This is part of our bi-weekly series profiling some of our community members at Product Makers. If you’re interested in reading others, check out our previous Featured Makers.
This week we’re featuring
📣 Starting in Product Management
How'd you get started making products that matter?
I started at a tiny EdTech startup, where our mission was to divest from prestigious universities and match students to schools where they could graduate debt-free. I combed through student survey responses to learn who our users were, and what they prioritized in their education. I prototyped our UX in accordance with this user input. I’m now building on this experience at DataRobot, where I work on the Product Planning team, managing DataRobot’s Productboard workspace and using the feedback we collect in Productboard for deep qualitative research on our users and buyers.
What's one piece of advice you wish you'd had when you started working in product?
I’m at the very beginning of my career, so I should be asking all of you for advice! I can never seem to reel in my widely varying interests, so I love learning from people who’ve made big pivots and walked multiple career paths.
Something I’ve found useful is not to shy away from the fact that I have less expertise than others in the room (I work at an automated machine learning company, while my background is deep in the humanities). I think it makes me a good litmus test for usability—if I can’t figure my way around the product, it’s likely not very easy even for the experts to use. If a product is built with beginners in mind, it’s better for everyone.
📌 Product management today
What do you like the most about your work?
Because I work on a team focused on customer and user research, I love that my job involves finding data-driven ways to improve the things that bother me about a product. I enjoy the challenge of digging into frustrations and figuring out their root causes. I love getting to advocate for the user, leveraging their own accounts of their experience as evidence to support potentially powerful product changes.
What do you like the least about your work?
Sometimes my least favorite part is working from home. I entered the workforce at the same time Covid entered our lives, and aside from the service jobs I worked in college, I’ve never had the experience of camaraderie in an in-person workplace. Am I romanticizing office life? I’m not sure I really want to trade my sweatpants for a commute.
What has you excited about the year ahead and your product?
I’m really excited about our Product team’s renewed commitment this year to simplifying our UX, with a focus on creating a more intuitive and navigable flow for users. It has already been so gratifying to see how the design team is thinking about linking the numerous powerful capabilities of the platform into a repeatable workflow.
Tell us about something you shipped/launched recently…
My team recently contributed our research efforts to uncovering leaks in our self-service onboarding funnel, and points of friction for new users. We were able to match up feedback stored in Productboard with places in the funnel where we saw the most users dropping off. The notes added color and context to those metrics, and guided us towards potential solutions. This work was translated into a smooth new sign-up experience for DataRobot’s free trial. I'm looking forward to seeing how our numbers change as a result.
How does Productboard help you in your role?
I often use Productboard as a qualitative database. We’ve got tens of thousands of notes stored that capture years of data about customer and user experiences. To me, it feels like a treasure trove. No matter what the research question is, I can usually find compelling narratives straight from the mouths of our customers that help answer it.
👋 A bit about Julia outside of product management
I do my best thinking when…
At a coffee shop. I usually have to get outside of the house to settle into deep thinking, and I love being surrounded by the energy of other people working and talking. To really focus, I usually add some good instrumental music, like Yasmin Williams’ guitar albums.
👀 I like these eyes a lot, they’re a little bit shady and work for adding emphasis to a point. To me, they say, “Ooh, can’t argue with that.” I’m not sure if I’m the only one who reads them that way, though.
What product would you absolutely love to work on?
I would love to work on a game like Stardew Valley. I think it brings a lot of people joy. The dead-simple interface and beautiful art made it super approachable for me. A recent passion project has actually been to work on a Stardew Valley-inspired game with my dad. I’ve really enjoyed learning how to create pixel art and working on my coding skills, plus it’s a great way for us to connect from afar. I’d love to create a classic puzzle game like Myst, Riven, or Monkey Island—the kind that forces you to take physical notes and work with friends to solve it—but use themes that would attract young audiences today.
What's a product you'd love to fix and make better?
Software that teachers use for grading and other daily tasks. It can be so clunky, which doesn’t fly when public school teachers often receive little to no training about how to use them. The last thing that public servants should have to worry about is making the most of dense and unnavigable technology. It’s great to hear examples of younger, digitally native teachers helping out their more tenured colleagues, but I’d love to create software with the reality of resource-strapped school systems that can’t provide training in mind.
Who's a person that you most admire and why?
Totally unrelated to work, I really admire the artist Brandi Carlile, for her musicianship and for demonstrating what a queer family can look like. She is someone I look up to.
I also deeply admire the students that work within the Underground Scholars Initiative, a coalition of formerly incarcerated students at my alma mater, UC Berkeley. I volunteered with them during my time there, and their utter resiliency and dedication to lifting others up with care still inspire me.
Outside of work you'll find me…
In the yoga studio, or out for a long walk around my neighborhood when I can’t get out of town for a true hike. Otherwise, I’m hanging out with my cat and my housemates, watching movies and cooking for each other. I moved to Boston recently from the California Bay Area and I’m obsessed with the seasons here, but I miss the scenery from back home, in places like Point Reyes.
🌟 Insights on the Product Makers Community
How has the Product Makers community helped you thus far?
The Product Makers community has been a great way to connect with other Makers in the Boston area. Thanks, Scott, for setting up a group for us! I’ve been able to chat with others in my area, connecting personally and finding out about how their organizations use Productboard. I’ve also really enjoyed participating in beta programs via the Product Makers community. Hosting the program in a community forum is great because I get to read feedback from others, learning what challenges they’re facing and how they’re working——getting various perspectives on how to create efficiencies in Productboard is so helpful to me.
What do you get the most value from in the community?
I probably have gotten the most value from asking my questions and hearing about the various ways people are using Productboard across different organizations. I need to remember to do this more often! Sometimes I’m banging my head against the wall trying to improve our processes on my own, but the community is full of great ideas.
Is there anything you would like to see happen next in the community?
Hmm, maybe big group events? I’d love to hop on a regular call with lots of people from the community to discuss a topic. (Editor note: come check out our monthly Product Makers roundtables) I’m curious about the range of different people in various roles using Productboard, and how they leverage it at their organizations. I’d also love to learn about various Product-related career paths!
👉 Interested in being a Featured Maker? Check out all the details and apply and you could be selected as one of our upcoming featured makers.