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Thought Leadership Series: Interview with Product Manager Paddy Underwood

Welcome to the first-ever Talented Recruiting Thought Leadership Interview, where we have in-depth conversations with leaders in Product & Design. For my first interview, I spoke with Paddy Underwood, a Product Manager at Facebook who began his career as a lawyer and eventually found himself is drawn into the exciting, fast-paced and very impactful world of Product Management in tech. 

It was great to reconnect with Paddy (Thanks Paddy! It was so great to connect with you!), and I walked away with a few key takeaways about being a PM in tech:

  • Being a PM means you get to have an incredible level of autonomy and ownership. At Facebook in particular, being a PM can sometimes feel like having your own start-up company.  

  • It’s the ultimate cross-functional role. You will be working with Engineers, Product Designers, User Researchers, etc, so knowing how to communicate with a diverse group of people within a company is a critical component to the job. 

  • There are many diverse pathways to becoming a PM (hint: you don’t have to be an Engineer), but what is required is an inherent passion and curiosity about how products are thought up, built and launched.

For the full interview- keep on reading! 

TR: You’ve had an interesting career trajectory, beginning with being a lawyer and now working in product management. Tell me about what drew you to the world of product? 

Paddy: My journey into product started before I went to law school. While growing up, I taught myself to code, and discovered that I loved to build websites and simple software. During college, I studied History & Economics and decided to go to law school. During law school, in addition to some really amazing legal opportunities, such as working at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Attorney's Office, I landed an internship in the Facebook legal department working on product, privacy, and ads.

Facebook then hired me out of law school to join the company as a lawyer. I was immediately drawn to a role called Product Counsel - so for every new feature that is being built, you are collaborating with the product team to meet legal and compliance obligations while also ensuring a good customer experience. I realized pretty quickly that I was really drawn to the Product side of the business.

TR: Tell me about how that transition - going from the Legal team to Product - formally happened. Was it a gradual process or an immediate transition?

Paddy: Facebook encourages people to move around the company - team to team, and also across functions. As a trained lawyer, I had a lot to learn about product to make the move. So I started leading projects at hackathons, spent time with Product and Engineering counterparts on product problem-solving initiatives that were in the scope of my role on the Legal team, and eventually found an advocate in the Product organization who sponsored my transfer to PM. With some solid experience and support from Facebook’s Product leadership, I interviewed for PM and quickly made the switch.

Since I moved to product six years ago, I’ve worked on many different product problems at Facebook. Initially, I led Facebook’s privacy product team launching the Privacy Checkup family of products and making new, safer privacy setting defaults. Later, on News Feed, my team created new ways to share and have conversations and built an internal-facing platform to make it fast and easy for Facebook teams to build great experiences in News Feed. And for the last year on Libra, Facebook’s cryptocurrency project, building a custodial wallet that our customers can use directly from Messenger, WhatsApp, or as a standalone app.

TR: How is the Product Management role structured at Facebook?

Paddy: At the end of the day, PMs at Facebook are responsible for ensuring their teams are successful. This means making sure the team has a great strategy, products that solve real problems for people, and excellent execution. PMs spend their days working with a diverse team of experts like designers, engineers, researchers, data scientists, and marketers making sure the team is firing on all cylinders. We have a saying at Facebook - “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.” - this is especially true for PMs.

TR: What makes being a PM at Facebook unique to other tech companies?

Paddy: The scale of the products we are building is a major differentiator. Newsfeed has nearly 2 billion monthly active users. At Facebook you have the opportunity and the responsibility of building products that affect the daily lives of people around the world. This is simultaneously exhilarating and humbling. Also, the company culture at Facebook is unique. Facebook empowers product teams to set their own goals and strategy, to experiment, try things, and -- famously -- to “move fast.” Each product team has a lot of autonomy and ownership over the Products they are working on. 

Given the immense diversity of people who use our products, teams at Facebook are excellent at using data and user research to make sure we’re focusing on solving the most important problems for people and validating that products we build are actually solving those problems. Facebook invests a lot of time and energy in amazing data and research tools to enable every team at the company to do this.

TR: How is accountability thought about and executed at Facebook? 

Paddy: We have our performance review cycle - which is driven by peer feedback. The three biggest factors are measured in our performance cycle for PMs: 1. What did you measurably do to improve your product; 2. What did you do to help the overall organization be more impactful (i.e. did you help recruit great PMs to join your team? What else have you done at Facebook to impact the entire company? etc); 3. What do your peers and teammates think of your contribution to the team’s success?

TR: What does your day to day job consist of? 

Paddy: There is no average day - but I try to spend time every day working on product and business strategy - thinking and working with my team; working on product definition and design; and execution (working cross-functionally to ensure products are being built, that we are analyzing data, etc). So basically: strategy, product definition, and execution are things I’m doing every day. I also make sure that the team is never blocked and we are on the same page with other important stakeholder teams -- this is critical in a large product organization like Facebook.

TR: On average - how many meetings do you have every day?

Paddy: PMs have a lot of meetings -- a big component of our job is communication. That said, over time, I’ve significantly reduced the amount of meetings I have every day. I’ve learned to be protective of my time and make sure I have time to do heads down creative work. One really important skill for a PM is scaled communication. For example, instead of doing 15 separate 1on1s during the week, make one post at the beginning of the week detailing your top three objectives for the week and share it with your peers. Encourage your peers to do the same. Good process can eliminate needless meetings. 

TR: What attributes and skill sets (both “hard” and “soft”) are vital to being a good PM?

Paddy: Hard skills that are important include product and business strategy, understand customer needs and problems, taste in consumer experiences, data and measurement techniques, and project management. On soft skills, I focus on influence, coaching, giving/receiving feedback, and communication.

TR: What advice would you have for someone who is just starting out in the PM tech space?

Paddy: You can move to PM from many roles. No matter what your job title is today, look for opportunities to push the product forward. Some other things I’d recommend: 

  • Build in your spare time

  • Make time to practice strategic thinking and product thinking

  • Get a mentor

  • When choosing a team, optimize for learning and growth, not sexy features or brand

  • There are many types of PMs (technical, design, consumer, data-driven, growth, etc.), find your strengths, what you enjoy, and find roles where those are the key skills

TR: What advice would you give to other companies in terms of making sure that Product Managers have a key seat at the decision-making table? 

Paddy: PMs are an awesome organizational tool. If your company sells products or services at any scale, explore adding a Product Management role. If you have PMs already, empower them to really own and drive their product or business. Give them autonomy. You’ll get better output from teams when they own their destiny and are held accountable for success.

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TR Weekly Roundtable


TR Weekly Roundtable

Happy Friday, Talented family! This week we presented recruiters with 3 daily practices to elevate internal recruiting practices. How do our own recruiters incorporate the daily practices? Check out what our CEO Danielle van Asch-Prevot had to say:

"I love making sure I stay in touch with my network. One of my 2017/18 initiatives is to keep my network alive and breathing. I take about 4 calls a day that are purely catching up. It is fun to connect with people I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with before, and I love keeping track of recent successes, marriages, and other life milestones."

Thanks, Danielle! Do you have any daily practices you can't miss? Tell us in the comments! 

Have a great weekend, friends! Be sure to check us out next week - on Tuesday we'll be talking about the three mistakes people make when goal setting, and on Friday we'll be right back here with the weekly roundtable talking about our own goal setting methods and errors!


TR Weekly Roundtable


TR Weekly Roundtable

This week we talked about how to identify our core values and find the right organizational fit for our values. Christine had this to say about it:

The blog post mentions grabbing a piece of paper and spending 10 minutes identifying your values. It’s a small doing, but I think there’s a lot to be said. For me, a few of my own values consist of giving my 110% every single day at work, clocking in on time, and owning up to my mistakes. I know this is what drives me, and makes me feel good as a person. When I write it down, it helps me focus on what’s important and helps re-affirm what matters to me. I don’t always give it my 110% at work, nor do I find it easy to admit to my boss when I’ve made a mistake. However, because I know these are my core values, I work that much harder to make sure I hit those core values the next time around.

As recruiters we have to practice what we preach, and we work hard to stay true to our own values so we can help our candidates find the right fit for theirs, and our clients define their values and bring in matching applicants. 

Thanks for checking in with us! Next week we'll discuss three daily practices to elevate internal recruiting practices - recruiters won't want to miss that!


TR Weekly Roundtable

TR Weekly Roundtable

This week I sat down with TR’s recruiters and asked them their own thoughts on how they create a culture of urgency within our organization. Here's what they had to say!

Christine: The first is keeping each other accountable. Sometimes before I can execute on a task, I will need something from Danielle or vice versa. We utilize resources such as Asana to assign tasks to each other, and check-in calls to debrief on action items we need to complete. We’re a small team, so the things we do individually will 100% affect the other person, and it’s important we constantly check-in to make sure each person is carrying their weight and delivering results. Secondly, as a remote company, consistent motivation can be hard to come by. Sometimes, we will put off action items we know we need to complete. During these moments, Danielle & I will often call each other to verbalize what we need to do, and then do it together. Even if it’s miniscule, like staying on the phone with one another, that itself creates a culture of urgency in the workplace because you have someone keeping you accountable in real-time. It works surprisingly well :)

Danielle: Sitting on my desk is a mug that reads “Everyday I’m hustling”, and it pretty much describes my day. From the moment I wake up my schedule is packed. I tell my team that our job is like the game Whack a Mole. When we get a new client or opportunity to work on, the clock starts ticking to find our dream candidate. We know by the time we are on the search, our client’s product growth is stymied and their time is being wasted in the wrong areas. They need qualified, available and interested candidates ASAP.

Straight from our recruiters - our culture of urgency is fostered with constant communication. We know our clients need us now so we make every effort to deliver immediately. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! We’ll see you again on Monday, and you can check us out again on Tuesday, when we discuss how Lou Adler and his book Hire With His Head have shaped us as a recruiting agency!

TR Weekly Roundtable!

TR Weekly Roundtable!

This week I sat down with TR’s recruiters and asked them their own thoughts on the topic -

How do you ensure that you’re finding the candidates your clients are looking for?

Here’s what they had to say!

Christine: Patience and vetting! When I LinkedIn source for candidates, I sometimes have to sift through 20-25 pages until I find those 10 A+ candidates. Even then, they still might not be the perfect fit. No one is going to nail a search on the first try, or even on the 4th or 5th try. Be patient, listen to what clients are looking for and adjust your search accordingly. Feedback and criticism can be hard to take, but they are key you are trying to find the candidates our clients want.

Danielle: I agree; another thing we do is look at our clients’ negative reviews too. All of our clients are great, don't get me wrong, but not everyone is a good fit and there are going to be people who don't work out and have criticism, constructive or otherwise. If I have a great candidate who fits exactly what my client is looking for but I get the vibe he's super-introverted - just as an example - then I see three negative reviews for my client from people who wanted to go their own and didn't function well with a lot of collaboration, the candidate I found won't be the right fit. I keep searching.

And there you have it - we match to what the client wants but we find just the right candidates by considering their personality fit too. There's a place for everyone and a fit for every opening, and we’re the ones to put them together!

Have a great weekend, everyone! We’ll see you again on Monday, and you can check us out again on Tuesday, when we talk about creating a culture of urgency in your organization!