In this Netlify team interview series, we’ll be giving you a sneak peek of a day in the life of some of our teammates. Next up: meet Joel, a Group Product Manager at Netlify.
What was the path that you took to join Netlify?
I’m originally from Venezuela and in 2006, I came to the United States to pursue my Master’s degree. From there I had this idea that I was going to be a Software Engineer. While I was working as an engineer I found that I was always more interested in how and why decisions were made about a product. A very good friend of mine who was a Product Manager at Yahoo at the time got me thinking about his role. It was interesting because you don’t really go to school to get a Product Management degree though nowadays, there are more programs and courses to help you get started.
I started digging into what this role meant. I learned a lot of really valuable lessons while working at a startup at the early stage of my career, not just around development but really around how you run a business. I got all of the entrepreneurial learnings you don’t get from attending a class, which was super valuable.
Fast forward a bit, and I started migrating towards wanting to be a Product Manager. Towards the end of my time at Microsoft, I started to make the shift into being a Product Manager, so I spent the last six months to a year there shadowing PMs and asking lots of questions. I worked on localization and focused less on the code and more on making sense of the whole project and the ‘whys’ behind everything. After that, I made the jump into a Product Manager role for Growth at Dropbox for a little while but ended up getting the opportunity to live in Japan, so I left Dropbox and started freelancing by starting my own consulting company.
While in Japan, my previous coworker reached out to me about an opportunity at a fintech company so I joined as the first product person there. After about a year and a half, that company went through an acquisition, and from there, I spent another couple of years as Director of Product Management. After I had been there for several years, my good friend who had introduced me to Product Management, reached out to tell me about this amazing company called Netlify. I started seeing a trend of really smart people that I follow joining the team and continued to see Netlify coming up more and more in conversations. I realized there must be something special there so I gave it a more serious look and really started digging into what Netlify stood for and what kind of people had decided to join. I soon found that we were aligned on the same vision and values so it was a no-brainer move. I decided to pursue it and I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity.
What does a day-to-day look like for you?
My role has changed quite a bit since I joined, which is part of Product Management in general. Something that you need to be comfortable with is constant change, a good amount of uncertainty, and ambiguity. I think the ability to adapt is key in Product Management and it’s never the same day-to-day.
I currently manage a group of Product Managers, Designers, and UX Researchers, so I put a lot of emphasis on making sure we all understand the customer’s problems, the health of the business, and that the team has the tools to succeed. I check that we are in frequent syncs with other teams like support, marketing, sales, finance, and the developer experience team because all of these teams have so many different points of view that influence our work. We switch context a lot! So my day-to-day has a uniqueness to it that keeps me on my toes.
What is the team culture like?
Diversity is one of the things that I value a great deal. Diversity of thought is what makes a product team successful. In companies where teams share similar thoughts and perspectives, you can really see that reflected in their products. So in order to have a really, really good product that is inclusive and caters to all people and not just certain groups, you need to understand that those ideas come from the people you hire. Having different backgrounds is important in product teams. We have people from different ethnicities and nationalities, but also the skill sets that they bring is not just within engineering. You’d think that because we’re a technology company that you must be an engineer before you can be a successful PM, but the reality is that it is extremely beneficial for us to have perspectives from those that do not have a computer science degree. It’s really important to consider experiences outside of your own that translates into a better experience in the product.
You’d think that because we’re a technology company that you must be an engineer before you can be a successful PM, but the reality is that it is extremely beneficial for us to have perspectives from those that do not have a computer science degree.
What’s a project that you’re proud of?
This is a tough one. I’m a little biased towards the new Team Overview we recently launched. It provides more transparency and a home feeling to your Netlify team. I’m excited about this project because it provides a quick glance to new customers coming into Netlify to be able to immediately see everything that they need. The feedback has been really positive and all the credit goes to the team behind this project. There are really so many great enhancements like this that we can’t wait to bring to our customers to help them built great projects with Netlify.
I’m also excited about our latest release of Background Functions, where users have the ability to run functions without having to keep their users waiting for a response. If you go online and search how to set up a serverless function that runs asynchronously on any major cloud provider, you would be overwhelmed with the amount of configuration you would have to do. With Netlify, all you have to do to make your function run asynchronously is to add “-background” to your file name and we’ll take care of the rest. How easy is that! This emphasis on increasing developer productivity is what sets Netlify apart.
What has your experience been like working remotely?
I was remote when I was freelancing in Japan but this is definitely a different type of remote. I’m leading a team and it’s a different perspective when you’re managing a remote team. That’s something fairly new to me because I’ve managed people before but it’s very different from managing in person. With a distributed team, it surfaces the different nuances through remote work that you wouldn’t normally be considering if you’re in the office.
I love working remotely and love having that added flexibility. It’s been challenging during the pandemic but it has also proven to companies that could and were very reluctant to accept remote work that it is possible. Luckily for me, Netlify embraced it from the beginning, where even if you were based in San Francisco, you were encouraged to work from home so that you could build that empathy for other teammates around the world. It’s a great experience to have a company that fully embraces it.
With my typical remote routines, I always discuss with my team about their preferences and flexibility. One of the things I ask my team during their first few weeks is, what is the best time that you prefer to work? Are you a morning person or a night owl and when are you most productive? I like to talk to my team but also don’t want to interrupt when they’re most productive so keeping that in mind is key. I want to make sure they don’t overwork themselves just because they don’t have a commute. It’s easy to think that you’re saving that commute time and translating that into work hours. I tell my team that it’s absolutely fine that you find the times that best work for you and to have a break in between. In some cases, if I need to start working early by waking up at 6 a.m. to talk to someone in Europe at 7:30 a.m., I need to make sure I find time to take breaks during the day to go for walks or take a longer lunchtime because I’ll feel much better and more productive afterward.
I encourage my team to take time off and remind them when they haven’t. For me, I think it’s important to actually get ready in the morning where you’re not just rolling out of bed to take an early meeting and to not eat lunch at your desk. Especially if you’re living alone it’s a lot easier to eat at your desk, but it really makes such a difference to even find 20-30 minutes to clear your head. That’s one of those things I learned in engineering when I was struggling to solve a problem: it helped to step away from your desk for a bit and let your mind wander. It’s important to open space for creativity.
I encourage my team to take time off and remind them when they haven’t.
What’s a fun fact about you?
A fun fact is that I used to be part of a band with previous coworkers called HR Violation! At work, it was so fun to get all of the music enthusiasts to form a band and I loved it! I play the drums though I haven’t played in a while, it’s one of those things I always have fun memories of!
Do you have any advice for someone joining Netlify?
My advice is to listen, absorb information, and take the time to meet new people. I know it’s hard when you just joined a company and you’re really eager to contribute but it’s important to take your time or you’re going to miss out on things that you wish you would’ve done when you had the time to let the initial learning sink in a bit. I understand that as soon as you join a company you want to be able to say that you have a solution or think that you have the answers to problems that we’re facing and that time will come, but it’s important to remember that the company has already placed a bet on you and they’re not expecting to see a huge payoff on day one. So the fact that you’re already here is a big win! Take the time to really read and understand the product and go out of your way to meet people outside of the team that you’re working on knowing that there are tons of smart people at Netlify that you can learn from.