Product management is one of the most critical roles in tech start-ups. I sat down with Bind Product Manager, Yesenia Miranda, to hear how she started her career in product management, what she does as a product manager, and how we can increase diversity in the field.
Tara Bishop: Tell us about your background. How did you get into product and tech?
Yesenia Miranda: It’s a bit of a long story, but I was always torn between my love of the sciences and the arts, so I decided to combine the two and pursue engineering. I was on the doctoral track, researching materials for improving the performance of medical imaging technologies. The university hosted these seminars and I attended one given by Dr. Frances Colon. She discussed her participation in an initiative under Hillary Clinton, leveraging science and foreign policy for women’s empowerment. This immediately piqued my interest and I started exploring similar opportunities. Science policy was not big in NYC, at least not at the time, but health policy was, so I joined the health policy and research department at Weill Cornell. As a research coordinator, I was exposed to a study by my amazing mentor that explored the use of a behavioral economics driven platform to reduce the use of low value services by providers. The use of technology in this way was novel to me and I wanted to learn more. Shortly after, the opportunity to work as a product analyst on a Govtech product for the instantiation of the Quality Payment Program (QPP) presented itself and I accepted. Product management was not a widely known career path when I was choosing majors but the more I learned, the more I realized it combined all the things I wanted in a career; research, problem solving, and innovation.
Tara Bishop: What exactly is the role of a product manager in a start-up?
Yesenia Miranda: To run around like a headless chicken — just kidding! The role of a product manager varies from company to company. There are general frameworks product managers execute across the board. You work with leadership and stakeholders on a product vision and strategy then execute the stages of the product management lifecycle. At a startup, you do all those things, but typically with added layers of ambiguity, tighter timelines, and potentially driving or supporting a greater share of the work due to lack of resources. Honestly, it can be both exciting and scary.
Tara Bishop: What skills or strengths have you found helpful in a product management role?
Yesenia Miranda: There are so many helpful skills to hone, and these will vary based on the type of product manager you are, but the ones I lean on most are research, analytical, prioritization, as well as empathy. When faced with a new business need or problem statement you need the ability to quickly research and ramp up on new domains or workflows. You then synthesize and analyze your findings to begin to solve the need and then prioritize on multiple levels; there’s prioritization within your roadmap as well as within the feature. Empathy is interwoven through each step of the process from trying to adopt the lens of your stakeholders to your end users and using that insight to better inform the design of your solution and timing.
Tara Bishop: You’ve worked on several high functioning teams — what made those teams function well?
Yesenia Miranda: Having a clear product vision and alignment around that vision for all parties involved, from the engineers to leadership. I would also say operating in a non-hierarchical manner and adopting the lens that we are all on the same team in pursuit of the same mission.
Tara Bishop: You’ve also been an advocate to get more women into product and tech — what motivated you to advocate for this?
Yesenia Miranda: Though we have made a lot of progress as a society around this, I believe the perception of “gendered occupations” is still around, which creates these imaginary barriers of entry. For me, such barriers serve as an invitation to overcome a challenge, but I recognize it can be a deterrent for others.
One of my goals is to do away with this barrier and highlight the advantages that our perspectives as women afford us. When you see people that look like you in positions you strive to be in it makes it feel more attainable. I am a not just a woman or person of color, I am a woman of color and often the only one in the room or zoom and that comes with a responsibility to create pipelines for those that follow.
Tara Bishop: What have been the challenges to get more women into tech and what can we do about these challenges?
Yesenia Miranda: Tech is a space that is challenging in and of itself, layering in these cultural differences adds to those challenges and can feel a bit daunting and isolating at times. I am a member of several affinity groups that foster community for fellow women in tech such as Women in Product and Products by Women.
I also try to spread some of the wisdom of Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code, shares in Brave, Not Perfect. She shares tons of anecdotes from her research on behaviors we, as women, adopt early on that can amplify the intimidation of pursuing a career in STEM.
There’s work to be done to dismantle the perception of the field as a gendered occupation and provide both monetary resources and coaching to empower women.
Tara Bishop: What are your hopes for the future?
Yesenia Miranda: My personal hopes for the future are to continue working on inclusivity and professionally continuing to find opportunities to contribute to social impact innovation. Bringing in the unique experiences of underrepresented communities in STEM such as women, POCs, and those of low socioeconomic benefits us all. Often the people at the helm are trying to solve problems they are not entirely familiar with or have a textbook understanding of. We have the opportunity and duty to bring in the perspective of the people we are trying to serve into the room. In partnership with Columbia’s school of engineering and the alumni board I serve on, we were able to instantiate the Alumbra Scholarship in support of this mission. I look forward to continuing this type of work in scalable ways.
Tara Bishop: What advice do you have for women who want to get into tech?
Yesenia Miranda: Just go for it! “It” can be applying to that job or reaching out to someone that could help you take that first step. The imposter syndrome never truly goes away, but it gets increasingly manageable with each victory. Focus on the problems your company is trying to solve and the larger implications of you being the only one in that room. We wield so much power just by being there. Representation matters!
This article was originally published on Medium.