general-assembly-product-management-grad-nataly

When Nataly found out her job was being eliminated due to an acquisition, she realized it could be an opportunity to upskill and try entrepreneurship. Having enjoyed General Assembly courses in the past, Nataly decided to enroll in GA’s one-week remote intensive Product Management bootcamp to learn how to run a product from end to end and fill in her skill gaps. Nataly tells us how much she enjoyed the remote GA course, her ongoing relationships with members of her cohort, and the exciting business idea she is now working on!

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What was your education and career background and what led you to enroll in a bootcamp?

My degree is in finance and investments. I graduated in 2007 and worked in NYC at large financial institutions, pursuing a normal career path. As I engaged with more technology teams, I found my passion was actually in automating manual processes and running technology projects. Learning about the Business Analyst role, I soon transitioned into a technology career. I went for Business Analyst positions which involved writing software specs, doing technical analysis, and user testing.

Most recently I was at OppenheimerFunds, a large asset management firm where I managed a team of Business Analysts and did Product Management. In my role, I’ve been heavily focused on project execution and less on things like ideation, new customer research, and monetization. I’m hoping to step out into an entrepreneurial role and I wanted to round out my skills to be able to deliver a product plan from start-to-end and feel more confident on my own.

What were you looking to accomplish in attending General Assembly’s Product Management bootcamp?

I am ready to look at new career opportunities. I’ve done a lot of soul searching since learning six months ago that my company is being acquired, and I’d like to go out on my own to try my hand at one of my product ideas. I have a long list of them in my back pocket, but to date, I haven’t had the confidence to go out and feel like I could be successful on my own. So I wanted to get that grounding out of this class. Coming out of this job I feel like I can take a risk, try something on my own, and follow the process to vet it out.

I read General Assembly’s curriculum and found key skills I wanted to build on:

  • Customer Research - In companies that don’t have access to their customers, the product team has to figure out their target customer and test their Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
  • Metrics - I wanted to learn how to more effectively use metrics to understand if you’re going in the right direction, and track success.
  • Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) - How do you align your product roadmap to your overall strategy?
  • Product Pricing - I wanted to learn more about monetizing your product.

Ultimately, even if I keep working for an employer, this class would help me do better in a product manager interview and be more successful in the role.

Why did you choose General Assembly’s program? Did you consider other options or self-teaching?

I had done a free product course on Udemy which was really helpful but I wanted something more interactive where I could I learn from both my instructors and my peers. I ultimately chose General Assembly because I had done a User Experience Design course with them in 2017 and it was excellent. I walked out with a portfolio-ready prototype using Sketch and InVision (which I had never used before). I loved how practical and hands-on GA is, and I recalled the caliber of people in my cohort. For the Product Management course, I didn’t want the course to feel completely introductory since I’d been a Product Manager for a while. There were both newbies and other professionals like myself looking to grow their skills and fill in their gaps.

What was the application process like for the course?

In a short 15-minute interview, they asked pretty simple questions about why I was interested in the program, my background in product management, and my learning style, and then they gave me information about the course. It was very conversational.

What was the structure and schedule of the Product Design course?

I chose the six-day remote immersive course because I live in San Diego, and they didn’t have an on-site program in my city. The other option was a 10-week part-time program. The course was 8 hours per day Monday to Saturday, with an hour of homework a night. We used Zoom and Slack to participate in lectures and interact with instructors and students. Zoom made it seamless to talk to the group and individuals, and the Teacher’s Assistant answered questions over Slack during the lectures. It was pretty impressive to me since it’s harder to connect in a remote setting, but I didn’t feel like I was watching videos. It was excellent.

I might also be a prime candidate for remote bootcamps because I’ve worked remotely for my company for the past three years. Many others from the cohort also indicated they enjoyed the remote aspect.

Who were the other students in your cohort?

The cohort was spread all over the US, had a wide range of genders, races, ideas, and backgrounds, and the diversity of thinking from different regions was impactful. I’ve spent my whole working life in financial services and it was awesome to hear how people solved similar problems in domains like government, healthcare, non-profit, and startups. There were about 15 other students and it was about 40% women. Everyone had time to speak and ask questions and no one felt crowded out. I would choose the online option again even if there was a San Diego option because I connected with people from all around the country.

What were the main topics covered in the bootcamp curriculum?

We learned so much over the one week, it definitely felt like we got our money’s worth. Topics covered included:

  • Defining your Minimum Viable Product (MVP): framing a problem based on learnings from customer research, finding your market fit, and doing competitive analysis.
  • Performing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of your product and your industry to vet your viability.
  • Setting objectives. Many products fail because objectives aren’t clear and extra features may be built that don’t support the success of the product or the customers’ needs.
  • Turning objectives into measurable data points and building roadmaps.
  • Scoping features and writing user stories so you can provide your technology team clarity around your product’s expected functions so it can be coded and tested.
  • Learning from your MVP: What’s working post-launch, what’s not, and quickly iterating.
  • Developing elevator pitches: This is applicable for a product pitch but also if you happen to be in the elevator with your CEO, you can describe your project idea in a way that quickly gets their attention and support.
  • Technology for Product Managers: Platforms like Jira, tech to track analytics, and the tech that the software developers use. While a PM doesn’t need to be a coder, if they want to win their technology team’s respect they need to be able to speak a bit of the language, understand the architecture being built, and the technical constraints.
  • Stakeholder Management: One of my favorite lessons was the many ways to say “no” to a stakeholder.
  • Project Pricing and Finance: Since I’m interested in an entrepreneurial direction, I enjoyed this portion because I wasn’t sure where to start with pricing my product.

The class covered a lot of best practices – many of us came in with solution ideas that we were highly confident about, but in reframing them as hypotheses, and by doing our customer research to get to the root of the true customer problems, many of us made new discoveries that inspired us to pivot our ideas and root them more in actual user needs.  

Describe the bootcamp learning experience – what did a typical day look like?

The days were very packed with material, and every moment was optimized. We had an incredible instructor who came from product management and added his experience across an array of companies and types of products ranging from apps to 3D printing.

We’d get an agenda in the morning with 4 topics for the day and the content was broken up into 10- to 15-minute micro-lectures, group discussions, and lots of breakout sessions facilitated through Zoom. The instructor would give us an assignment on a topic, place us in small groups to do the assignment, and we would present to the class. The final project was a pitch deck for a product that we believed in and researched with customers. All assignment topics worked towards that final project. I put one of my top product ideas through the process and kicked off the beginnings of my next steps.

What was your product idea for your final project and how did General Assembly help you flesh it out?

My husband and I are thinking about starting a family and are terrified of how expensive today’s childcare options are. I have friends who spend more money on childcare than on their mortgage! After talking with friends, I thought of a product that would give people an easier way to find nanny sharing arrangements, allowing multiple families to share costs and at the same time help high-quality nannies make more money. I went in with some very specific ideas in mind on how I would do this. The work we did in class, especially with customer research and competitive analysis, has helped me reset some of my initial thoughts on the solution as well as discover additional childcare challenges that I will want to try to tackle.

What exactly is a Product Manager and what do they do?

Product Managers (PMs) are responsible for understanding the problems that customers are facing and the opportunities to address those problems. PMs facilitate between the customers, other stakeholders such as company executives, and teams designing and building the product. The role involves understanding how technology teams work and leading those teams, but ultimately it’s about empathizing with the customer, becoming their voice, and making the hard decisions around product priorities: what to build, when to build it, what not to build. There’s a toolkit of processes and techniques that can be used to drive these decisions. Product isn’t about knowing what to build, it’s knowing the process of how to figure out what that is.

Did General Assembly give you any career advice or guidance?

The pitch deck we prepared is a great artifact to bring to an interview because it contains a lot of applied tools of product management and real-world scenarios. We were also reassured that the instructors and the staff are available at any time for job hunting questions and assistance. General Assembly teaches a lot of people every year and I was impressed at how open and inviting the teaching staff members were for us to ask follow up questions and seek their guidance.

Now that you have finished product bootcamp, what’s your next career move?

I just finished at Oppenheimer, and I’m going to San Diego Startup Week next week! I have a small starting point on my business idea and I’m going to pursue it. Right now that means a lot more customer research which I feel like I can do better after this class. I taught myself a bit of Swift (the programming language for iOS) and I have built a little practice app. But before I look into any kind of additional development, I’m going to sketch out some wireframes and prototype them – a skill I learned in the UX class but the Product Management also covered it. The benefit of prototypes is they are quicker, cheaper, and less technical to develop than writing code, and you can make them detailed enough to test the user experience with potential customers before you spend time or money coding.

My dream is to succeed in a product endeavor on my own – whether it’s this product idea I mentioned, or another one of my ideas. Something I walked out of the GA product management class with is that it’s okay if your customer research helps you realize that your product might not be right for the market right now. It’s better to learn that and walk away, than invest time in something that’s not viable. It’s my dream for one of my product ideas to be something that’s viable and take it through to a living, breathing app that can help people and advance their lives.

How do you think your skills from GA’s Product Management class will help you in your next endeavors?

I keep coming back to customer research because it’s so critical and you can do a lot without spending money. I’m not planning on looking for funding right away, but now I have an understanding of how to look for it if I want it. The pitch deck, the competitive research, the market fit research, the prototyping, and the user testing were also essential. I would almost rebrand this course as Digital Entrepreneur 101 because everything they covered applies to what I’m looking to do.

Do you plan on staying in touch with the alumni from your GA class?

Totally! One of the alums made a LinkedIn group for all of us and there is some idea-sharing. I might be meeting up with someone later this summer. Everyone is more than happy to reach out and contribute in their areas of expertise, so I’m looking forward to that as I go off and do my own thing. Some folks are very experienced with UX, some have startup experience, and one guy was on Shark Tank and is an amazing pitcher. Another person is looking for a product manager role in San Diego and I’ve connected him to people in my network.

What advice do you have for others considering upskilling with an intensive bootcamp like General Assembly’s Product Management course?

I would say “do it”, especially since this course is so well rounded. I even recommended others from my Oppenheimer team to do it – including those not in product roles. I would suggest clearing out your schedule, especially if you do the week-long intensive, because you get out of it what you put into it. Clear the distractions, get childcare if you need it, and set expectations with work because you need time to do homework, sit and process what you’ve learned, and think about how it applies to you. And enjoy it!

Find out more and read General Assembly reviews on Course Report. Check out the General Assembly website.

About The Author

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Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves writing about technology and education. Her background is in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites. She grew up in England, Dubai and New Zealand, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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