The question, “What do product managers do?” comes up pretty often, even from experienced business people. What you should know is that Product Managers are often at the intersection between the tech and business sides of products. Product management is an evolving career path, but managers usually have a wide-ranging area of responsibilities. Indeed, the role itself means very different things in different organisations.
This is the story of Gloria Ojukwu, a Product Manager at Nihongo Master, a Japanese learning platform. Gloria is a graduate of Computer science from Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa, and has been in the tech space for over ten years.
The last child of six originally wanted to be a medical doctor, a choice her parents agreed with. This was until her physics/further maths teacher in secondary school informed her of other career choices apart from the ones the students were familiar with. She found out that she had the ability to succeed in the emerging tech space. So, when she filled out her UTME form to get into the university, she choose Computer Science as her first and second choice.
I only told my family after because I knew that they were going to try to discourage me.Gloria Ojukwu, Product Manager
According to her, this decision was what marked the beginning of her career in the tech space. Although Gloria is now a Product Manager, she started out as a web developer. She describes her PM journey as ‘accidental’ because she used to work in a company where the PM role was non-existent. She took it on as part of her work because of her interest in understanding the business outcomes of the products she worked on.
‘I had passion for code and also wanted to see what drives the product for growth. What are the things that make this product excel and put smiles on the faces of the user?’
The company then recognised the need for a product manager and put her in that role. Coincidentally, when she got another job, she also started out as a front end engineer but then, the existing PM resigned. The company asked for volunteers to fill in the role in the meantime and Gloria stepped up. She excelled in the role and thus decided to choose Product Management as her career path.
Product Managers are in the middle of business, tech and UX. I already had the tech experience. I naturally always want to know the business outcomes of the products and that’s how I started. Since then, it has been Product Management.
Having to interface between development and design teams and also studying metrics to understand the business aspect of a product seems like a handful. Gloria loves being a product manager.
‘Product Managers lead the direction of the product. I take pride in the fact that my ideas become product features, one that people are willing to pay for. It tells me that I’m valuable. It makes users happy and helps the organisation I’m working with hit their business goals.’
A woman of many hats
Gloria manages the Atlassian community for product managers, developers and designers. She trains other Product Managers in Utiva, a platform that delivers a collaborative and cohort-based learning model which allows people access quality technology skills.
She is a Google women tech makers ambassador, a recommendation that came due to her role as co-lead for Google Developer Groups in her community.
Gloria is also an active member of diverse communities with a focus on product management. She considers these communities a necessity as the project management space is just emerging. She mentions a lack of resources in the space when she started her journey.
Most of the challenges were in the beginning, especially with the lack of resources. If you don’t have experience in product management, you go online but it’s all theory. There is no practical aspect, at least when I started. Access to resources was a pain point for me then. I learnt on my own due to this.
Another challenge she mentions is the lack of mentors. There were few product managers to look up to when she started. The available ones were in the Big Tech companies and so out of reach for beginners.
‘The product management space in Nigeria is still emerging. Then, it was difficult although it’s easier now. For me, I grow by having mentors – people I look up to. I am active in product management communities. Being a part of these communities is a hands-on experience. In these communities, we share experiences and lessons. This has helped me stay in the game and has helped me grow.’
Helping others grow
All the challenges Gloria faced on her journey influenced her decision to launch Hertechtrail, on November 30, 2019, with the intention to help ladies get started in tech careers.
Before officially launching Hertechtrail, Gloria was trying to personally mentor people interested in the tech space. However, it became overwhelming due to the number of people trying to learn. She then created a platform for other people who understood the mission to help others grow in the space, the platform that is now Hertechtrail.
The fact that I didn’t have direct access to the people I looked up to was a problem, coupled with limited resources. I didn’t want others to face the challenges I faced hence Hertechtrail. I wanted the average African woman to do tech without a lack of barriers.
In almost 3 years, Hertechtrail has been able to reach 2000 women indirectly and 500 women directly through the Hertechtrail academy. The academy is a virtual one and tuition-free with different tracks of learning. These tracks include UI/UX design, Web Development, Product Management, Product Design, Data Analysis, Digital Marketing and Web Design with WordPress. Top students in the academy are then connected to companies as interns and 20% of them now have entry roles.
On women inclusion in Tech
According to Gloria, few women are willing to mentor other women because they are mostly new entrants and also unsure of their future in the space. As someone who has been in the space for a while, Gloria says she has not worked with a female developer during the course of her work.
She says “it sucks” because it points to the fact that there is more work to be done in the aspect of inclusion. With Hertechtrail, Gloria has given interested women a platform to help others as about 70% of coaches and volunteers are women.
‘The most passionate thing I do currently is not just being able to practice as a Product Manager but also helping other people come into the space, giving them the knowledge and experience they need and building a platform for women to get support in tech.’
Gloria considers her brainchild to be a source of pride and also a challenge.
Knowing that I’m serving as a role model to other African women is a source of pride and challenge. It tells me I have a lot of work to do and that I have to do it the right way.
Product management is a continuous role, so when Gloria is not checking for blockers or looking out for bugs in product codes, she reads business-related books and surfs the internet for funny videos.
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