My Story: WDI Producer to Associate Product Manager

4 minute read

Six weeks ago, I moved into my new role as an Associate Product Manager after finishing my time as a PM Intern. It was an amazing (and eye-opening!) experience and I wanted to share my thoughts with the hope that it can bring exposure to the process of switching roles within an organization. But first, let’s quickly dive into how I got here.

I was born in Fairfax, Virginia. Ok ok, that’s too far back. Let’s try again. After 7 long years in the federal consulting industry, I made my way to General Assembly. It wasn’t until the unfortunate event of the Washington Navy Yard shooting that I really started to question what I wanted be “when I grew up.”

I left my consulting job to focus on Smart People Podcast and to learn how to code. I came across Dash, connected with Nathan Bashaw (@nbashaw), and was instantly hooked on General Assembly. To the surprise of no one, I started to run out of money after months of funemployment and began to look for job opportunities within ed tech. I knew I needed to be around the type people at General Assembly, so I joined the Washington DC campus in July 2014 after applying for the WDI Producer role. Over 3 years, I held many roles on the DC campus. From WDI Producer, to Immersives Producer, to Education Programs Manager, and finally, Manager of Instruction and Campus Operations.

Cut to April 2017. I was presented the opportunity of interning within the Product Team. Viewing this as an apprenticeship within a discipline that I wanted to break into, I had to make the jump. I didn’t know how it would end, but I was eager to find out.

Product Internship Step 1: Learning the role of Product Manager

Fresh off the 7:30am train, I arrived in NYC to join the Student Lifecycle Team to begin shadowing a co-worker. I had a week full of one on ones to meet the PMs, engineers, and designers across multiple teams. I also had the opportunity to participate in an on-going Lifecycle design sprint. It was an information overload, but in a good way! There were so many moving pieces and it completely opened my eyes to the complexity of Product at GA.

Over the next couple weeks, I continued my dive into the team’s workflow. For the first time, I was exposed to scrum ceremonies. These ceremonies consist of daily stand-up meetings, sprint planning, demos, and sprint retro. I was tasked with managing the TRIAGE tickets that came in for Student Lifecycle apps. And last but not least, I was tasked and trained to manage the Service Desk for access requests to the Student Lifecycle apps.

It was a lot, but I could not have asked for a better first team to join during the internship. Seeing how the team interacted with each other and provided feedback during retrospective made a lasting impression. Everyone was open and honest and the focus was always around how to improve moving into the next sprint. It was something that would stick with me as I was unknowingly about to support another team.

Product Internship Step 2: Learning about product discovery

During my time supporting Infrastructure, our Product Team moved to a parallel delivery and discovery process. This led to the opportunity to create one of the first discovery product briefs. I spent a good amount of time both learning how to create and executing on the data management product brief. The process included numerous requirements gathering sessions with multiple stakeholders and many reviews/feedback sessions with my manager. Ultimately, I had to figure out the following:

  • What was the problem we’re solving and for whom?
  • The solution we’d build to solve the problem
  • How will we measure success (via the MVP)?

The final product brief is by no means perfect, and I’m sure it’s going to require some level of massaging before even possibly moving to delivery. That being said, it taught me how to identify and break down a problem, develop a hypothesis around the problem, and test through user interviews.

Product Internship Step 3: Associate Product Manager!

I successfully completed my role as PM Intern and have taken on the role of Associate Product Manager where I am now leading our Drupal website transition. My role will be primarily focused on ensuring delivery expectations are clear across teams and work is and delivered based on our target dates. I have a lot to continue learning, but I am incredibly excited to do so.

That’s cool, what did you learn?!?

Simply put, empathy.

I distinctly remember submitting tickets to the Product Team and having the expectation that my request was only a “small change”. I’ll be the first to admit that I did not do a great job of showing empathy towards the team. I simply didn’t understand the Product Team or their process. But, I do now. I know that a lot of hard work goes into investigating the problem, determining a potential solution, and prioritizing the work against requests across many teams. I know that the people and teams who are working on Product across General Assembly are spending countless hours to both help General Assembly grow as a business, but also to ensure that everyone can do their jobs well.

Wrapping things up, I learned a ton. My experience as an intern on the Product Team only strengthened my appreciation for the absolutely amazing people that work at General Assembly. Moving forward in my role on Product, I can only promise that I’ll bring the empathy I’ve learned through my experiences as a PM Intern and combine that with the existing empathy I have for campuses.

If you have any questions or want to chat, my Twitter door is always open! @jonrojas