Best Practices

If You Want to Advance Your Product Career, Think of Yourself as the Product

There’s a lot of information and research out there about how product people can do their jobs better. But what about when we think beyond the tactical, and consider what our path forward could look like?

At Pendo’s Pendomonium conference this year, Gibson Biddle, former VP of product at Netflix, shared his tips for “hacking” your product leader career. The key? Think about yourself as the product. He broke it down into three steps and offered tips and insights that anyone — no matter how far along they are in their product career — can benefit from.

  1. Positioning: What Are Your Differentiators?

Just as you would for any new product, Biddle started by asking the audience to think about how we position ourselves. It sounds straightforward, but it’s not as easy as you’d think. He offered a framework often used for products that can be used for positioning ourselves, too:

  1. What is it?
  2. What are the benefits?
  3. What is its personality?

He demonstrated this with an example, using everyone’s favorite streaming platform: “Netflix is a TV and movie subscription service that’s fast, easy, entertaining, and a great value, and is delivered in a straightforward, friendly way.”

So, how do we translate this to our own features? Biddle discussed the importance of two skill sets: product skills and leadership skills. They include:

Product skills:

  • Technical
  • Management
  • Creative
  • Business
  • Marketing
  • Design
  • Consumer science

Leadership skills:

  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Strategic thinking
  • Results-oriented
  • Culture
  • Business maturity
  • Domain expertise

For me, the biggest takeaway was that no two product leaders are the same. Biddle’s advice was to think about which two or three skills you excel at for each category — aka your “superpowers” — and focus on those when positioning yourself for a new opportunity. 

  1. Experimentation: Hypothesize, Test, Repeat

If one thing became alarmingly clear throughout the session, it’s that the path to a leadership position is a winding one. And oftentimes, it’s those zigs and zags that ultimately lead us to the most rewarding opportunities. To demonstrate this, Biddle walked through his entire career up until this point — including his failures and missteps.

Hacking Your Career

Going back to thinking of yourself as the product, he explained that once you’ve got your positioning down, the next step is to experiment. And like any good experiment, this requires hypotheses.

Biddle encouraged the audience to consider what our “career hypotheses” are. For him, this included questions about which team he thrives in (Marketing vs. Product?), what company stage he prefers (Starter vs. Builder?), and which industry is the right fit (Entertainment vs. Education?). 

To come up with your own hypotheses, he suggested thinking about what your areas of interest are, if there are any new roles you might seek, or if you envision any forks in the road. Then (and more importantly), find some side projects to help you test the waters in those new areas or roles.

Measuring the Impact

Like any good product development process, the last piece of the experimentation phase is measurement. When it comes to your career, Biddle offered three metrics to consider: income, job satisfaction, and impact (“Is what I’m doing good for the world?”). For job satisfaction, he said to think about it on a one-to-ten scale, and that ideally, we all should strive for an eight or higher. For Biddle, if he’s ever at a six or lower for six or more months — that’s when he considers making a change.

One last tactic that stuck with me is the “2 a.m. test.” It’s two in the morning and you’re wide awake and extremely engaged in something — what is it?

  1. Feedback: Build (and Grow) Your Network

This third step is a crucial one. Biddle talked about the importance of creating your own board of directors — people who have helped you in your career, who you can also turn to for advice. Their job is to provide a fresh perspective (we all know how easy it is to get in our heads!) and make us more self-aware. 

These people can be your peers (someone in a similar function/stage/company, past colleagues, etc.) as well as your mentors (someone with broad skills and network, extraordinary judgment, etc.). Here’s his advice for building a board of directors:

  1. Invest in relationships during good times (i.e. don’t only reach out when you have a problem)
  2. Listen carefully and be open to what they have to say
  3. Refresh your network often (e.g. when you have new interests, try to meet new people)

Biddle ended the session with two very compelling questions: What would you do if you weren’t afraid? And what can you do right now to make your current job satisfaction an eight or better?

Here’s to flipping the script and thinking about ourselves as the product, and always striving for continuous discovery and iteration.