Sept. 6, 2020

#3: Adam Thomas - A Positively Chaotic Product Management Leader and Founder


Adam is a wartime product leader with 10 years of product experience and helps companies make more efficient software product teams. He also has experience as a startup founder, and loves to write on anything product and leadership specific to help others in the space. 

In this episode, we talk about what product management is, why it's so popular, and share resources as to how you can find a support system and get into product management.

Key Points

  • [02:06] What is product management?
  • [05:05] Why do people with Computer Science backgrounds switch to product management?
  • [06:06] The beginning of Adam's journey into Product Management: He built his first startup
  • [11:42] How to build out a business while being a student
  • [16:21] The importance of having an accountability partner
  • [18:18] How do you find a support system or accountability partner to help you?
  • [23:18] What attracted Adam to product management
  • [24:04] Why is product management so popular today?
  • [26:56] What does product management work actually look like? 
  • [31:56] What are some product management resources to really understand what the role is?
  • [34:30] Why the product management interviewing process is flawed
  • [43:32] Why companies are missing out on talent because of this product management interview process

Resources Mentioned

Transcript

Note: Black Enterprise Network transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcription. They may contain errors, although we do our best to avoid them. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting a transcript in print. Questions? Errors found in a transcript? Email us! 

Kimmiko James  [0:00]  
Hi, and welcome to the black enterprise network podcast episode number three. I hope you're having a good day or night depending on your timezone and where you are. And before we jump into the episode, I just wanted to talk about a few things. The first thing is I'm going to be releasing a new book regarding how you can gain internship and new grad offers, given a lot of people don't really know how to navigate this space. And I just want to kind of condense all that information into an easy to follow guide. More details on this to come in the following episodes. The last thing I want to touch up on is just the new formatting of my podcast episodes. Given you know, I thought I was doing something with the intro the first two episodes, but it doesn't really give people a good insight as to what they're kind of getting into when they preview an episode. Therefore, I'm excited to try this new style and look forward to seeing or hearing your feedback on Apple podcast reviews. They're emailing me through LinkedIn, or however you can reach me I'm very easy to reach. Let me know if you like it or don't like the new style. And with that, let's jump into the episode.

small percentage of black people are currently represented in the tech industry and entrepreneurial spaces. This includes engineers, startup founders, investors, and especially those that hold leadership roles. I want to share their stories.

And this episode, I talk with Adam Thomas. Adam is a veteran and director within the product space, it has over 10 years of experience. And from a direct quote from him, he loves to create products and organizations in kale. In fact, the conversation we had was actually pretty chaotic and fun. We broke down what product management is what it actually means to be Product Manager, he talked about how you can find and build mentorship relationships, we even talk about how black markets were ran in dorm rooms, we share a lot of resources and advice throughout the episode. So you definitely don't want to miss it. Not a lot of people know what product management is. It's just one of those magical buzz words that go along with artificial intelligence, machine learning, software engineering, Product Management, not a lot of people know what that is. So I wanted to know if you could just briefly describe what a product manager is and what they do.

Adam Thomas  [2:22] 
Sure. So my definition of a product manager is it depends.

Yes, but I think chiefly the role of a product team is to own the alignment within a company.

Essentially, whether that's customer alignment, business alignment, operational alignment, I think, really sharp product teams and product managers themselves thinking of that as the problem they need to solve when it comes to product development and business development, whatever. So I think if there's going to be a definition for a product manager, it's it depends plus that alignment piece. Mm hmm.

Kimmiko James  [3:12]  
What do you mean by like, the alignment part? Just because a lot of people might not be familiar with me, especially, I'm not really familiar with a lot of these different terms. Think of it as like trying to ascribe it to like a six year old, just like how an engineer would break down how to describe how a website works. Like, what do you mean by business lineman all these other alignments?

Adam Thomas  [3:35]  
Sure. So essentially, I think, when it comes to product, people, our job is to take a look at all these different parts that exists. When it comes to a business when it comes to a marketplace when it comes to developing something and make these parts tie back to a problem. Right, so that we're we're taking all these tools that we have available. And actually solving that problem.

Kimmiko James  [4:13] 
All right, gotcha.

Adam Thomas  [4:15]  
I think that's, that's right.

Kimmiko James  [4:18]  
Okay, that's actually a pretty good description. And it kind of like it's kind of similar to software engineering of people think it's, it is that just like building stuff, just for the sake of building it. However, you have to know how to solve these specific problems similar to what you just described. So thanks for that definition. So with that, I'd love to jump into your journey just because a lot of product management journeys I've seen from people I know and even just LinkedIn stalking, is they usually start in a field of STEM, especially computer science, and then they want to do the pn switch, which is what I kind of saw on your profile. Yeah, I'd love for you to just go into detail about your journey to the world.

Adam Thomas  [5:03]  
Sure. So it's interesting, I think, I think you're right. Here, a lot of product, people tend to make some switch. And there's a couple of reasons for that. Such as, right, for the most part, until fairly recently, product wasn't really a loved place, right? Like people didn't seek to be product. It's kind of more of a place where kind of like, and I mean, it's in the best way, kind of the artsy burnt out, people that together, and then realize, because we were artsy and burnt out, we're really good at seeing problems. And because we've got the scars to prove it, we've learned how to talk around these different things and kind of maintain. So. Yeah, prior to the professionalization of product, like that's where a lot of product people are. Now, back to my story. My story starts with me doing me doing my first startup. I didn't know that at the time. But I ended up when I was a computer science student, I ended up building a content management system from scratch. And I was like, What do I want to do with this. And I was really into writing as well. So like, I ended up creating a gaming website called the gamers studio. And I ran that for four years, really learning about I think, really the basics of business, which became a really good foundation. For me as I went into the professional world as a mainframe engineer at a company called dtcc. dtcc is of note because it exists as a background. It exists in the background of the finance world, essentially as a utility that insures the marketplace through what they call the depository and the clearing house. Now, the depository is where they hold pretty much everything, stocks, bonds, any type of certificate. And the Clearinghouse is basically where they ensure like you are who you say you are, both Buying and selling. Right, you put that together. That's what dtcc does. It pretty much handles Most, if not, significantly, statistically, significantly, all trends transactions that happened in the United States. And to give you a sense of that level. To give you a sense of that level of scale, it's 2.2 quadrillion dollars a year that go through Yeah. I was on the mainframe team that was responsible for the infrastructure that we responsible for 90% of that.

Kimmiko James  [8:09]  
Wow, that's, yeah, that's, that's a quite the journey to go through. Especially starting your you said he started your first company right out of college, or was that during college?

Adam Thomas  [8:20]  
Well, I made a content management system, which Yeah, you know, basically, right? Whenever somebody creates something, right, a content management system essentially decides kind of where it looks, where it goes, how it looks, right? It takes all of that work out of someone's hands and basically has it like it makes it simple for them. So like WordPress is an example of a concept. I was just bored. More college student. It was over winter break, I had nothing to do so. Right? Like I basically was just like, let me just try this. We try this. And I think with with most businesses, I'd always been entrepreneurial. I guess I should start here. Like I was always I was always entrepreneurial. And when I came up with this, this happened to be my sophomore year, my freshman year, I almost got kicked out of school. were kicked out of the dorms because I ran a black market in my dorm and I got caught. And if it wasn't for me paying off the array, I would I would have not completed

Kimmiko James  [9:37]  
much more supply if you don't mind.

Adam Thomas  [9:42]  
Sure statute of limitations is up. So the front was a it was a bodega, like store so where I had like ramen noodles and candy and stuff, but I used to sell what I really sold were porn passwords. Illegal song. Both of which for college students, right? Thumbs up. There's no one's trying to pay $3,000 for Microsoft Word, and no one's trying to.

Kimmiko James  [10:13]  
Exactly.

Adam Thomas  [10:14]  
Yeah. It's kind of a weird thing because, right? Yeah, it's kind of ages me, to be honest. Ages me. But yeah, after getting caught, I told myself, hey, probably don't want to make this business live. It's pretty hot. Running a store should probably take this online, do something online. A lot less stress, which led me into building this content management system and then the gamers to do afterwards. Right. So yeah, that's, that's where I started there. That's what got me started into building a business ended up with like, 30 people working for me. But yeah, eventually sold the business because I pretty much was getting tired of it. And that got me here to New York, where that started at DTC three years of being that mainframe architect, I mean, I'm sorry, three, four years of being that mainframe programmer. And then I switch over to being a mainframe architect, which is like, I will call it the mainframe version of product management. And that was the first time I had product management job. So I said all that to say you were right, in terms of that slop from engineer to product. And that's how it happened to me, I

Kimmiko James  [11:37]  
think a lot of people are also interested in just like, you know, the motivation to work on a business while you're a student, and then to actually successfully sell that. And well successfully build a team and sell it just because a lot of students are trying to be entrepreneurs, such as myself, but we just get caught up in school, we get caught up in time management and all this other stuff. So I guess I would just kind of ask, how did you know how to build a team of 30 people at such a young age and just build this thing out? You know?

Adam Thomas  [12:11]  
The truth is, I didn't.

Kimmiko James  [12:16]  
best answer. Yeah.

Adam Thomas  [12:20]  
It's a, all the lessons I learned the hard way, in terms of managing people, a lot of them came from, you know, those four years. Because it just mean making all these mistakes. So yeah, they're like, I mean, honestly, there is no answer, like, the first time you put something together, it's going to be bad. Like, you gotta just, you gotta move forward. And you know, ultimately hope that you know, no one hates you along the way. I don't think anybody hates hated me for my time at the gamer studio, but like, yeah, like, I was not the best manager. I literally have a one of my first blog posts on LinkedIn, it's just like, it's literally, me recalling all the mistakes I made as a founder.

Kimmiko James  [13:04]  
Yeah, I'm gonna, I'm gonna have to find that too. I'm gonna have to look at that.

Adam Thomas  [13:09]  
happy to share?

Kimmiko James  [13:10] 
Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Adam Thomas  [13:12]  
I think one of the reasons why I wrote it is like, basically, because of that question. Right? Like, I think a lot of people think management is this thing that you're, like, gifted with? And like, oh, how did like how did you figure it out? Like, how do you know and like all that, but the truth is, like, you just don't, you got to go do it. And you got to see how it feels. You know, hopefully, in that time, you learn two lessons, you get some mentors, you start getting some pathways and how to become better. But until then, right, like, it's just not. It's just not that like, it's just not, you know, some just kind of this innate quality.

Kimmiko James  [13:56]  
Yeah, that's, that's very solid advice, just because I, myself, and probably a lot of other people are just trying to figure out how to navigate these different career paths, you know, and just how to let yourself fail, which is really hard to do. Like, honestly, I think those are the two hardest things for me is just getting started. Just because it's something that's always on your mind, but if you don't start you're never gonna start it. And just like letting yourself fail, which is how you get better. And even if you tell yourself that it's it's still hard to get over. So very solid advice.

Adam Thomas  [14:32]  
Yeah. And I mean, like, as I've gotten deeper into my career, right, like, it's, it's just been a reminder, like, you'll constantly base that. Right, like, right, like me switching over to infrastructure at dtcc was me learning a whole lot of lessons and, you know, kind of getting smacked around a bit. You know, in terms of like, all of it like the problem space. In really learning how to how to how to maneuver, as I continue my career, right, like, going in and being a mainframe architect and like learning how to shut down products, learning how to engage with, with businesses, being a representative of a multinational corporation, right like that, you know, that was just a whole lot of like learning me switching over to being a founder assignment on an ed tech platform, that was a whole bunch of them. And you just your continued, like, you just continue to learn, like life is just gonna continue to just keep throwing things at you. Right? Like, there's no way to like, get in front of it, other than to just do it. Right. And then, as I sit, like, hopefully find some people that have done it. There's no way of doing this stuff. There's no way of getting in front of it. Right? Like, it's just going to be a whole lot of trying and failing and hopefully, learning some things along the way.

Kimmiko James  [16:01]  
Yeah, definitely, like, solid advice. I'm going to try applying after this. Just because like I said, this is stuff I hear a lot from people and stuff you tell yourself, but I think just the more you hear it, the more you might actually get it. So thanks for sharing that.

Adam Thomas  [16:16]  
Yeah. And I mean, like, you and your listeners, right? Like, one thing that I think is super helpful is to find somebody to hold you accountable for these things, and then meet regularly. Right? So like, if you have somebody else, if there's someone else on your campus, right that that is trying to start a business, you should meet like every Wednesday, have lunch every Wednesday and just talk about that for an hour. Right? And then during that conversation come up with concrete action plans, right? Oh, that person something every time you come up with come up with to dues, right? That will help you get closer to launching your business. Because it yeah, it doesn't get easier. But having somebody else I know for me, I lean on accountability buddies a lot, because it just helps me. Ignite, right. And having to owe somebody something is a great way for me to like, get moving.

Kimmiko James  [17:22] 
Definitely, like the power of having a network and community you can rely on for stuff is very under valued. Just because me myself included. I'm gonna keep saying it because Yeah, relatability. But yeah, it's sometimes you feel like you have to go through these journeys and tech by yourself. Just because you see how other people are hustling on LinkedIn, social media. And it seems like they don't have a support system. And you feel like you don't need a support system. However, like I've learned this summer, that just having mentors from my intern company at Slack, or even just people I haven't talked to in a while that are trying to help me but I haven't reached out. It's, it's really hard to realize that at first, just because especially with this pandemic hitting, you're really by yourself now. So you have to reach out. So it's, it's been a learning process. And for people that are listening, how did you find your support system or accountability partners, just because it's, like I just said, it's kind of hard to realize when you need help, and how to find that help.

Adam Thomas  [18:33]  
It's gonna sound counterintuitive, but like, it's okay. The first thing you one thing you don't do is ask. Like, do not ask, Do not ask somebody to be your mentor. Right? Like, okay, like, what this is a mistake I've seen people do is like, they'll go up and say, I like your work. Can you please mentor me. And as the as you'll find out as your career grows, and as you as you kind of shoot comes on the other foot, right? That's a lot of work to quote unquote, mentors, right? Like, it's a lot of work to, to just watch over someone's career. So that'd be something that'd be a passion project. Right? So instead of going to go ask people to be your mentor, I think one of the things that I would encourage people to do is pay attention to the people who you want to mentor you, right? Learn what they do, learn what they are into. Try to be helpful supportive, for links their way answer questions they have, whenever something interesting might happen. Toss something their way by email or something like show them that like you're you're very into what you're what you're trying to signal. Right. Which is another reason why. Again, starting something yourself and just kind of going with it and getting some bumps and bruises is helpful because then you also have things to talk to that mentor like you have It's not like you have actual problems you have actual, and you know, ways that to deliver value, even in your experience. So yeah, like, I think the one thing you can do to really get those mentors is one start something, start something yourself, right and to be into them, right. And, and, and once you're into them and like you're providing value, like they'll get a, they'll get a sense of what you're doing, they'll see what you're doing, and then they'll want to help you, right. So every one of my mentors that came outside of a job came that way for me, whether it's like, because of Tweet, tweet, tweeting, tweeting, and tweeting, and, you know, providing value sending a white paper or something here or there, or, you know, injecting myself into the conversation to provide value. Or if it's making a connection for someone that they're trying to look for, right as your network, that becomes a lever that you can use, and just being all around helpful while having something that like piques their interest, and then all of a sudden, you know, friendship. bills.

Kimmiko James  [21:10]  
Yeah, that, again, very good advice, just because, yeah, it's, I guess, I don't know, like a lot of, I guess, I got really lucky and how I have gained my mentors, just from my internship, and you know, you spend time with these people a lot in person, not anymore, but in person, and you get to know them, and you show them what you're working on as an intern. And that relationship kind of just builds. But it does get difficult as you kind of just described of just kind of kind of kind of trying to find someone that you haven't met personally, and then trying to pique their interest, but very good, like steps on how to do that. So thanks.

Adam Thomas  [21:54] 
Oh, no, you're welcome. And like, I mean, when, when I've had an intern or picking up one of my old entrance now, that relationship with my intern maybe four or five years ago, and we still talk, right, like, and as our relationships grown, he's kind of gotten out of sync. He was working with me on terms in terms of strategy. But now he's in sales. And now I go to him for things like I like he helped me out. I'm trying to figure out how to like, what's the messaging I need here? Like, one thing that I think people appreciate, especially when they look at mentor like mentees, like, it's just like kind of potential and like how hard you work, and just knowing like, wow, like that person, that person's a star, little were there. Sorry, I can't tell you why. But that person is a star, you know, just showing them your hustle and grit. And you and who you are. Right. Everything else will come from that.

Kimmiko James  [22:55]  
Yeah, yeah, like, thanks for sharing that, especially with the example with your intern. A lot of people are really into the idea of product management, as we've discussed before, hence why they do the switch. And what do you think makes product management so popular and desirable to people? Or rather, what attracted you to it?

Adam Thomas  [23:16]  
I think what attracted me to it? Well, one, I didn't even think of it as a I think maybe I'm aging myself to here. Tonight, when I first got into it. Like, it wasn't really no one really talked about, like, it wasn't really this highly sought after rule. So like, I kind of, like, as I mentioned before, right? Like, it was like, kind of like this alternate world where it's like, Alright, I'm an engineer, but I know enough, but like, I also like the soft skills and like presenting you like, you know, tying things together. Why don't you try this? Yeah, so like, for me, you know, the shift was kind of like, like a shift in wasn't really like a direct shift. Like, I wasn't like, oh, I'll be a product manager. It was just like, Hey, I'm gonna try this. I think, where people want to be and where it's becoming this kind of, like, prestige job. I think. I mean, there's a few reasons for this. Silicon Valley has kind of directed its eye towards the profession. So kind of people coming up, look at that and go, Oh, I should probably be a, I want to be a product manager, right. Like VCs like it. A lot of VCs that are there, they're the financers. Like, that makes sense. Let me just let me just do what they like. Also, like there's this professionalization of products, right? Where you have a bunch of people who get MBAs who are now going, ah, yeah, I paid for this. The, well, they have MBAs, the people that hire them have MBAs. They they sit together and go, Hey, we should probably be able we can figure Get this out. You're kind of like tech, right? Come on down. Right. And and so you have a crapload of PMS that have MBAs that necessarily don't really help product as a whole, my assertion, I don't think an MBA has anything to do with product management, outside of some of the fringes, maybe it can be helpful. But so it's a, so with a culinary degree. So we have the gaze of Silicon Valley, we have the professionalization of it. And then also some of the writing that people done. From the kind of this last dare I say, my era, kind of when I started the business, it started getting some of that started picking up some of that speed. And you have somebody like Marty Kagan, who I love, right? Like I love his writing, I love all the work that he does. I think it's one of the best minds in product. But the phrase CEO of the, like, product managers or CTO, the product was something he wrote a long time ago. And now you just see people say, an ad nauseum without the context. So people think that product, people just decide stuff is completely false. Like it's pretty much the exact opposite of how things tend to work in highly successful product team. So a mixture of all that is why everybody's suddenly going on, I want to be a product manager now. Like, yeah, really. And then a lot of people are getting rid of Wait, wait awakenings because of that. Because it's not quite what they've been taught.

Kimmiko James  [26:30]  
To add on to that, then what does it look like to be doing Product Manager work then? If it's very well will not say over glamorize, but we'll just say glamorize just this glamorized position, and people don't really know what they're walking to aside from that they lead the ship to successfully launch a product? Like what is product management work look like? For you? If you could describe that?

Adam Thomas  [26:55]  
Sure. It's funny, because I'm gonna pretty much pokagon again, sure, outside of that, quote, right, I think he nails a lot of what product management is, like, Product Management itself, is very good product management, like, you know, good product management is working. Right, I'm sorry, let me rephrase that.

Kimmiko James  [27:16]  
Go for it.

Adam Thomas  [27:18]  
You know, that product management is working well, when product is very quiet, right? You don't hear so much from product and product managers. Great product managers play the backlog. If you notice, engineer speaking up more, if you notice, if you notice, design getting very problem focus, if you notice sales and marketing, chatting together to solve problems, right? That's the sign of a good product manager, not necessarily a product manager coming out with outcomes, because a product managers have no outcomes, right? Like they're I mean, I'm sorry, they have no outputs, maybe you're facing it the right product managers have no outputs that like the rest of the company necessarily cares about. So right when it's going well, product leads background, but it's not very going well. Right. And I love I love Matt LeMay and amaze, one of my favorites. He recently did a talk about this. But basically when it's not going well if you notice the product manager a lot. Product Managers always up there Ted Danson he's always moving. He's got another presentation. He's, he's here, she's always around. And you know, they have to micromanage and like nothing goes past them without their sign off. And which is far close to the where people think the CEO of the product is, you know, what this is making me think there's a lot of like, first time entrepreneurs or first time product managers share a lot of the same problems.

Kimmiko James  [28:55]  
Do they? Yes. Okay, how?

Adam Thomas  [29:00]  
Because this is when whenever I talk to entrepreneurs, especially first time entrepreneurs, one thing I warn them about is what I call generating. Right? Which is really you trying to impose your will not create things just to impose your will? Right, like that generating is a sign of insecurity. Right? Because, right? Because you're worried about the marketplace, you're worried about your financing, you're worried about the product, you're worried about whatever life, you start generating things for people to do, right? Because like if people are working, then something positive is happening, right? When you're ultimately you're probably just like running your people into the ground and they're resenting you for it. You're not really making any progress towards your goals, right. It's it's one of the things that you can you can you can chase your team away from you. If you do it too long. And I think product managers are in the same place where a lot of what they do is out of insecurity. Because product people don't have outputs, right? Like, for the most part, we don't have outputs. So you'll start generating things or creating. work, right? Just to be able to go, Hey, I did something. Hey, we're making this happen. I have a meeting, I have meetings, we have meetings, like I'm talking to people, like, Don't you see I'm working. Right. Like, and again, you're just generating and you're and since PMS really work off of trust and alignment, you're eroding your eroding the alignment that you might be getting inside of the company. So it's just it's just battle?

Kimmiko James  [30:52]  
Yeah, like, thanks for describing that in detail, just because, yeah, it's very much a glamorized, glamorized position that I've seen, and even myself, I've tried to get internships for those positions just because of how cool people say they are. So it's like, good to just know, that just the do's and don'ts of what it means to be a product manager.

Adam Thomas  [31:13]  
Yeah, like, I mean, it's been weird to me, like when I have the managers that have been doing this longer than I have, right? Like, one thing, one thing we're both definitely just surprised by is how many people want to do this, like work. And then how often they are blindsided by the realities on the ground. And you know, what this work actually is prepared to, you know, what the medium and kind of where the kind of the outside world tells you? What product is gonna be extremely frustrating.

Kimmiko James  [31:55]  
So what what are some resources you could recommend for people to actually understand what they potentially be getting themselves into?

Adam Thomas  [32:04]  
I think, Matt, Matt, Lamaze book, sheets. His book on product management, is probably the best book I've read in what I can to basically, anybody is thinking about this. I was trying to look for the actual title, I'm sorry, its product management practice. I recommend this book. Again, just because I think it's the most realistic, day to day thing artifact that I've ever seen, that just captures, captures product management, as it is not not the aspirations not what not aspirationally, but just what product management is. I think some of the cognitive science stuff is really important, which I think your background is interesting, right? So like, if, if you have somebody reading conovan, right, like, are, you know, Dan Ariely like that stuff is? That stuff really helps, right? Because since problem since product, people aren't solution, people their problem people product is way more about people's perspective. And really good product people can really key in on what their customers perspectives are, and then break those down to be used in the product later. So like anybody that can, anybody that can understand human behavior, or know and understand human behavior, right? Like, if you can, if you can start getting some proxies, if you can get closer to it. Right, that's the stuff that's really going to be super helpful. So like, when I talk about like Dan Ariely or like Daniel Kahneman, and Amos Tversky. Like getting into that, super useful, also also things, marketing and risk, I think, two things, two places, where I think it's very proud of people can really get a lot out of it. So my to go to, there are not some talent. And I'm sorry, Nassim Taleb and Seth Godin are probably my two coaches. When it comes to learning about risk and pin marketing, in a way that I think, be super helpful, but not as I have yet to name a technical book. I have yet to name a book about SQL. I get to name a book about architecture, computer architecture. All these things have been going on job, things were tough. These things far more useful, no matter where you go in terms of like the discipline of product management,

Kimmiko James  [34:51]  
not even cracking the pm interview.

Adam Thomas  [34:54]  
I love Jackie but no. Just wanted to yes As Jackie said, I love Jackie. Got to know her great person. And I think she did write, much to my chagrin, actually, because this is something I hate. I hate how pimps are hired.

Kimmiko James  [35:15]  
Okay, what are you? What are your thoughts on this?

Adam Thomas  [35:19]  
Um,

Kimmiko James  [35:20]  
just because like, I'll just give a brief explanation of what I've seen for product management interviews, and what you probably know way more than me. But as far as I can tell, they like especially especially giving you the technical interviews. And they also give you like, some weird oddball pm questions that testing problem solving skills of like, I actually have the book, but I stopped reading it when I figured I don't want to do this. It was kind of like something, how would you, I guess, know how many bags of dog food are sold in the United States? Like something as vague as that. And it's really difficult to think that way. So why don't you like this interview process?

Adam Thomas  [36:04]  
Because it's a lot of it. And there's two reasons, right, I think, where it really catches me. One is, for everything that these practices are, right, like, the brain teaser is a perfect example.

There's a correct way of administering that. And you can read that we talked about kind of an already right, like that's Thinking Fast and Slow, right? He basically walks down, like when you do these brain teaser type of questions, like when you ask them, right, you need a rubric. Like you need to be very clear about what you're trying to get out of it like right, like in, you know, a bunch of other things. Right? And I'm very sure, right? being somebody that has seen these companies like, do this, they're nowhere they're not getting nowhere near the amount of time to make brain teasers. super useful, right. So like, outside of like, I would say, like Google, maybe, right, like, Google may put the time in, like, do the work to really come up with that. But like most of these companies now, and even close, they wouldn't even be able to tell you kind of what's behind the brain teaser? Why you ask it. They just know that this is what you're supposed to do. When you don't have the right work done to the process prior. What you end up doing is you open the door to bias right? So like, right, if we think back to like the halo principle, this opens the door for that, right? And basically the Halo, I'm sorry, the halo theory is canceled. Anyway, basically what it says is if you're if you're right, if you're good at one thing, people think you're good at other things. Or if you're attractive, people think you're

smart.

And a lot of cases, if you're white, and you have the certain look, right, then you'll be able to do the job. What I feel like what I've what i've landed on, just based on looking at product teams speaking to product teams, all that, right, is that a lot of people in product that look the same? I call it the guy with a shirt. And it's funny. Working, it's like, I'm sure you already know what I'm talking about, like you like you don't have to like, think too hard about what the guy in the shirt looks like. If I gave you a pin in the paper, you could probably describe him and it would be about 80% match who I'm talking about. Right? And I think that's basically basic. It's well, that's based on bias taking hold of a process, right? Especially a process? Well, yeah, just it by taking hold of that process. So when there's not enough time. And two, there's every product team is different. This is one thing I asked at every product interview, no matter what level I'm interviewing for, what does product mean here? And I tell you, I have not gotten the same answer once. Right? So it might make you start wondering, why is there a process for something that is kind of open, right? Like the responsibilities or all these other things. But we have a process that speaks to these things, even though all these things are different, depending on where we go. Right. So what ends up happening is

people are

testing for skills that aren't even useful for the job that they're asking people to do. Right? Who cares about how much you know about SQL if you have a data science team that's doing all the SQL, right, like, Who cares? Hey, far better to test how you look at numbers, or how you how do you differentiate something that's useful versus something else? Or, I don't know, like, maybe maybe your team has research, right? Like, the product person's job is going to be very business focused. Right? Why are you asking me about research? Right? Like, I'm not gonna do that here? Why are we testing for that? If I sat down with product teams, and I printed out the job description that they had, and I blanked out the name, my guess is that maybe 20 to 30% will actually hit on their actual areas of responsibility. Right, 30, maybe 40%. So, again, like, we have a process here that's fundamentally broken, when people looking for candidate don't have enough time to have a process that's built the way that itself or best practice, and to write since everything is so different, right, like, why is your process anyway, right? Like, every, every product process that I'm running, I run into should be unique. And here's a here's a bonus, a third, bonus one, right? A lot of these things. And maybe this is to be as opposed to just a different point. But like these teams, like, we're not, the job is more about alignment than anything else. Everything that the current process teaches is, or what we're looking for, barely anything that speaks to that, right, like, how this person interacts with the customer success manager is going to is a far better indicator of success than if they can run a query perfectly. But what do we look? What are we looking for? We're looking for the person that can run queries, right? Not to have like, again, not to say that looking at SQL is not useful. And I'll use it every once in a while. Right? But like, if you ask me, choose between somebody that can get people into a room and start talking about a problem, or somebody that can look at SQL queries. I know, without a doubt, who's going to be more important to me. But we're looking at we're testing, the person we're accessing the payment doesn't matter.

Kimmiko James  [42:21]  
Yep, very well said it's, I guess I'm in conflicted with software engineering interviews, just because it's kind of similar. But also kind of not just because a lot of the stuff that we were tested on, and I will say test it on slash interviewed on is stuff we don't really use in the day to day, it's like, the stuff that we do use is based off of side projects, you have to teach yourself, and that's usually the person, people would and should want to hire the person who knows how to build stuff. Versus that's going to be used in the workplace versus someone that just knows how to solve these algorithm problems that we're not really going to use. So very mixed about it, just because this is probably the best it's going to be for software engineering. But I think based off of what you described with PM, I think that process can definitely and should be adjusted based on what you just described.

Adam Thomas  [43:16]  
Yeah, I don't mean like, this is like, I can talk about this stuff for like, hours, like hours, like I get, for some reason, like, my writing and speaking on this have captured a lot of people's imaginations lately, but I think at the core of it, right, like, we're missing out the pool for active pool of people, that would be good PMS, right, we're not looking towards them. We're looking towards this group of people that, you know, fit our idea of what product management is, as opposed to people that can do the job. Right. It's like when I say that culinary school would be better. I wasn't being facetious. I mean, like, I think a line chef, with their understanding of how to make things fit in a busy kitchen, can be trained to be a an amazing PM, over somebody that just set set in a room talking about our Nabisco for, you know, four weeks, like, like, it doesn't fit me great. Our Nabisco is extremely important. And, you know, folks have financial hurts, but like, we can we can we can, we can tell somebody about that we can work with them and they can get that on. The person that comes in that has the idea that we don't have to shift their mindset. When it comes to product work. If they kind of already fit, they understand just intuitively through the work they've done before how it could work. Right means that it's a lot less work to bring them up to speed and also like we can really supercharge you know, product and a lot of places.

Kimmiko James  [44:59]  
Very, very well. And honestly probably gives people a better perspective of like, you know, you don't need to be the super technical person, or the super brain teaser based person to like, go into pm. So, yeah, thanks for describing that in great detail. Honestly, if people want to just follow your writing, what you're doing as a founder or a PM, where can they find you?

Adam Thomas  [45:26]  
You can catch me ranting on Twitter, mostly. Sometimes they'll say something. People say my is mildly annoying. But you can catch me at the honorable 80. On Twitter, and also my website, which is the Adam thomas.com. Yeah, you can find me there. That'll be

an archive

of a lot of the things that I do. And where I speak, and all that kind of stuff. And also, if you're curious, hit me on Twitter, I have office hours, we are booked up for the rest of the definitely booked up progressive August, but come by for September, where I can I can get we can we can sit down for 30 minutes, and you can get super focused on on what you're trying to solve was talking about?

Kimmiko James  [46:22]  
Yeah, like you're here. First. We just talked about networking and learning how to create a community. So let this be a good opportunity to do that, especially if you're interested in pm. So thanks for your time, Adam, thanks for sharing a lot of experience, just like so much experience and advice that I'm sure a lot of people will love. I personally loved it and gonna apply most of it. And yeah, I just love hearing about it from your startup experience as student to you being a lead pm throughout your entire career and probably even after it so well. For more of it. So thank you.

Adam Thomas  [47:03]  
Very, very, very welcome. And this was really fun. Thank you for inviting.

Kimmiko James  [47:09]  
Yeah, definitely. I hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you want to keep up with Adam in his work, be sure to check out his website at the Adam Thomas calm. And as promised, some of the resources that Adam shared with me include Matt Levine comm slash writing, and black product managers.com. If you'd like to learn more about product management and get involved, join me in the next episode of the podcast in which I talk to Tiana and joco. We talk about how law and entrepreneurship can be combined. And her experience being a founder in Africa and what influenced her to come to the United States, get her MBA and build out her businesses. Thank you again for listening to the black enterprise network podcast and it would be greatly appreciated if you could leave a review on Apple podcasts or any other platform that has reviews.

Adam Thomas

Adam is a wartime product leader with 10 years of product experience and helps companies make more efficient software product teams. He also has experience as a startup founder, and loves to write on anything product and leadership specific to help others in the space.