Office Hours: I’m the Product Director at Dell. I’m Amy Mitchell. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Amy Mitchell, Product Director at Dell, leading the colocation services product team.

Before Dell, I was the platform product management lead at Zerto. I’ve also held product management leadership roles at HPE, Cisco, and Alcatel.

I started in software development and moved into management of the software development team. I needed to understand the business side of my product. I took an opportunity to lead the product management team for my product. I learned a lot from great mentors and stayed in product management.

I’m also the creator of Product Management IRL, the newsletter on real-world product management challenges and solutions. I cover topics from my experiences in product management in high tech.

Ask me anything about:

  • Being assertive without making enemies
  • Conflict resolution
  • Managing outside vendors
  • Leading in flat organizations
  • Prioritizing resources and requirements
  • Communicating to stakeholders

…. Or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @amymitchell!Elphas – please ask @amymitchell your questions before Friday, December 22nd. @amymitchell may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hello Amy,How do you approach working with outside vendors at Dell? What are some of the traits you look for in a person that works in vendor management?
Working with outside vendors is a mix of discretion, relationship building and strategic business focus. Successful vendor management people have handled the full cycle of a vendor relationship. The full cycle consists of evaluating multiple vendors against business requirements, selecting a vendor, getting stakeholder buy-in, negotiating an agreement and then getting results from the vendor relationship. The stronger vendor management people will have experience in each of these phases and a track record of handling outside vendors.
From Alcatel to Dell. How was your roadmap as a woman in tech? What challenges have you encountered back in 1999 and which ones do you still face nowadays? Thanks Amy!
Women in high tech have been a minority for years. I usually notice that I'm the only women in a group when someone else points it out! When I started in high tech, it seemed normal to be the only woman in the team. While more women are in high tech now than 20+ years ago, there are many areas with few women. I don't take the time to ponder the reasons why there are still few women in high tech. My biggest challenge is doing the best job that I can. I have learned that diversity of viewpoints leads to better outcomes. I carve out time for learning different approaches to being successful in high tech.I hope we keep increasing the diversity in high tech!
Thanks for answering Amy! I believe it's essential that women in high-tech smooth the way for other women's development, mostly when you are able to see from the top the difference you can make in some other woman's career. Do you see fostering women's inclusion as one of your responsibilities? Of course, looking at some other woman's role model like yours can already encourage and help because you are inspiring 🤩, but have you thought about taking action as a leader in high-tech to empower women?
I think mentoring is a good way to help women advance in high tech. What other approaches have helped?
Mentoring is great as a 1:1 action! Then I believe collective actions also help. In order: for me the goals are providing visibility (and educating the community), taking action inside the company, and measuring results. First things that come out as random ideas are fostering multi-gender groups or practices, looking at what other companies are doing, setting measurable goals for inclusion, proposing women-only projects, and setting up spaces to share women's experiences and ideas.
Hi Amy, thank you so much for joining us for the Office Hours! You mention that you learned a lot from great mentors when you were first trying out product management. How did you find your mentors? And what did you find most helpful from the advice and mentorship that they provided?
I have found formal and informal mentors in many places! Here are where I found some good ones: - My managers - Co-workers who have done something I admire - Newsletter writers - LinkedIn postings - Aspiring leadership classes - Toastmasters for public speaking improvement - Formal mentoring programs offered by my employerI've also learned a lot from mentoring others.
What's the details for this meeting on the 22nd?
Hi Rimma! Our Office Hours are async and in written form (unless otherwise stated like in our live format: means that Amy will be answering questions on Friday directly on the thread. So if you have a question, post it here before Friday or stay tuned to read her answers to other members' questions! Hope that provides more clarity, otherwise let me know :)
@amymitchell Thank you for being here! What questions should I ask myself if I'm toying with the idea of breaking into leadership and away from IC roles?
I would consider how you could practice leading a small project in your current IC role. Also, sign up for an aspiring leader training class - these classes include topics that help you prepare for a leadership role. As you become a more senior IC, you will find leadership skills are valuable too.
How have you grown confidence in making decisions?
The biggest thing that has helped is reflecting on the outcomes of past and future decisions. I have a "think about" list that helps me consider what happened on a past decision. I also include future decisions on that list. For the future decisions, I think about what I need to learn before making the decision and the possible outcomes.
This is great! Love the idea of having a "think about" list.
Thanks for taking the time @amymitchell! My journey as a PM has been the opposite of yours - I started in client management, then moved to digital operations, and am now a product manager. That being said, I’m working on building my technical acumen. I just graduated with my MBA and have a good handle on the business side. Do you have a recommendation on where I should start to build my technical skills? SQL, etc. Do you find that organizations tend to focus on technical skills over business when hiring for PM roles? I’ve been unsuccessful in landing a new PM role. Any suggestions you can provide on how to stand out would be much appreciated! Thank you again for your insight.
You already have excellent skills for product management: working with customers and operations insights are needed in product management. To increase your technical knowledge, I suggest building on domains that you already know. I'd also consider a class in systems thinking to help with your technical exploration.On finding a PM role, I suggest applying your MBA knowledge and your experience into product management skills. Review job descriptions and connect the dots to what you have already.
Thank you for your reply and recommendations, @amymitchell. One of your earlier answers regarding vendor management is another skill I will highlight.
"Being assertive without making enemies" is definitely something I struggle with. I think the fear of "making enemies" can get in the way of me establishing clear boundaries and I often "give in" to another person's ask even when I know I shouldn't. What advice do you have for overcoming that fear of retaliation?
Fear can make us do the wrong thing on the job! There is nothing to fear about delivering results for your organization. Let's suppose you assert yourself to keep on track with a customer commitment. If you got a good result for your organization, then someone who decides to retaliate is wrong.Another fearful situation is when your boundaries are crossed. For example, a salesperson needs a small enhancement to make his customer happy. When you only had a few customers, it was ok. Now that you have a lot of customers, you can't do this anymore. It is scary that this key salesperson will escalate or perhaps the customer will leave. The right thing is to follow your agreed strategy and let the scary thing happen. You can let your manager know about your decision and ignore your fears. It is hard to put your fears out of your mind and focus on the best result possible. It is ok to listen a little to your fears before moving on. My advice is to focus on doing your best work and don't let fear overtake you.
Thanks so much for joining us Amy! At Elpha we have a resource on how people have found their career path of being a PM. With that in mind, I'm really curious how you found your transition from software dev to PM. What was it like for you? In particular: what ended up being a helpful translatable skill from development side? what were some challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them?
Hi Teresa,Wow! You have some great resources on transitioning to product management!In my case, I moved from software engineering on my product to being the product manager of my product. I struggled a lot with the transition to my new role. I had trouble making business decisions with incomplete information. I was taking too much time to gather precise information.My organization brought in a product manager from retirement to be my manager. My new manager pointed out that I already had what I needed to make these significant business decisions. I realized that in software engineering I had been using my judgment for business tradeoffs inside the product. After transitioning to product management, I still had the judgment to make decisions outside of the product.Like most of us, I needed a little help to adapt to the new role of product management. Even after many years in product management, I still look for ways to get more help. Help can come in many ways!
Hi Amy! Thanks for making the time :) I love that you mentioned "leading in flat organizations".Was horizontal leadership something that came natural to you? What advice do you have for when there's a clash between one's personal leadership style and an organization's leadership style/culture?
Hi Josefina,Many of us are in flat organizations and need to work across multiple organizations. When you are in this situation, I have a few suggestions: - Set clear boundaries as you go: establish your role in your team and cross-functionally. Document what you CAN do and communicate frequently - Drive decision making: document reasons for decisions in a shared location so it is easy to find - Keep focused on your initiatives: don't worry about others until your boundaries are hitA difference between your leadership style and your organization's style can be positive. There are many ways to get results through different leadership styles. A visionary leader can inspire a large team to follow her vision. While that same visionary leader can't focus on the details needed to get a software release delivered to a customer. My advice is to adapt your leadership to fit the situation and stay true to your values. Also, learn the tradeoffs of different leadership styles to add to your leadership skills.
That's a great point that it's actually a positive thing for there to be diversity in leadership styles. Thank you for this Amy!
Welcome Amy! Thank you for making the time to answer our questions especially during this busy holiday season! I love that you suggest asking you about "being assertive without making enemies"! This is a topic we often cover here, the idea that "bossy" women become unlikeable but when it's the case with men, they command control. It's something I often think about particularly being a black woman in America and the stereotypes that comes with it (being angry, not delicate blabla etc). How would you counteract these? And what are your overall tips for being assertive without coming across as unlikeable and b*tchy (for lack of better words :( ) Did I just ask you for your solutions on solving embedded sexism and racism? Maybe haha, but jokes aside I'd just love to hear about your take on this.
Hi Iynna,I recommend 3 things to be your best assertive self 1) Prepare for a conflict - Build relationships so you understand motivations. Strong relationships can head off a good bit of conflict. 2) Know what triggers your anger - Catch yourself when you are angry and pause a beat. Then do the opposite of an angry outburst. A good response is to comment on the consequences. For example, when you are interrupted, you can calmly pick up as if there was no interruption. Your peers and your leadership will feel safe in speaking with you. 3) Disarm aggressive people with your assertiveness - When you hit a conflict have some tactics ready: - Use humor to focus on a future positive state such as celebrating a satisfied customer. - Embrace the aggressor's point view and run with it - together you have a fresh perspective - Look for any common ground such as being a shareholder of the same company, or agree competitors are outside your company The key is preparation, overriding your emotional response and having tactics ready to get results together.
love these thank you Amy!
Hi Amy,Until recently (last week), I was a full time grad student pursuing a masters in computer science at a flagship state school in the US and a full time software developer. Then I got laid off. Given the present tough market, do you think being enrolled in an MSCS program will be a strength or weakness when looking for full time tech roles? In the near term and the longer term (I can graduate in winter 2024 potentially).
Have you taken a look at the job descriptions that require an MSCS? After holding a full time job while attending a master's program full time, this could be a good time to evaluate your options. While evaluating job descriptions, you can discover the typical skills needed for people with an MSCS. Advanced degrees usually are valuable in the job market. You can also take advantage of internships and job placement opportunities while you are in college.
What would you recommend for someone currently in a Cybersecurity Analyst role trying to transition into in a product management role?
Your Cybersecurity background will serve you well in product management! Product managers that understand security requirements are needed in most products with software. You could start your exploration in your own organization by getting to know product managers. You could eventually shadow the product managers and get inside information on opportunities to move to product management.I'd also recommend following product manager who post about their product management experience to get additional insights.Finally, I would suggest studying product management job descriptions to find key skills that are in demand. I'd work on one or two skills to supplement your experience.