How I got my job as a Lead Product Manager at the Washington PostFeatured

To explain how I got my current job, I have to flashback to a decade ago when an interest in journalism, graphic design and photography first merged with a growing interest in Web development.This was a time before Steve Job publicly criticized Adobe Flash Player, when HTML5 was just a proposal and ActionScript 3 was still relevant — but I digress.This combination of interests positioned me for a tour of internships and full-time positions: Sunset Magazine ➡️ Venus Magazine ➡️ the Chicago Tribune ➡️ the Washington Post, to describe a few. Along the way, I worked on some incredible projects and with incredible people that pushed me every day to think beyond the boundaries of what I was capable of.About four years into my time at the Washington Post, I also learned that I enjoyed thinking about process, product and people broadly, more than I enjoyed seeing my own byline on the website. One thing led to another, and I started working closely with the Product and Engineering teams, witnessing day-to-day the impact these two teams had on how readers experienced (and simply accessed) the stories our stellar reporters were telling. I wondered, “What would it be like to learn about product and engineering? Is the Post a place where I can learn about this world? What would it be like without a 24-hour news cycle as a constant? Would I learn more? Could I see a different part of the business?”During this pivot point, I happened to mention to a friend that I really enjoyed people management and everything it involved, especially clearing a path for people to do their best work. He mentioned to me that his company was hiring, and I found myself applying for a role as an engineering manager at Mapbox.It was an incredible ride, and I took my experiences working in a fast-paced newsroom into a high-growth tech start-up. I learned so much as the company evolved and I took on each new role and opportunity with stride. While I grew as a leader and learned more about strategic thinking and how to grow teams, I found myself shrinking, losing my identity — which was tied up so thoroughly in journalism and my hobbies — and neglecting my relationships. The reality was, however exciting and challenging the job was, the pace wasn’t a good fit. I had very few chances to stop, breathe and reflect on what I was learning as an engineering manager, a director, a general manager and those reflection points — as well as the aspects of my life I put on the backburner — were important to me.I realized, when it comes to work, I need:1. A good support system: Ideally from my peers, my day-to-day collaborators, my boss and my boss’ boss2. A mission and value system I admired, respected and believed in3. A pace that suited me, allowed me to do great work but also allowed me to nurture hobbies and relationships that I found important to living a full life. At the end of the day, I missed news and being a “subject matter expertise.” I still enjoyed being rooted in product and engineering, but wanted to flex those muscles in a domain I felt familiar with and had a firm grasp of. What made me nervous was whether or not I, after a brief stint at a tech start-up, had the portfolio and CV to even land a product position at any other company. So, I started to casually browse job postings. Looking primarily at news organizations, but also at a broad range of companies. I would read job postings and see how many qualifications I could check off, which skills and responsibilities I felt strong or weak in. I put my name in the hat for a few opportunities and “activated my network” to put in a good word for me, if I knew someone at that company. I set off on this journey with very low expectations, and framed it as if I were online shopping with no agenda. This framing was my way of taking the pressure off and being kind to myself. Work was already stressful, busy and all-consuming — why should I make job hunting the same if my situation didn’t warrant that kind of pressure? After working with recruiters daily for Mapbox’s own hiring needs, I also learned tips and tricks for how to update my resume, spruce up my LinkedIn (begrudgingly) and frame my experiences in action-oriented and descriptive ways that demonstrated how I think and what I value, not just my credentials and what boxes I checked.What’s uncanny is: the job I’m in now? The job I ended up taking — was one that landed in my lap. My old boss was now the Director of Product, and she had open positions...would I be interested in just having a conversation? Learning more about it? I never say no to learning more about a position. It’s important to keep an open mind. So I did just that, and the more she talked about the position, the team she was building and the projects they were working on, the more excited I got. I caught her up on what I was doing at Mapbox, what I had learned, the successes to celebrate and the challenges that made me more resilient, and she told me to seriously consider the opportunity.The timing worked out. She reached out to me just as I was starting to do my own research and was reflecting on my future. I had spent five years in the newsroom, was familiar with the high points and low points and, after doing a complete 180 (leaving news, going from institution to start-up, from player-coach to full-time manager) and not being able to pinpoint what aspects weren’t a good fit for me...I reveled in the possibility of holding more variables constant and isolating my growth to working on one to three aspects I wanted to really push and learn more about. This also brings up another point — you never know how people and moments of your past might become a part of your future — so, if at all possible and if it’s within your control, it never hurts to leave on a good note. It’s much easier to paint a strong, cohesive narrative in hindsight, but when I look back on the different shifts I made in my career, I love where I’ve ended up and how my current position marries aspects of news and technology in a way that I really enjoy. For that — and all the support, challenges and feedback my mentors and management have given me over the years — I am grateful.Regardless of roles and titles, Emily Chow enjoys digging into important problems with smart people — and helping teams do their best work. She believes in investing in people and process to build better technology and in facilitating engineers, designers, product managers and strategists to work together with empathy to find high-impact solutions to critical problems. She is currently the Lead Product Manager of Site at the Washington Post. Previously, she was the Director of Maps at Mapbox and held roles as a graphics reporter, story team editor and design editor at the Washington Post.
Thank you, Emily for sharing your job hunting journey and lessons with us! We're very excited to feature more public posts written by Elpha members.If you're down to share your story on how you got your job, lessons learned, and surprises along the way, email us your post [email protected] and we will feature it.
Oh sweet! That sounds like a great idea!
Wonderful post. I've always been interested in journalism and digital media and one day, my goal is to become a Product Manager for a digital media company. I earned an interview with a reputable digital media company recently just because of my enthusiasm alone. I didn't get the role but I'm keeping my hopes up. I love combining tech and telling stories.