Shaili Guru on Hybrid ML/AI product management, breaking into a top brand, and thriving in corporate environments
Product State Q&A
Shaili Guru is a Principal Product Manager AI/ML at T-Mobile, and an Instructor at Product School. She was formerly Lead PM at Nike, focused on Machine Learning and Innovation. She also held positions at Disney, AT&T, Samsung, and Tech Mahindra.
EC: What's unique about focusing on ML / AI products?
SG: Focusing on machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) products is unique because they often involve complex technical systems requiring a deep understanding of technical and business aspects.
I like to call the AI/ML PM a ‘Hybrid Product Manager’ - because the role requires strong technical skills and collaboration with data scientists and engineers. Successful ML PMs also need a deep understanding of users, market, and business goals and effective communication with cross-functional teams.
The first unique aspect of ML / AI products is the level of technical complexity involved. These products often require a deep understanding of algorithms, data structures, and programming languages, among other technical skills. Therefore, it would be great if the PM had a technical background to communicate effectively with the engineering team, understand technical challenges, and make informed decisions about the product roadmap.
The second unique aspect of ML / AI products is the potential impact on society. These products can significantly impact people's lives, and the PM must be aware of the ethical and social implications of the product. For example, an ML / AI product used in healthcare must adhere to strict regulations and data privacy laws. In contrast, an ML / AI product used in finance must be transparent and explainable to customers.
Finally, ML / AI products are often innovative — and require high creativity and innovation. Therefore, the PM must be able to identify market opportunities, design user experiences, and decide which features to prioritize to create a compelling and successful product.
To summarize, being an ML/AI product manager demands a rare blend of technical and business expertise. Such a PM should ideally be a ‘Hybrid’ PM with a grasp of the potential societal effects of AI/ML. Effective communication with both technical and business teams, sensitivity towards ethical and social consequences, and a disposition towards creativity and innovation are also crucial traits for such a PM.
EC: Tips to break into a PM job at a world-renowned brand?
SG: Breaking into a product management (PM) job at a world-renowned brand can be challenging, but there are several steps you can take to increase your chances of success.
First, gain relevant experience and skills. PM roles typically require technical and business skills, such as experience with product development, data analysis, and project management. Consider pursuing internships, entry-level positions, or personal projects that can help you build these skills and gain relevant experience.
Second, network and build relationships within the industry. Attend conferences and events, join professional organizations, and connect with other PMs on social media platforms like LinkedIn. Building relationships can help you identify job opportunities and get referrals from people you know and trust. For example, 55% of my job changes came due to whom I knew and our work together.
Third, research the company and prepare for the interview process. Learn as much as possible about the company's products, culture, and values, and tailor your application materials and interview responses accordingly. Practice behavioral and case interview questions, and be prepared to discuss your relevant experience and achievements.
Finally, be persistent and adaptable. It may take time, and you may need to take on other roles or projects in the meantime. However, stay committed to your goal, and be open to feedback and learning opportunities along the way.
In summary, breaking into a PM job at a world-renowned brand requires relevant experience and skills, networking and relationship-building, research and preparation, and persistence and adaptability.
EC: What’s key to thrive in a corporate environment?
SG: Thriving in a corporate environment requires a combination of technical and soft skills, along with a strong understanding of the company's culture and values.
First, it's essential to understand the technical aspects of your role and stay up-to-date on industry trends and best practices. This may require ongoing training or professional development and involve collaborating with technical experts within the company or industry.
Second, strong communication and collaboration skills are essential for working effectively with teams and stakeholders. This includes:
Clearly communicating ideas and requirements.
Actively listening to feedback and suggestions.
Building positive relationships with colleagues and partners.
Effective communication and collaboration skills can help you navigate complex corporate structures and build a support network.
Third, it's essential to be adaptable and open to change. Corporate environments can be dynamic and require flexibility, and the ability to pivot and adjust to new challenges and opportunities is crucial for success. This may involve being willing to take on new projects or roles, learning new skills, or embracing new technologies or processes.
Fourth, taking initiative and demonstrating leadership qualities can help you stand out and advance in your career. This includes proactively identifying problems or opportunities, proposing solutions, and owning projects and responsibilities. Finally, developing leadership skills can help you inspire and motivate others and can lead to increased responsibility and career advancement.
Lastly, awareness of the company's culture and values is crucial for thriving in a corporate environment. Understanding the company's mission, vision, and values can help you align your goals and behavior and can provide insight into the company's decision-making processes. Additionally, awareness of the company's culture can help you navigate corporate politics and build positive relationships with colleagues and stakeholders.
In summary, thriving in a corporate environment requires a combination of technical and soft skills, including effective communication and collaboration, adaptability and openness to change, leadership qualities, and awareness of the company's culture and values. By developing these skills and behaviors, you can build a successful career in a corporate environment.
Here are a few additional tips for thriving in a corporate environment:
Build a support network: It's essential to have a support system in place, whether that's through colleagues, mentors, or professional networks. These individuals can provide guidance, feedback, and support as you navigate your career.
Manage your time effectively: Corporate environments can be fast-paced and demanding, and it's important to manage your time effectively to balance competing priorities. This may involve setting goals and priorities, delegating tasks, and managing your workload to maximize productivity and efficiency.
Embrace feedback: Receiving feedback can be challenging, but it's needed for professional growth and development. Embracing positive and constructive feedback can help you identify areas for improvement and make meaningful changes to your work and behavior.
Seek out opportunities for learning and development: Corporate environments often offer a variety of options for learning and development, whether that's through training programs, conferences, or on-the-job experiences. These opportunities can help you build new skills and knowledge and position you for career advancement.
Maintain a positive attitude: Finally, maintaining a positive attitude can help you stay motivated and engaged, even when faced with challenges or setbacks. A positive attitude can also help you build positive relationships with colleagues and stakeholders and position you as a valuable and respected team member.
“Being an ML/AI product manager demands a rare blend of technical and business expertise.”
- Shaili Guru
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