Neel Joshi

Neel JoshiShare

Group Product Manager, Google Assistant, Google
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Neel Joshi
Neel Joshi
Group Product Manager, Google Assistant, GoogleAugust 31

I'll directly answer the question, but then challenge it.

The most typical path that I've seen has been starting as an Associate/Junior PM after completing either a Computer Science, Information Systems or Business undergrad degree.

However ... in my opinion, PM is a craft that benefits more than any other from diverse backgrounds. I've worked with PMs who were previously marketers, project managers, engineers, business development managers and designers. In fact, due to the varied backgrounds from each of the PMs I work with, I learn about new ways to approach problems. All that to say, there is less of a focus on the typical path / background nowadays so that shouldn't stop folks from exploring PM if they are working in a different space currently. Google does a good job recognizing this with our PM Rotator program - employees can spend 20% of their time (with the blessing from their manager) working on a PM project from a sponsored team to see if the role is a fit for them. 

Neel Joshi
Neel Joshi
Group Product Manager, Google Assistant, GoogleAugust 31

Be your customer as much as you can. Try everything you make multiple times in different scenarios. There's a reason companies like Starbucks and DoorDash have programs in place that put their corp staff on the ground - it opens your eyes to things that you might not have otherwise spotted.

I'm also a huge fan having a regular forum for your teams to interact with your customers. In the enterprise setting these can be Early Access Programs that have select customers try out new products ahead of time for unfiltered, early feedback. In a more consumer world you can build the scaffolding for communities of users to come together. For example, when I was working on Google Maps, we had a high touch relationship with some of the top Local Guides that contributed to our map through UGC. Hearing their pain points and wishes helped shape our roadmap.

Neel Joshi
Neel Joshi
Group Product Manager, Google Assistant, GoogleAugust 31

Without going into specifics, the biggest challenge has been cross-organization influencing. My time at both Microsoft and Google has exposed me to lots of intra-organization projects with varying levels of buy-in from each team. The level of effort and coordination required to pull not one, but two organizations in the same direction can be enormous.

As a PM - at any level - it's your role to effectively communicate why what you're trying to acheive makes sense for other teams, your company and ultimately your customers. Even if you're aligned on principles and strategies, there are dozens of other factors that you need to be able to navigate such as resourcing, ownership, tech stacks, recognition, branding, leadership opinions and timelines. 

Neel Joshi
Neel Joshi
Group Product Manager, Google Assistant, GoogleAugust 28

Great question! This is a fun one and something I could spend a lot of time talking about. Let's pick a trend in a few different areas; Job role, Job market, Strategy, Industry trend, Consumer trend.

[Job role] Collaboration in a remote world

Communication is the most critical skill for PMs and the shift to a remote-inclusive world has made that skill more difficult. I've found collaboration to particularly challenging. There are a miriad of online tools at our disposal and PM needs to get to grips with them and incorporate them into the new way of working.

[Job market] Faster turnover

Much has been said about jumping between companies vs. becoming a domain expert and leveling up for the same company. No matter your view on it, you will be impacted by the faster staff churn than in previous times. I've found this to be especially true for PM. Strong documentation and clear visions and strategies will help set teams up for success despite staff turnover.

[Strategy] Big picture visions instead of feature factories

Fewer companies are operating under the old feature factory model. Users will appreciate new features hitting them on a regular basis, but even more compelling is when companies land big-picture visions. Apple has done a fantastic job of this over the past years. They launch cohesive visions each year which pull together features from various teams across their organization. It's an incredibly effective way to mobilize your workforce, but it's very hard to pull off at scale. 

[Industry trend] Personalization

Companies are quickly realizing that a single product won't work for everyone and the fastest way to an engaged audience is to tailor what you provide to them. This used to mean conducting marketing research and identifying your target audience to build for. While that is still important, machine learning has opened up the ability to hyper personalize your products to individuals. For example, in the smart home / ambient computing space that I work in, we know that every family behaves differently and we need to make sure our products flex to their needs.

[Consumer trend] New internet users changing how we build products

Over the next 5 to 10 years, a new generation of internet users will come online. These users will have an all-new baseline and appreciation for technology due to their exposure to it from early on in their lives. Thinking through interaction patterns, user education and willingnesss to learn will shift and companies are already bracing for what that will mean for their products. In the same vein, there are new users coming online in countries that are finding easier ways to connect to the internet.

Neel Joshi
Neel Joshi
Group Product Manager, Google Assistant, GoogleAugust 28

Promotion readiness varies quite a bit between companies, but I think there are some common themes that most agree on:

  • Performing at the next level. If you're meeting expecations for your role at your current level, the chances are you'd be underacheiving at the level above. That's why most organizations would like to see sustained performance at the level above where you are now. In cases where the diffferences between levels are clearly spelled out, this would mean you can take a look at the criteria where you fall short and work on those areas. For companies that don't have a well defined ladder, you should look to your peers and management across the company to see how others at levels you wish to reach differ from you. Are they working on more complex problems? Communicating more effectively? Working across a broader intersection of the company / industry?
  • Delivered impact. As well as showing you are already working at the next level, you need to prove that you havea strong track record of delivering results. "Results" will look different for every PM so have some early conversations with your manager about what is expected from you to show impact. For long running projects, be prepared to talk about how you've made progress through concrete milestones.
  • Scope. With every promotion, there is an expecation that you can handle a larger scope. This won't always mean taking on more projects. For example, the difficulty of projects could change as you progress. I've seen promotion cases not make it because despite a strong track record and solid results, employees could have been taking on bigger challenges to help the company towards their objectives. This is another super important topic to discuss with your manager ahead of time.
  • Business justification. Something a lot of individuals don't think about is whether the company/division even has a need for someone performing at a level beyond what they are performing at. As mentioned above, with a level increase comes the need for expanded scope. If the company doesn't have more to offer employees, you end up with overleveled employees which can lead to unhappiness.
Neel Joshi
Neel Joshi
Group Product Manager, Google Assistant, GoogleAugust 27

There are so many great resources nowadays on what to expect for big tech interviews, so instead of reiterating they key themes from those, here's my not-so-common take:

  •  Understand what the interviewer is looking for. Across big tech, the interviewer panel is diverse and each person is trying to get enough signal to make a recommendation for the area they are evaluating. It's in your interest to find out early on what it is they are after. For example, if you know you're being evaluated for Product Sense, spending 20 minutes to go deep on architecture or analytics isn't helping the interviewer make a call on you as a candidate. I'd even go as far as asking your recruiter or interviewer themselves what the topic of the interview is to put you in the right mindset.
  •  Great, you've learnt the framework ... now unlearn it. Ok, maybe "unlearn" is a bit sensationalist, but hear me out. CIRCLES, Strategy Framework, 5 Whys, Business Model Canvas, Porters Five Forces, etc.. These are all great frameworks and they help you break down tough problems. Where I've seen many candidates fail is by being so set on using a framework that when they hit a roadblock or a probing question, they don't know how to handle it and fall apart. The best way of avoiding falling into this trap is by practicing mock questions to the point where you know when to call upon a framework to help guide you, but not have it be the entire basis of your answer. This will also help you appear more natural in your communication style and make the interviewer feel like they are part of your quest to solve the problem vs. you regurgitating frameworks they have heard hundereds of times.
  •  Show your working - In this new remote world, interviewing has gotten even harder - for both the candidate and interviewer. Social cues, body language, conversation pacing, whiteboarding are all more difficult. That's why it's more important than ever to show your working. At Google we have a shared document that we encourage candidates to leverage. I personally love it when I see candidates jump in the doc and capture their stream of conciousness as we work on a problem together. It helps me evaluate what that candidate might be like to work with. The best candidates can go through the Forming, Storming and Norming stages in a collaborative manner verbally and written.
Neel Joshi
Neel Joshi
Group Product Manager, Google Assistant, GoogleAugust 27

Let's split evaluating the company and evaluating the opportunity.

When evaluating the company - or if it's a huge company like Google, the division - I like to think about three criteria first and foremost:

  1.  User value - Is the company delivering undenyable user value with the product/service it's offering? A company that is set out to solve for concrete user needs with a great product/service is set up for success. There are of course many other related components such as good market positioning, differentiation from competition and a sound business model, but providing user value is the foundation that underpins everything else. 
  2.  Growth potential - Big or small, what are the next steps for the company? Think next year, 5 years and 10 years from now. What could this company become? This will help you determine the longevity and trajectory of the business. Keep in mind growth can come in many forms; 0>1, scaling after launch, breaking into new territories, expansion into new markets or even mergers and aquisitions.
  3.  Funding / organizational support - This is likely an obvious thing to consider from the lens of smaller early-stage companies, but I'd argue it's something you need to consider within larger organizations too. For example, Google Assistant is critical to Google's Ambient Computing vision and therefore has strong organizational support from CEO down. 

As for sizing up the opportunity within the company, a couple of key factors come to mind:

  1.  Scope - What is it that you will individually be responsible for? How much support will you be given from peers and cross-functional partners? This will help you evaluate what you'll realistically be able to change through your sphere of influence within the company. Too small of a scope can leave you frustrated and dejected, whereas too large a scope could set you up for failure or burnout.
  2.  Leadership - What is it that the leadership team bring to the table? Do they possess the expertise needed to drive the company towards its mission? Do they have skills that would be beneficial for you to learn through exposure to them?
Credentials & Highlights
Group Product Manager, Google Assistant at Google
Product Management AMA Contributor
Lives In Seattle, Washington, United States