Are You Mature Enough to Go Back to the Basics?

I’ve been doing some career exploration recently, and have found it increasingly difficult as I pick up more skills, and gain more experience. One would think that this is perhaps a good problem to have, but it certainly doesn’t make things easier. I’m pulling all my mental models for this one, and whenever I allow myself to follow a clear career path behind a concrete job title of sorts, a red-alert goes off in my head that flashes the ignored opportunity cost associated with my choice. I certainly cannot clone myself to minimize these sorts of tradeoffs, and so I continue to wrack my brain for an ultimate career choice, whatever that may be.

One job title in particular has my attention, and that is the very ambiguous and interdisciplinary role of Product Manager. It’s a really confusing title, as it doesn’t seem to draw from just one particular academic background. Certainly no one studies to become a product manager when they are in school, and I’d venture to say that if you asked someone who is currently a product manager what is the best way to become a product manager in terms of training, they’d be at a loss for something firmly definitive.

But something that I find all product management roles have in common is that you will need to work across disciplines, with different kinds of people, be able to solve problems, and make sound decisions given the unique complexities of the team, stakeholders, product, its users and the resource capacities you are working with at any given time. It really sounds like you have to be a project ninja that openly welcomes to being hit with all the issues related to the intricacies and complexities that could come up during the build and rollout of the product, but you aren’t really working on anything concrete that is actually a part of that product. None of it’s really yours, but then everything hinges on your judgement calls!

I recently watched an interesting talk that Rose Yao gave on product management (no relation to me!), and it helped lay the foundations of the ins and outs of product management, what’s important to keep top of mind, and the various challenges that you may face. (Here’s another talk she gave about being the CEO of the Product, as the PM.) I think the following quotes nicely describes the PM experience in a nutshell, according to Rose:

  • “Let’s be real.”
  • “Set the vision.”
  • “Know your people, know your data.”
  • “All the responsibilities, but none of the control.”

All said and done, being a PM seems to require a breadth of knowledge, but most importantly, a certain level of maturity that helps keep the team on course, motivated and working collaboratively with each other to keep a complex machine moving forward and to completion.

I think the key word here that needs a moment of reflection is: “maturity”. I think we all have a general sense of what it means to be mature, but I really want to spend a moment to explore this word in greater depth à la Alan Watts. I think this blog post gets to the heart of maturity. The author ultimately arrives at the “beginning of infinitude” where things transcend their limitations to reveal their true essence without pretense, and where all things flow to oneness.

I think this definition of maturity is exactly what is required of the PM. A good PM should be able to take their learned skills and experiences from various avenues, and integrate the many perspectives with a clear vision. It’s from this point where you can truly optimize on the decisions that need to be made for the product.

These are all things that can be kept in mind whether it’s building a team, managing a product, creating a work of art, interacting with friends and family, working on a hobby, fulfilling an obligation or carrying out duties. Bring your best self forward, with no expectations. You will be surprised by the outcomes if you live by such credo.

I get the sense that such ways of being can often be called foolhardy, naive and/or suspicious. It’s rare enough that it raises an eyebrow, and elicits doubt. Maturity can almost seem like blind faith at times because it’s so low-key and underrated.

I attended another ruby meet-up here in Atlanta, hosted by Pivotal Labs. Yosep Kim presented on the latest RailsConf he attended in Pittsburgh. Through his engaging and humorous presentation to a super diverse group of developers, UX designers, recruiters, job hunters, die-hard rubyists, past Flatiron students and more, we were passed on some valuable knowledge about the Ruby community. (Most memorable of which is a man named Aaron Patterson, AKA, tenderlove. Please click that link!) The conference was packed, and many amazing presentations were given.

We were also told that the juicy gossip has always been that the ruby language is dying, in light of the strong fan base for some of the other languages out there like Python and Javascript. Yosep’s enthusiasm and relay of information from the conference quite busted such an unfounded rumor. Apparently, Eileen Uchitelle, a member of the Rails Core team described the state of the language and framework as having become “mature”. Ruby isn’t dying, it’s “maturing”. There is that word again!

But what does it mean? It’s just a word! But if we can recall our deep-dive into the essences of maturity, my fears for the ruby language would be well mitigated. A mature language probably has lost some of its original hype, but that doesn’t mean it no longer has its powers. People might just have short attention spans regarding what is considered “hot”. Furthermore, I think the fact that the language is developed in Japan might just mean that there’s almost a cultural aspect to it. I would describe Japanese culture as one of modesty, with strong emphasis on perfecting one’s craft. It doesn’t need hype to make an impact.

This blog post enlightens us on Pairing with a Very Well-Grounded Rubyist: Interview with David A. Black. When asked about why he loves the language so much, David references the community of people who make the language great. I feel that this is a particularly values driven perspective, and it makes me feel that what Eileen Uchitelle said to be spot on. The ruby community is made up of all kinds of people from across disciplines who have found the language a joy to learn and to use.

When things become more developed and complex, we can no longer count on one sole perspective. We need something that’s more unified. We need to go back to the basics of being human, and if we can speak for all humans, we are seeing from a higher perspective. We need to know who we are in order to know what our values are. It is through values that we have vision, and is through vision we can start to build amazing things that will make the world a better place for everyone.

Jordan B. Peterson so aptly said:

“I think that truth is the highest value, although it has to be embedded in love. What I mean by that is that truth should serve the highest good imaginable. For me, that is what is best for each individual, in the manner that is simultaneously best for the family, and the state, and nature itself.”

As such, good product manager should be able to go back to the basics, and see the simple, omniscient truth.

To be && not to be. That is the statement.

In life, we are always busy labeling ourselves. Am I thrifty or extravagant, feminine or masculine, intense or relaxed, this or that, and ultimately “good or bad”?

As I gain more experience living the various things life throws at me, I see more and more the importance of being comfortable with multidimensional dualities. Our external world is becoming more complex, and especially as populations are becoming more cross-cultural and integrated, the “OR” is shadowed by the “AND” qualifier in terms of relevancy. I suppose the challenge has always been striking the precarious balance when all things collide.

For instance, for a really long time I wondered if I had more male or female characteristics, or if I’m more Chinese than I am American. I have a business degree, but I really love to code. Am I an urban gal or a country girl? Introverted or outgoing? Pretty mainstream, yet extremely otaku? Am I a millennial or gen x-er? I think Barrack Obama captured this best in his memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance – that identity is fluid! Grasping onto one or the other can be extremely polarizing.

I went to a ruby workshop the other day hosted at the Pivotal Labs Atlanta location, where Scott Bellware was speaking about event-sourced microservices. Struggling to muster up some inner courage as the fact of the matter was that this was the first coding meet-up I had ever gone to, I had just started the ruby lessons in the Flatiron School web dev curriculum, and the attendance gender ratio was vastly skewed, my inner voice screamed, “I’m not a ruby engineer, help! [ fail whale ]! ” I felt like I had walked into the wrong class. Yet, while only intermittent topics made sense, the room felt really open-minded and welcoming. I realized soon that nobody cared whether I was or wasn’t a coder, my flail was all in my head. We were all there to learn and add to wherever we may be on the scale of developer/non-developer, as this label is mostly a matter of perspective. But this was something that took me years to finally realize, and I still have to constantly remind myself.

Because of these personal challenges that may or may not be all in anyone’s head, I’m glad to see news such as this one about CMU’s incoming female-majority 2017 freshman class. Many paths now comfortably embrace the male/female duality in our external world, and that is reassuring.