had been to in Malaga. In Barcelona, the venue was Palau de Música Catalana, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most impressive concert halls I have ever been to. Everything about this performance was grand - the venue, the audience and the performing group.

All three performances were fascinating. I was enthralled by the soulful music and graceful dance movements. As an enthusiastic public speaker, I couldn't help drawing parallels between Flamenco performances and public speaking. An enjoyable flamenco performance felt similar to a highly engaged public speaking session; both draw you in by telling stories and evoking emotions. Here are three lessons from flamenco that we can apply to public speaking:

1. Passion stands out:

The setting and the costumes in Malaga were somewhat basic; still beautiful, but simple. In Cordoba and Barcelona, the costumes were elaborate and eye-catching. However, in the end, what mattered the most was the dancing itself. With our untrained eyes, most of us in the audience could not judge the performances on their technical aspects, but we could spot passion and joy. And those were the dancers who won our hearts and got the loudest applause, regardless of what they were wearing and where they were performing.

The same holds true of public speaking. You can have polished powerpoint slides and data to back everything you say, but what captures the audience is your conviction. The audience needs to be convinced that you care about the topic you are presenting on. So pick a topic that you are passionate about, then you would have won half the battle. At work, even if the presentation is technical in nature, personalize it by adding stories and your opinions. Opinions convey conviction, and in combination with the right facts, they will help you win over your audience. So whatever topic you are presenting on, make sure it represents your point of view authentically.

2. Cadence matters:

The show in Cordoba started on a rather low note and peaked about half way with a brilliant performance by a male dancer who took my breath away with his footwork. The audience went wild after his performance. Chorus of “bravos” went on for a while even after the performer had left the stage. Had the show ended with his performance, everyone would have gone home with this upbeat energy the performance had created. However, the show continued and the performances that came after it couldn't match this one. I could feel the energy in the room going down. The climax or the end of the show felt like a let down.

To avoid a similar fate, you need to remember two things. Firstly, you need a strong beginning so that the audience has enough incentive to continue engaging. And secondly, you need a strong ending so that the audience remembers you. Your conclusion is the last chance to leave an impression on the audience. Don’t waste it with “I hope you enjoyed my talk.” or a weak “thank you”. Instead, use your most passionate appeal - remind your audience why they should care, remind them what the world would look like if your idea was implemented. Bring everything you have to the conclusion of your speech.

3. Handle Disruptions with Grace:

During one of the performances, the manton (Spanish shawl) that the dancer was using got stuck in the flower in her hair. She continued her footwork while using her hands to disentangle the manton. Later on, her headgear became loose. Again, without losing a step, she took it off and threw it to the side of the stage.

I have yet to attend a conference that is free of issues. Invariably, the projector would stop working or the speaker would realize that the slides up there are not the final ones. This is when even the most inattentive audience wakes up eager to find out what happens next. As a speaker, how you handle the situation is now part of your presentation. The audience will remember you for fumbling or for firing through.

As a speaker, you owe it to yourself to be prepared for when things go wrong. Here are a few things to think about. Always have a copy of your slides on a flash disk. Be prepared to give your speech without the slides if necessary. Pause to let any disruptions pass. If you can, incorporate it in your presentation by making a joke about it. These disruptions are an opportunity for you to showcase your maturity and courage as a speaker. Don’t let them disrupt you. Instead, use them to your advantage.

What tips would you offer someone to be an effective public speaker? Share them with us in the comments.

(You can read the original, longer version of this article here.)

· 4 min read
Yiyang Hibner

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Guest Post Author: Keith Howard

It’s okay to not have a clue. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s downright necessary if you want to find comfort in uncertainty. Career paths are no longer linear trajectories that we map out in our early twenties and follow until retirement. The days of working for the same company from 9-5 for forty years are gone. We now live in an age where job security is a thing of the past and work/life balance is more important than ever. So how do we navigate this uncertain landscape? How do we find comfort when we don’t have a roadmap to follow?

The answer is simple: embrace the unknown. Accept that life doesn’t always go according to plan and be open to exploring new opportunities without fear of failure. Don’t get too caught up in mapping out a perfect career path because sometimes the best things come when we least expect them. Take time to reflect on your skills, passions and values. Don’t be afraid to try something new or take a risk. You might surprise yourself and find success in unexpected places.

Take my career path... I've had MANY plans over the years

2003 - I was going to join the military for 4 years then go to college.

2005 - Change of plans - I was accepted to the United States Naval Academy!

2008 - I'm want to be a fighter pilot!

2010 - Change of plans - helicopters are much more fun and I want to live in San Diego!

2014 - I'm going to get my MBA in Finance to become an Investment Banker!

2017 - Change of plans - I'm going to be a Dad! I can't work investment banking hours. Let's try tech!

2019 - I like being a TPM, but I really enjoy working with Product Managers, I think I want to try to become a PM!

2020 - Change of plans - COVID. Second Kid. Cross Country Move. I don't know which way is up..

2022 - I've been working with Data PMs a lot, maybe I'll pursue another masters but in Analytics, go the data route then shift over to data PM at PayPal!

2023 - Change of plans - SVP leaves the company, organization gets dissolved, officially unemployed.

It seems like life is full of plans that never come to fruition. We make them, we set goals and expectations for ourselves, and then something always comes along to disrupt our best laid plans. It's okay though — in fact it's more than okay — it's essential! After all, if everything went according to plan there would be no surprises or discoveries along the way. Life is an adventure, so why not embrace the unexpected? Who knows where you'll end up if you just go with the flow? Sure, making a plan can be helpful but don't get too attached to it because chances are things won't turn out exactly as expected - and that's perfectly alright!Life is full of twists and turns that we can never predict. Plans may change, but if you stay open to new opportunities and embrace the unknown, then you just might find yourself in a better place than where you started.

The best way to navigate this uncertain landscape is by reflecting on your skills, passions and values while also being willing to take risks and try something new. As my own career path shows us, it's okay not to have all the answers - sometimes life takes us places we could have never imagined! So don't get too attached to any one plan or roadmap; instead be prepared for anything unexpected along the way as those are often our most rewarding experiences yet!