I got a remote job in Europe in my first year in Product management: Part 1
Hello! dear reader, I’ll like to introduce myself to give a little context to this article. My name is Ini, my full name is much longer, but I’ve come to learn a long time ago that ‘Ini’ saves me explanation time when people ask for my name, which was me actually subtly doing product. Hahaha!
I studied material science and engineering and, I probably knew I wouldn’t continue in this career path the moment I graduated. I taught people in Asia how to speak good English from the comfort of my room immediately after I graduated. I made cool cash for someone who just got out of the university, but it wasn’t enough. I needed a new career and I needed one very fast…
November 30, 2020. I was given my first chance as an IT project manager by my friend building his startup. It was basically a technology lab that helped build product features for clients. I resumed with the littlest knowledge of what it took to manage in the software development industry but I was enthusiastic, it turned out that this was the superpower I needed to excel in this new career path.
I’ll admit that the first few weeks were really bad for me. I was exhausted and mentally drained, I took a very bold decision but imposter syndrome came in like a flood. I was doubting myself a lot, but I had so much enthusiasm for this new experience that I managed to soldier on.
I met amazing people, and it felt so good to be given the chance to build with this company. We built three products. Two were in the Ed-tech industry and the other was a productivity app for remote work. I fell in love with Ed-tech solutions in technology, and I met so many amazing people in the Nigerian tech community. I was also making some money because I could continue teaching on the side while doing this job.
I had very little domain knowledge, I mean I tried to study and improve myself regularly but it just felt like it wasn’t enough. I was spending too much time in meetings and I felt drained, even though this meeting helped form a deeper understanding of design and coding for me.
I decided after a few months that I needed a break. After my first two months working at this startup, I began to take on more responsibility. I would say I was transitioning into product management after just 60 days as a project manager. At this point, I knew I had to address the problems I had. Which were;
- Insufficient domain knowledge
- No mentor
- No product community
I was basically alone with zero guidance except for my friend that was the founder. So I set out to achieve these three things.
Insufficient domain knowledge
I asked around for institutions in Nigeria that offer courses in product management. This was important for me because I knew I needed to pay money for me to take it seriously, and I could only afford Nigerian schools at the time, and I also learn faster in a classroom environment. A few days later, I enrolled in Treford’s product management boot camp. It was one of the best experiences ever, I had spent 5 months as a project manager that transitioned into product management, so I knew some stuff but I just couldn’t connect them together. In these classes, I started to see how they connected, in fact, I was very active in our capstone project for the boot camp but I wasn’t satisfied. I needed a mentor in product management urgently, I had considered Salem, one of the awesome instructors in the boot camp but he was so busy and there were so many people reaching out to him already. I needed a strategy.
I had always nursed the idea of working for international companies so I decided to expand my search base. I remember I was so frustrated one weekend I went on Twitter and started searching with keywords. I searched, ‘product management mentor’ and I saw a tweet from Ravi Kumar, a senior product manager at Ionos, Germany about running a 3-month mentorship program. I thought about the money that I will probably have to pay, cross-checked that with my bank account and I almost waved it off, but I summoned courage and texted him.
Guess what? He didn’t reply. I waited a few days and texted him again. This time he did, he asked for my phone number and called me a few days later. We had a chat, and he decided to go ahead with mentoring me, I was elated. I also thought it was free because he didn’t mention money. Again hahaha.
I was so excited in our first meeting, Ravi broke things down so beautifully, and with my 5 months of experience writing user stories, managing development teams, and my training at Treford. I could understand so much, all of a sudden, what used to get me mentally drained became exciting, and I was growing in enthusiasm again.
Ravi really pushed us to brand ourselves. He asked us to buy domain names for our website, he asked us to start documenting our learning journey, gave us handles to follow on social media and linked in, and gave us books to read which were so helpful. I started with Agile product management with scrum by Roman Pickler, then I read the lean product playbook by Dan Olsen, and then I capped it with Marty Cagan’s Inspired. I loved these books so much I read them three times over in the space of three months. Ravi told us in our first meeting that he wanted us to know product management in theory much more than product managers in practice. To be honest, I think this is what happened to me.
In the fourth month, I decided to apply for a product management role. I got called in for an interview from my first application. It was close to my apartment and it’s a Fin-tech. I went for the interview without any special interview preparation or demos with anyone. I was confident.
I took my time to go through the product, I tried to get as much information about the company as I could online, and I stepped into the office fully confident.
One of the people I worked with at this fintech company actually told me much later that she knew I would get the job when I stepped in. I was that prepared and confident.
I went through the interview rounds and got the offer. I was excited to practice all that I had learned, but I was about to face the reality that product management in books and in real life is a little different. Now, product management in Nigeria is very different from the books because we face so many more challenges.
I enjoyed my time in this company because it was so much easier than the last one. I had a wealth of knowledge to pull from to solve issues and I was actively taking courses every day to better myself. This led to the next project I had, I still dreamt of working for an international company and I felt it was time for me to venture into it. In the second part of this article, I’ll go into the strategies I used to achieve this feat. I don’t agree with many people that say getting this kind of job is a numbers game. I believe with some tact you can raise your Interview calls by at least 50%, even if you have very little experience.