Mentorflare is a virtual series of discussions with leaders at Cloudflare and guests in the technology industry. The sole purpose for Mentorflare is to provide mentorship to students that we were unable to offer an internship this summer. Cloudflare cares deeply about students that have been challenged due to the current health and economic climate and want to empower these students by sharing our resources.
Thank you everyone for tuning in. It's my honor today to introduce you all to Jen Taylor, the head of product at Cloudflare.
And we're here for another live episode of Cloudflare TV.
This is our second installment of MentorFlare. And MentorFlare is a virtual series of discussions with leaders at Cloudflare and guests in the tech industry.
The purpose of MentorFlare is to provide mentorship to students interested in learning about Cloudflare, staying connected with industry leaders, and learning about future opportunities here at the company.
So in this episode, we'll be talking with Jen Taylor, head of product.
And we're going to start with introducing ourselves briefly and then moving on to Q&A.
And before this episode, we have already asked about 1,500 students to submit their questions for Jen.
And we picked some of our favorites to share with you all on air.
Thank you to all those who asked questions. So to start off with brief intros for myself, my name is David.
I am calling from Sacramento, California, which is a couple hours from the Bay.
And I'm a PM intern on the workers team at Cloudflare this summer.
It's been a really cool experience. And although it's not my full-time job, in the fall next year, I'll be going back to Stanford as a junior.
But I'm studying symbolic systems, which is like this weird mix of computer science and humanities at Stanford.
I'm currently planning to take a gap quarter for fall because of the online classes.
And overall, I think I've had a really fun experience at Stanford, meeting some crazy people and learning a lot about computer science.
And I'm getting really excited about the technologies that I found at Cloudflare.
Some random things about me right now. I've been reading the foundation series and also learning how to sketch.
All right. Jen, would you like to give a brief intro?
Totally. David, it's such a pleasure to talk with you. I'm Jen Taylor.
I'm the chief product officer at Cloudflare. I've been at Cloudflare now for about three years, having worked at other tech companies in product management, places like Adobe, Facebook, Salesforce.
I am a firm believer in the power of mentorship in building and growing your career.
It's how I got started in product management.
I think it's critical. So when David asked me if I would be willing to chat with him, I jumped at the opportunity.
I'm very excited about the MentorFlare series.
I'm very excited about our internship program. And I'm just excited to be talking with you all about the questions you have around product management and building your career and growing your career.
So without further ado, let's get into it.
Yes. So let's see. Our first question for the day.
As an electrical engineering student with limited experience on the software side of things, how can I transition into a PM role?
It is frequently discussed that suite candidates are more easily able to transition into PM.
It's interesting. You know, stepping back, I don't think there's necessarily any one academic background that makes somebody universally well-suited for product management.
In fact, I think it takes many different types of people to be fantastic product managers at many different types of companies.
You know, for me, when I step back and I think about it, the things that really are kind of some of the core foundational pieces or skills for product managers are really, first and foremost, the ability to listen.
A big part of what you do as a product manager is you spend time with customers, with innovative folks in the industry, researching, listening, and learning, and trying to synthesize what are the problems that we're trying to solve, and then finding ways to bring them back into the organization and bring them alive.
I think the second is really thinking about how do you facilitate collaboration.
Product management is the art of shipping through influence, right?
You don't actually, you're responsible for all these things, but you don't actually, you don't have the engineering resources in your control or the marketing or the sales resources, and so what you really have to do is really collaborate and work with a diverse group of people.
You know, and then finally, I think the heart and soul of great product management is empathy for the customer and the ability to really put yourself in the shoes of another individual, kind of walk a mile in what they're doing, and really put their needs in the forefront of what you do, and so I think there are many skills that people develop in studying electrical engineering, religious studies, computer science, math, you know, English, you know, Japanese, whatever it may be.
I think a lot of it is just, you know, from an academic perspective, really digging in and giving yourself the opportunity to explore the curiosity that you have naturally.
I think that's another characteristic of great product managers is kind of an inherent curiosity, and then finding an organization where your interests and your style of working match with the way the organization works, right?
There's some organizations that I've worked at, like Cloudflare, very engineering-driven culture, and the product managers at Cloudflare tend to have fairly technical backgrounds, fairly, or a high technical aptitude.
I've worked in other organizations that are very sales -driven, and you'll find product managers there coming from some different organizations and different backgrounds, and so it really, it kind of takes a village of different types of people to be product managers, but I would encourage you to explore your curiosity and really dig into some of those core skills.
Yeah, that totally makes sense, and I remember asking this, like, a very similar question earlier, taking a lot of this advice into practice from my own internship experience so far.
So, a similar question going related to this is, from someone with a non-technical background, such as public policy, how do you get into the competitive field of product management?
Like, do you have any recommendations on how to put yourselves out there compared to other candidates?
Or, like, I think it's kind of getting at, like, how do you break in?
Like, you get your foot in the It, you know, it's really interesting with product management because there's no, as I was just sort of highlighting, there's no one degree, there's no one background that makes you uniquely well-suited to be a product manager, and there's no sort of, like, degree in product management or product management training programs.
It tends to be a lot more organic, and so I think a big part of what helps people break into product management is really putting yourself out there and reaching out to people and networking.
You know, I actually got into product management, I'd been interested in doing it, but I couldn't quite find the right way in, and actually, the way I ended up happening for me is, I was at a dinner party at a friend's house, and I started chatting with a woman next to me who ran a product management team, and we started chatting, and I said, oh, I've always wanted to do product management, and she's like, well, I have this internship, I can't pay you much, but would you be interested?
I'm like, heck yeah, like, and just sort of, like, using those opportunities and those relationships to kind of break in, just to get your, get your foot in the door, to start kind of, the hardest part is kind of getting started, but once you're started, it sort of builds on top of it.
I think the other thing for, for getting started in product management is, you know, most people heading into product management at the beginning are coming from an academic environment, are coming from being students.
I think sometimes students don't, don't give themselves enough credit for kind of the, the superpower of being a student.
You know, if somebody emails me and says, I'm a student, I'm interested, and blah, blah, blah, like, I'll make time on my calendar, so use, use that kind of, that student calling card, that student superpower calling card to just reach out to people and ask questions, you know, attend conferences, grab people in the hallway, just, again, just start building those relationships in the network, and that's actually what's going to help you kind of get in the door.
Yeah, definitely makes sense.
Do you have any advice for, like, how to reach out, like, any good practices, like, do's or don'ts?
Do's and don'ts, like, do, like, again, we're not really all, we're not really going to conferences now, right, so you can't really grab somebody in the hallway, so it's a little more, more difficult, but, like, you know, feel free to, like, drop somebody an email or get an introduction from a friend to a friend to somebody who's interested in talking.
If you read an article that you think is interesting, like, email the author, like, ask your professors if they know people, like, you know, talk to people who have graduated ahead of you that might be doing product management and reach out to them.
Use it as an opportunity just to sort of broaden your net, identify people, and just reach out.
A lot of it will feel kind of cold calling-ish, but you'd be surprised. To the extent that you can get introductions to people, that's super helpful, but yeah.
David, how did you get into product management?
Oh, I mean, this is my first internship related to product management, like, my first internship in industry.
My last summer, my freshman summer, I was doing a research position, but for this, this role, I got into it by seeing the Cloudflare booth at a recruiting fair on campus.
It was, like, kind of cool. I saw Dina, she was wearing the, like, the cape and, like, stood out among all the other booths there, like, pretty much realized I had, like, an interest in, like, figuring out, talking to people, helping design these solutions to problems that people were facing, and then I didn't really, really understand what it was until, like, I talked to the recruiters there and understood how it worked at Cloudflare.
So, I ended up, like, applying for the position, but then I did not actually get it the first time, which is interesting.
I only really got it because Matthew announced that they were doubling the internship program, and then I was able to get in because of additional PM spots.
So, it is very competitive, but also, there's lots of opportunity that, like, it's kind of, like, serendipity, like, you kind of, like, explore, and then random things come up, and then you'll get one way or another a chance to break in and try things out.
But, yeah, yeah, from your story, it's sort of, like, you created kind of lots of opportunities, you reached out to people, you kind of got yourself out there and into the mix, you learned about it, and it is, there's a little bit of, as you said, I think serendipity is a great word for it.
Yeah, and then, I think also reaching out to alumni also really helped me learn more, and it's, like, a great way, because all the students are, like, recently graduated and, like, very open to talking or doing a quick phone call.
Well, and they also all have the experience of being new to product management, so you can also sort of be, like, what is this really about, like, you know, what is this going to be like, and then also learn from them how they did it, and again, it's this sort of, this knowledge base that just sort of builds over time.
Yeah, exactly. So, next question is kind of interesting. It says, what are the three key hard skills that one needs to develop as an early career product manager?
So, I talked, I mean, I touched on this a little bit already, you know, first is really listening, listening and communicating, that the second for me is really kind of empathy, collaboration.
It's hard to foster empathy, so maybe collaboration is a better hard skill to work on, and then the third is I actually think really focusing on communication, and actually what I've noticed really differentiates product managers is, honestly, writing.
You know, a lot of what you need to be able to do is disseminate information across the organization, whether it's writing a requirement stock that gets shared with the design team and the engineering team, or drafting a launch plan in partnership with marketing, or writing the blog post to launch your product.
There's a certain amount of being able to clearly articulate the problem you're trying to solve and how you solve it, and then be able to communicate and share that in order for people to really pick it up and run with it.
So, you know, I think a lot of people are sort of like, well, you really should work on your coding skills, and I'm sure there's some places that that is very meaningful, but in my mind, one of the things that I've really seen differentiate product managers is really, ultimately, honestly, communication, and specifically the ability to written communication is pretty powerful.
Yeah, and for these skills, can they be learned, or can this be learned in school?
Like, how should people pick these up, or are these just simply innate skills that you're born with?
Well, I mean, that's kind of why I like caught myself on, like, empathy.
I can't really be like, so here's a book on empathy, and like, you should read it.
It's going to make you more empathetic, and like, you know, it's like, there are some things that are sort of innate within people who I, like, that I think, that I think are drawn to product management, right?
I think it's, it's empathy for customers.
I think it's kind of inherent curiosity. I think those are sort of, I'm going to assume that those are innate.
I, science and, and so, and other people may tell me otherwise, but I think in terms of, like, hard skills that you can, you can really focus on, really thinking about communication, collaboration, you know, listening and writing, and kind of clearly getting yourself across, I think, are, are skills that one can legitimately take a class in, do a workshop in, practice and get better on, you know, get feedback on, and really grow in.
That's why I kind of focus on, on those skills. Yeah. What skills, what skills do you feel like you're really leaning into this summer?
Oh, I think working with teams, I think going into the product management internship, I thought there would be more product work, but there's also the management work of the product manager role.
That's a lot of work, and it's also, like, a little bit more complex, like, nuanced, and it's like, it's kind of hard to explain.
It's like, you're trying to balance the, like, different trade-offs you can make, and you're always trying to get people on the same page, understanding where people are coming from, like, not the users, but, like, your own team, like, people you're working with on a day-to-day basis, and I think, for me, I had, like, kind of started building up these skills back in high school when I was organizing a robotics club, and part of this competition was being able to build, design, build, and test a robot in six weeks, and for me, as a high school student, it was a very, very hard process to, like, kind of, like, play as a PM, because you're trying to trade off all these features and, like, get things shipped on time, and for me, you know, as a high school student, ended up being kind of, like, a train wreck, like, it was, like, things are falling apart, like, we're running behind schedule, like, some features couldn't get shipped, so it's, like, I don't know.
I feel like there's always, like, really, you just have to, like, kind of, like, mess up or, like, learn from your mistakes and try and, like, improve on it gradually over time, so, like, definitely these skills are, take time to build, I think.
Do you have any stories to share about, like, building up these skills, like, how it's changed over the years for you?
Well, I think, you know, it's really interesting.
You, you sort of lasered in on the management piece, and I think that sometimes when people are, like, I want to get into product management, they're really thinking about the product and the technology piece, but I do think that, really, what separates good product managers and fantastic product managers really is this, this management piece and this human component, both in terms of facilitating the collaboration to execute on the team, but more importantly, I talk about it, it's ruthlessly prioritized, right?
You always have more you want to do than you have time and resources, and you never have perfect information with which to make those decisions and sort of, like, how do you, like, a big part, I think, of the first, like, of an internship or, or even a robotics product or, you know, your first years in product management are really practicing that prioritization exercise and getting comfortable with making those decisions.
I think that that's pretty powerful, and I also think, to your point of, like, not all of it goes swimmingly, right?
Not all of it is just, like, a home run right out of the park, and, you know, I definitely have my fair share of war stories of, you know, projects and products I worked on where I was, like, ah, that was not totally awesome, like, I wish we'd done that differently, or here's what we learned, and, you know, a big part of what I see in the, in the, in the, in the culture that we work in now is really a desire to do retrospectives and use the experiences we have as learning experiences, both for us individually and for us as a group, and so, and use that as kind of the school, like, I think of that in some ways almost as the school of product management, like, there are certain things you can read in a manual, but it's, it's you actually live it, and you actually experiment with, with doing it that you sort of find the boundaries of those things.
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I'll do our next question.
How do you assemble all stakeholders with your product vision? So, I think this is kind of hinting at, like, how do you align a team around the vision, but also how do you, like, incorporate the customers into it and build your vision off of the customers?
Yeah, I'm really glad you mentioned building it off the customers, because I think that, you know, again, driving alignment or kind of building alignment across an organization at the heart and soul of it really comes back to, you know, the customer, and bringing that customer alive for that group of people, helping them be able to clearly articulate, whether it's, you know, a one-line user story, or it's a narrative, like, who that person is, and what those problems are that we're trying to solve for them, and then really looking at it in different ways, like, you know, in some ways, it's, you know, what I find is, again, you're working with a really diverse group of people to get this thing out the door, people who have all sorts of different approaches and orientations to the way they think and work, like, we're all different as humans, but then even within function, the way we approach, or our value, or our relationship with the problem is different, and so the way I talk about it with a design person might be slightly different than the way I talk about it with an engineer, or if I'm trying to kind of help understand and articulate the value proposition for sales, I might talk about it even slightly differently, but again, the core foundation is grounding in that customer and bringing that person alive in the organization.
I always say that if you can take, if you can put a, if you can put an interesting, if you can put an engineer in a room with a customer who has an interesting problem, engineers can't help but stop themselves from innovating to solve that, and, you know, I think that's, that for me is like the magic and the joy, and then you ship it, and you're like, did it work?
Did it, did it make you happier? Did it solve the problem?
And it solves some problems, but not enough, and then you iterate on it, and that's job security.
Yeah, that didn't make sense. Okay, so how does that look at Cloudflare?
Like, has being able to align the team and the stakeholders on a product vision changed over the years?
Like, as a team, sizes grew or became smaller?
I think it's, you know, so when I was interviewing at Cloudflare, one of the things that actually kind of encouraged me, or one of the reasons why I took the job was I really, I really felt a strong kinship with the head of engineering, and because that person was going to be really my closest collaborator, and I had to feel like this was a person who I could build trust, this is a person that I could have kind of healthy conflict with, this is a problem, this is somebody who I felt like I could really sort of innovate, you know, bounce ideas off of.
You know, one of the things that I've also been very grateful for is one of the things that they bring to the table is they have a fantastic orientation towards helping us find ways to kind of provide visibility and, and into the organization as we scale, and to take that from a very meta thing, you know, honestly, the organization was a third the size when I joined three years ago, it was a third the size that it is now, and so if you just think about the number of people we've added, the number of products we've added, the velocity we've added, you know, the fact that our velocity has increased exponentially on top of that is really a testament to the processes that he's helped us put in place, and it really is that visibility into the work that we're doing being able to identify quickly when things are working, when they're not working, having the system provide for us those signals has been really powerful.
I think the other thing is, you know, the organization has really grown up around us.
You know, when I started again, we were a third the size, you know, the product management team was very small, you know, I was very lucky when I walked in the door that we had some very capable product leaders in the organization, and really everybody has kind of grown with the organization, and so my job has changed pretty dramatically in the three years from being sort of very intimately involved with the ins and the outs of a lot of the products to really getting behind building and growing the product leadership team that is able to do that with greater fidelity than myself, so the game changes, and I kind of like that, you know, it's kind of a new challenge every day.
Yeah, that's super exciting, and it'll be even more exciting to see when Cloudflare continues to grow and add more people.
So, next question is from a IT college student that's about to graduate in December.
This person is looking for entry-level cybersecurity roles, but hasn't had any luck, so I think this goes back to, like, any advice for specific roles I should be searching to break into the cybersecurity industry.
I think this goes back to, like, what we were talking about earlier, like, what kind of advice would we give right now to students that are trying to look for jobs in the current job market or looking for internships for fall and winter?
Yeah, I mean, it's tough, and, you know, I can appreciate that.
I started my career in product management on the very tail end of the dot-com bubble, and there weren't a lot of tech companies that were growing.
There weren't a lot of tech companies that were hiring, and, you know, I had a hard time getting people to return my phone calls, return my emails.
You know, I think, for me, the thing that really helped was just getting out and meeting people, and, like, you know, I often think that the process of reaching out and interviewing for a job is the beginning of building that network, and, you know, I definitely have people in my network now or people who I met with through an interview process.
We didn't end up working together, but we built a rapport and a relationship, and that is actually fostered and grown as the industry's grown, but I think, you know, very specifically, keep your chin up, keep reaching out to people, look for opportunities to volunteer, and volunteering could be interning.
It could be serving as a research assistant. It could be, you know, offering to be a set of helpful hands.
I mean, while many organizations may not be hiring right now, there's probably still a ton of work to be done, and, you know, for all of the bright folks watching now, I know many organizations would welcome, if you're able to and have time and resources to do it, you know, volunteering some of your time to help an organization.
Get involved with a nonprofit.
Get involved with, you know, a cybersecurity nonprofit or an industry group, and use that as a way, again, to both build skills, but most importantly, to build that network and build that community and that awareness.
Yeah, that's awesome advice.
I think I've seen a lot of success with people, my friends and peers, using similar strategies, and I think all the best luck to everyone looking, and I think you guys will all make it successfully very soon.
This is, I go back, this is another question going back to what we were talking about earlier.
What are some skills that were instrumental for your successful career?
How did you upskill yourself as you switch companies within tech?
I think the first one is maybe getting towards, I don't know, is like mentorship.
That was really key. Yeah, I think it's, you know, I often talk about the fact that, like, I am where I am today because many people took it upon themselves, were willing to give me time to mentor and be an advocate for me in the organization, and the way that those relationships start were really some of the same things we were just talking about a minute ago in terms of reaching out and building a relationship and getting, you know, building a connection with someone and really, you know, asking for help and asking for assistance, you know, and asking for perspective.
You know, I have an opportunity to do this or this. How should I think through this?
Or I'm thinking through this hard problem. You know, I'm thinking this, but I'm not really sure about this.
And for me, you know, I definitely had, I had bosses who were mentors to me, but more often than not, these were people kind of outside of my immediate reporting chain.
They were people elsewhere in the organization or people elsewhere in the industry that I had built relationship with.
And that kind of gave me some independence to open up and ask questions and have those honest conversations that I needed to have.
Like I needed to be able to turn to somebody sometime and be like, I have no idea what I'm doing here, you know, help and kind of get that assistance.
I think the other thing is, you know, I think I was very lucky in that I was, you know, in environments where it was a safe environment to experiment and it was a safe environment to learn from mistakes and that we kind of as a community were a part of doing that.
And then I think the last, you know, it's kind of less immediate about kind of getting your first product management gig, but, you know, one of the things I've done and really enjoyed is actually building my career within organizations and kind of growing within an organization.
You know, in my first product management role, I started as an individual contributor and kind of through kind of growth within the organization, I was able to, you know, move myself into a position where I was actually managing, you know, teams and stuff like that.
And it was just sort of the, kind of the growth and opportunity within the organization.
Moving between roles has often been just a need and a desire to kind of double down on something I was curious about or something where I had, you know, an experience that I wanted to build on.
And for me with Cloudflare, I'd been responsible for a smaller business in a larger company.
And that made me realize that I actually, I wanted to go work at a smaller company.
And I wanted the experience of that, you know, as part of my next kind of growth step.
And it's been a phenomenal journey.
That's great to hear.
How do you think about your next step? How do you think about your, I mean, now that you're a PM intern, like, where do you want to go with this?
Yeah, that is, that is the exciting part about life, I think. And I don't know, probably being young and being in college is just like, there's just so many directions I could go.
I don't know, like, so many things can happen, especially with the uncertainty that's going on in the world.
Yeah, I think always just taking, I guess, one step.
Some of my friends, some people I know are already, like, looking for internships for next summer because, like, the recruiting season's already starting now, which is, like, crazy to think about.
Yeah, I think for me, it's just been really, like, it's just constantly re-evaluating, like, what do I think is important?
Like, what's important to me? And then trying to, like, prioritize my time and my energy around that.
I think it's super cool that you're going to be taking a gap semester.
Have you, like, do you have some thoughts as to what that might be about for you?
Have you thought about how you're going to use that time?
Yeah, so I honestly think there's just, like, a lot of topics that I just want to read more about and learn more about.
And then also, just, like, projects in general.
I think that's just, like, a great way to practice the PM skills. Yeah, totally.
And, like, figure out what people need and then interacting with different stakeholders.
I think it's, like, a lot more flexible to do and I don't have to be pressured by the school.
Well, and I think it's also, yeah, it's a hard balance, but it's also an opportunity to, kind of, try something different.
And I think that some of the most interesting opportunities and some of the greatest moments for, kind of, growth and figuring out what do you want to do and how you want to do it is, you know, putting yourself in situations where the context and the experience is different and how does it feel and what do you learn from that?
So, super cool. Yeah, that is really, yeah, hopefully, I think things will go well or whatever, regardless what happens.
Yeah. I'm also curious, related to this, like, upskilling and learning question, like, how do you like to learn?
Like, what does learning look like for you and what does it look like at Cloudflare?
Yeah, it's funny. I was talking to somebody the other day.
I was actually interviewing a candidate. I was like, so, I'm like, are you the person who, like, you know, when they unbox the new electronic, like, just starts pushing buttons and, like, plugging in and running with it or, like, do you read the manual?
I tend to be more the, sort of, push the buttons and run with it and, kind of, the experience and, like, the trial and error for me.
I think that's been a big part of the, again, I kind of talked about it earlier, the, sort of, the way within the community, you know, we have a really strong culture of really, you know, doing retrospectives on what we've done and learning and talking about as a group what's gone well and what hasn't gone well.
And I think a lot of my learning, and it's specifically, like, with product management, where, like, there is no manual.
There is no manual that says, as an individual contributor, you'll do this.
As a director, you now need to do this. It's the learning and the experience as you go and, sort of, being open to some of that.
You know, I think it's also, like, I have days where I'm like, ah, I have no idea what I'm doing.
I definitely have days where I'm like, I have no idea what I'm doing.
But it's okay. Sometimes you just, kind of, take the breath and you ask for help.
Yeah, that sounds like really good advice. On the notion of advice, what would be your biggest advice or tips for students?
Maybe talk about something like what you wish more students would do or what you wish students would do less of.
I wish students would reach out more.
Like, I love talking to students. Excuse me, I'm going to cough.
Reach out more.
Like, you have to remember that, like, all of the people who are doing what I'm doing now were students at one point.
We're all where we are now because other people took our phone calls, answered our questions, created those opportunities and those experiences.
And, like, it's scary. It's scary to reach out to people you don't know.
It's scary to, kind of, not hear back from, you know, half the people you reach out to.
But I wish more people would reach out to me because I also learn and grow a lot as a person and as a leader by having those conversations because it encourages me to reflect.
It also gives me an opportunity to get their perspective.
Yeah, that's really great to hear. Good to hear people are out there and are happy to receive their emails.
So, what kind of advice or, like, has anyone reached out to you in a way that, like, was especially memorable?
Because sometimes, I think, it can really feel cheesy or, like, awkward or, like, cold to reach out to someone.
Do you have any tips on making it less awkward? I mean, the easiest way to get somebody to take a call is to get a mutual acquaintance to make an introduction.
So, if you can find that mutual connection and, like, LinkedIn is, like, a phenomenal resource in this way of, like, being able to look at, like, you know, who do you guys know in common or who do you know who knows somebody.
Alumni organizations are also great. I've built some really great relationships through alumni organizations and events that I've done both, kind of, you know, in person and virtual where students follow up with me, sort of, after the fact.
And I think that it's just one of those, like, it's also, like, my advice is reach out with a specific ask.
Like, it's funny. I have a friend who's, like, a professional fundraiser and it's super simple.
They help me understand that, like, if you send a note out that says, you know, I'm raising money for this charity, send me a check.
People, like, don't feel a lot of, kind of, accountability and stuff, but when you reach out with a very specific ask of, like, I'm raising money for this charity, for this cause, and I'd like you to send me a check for 50 bucks, the success rate tends to be a lot higher.
And so, like, if you take that back to, like, reaching out and building your network, reach out with very specific asks.
Like, research the person. Like, look at blog posts they've written or look at, you know, experiences they've had and, like, try to reach out to them with a very specific ask or a specific question because then that person has a sense of, like, oh, I can actually help this person.
I can add value for this person.
And I think the more concrete you can make it, the better. Yeah, that's definitely very actionable insight.
I love it. Next question is from the same person, but I think this is a good one on a cover.
How does the product person interact with others in the company?
And I'm going to tag onto this question a little bit and be like, what kind of roles exist in, I don't know, like, in a team?
Because there's so many, there's so much jargon coming out.
There's, like, UX design, like, product at PM.
There's, like, SEs. It's like, I don't know, what is, like, how do the team members work together and how does product interact with others in the company?
It's funny because it is.
It's one of those things where you realize very quickly that you're sitting inside an organization and you're working with a lot of jargon and abbreviations and then you start talking to people who are like, what are you talking about?
So, as a product manager, you're typically paired with an engineering manager and that engineering manager is typically responsible for leading a team of individual engineers.
The engineering manager is typically responsible for helping kind of facilitate the kind of the vision, the technical vision for the team and kind of helping kind of manage the folks on the team against the priorities that the product manager and the engineering manager sort of share together.
Product design, otherwise sometimes known as a UX designer, partners very closely with product management to bring to life visually the opportunities that the product manager is identifying.
And so, there's a lot of collaboration and facilitation in terms of, okay, let's iterate on these ideas and let's find ways to make them very visual and real.
Sometimes you'll get lucky enough to also have a user research.
That's a user researcher who's tied to your product.
User research will typically partner with product design and engineering to take the ideas and bring them out into the real world and say, you know, before you start actually building or releasing them, asking people like, what do you think of this?
What do you think of this? And getting that real world feedback, which is invaluable.
As you get closer to being ready to ship your product, you start working with what we call the go-to-market team, which typically involves marketing and, depending on the way the company is structured, might also include a sales organization.
So, product managers typically work very closely with what they call product marketing managers, and that's basically the marketing counterpart to a product manager.
If I think about a product manager, it's all about what I call the inbound function, like taking all of the requirements in from the customers and understanding what, you know, the problems the customers are trying to solve.
Product marketers are taking the solutions and finding ways to communicate those back out to the rest of the world.
And so, they'll work on what they call like product naming, product positioning, all that kind of stuff.
And then, on the sales side, you typically end up with a salesperson or an account executive sometimes, as they call it, and then you'll end up with what they call a solutions engineer, which typically is a technical resource, depending on the product in the company, that partners with the salesperson in the selling process.
So, a salesperson will facilitate and build a relationship, and the solution engineer will help that person experience and try the product and work through technical implementation details.
So, typically, when you're getting ready to go to market, you partner with your product marketing person, you work on naming and positioning, and then your product marketing person and you help train the team on selling it.
So, training salespeople, training solutions engineers, and then also training our customer support organizations.
So, product managers are also responsible when they're launching a product to make sure that the people who are responsible for taking the questions in across the organization, across customer questions and inquiries, making sure that those folks have all of the training they need so that the support people can really be successful in helping customers sort out their problems.
Yeah. I mean, wow.
That was really helpful, just for me. I think it cleared up a lot of the thoughts.
I was like, I wanted a whiteboard. I was like, I want to draw your picture.
Yeah, I got to get the mirror board going next time. Totally. Who have you been spending most of your time with this summer?
I've been mostly working with Rita.
She's also another PM. And then I've also been working with another engineer who's on the developer advocacy team, but he's also kind of like an engineer.
As always, he does a lot of the engineering work for the project that I'm working on.
So it's kind of interesting to see all the teams that are here. I also was helping out a little bit with the, I think, part of the sales team.
It's like the go-to-market strategy team.
Yeah, definitely a lot of teams out there. A lot of cool work to be done.
I think it's very good. Do you have anything else to add about the teams?
I mean, what I often talk about, product management is about collaboration and the art of collaboration.
As you can see, it takes a village to get a product out the door.
And a big part of coming back to what you were saying earlier, I was just thinking about that, like the management aspect of it, the responsibility of the product manager to kind of be facilitating and moving forward all these different pieces around the product and really sort of pushing all of these things forward to get from kind of the idea of what we want to do into the hands of customers.
And the other thing is, is that kind of back to where do great product managers come from?
Many people move into product management from the engineering organization, from the product design organization, or from the solutions engineering organization.
Again, the alignment across the organization is really about the customer and solving the problem for the customer and all these sort of different skills that people have and build in different parts of the organization.
And then have an opportunity to come do some of that in product management.
So again, kind of coming back to like, I am having a hard time getting a toe in in product management, consider being a solutions engineer, consider being a support person, consider doing product design, things kind of adjacent to product management.
One, it's a great way to kind of get in the door.
Two, those roles are so valuable. And the knowledge that you build about the customer is so powerful.
And three, you may discover that you think you want to do product management, but you have a passion for these other things as well.
Yeah, absolutely. And then definitely also helps to, I don't know, if it's like a first internship, to get like a bit more concrete view, like what actually, what does it look like to do a day to day job in one of these positions, because you'll talk, you'll see, we'll talk to people there.
Like I've met so many like amazing talented people, like having amazing conversations like this right now, to actually learn more about like what it's like in the industry.
And yeah, it's like kind of like the ongoing conversations I have right now with my intern friends, like we're always like, oh, like, what is it like at Tableau or something like that?
Like, what is it like as a Facebook internship, kind of like trading, trading thoughts, you know, like learning from each other's experiences too.
One of the things I will encourage people to do as they're looking at and thinking about their intern experience is like, you know, I think everybody's like, oh, I just want an internship, like push, like put, like, what am I going to get a chance to do?
Like, what is the project we're going to be working on?
Like, what will I deliver by the end of the summer? Because I think one of the things that is, I think, important that we think about a lot when we create our intern program, and we think about how many interns we're going to bring on board, is making sure that we have very concrete things for people to work on.
Because ultimately, you know, in an ideal world, when I'm thinking about internships, I really want the product management intern to have the opportunity to kind of complete that full arc, right, to go from sort of the opportunity to spend time with customers and formulate the requirements to partnering with engineering and design, to, you know, partnering with marketing, and ideally having a chance to get it out the door, you know, writing the blog post or whatever it is.
And I think, just push on, push on that from an internship perspective.
And just make sure as you're looking at these roles, that you have a really good sense of sort of what is the opportunity and what is the actual work you'll get a chance to do that summer, or whenever it may be.
Definitely makes sense.
So now on to like the next, the next couple questions are really centered around, like, how do you know what to build?
So let me go through these questions, I think, pretty closely tied.
So when thinking about product development and business strategy, what tools do you use to determine if a new product feature, or is worth building, or if it should be shelved or canceled?
And then what, like, what kind of data and metrics shape the decision making process?
It's really interesting, because I think this varies a lot from organization to organization, there's, you know, different organizations have different orientations around the process for innovation, and the process for decision making, you know, some organizations I've worked at are very oriented towards, you know, really spending a lot of time with customers and using that as like the foundation of the things that they're going to build and how they're going to work.
There are other organizations where it's about the ideas kind of coming in, you know, out of the wild from the innovation kind of groups within the organization.
And then there are other people who are really thinking about it purely from a revenue and total addressable market perspective.
For me personally, I think it's, again, it's the kind of the hypothesis and like good ideas come from everywhere.
And again, that's the power of that huge group of people that I drew in the virtual whiteboard.
Like the good thing is, is like good ideas come from everywhere.
And so when we're putting our backlog together, we're talking to the support team, we're talking to the sales team, we're talking to the research team, we're looking at, you know, competitive landscape, we're kind of gathering all these different ideas of things.
And then really thinking about from a priority perspective, you know, what are the things that we can do that will most meaningfully have impact from the customers we're serving or we want to serve in the near term?
When you're building a backlog, it's typically, I think of it as like a portfolio of kind of three things.
One is what I call trust, making sure that you're continuing to improve the stability of the reliability and the quality of the thing that you're already delivering or planning to deliver.
Because if you don't have that, there's no point in building anything else.
Second bucket is you've got existing customers, they're looking to deepen their relationship with your product.
What are the things that they really need to be able to take their adoption, their usage to the next level?
And the third is really kind of innovation. What are the things that like customers aren't asking for, but intuitively we know from servicing this market or this need that we think that we can bring into their world that will transform them.
For me, it's sort of like balancing those different things, looking at what are we seeing in terms of product adoption, product usage, so understanding how people are using the product today, how that's translating to business impact.
And then finally, for me, it's just like making sure that when I hear that they're clusters of asks or they're clusters of ideas.
Because one of the things you want to be thinking about is like, how do I build things that will deliver value to multiple people, not just to one person, one customer, but will really be foundational for the product more broadly.
Yeah, that definitely makes sense.
I'm also curious, when I came into Cloudflare, and it feels like there's multiple teams that are working new products.
Do you have anything like, do you want to explain a little bit like how Cloudflare does like innovation, how it decides new products?
I think that's like a really exciting, Cloudflare does in a pretty unique way.
Yeah, no, it's again, one of the reasons I chose to join Cloudflare.
There are really, I'd say, kind of three parts of the organization that ship product to customers.
The first is the organization that I'm responsible for, which is kind of the lion's share of the majority of our existing products where people are, you know, kind of buying them at scale or building products to service our existing markets.
And it's very important to kind of use those as a way of sort of building and deepening those products, or providing innovation to those same customers in new ways, right?
The second group is our emerging technologies group.
And a big part of what they do is they sort of look over the horizon.
And they're looking at what are some of the innovative ideas or opportunities, what are some of the things that are sort of, you know, potentially, quote, unquote, crazy kind of harebrained ideas that we're actually kind of curious to see if we can get going.
This is a pool of resources that are not dedicated to a huge existing product.
These are resources that we can move around pretty quickly. They could very quickly get something from concept to kind of an existing thing that customers can put their hands on.
It really gives us a chance to kind of try it at scale.
And then we have our kind of our research and technology team. And they're kind of even further, like if emerging technologies is looking over the horizon, research and technology is looking even kind of further beyond that.
And they're looking at like participation and standards boards or experimentation with, you know, really deep technical concepts, and really thinking about and playing with them and thinking about how do we get them to scale.
And so the thing I like about the way that we structured the organization is it enables us to innovate across the board.
For different types of customers that enables us to continue to innovate.
And it's created flexibility in this in the product organization and in the engineering organization to enable to ensure that we always have that capacity.
Yeah, I think it's a great way to put it.
Yeah. So on to the next question. This one's kind of get at something similar.
It's like, when there's so many, so much uncertainty out in life, like, there's so many things that your customer could be spending his time on spending its energy on, like, what systems and work in life have you created to help yourself get feedback continuously, and learn and improve?
Like, how do you decide, like prioritize? But like, on a personal level, not for customer?
Yeah. I mean, I think in terms of getting feedback, it's about first thing you have to do, if you want feedback, is you have to invite it.
And you have to, you have to reach out to people and say, how's it going?
What do you think?
And, and, and really engage in those conversations. I think that it's. And I think then the other thing that we've done from a product kind of systems perspective, is we've tried to find ways as we've grown to do that at scale.
Like when I started, it was, you know, much easier, right?
You just go around the corner, and there's the entire support team.
And I can plunk myself down with like, you know, the eight support people.
And we had more than eight people at that point.
But, you know, you can plunk yourself down and have a really rich conversation.
As we've gotten bigger. And as we've become more distributed, we've had to find kind of more scalable ways and tools to kind of share that information, but still find a way to bring it to life.
And so leveraging some of that. On a personal level, you know, it's really interesting.
I think the way I prioritize and what I prioritize has shifted a lot over the course of my career.
I think when I was, I was younger, I, I had a very different life and a very different lifestyle.
And the way and the relationship I had with work was, was really different than I have now.
You know, part of it is the nature of the work I'm doing and, and sort of really having a phenomenal team.
And really, most of my work is really thinking about how do I, how do I, how do I mentor and manage the team?
How do I help them grow? How do I help them be successful versus kind of, you know, in the beginning where it was really kind of, how do I build my, my foundation?
And then also, you know, as, as I've grown in my career, as I have a family and I have kids, you know, for me, the, the balance of those things has become really important.
I think life is short, life is sweet, especially in these moments, like we're all living in a lot of this uncertainty and it kind of, kind of more now than ever, I've really spent time just sort of stepping back and thinking about like what matters to me and, and how do I create the balance in my life such that, that I can achieve that?
And what do I say yes to and what do I say no to? But trying to be very intentional about those decisions and also being patient with myself because my priorities and what I consider balance changes all the time.
You know, and, and balance is one of those things where it's like you have it and then you don't and it's kind of, you're constantly, you're constantly wrestling with it.
How about you? How do you, how do you prioritize? I don't, probably don't have the best system yet, but yeah, I think always like trying to see like, yeah, like what I find most important and then trying to spend my, my time there the most right now.
So I guess right now, I think family is probably the most important thing just because I'm at this weird point where it's like, I am like, I've been old enough to like be in college, right?
But like not old enough to like graduate and be living on my own yet.
So a lot of my friends and I right now are like kind of like stuck at home in a way, kind of like stuck in limbo and like being back in the like high school times, I hang with high school friends, like social distancing and stuff, but like being able to spend a lot of time at home.
And I think it's kind of like the last chance that I'll be able to do that before like, I don't know, becoming an adult.
Which I'm very skeptical of what an adult means, but like, I think it's probably good to stay, stay as a kid forever.
But yeah, it's like, I think I have very limited time right now with my family and I think that's just like why I'm prioritizing first.
So that's just like, I don't know, basic example, but I think it's like really, really gets the idea across and I hope to do better at prioritizing in the future too.
I just, I love the conversation writing. It's like very real, learning a lot from everyone.
So now on to the fun questions. How is Cloudflare going to compete?
What is the future look like for Cloudflare? So first question in this section, how are you able to create a niche for your products when you're competing with big established players in the industry, like Microsoft, Azure, and AWS?
Additionally, what is the unique selling point compared to them? Well, I think, you know, how do we compete?
I think, you know, I come back to sort of what is my contribution to all of this as a product manager.
And it's really, it's really listening to the customers and what are the problems they want to solve and less so about like, they want you to build a red dot, go build a red dot and more sort of having been able to have conversations with them and have an understanding and then have partnership with really brilliant technologists to really envision what the future of those things may be.
I mean, if you think about, you know, a big part of the way that people used to build applications, right, they would have, they would have boxes of servers and they would put boxes for firewall and boxes for load balancers and boxes for all these other things, kind of, you know, kind of surrounding the world in boxes.
And, you know, as you sort of look at the transformation that is happening in the way that people build and deploy applications, the way that end users experience and work with content on the Internet, content on their mobile device, and the distributed systems you're dealing with, you know, the move to the cloud and the kind of heterogeneous environment that our customers live in, they still have some of those boxes, those boxes aren't all going away, but they probably have some of their workloads on cloud, on public cloud.
And just as you go through that transformation, the strategy that people had before putting boxes in front of everything just starts to fall down.
And then sort of, you look at sort of like people in that moment, you think about what is the opportunity, how can we help people in this transformation?
How can we give them the power and the control that they need and the simplicity they desire?
You know, that's a big part of the genesis of Cloudflare.
And like, you know, our mission is really to focus on building, how do you help build a better Internet?
And what are the different pieces that we need to be able to do in that?
And so that's, I think, a big part of kind of how we think about and how we kind of approach the landscape.
Okay, so we have about like six minutes left, and I just realized we can get, we get questions from the audiences coming in on our chat.
So we have three more questions left.
We'll get to you, Kevin and Ellie. So three questions, five minutes, just a heads up.
Okay, here we go. Speed round, speed round. Yeah, what do you see as potential big bets and hopefully big wins in the web infrastructure space over the next three to five years?
Well, I mean, some of the stuff you're working on this summer, I think is some of the most exciting stuff I see going.
I mean, you know, if you step back, and I just gave you that whole soliloquy about boxes, moving to the cloud and complexity, and what got us here will get us there.
You know, if you look at you try to anticipate, like, what is that next transformation in the way that people are going to build applications?
I think people looking to the edge of the network and looking to really kind of highly performant, highly secure, very low latency, very high velocity environments, like the edge of the network and the opportunity to build and deploy applications there.
I think that's one of the most interesting kind of opportunities in front of us.
Yeah, for sure. For sure. Yeah, the workers platform is going slowly, but surely.
I think it's going to be a lot more exciting. Next question from Kevin.
What are some fun things that you, product executives or PMs, do to bring people together and buy into your team's culture?
Oh, this is good. This is a good question.
Maybe you can talk about like before COVID and also during COVID right now when everyone's working remotely.
I mean, for me, it's mostly like, how do you get people kind of out of their context?
And how do you get them kind of collaborating and cross pollinating?
You know, one of the things I try to do, we have distributed teams globally.
And whenever, you know, where I'm in one of the remote offices, I try to make sure to make time to get out with the team.
You know, when we have everybody in kind of one office together, I try to do a team activity.
We've done, we did a graffiti painting class. We did a bunch of different things, but trying to pick things that are kind of lowest common denominator experiences that everybody can do and engage with.
What about you? What have you experienced?
How are we creating fun? There's going to be, for the workers team, there's a water, like color painting session.
So they're like, I think they're like mailing out painting kits to do some team bonding, and then having someone teach like a mini Zoom class on how to like paint something.
So I think that's pretty cool. I've also heard of teams doing things like tea tasting.
And I heard someone like bought someone food. Like, you know, I read an article for like a product management training meeting or like sessions for what we have at Cloudflare.
Yeah. They're like, bring the doughnuts.
But it's kind of hard to like, you know, bring the doughnuts in a meeting because everyone's in different places, right?
But I did hear someone did like door dash someone like doughnuts or like dessert.
I was like, congratulations gift. So that's I think pretty cool.
One of one of our teams in our London office, they all subscribe to the same market basket.
So they all get like a delivery on a certain day of the week that has like the same vegetables in it.
And they have, I think, I can't remember if they all cook together, or actually they they all do lunch together.
And they all compare what they've made out of the market basket. Oh, that's a fun idea.
It's kind of cool. Yeah, I did see there was a cooking Cloudflare session.
So yeah, it'll be fun to play into it. Yeah. Last question. And then a fun note from Ellie.
What are some of the most important things you learned in your 20s?
One of the most important things in my 20s. Wow, probably the most important thing and I learned in my 20s is just don't take yourself too seriously.
It's all going to be okay.
Take risks, like just take risks and seize opportunities and take the road less traveled and all of those pithy things.
But use your 20s is like, I think I learned how important it is to use that time in my life.
As you sort of said, as you're kind of heading into adulthood and kind of being out on your own to experiment and try things and be kind of embrace the serendipity.
Yeah, that's really great. Are you comfortable sharing any of the any stories from 20s?
Some of the things were like, they felt kind of crazy at the time, but you and I were talking about this before we went on.
I grew up on the East Coast.
I never went West in the Mississippi until I was in my 20s.
And I just up and decided one day I was living in DC and I was like, I'm done with this.
I'm hopping on a plane and moving to San Francisco and I haven't left.
It turned out to be a phenomenal decision. I think in my 20s, I had probably four careers before I hit my 30s.
I tried a lot of different things. I kind of went from industry to industry and I learned a lot.
I learned a lot about myself.
I learned a lot about what I like, and I learned a lot about the people I work with.
Yeah, that's really inspiring to hear. So I think we finished the questions.
Pat on your back, you've done a lot of work today. How do we end one of these?
Do we want to end on a story? I don't know. I can give you a high five. Want a high five?
Yes. High five. High five. All right. Thank you for this. It was super, super awesome.
Thank you for everybody in the audience. I mean what I say, I am interested in hearing from and helping students in any way possible.
So please feel free to reach out or if there's anything we can do to support you, let me know.
Any last words of wisdom, David? Well, it sounds like you just offered to talk to a lot of our students.
So yeah, reach out to Jen. Awesome.
Awesome. A lot of fun. Thank you everyone for tuning in. Thanks.