Office Hours: I’m the Chief of Staff at Zillow. I’m Gowri Sivanathan. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Gowri Sivanathan, Chief of Staff at Zillow. I have 12+ years of experience building products and teams across payments, e-commerce, mortgages, lending and fintech platforms.

Before Zillow, I was leading product for a payments company and before that worked in the mortgages industry. I’m also a Top Instructor with Product School, coaching the next generation of PMs and leaders to hone their product skills.

During my downtime, I enjoy reading books, cooking and spending time with my 3 year old son. I also mentor and coach women on leadership who are passionate about upskilling themselves.

Ask me anything about building products, teams, leadership, job search, interview prep, or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @gowrisivanathan!Elphas – please ask @gowrisivanathan your questions before Friday, December 29th. @gowrisivanathan may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Thank you @ElphaStaff for having me here. Excited to be part of this AMA session! Let's go!!!
Hi Gowri! Happy Holidays! Thank you for sharing with us. What are your thoughts in particular about digital currency and homeownership thereby payment landscape globally as its adoption is happening the fastest growing economies in parts Africa/South America? What are your favorite product linked or slack groups for networking? Lastly, what was your son's favorite Christmas gift (if you celebrate) this year? Thank you for doing this. Have a great 2024! Lisa
Hi Lisa, I do believe digital currency will have lasting impact on developing countries. For example, I have seen India adopt digital currencies extensively in the last few years. I'm not sure about how homeownership transactions can be enabled though given the laws are different across the globe. I believe LinkedIn is a great resouce for professional networking. My son is a fan of dinosaurs and cars. So his Christmas gift was one of each eventhough we don't celebrate Christmas :) Wish you a happy 2024 too!!
Thank you, Gowri! I forgot about India, they have been very forward-thinking related to digital currency. It appears both you and your son are very cool people. Cars and dinosaurs are awesome toys! Have a great week!
Thank you Gowri for hosting this office hour! Really appreciate your spending time and happy holidays to you and your family. As a chief of staff, you must wear many hats and have great view of how cross-functional teams collaborate. What're some tips or observations you have to help cross-functional teams work better together?
Hi @yihuang, thank you and happy holidays to you too. Great question - My background is in product management and that requires a lot of cross functional collaboration. So moving into this role for me was seamless given there are a lot of transferable skills. Some ways to ensure teams are aligned is to have regular weekly syncs, publish weekly/monthly status reports, sync 1:1 with key stakeholders and also rely on async communication methods eg: slack communications.
Hi Gowri! Happy Holidays! What tips do you have for upskilling and finding the time to do so with a full time job?
Hi Loree - thank you and wish you the same :) I cannot emphasize enough the importance of up-skilling yourself/investing in your growth. I figured this early in my career and believe this is one of the reasons I was able to build a career of my choice. It could feel daunting to do this alongside a full time job. There are a lot of resources online that provide self paced courses, you can try that if you can't commit time every week. Eg: Udemy, LinkedIn Learning,etc. Alternately, you could also try virtual courses (Maven, General Assembly) if you are able to commit a few hours per week. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn if you need further guidance, happy to help!
What are some of the most common challenges you see product leaders face when they come to one of your classes?
Hello!! Scaling is a persistent issue I observe with product leaders across the board. Either scaling themselves or scaling their product/product line.
Thanks for doing an AMA. I'm curious to learn more about your decision to take a Chief of Staff role. How do you see this role fitting in with your larger career plan? Did Zillow have an expected path for where a Chief of Staff role would go?
Hi Amelia - I have always wanted to explore this role given the strategic nature of it and because my background is in product management (a strategic role too). Zillow does not have a planned path for this role yet as this is a new role that has varied responsibilities based on the leader you support.
Elphas, it was great connecting with you all through the chats. Also, shout out to anyone who reached out to me personally to connect. If you are looking for help to switch careers into product management, upskill yourself as a leader and/or other topics, I would love to hear from you! Let's chat - you can book time with me here:
Hi @gowrisivanathan! thank you for spending time with us on Elpha during this time of year! Do you have any advice for mid-career women looking to make the leap into a leadership role?
Hi Naomi - yes absolutely! I personally believe a lot of women specifically struggle in this stage to move into leadership roles. It is important to acknowledge the need to invest in yourself and up-skill so you can progress into a leadership role. There is no secret sauce but the skills required to be successful as a senior IC is so different from that of a leader. I encourage you to read some books and articles as well as they will give some perspectives. Feel free to reach out to me if you would like to chat further on this topic and I’ll be thrilled to help out.
As a leader, what are the best questions you've been asked as a hiring manager in interviews?
Hi @kaitlingraham - I love to ask behavioural questions in interviews to assess cultural fit. Example: A time when you had a conflict with a peer - I also dig deeper to see how they handled it, what were the learnings, etc.
Thank you for being here, Gowri! Looking back at your rich career, what's something you’d like to tell your younger self eg the one a year before graduating from uni?
Hi Tillie, being an immigrant, I was always worried about landing a job in US before I graduated. In the long run, it all worked out fine. If anything, I would tell my younger self to not be stressed about the future and to live in the moment!
Gowri, merry christmas and happy new year! thank you so much for being here with us this time of the year! I remember when you first joined elpha and introed yourself on one of the threads and thought you'd be a fantastic guest for OH! So I am thrilled to see that we made it happen :) I have so many questions for you and partly because i love your role/function haha! I always say if I weren't an investor, I'd be a chief of staff to the CEO at a startup (post series A, before that it's useless imo) 1) On choosing the CoS path: The term chief of staff seems to be the joker title ie. partly a CoS does EVERYTHING and wears so many hats, so sometimes the role is a little ill-defined. So I am curious how did you decide on this career path? What kind of questions did you ask to ensure the scope of the role was what you wanted and not something else. For instance, one thing I hear a lot from people is that they aren't so hot about applying for CoS roles because they worry it is going to be a glorified EA type of role (which opens a whole other questions around roles hierarchy and the stereotype/cliches around being an EA but that's another discussion haha) I am cognisant that Zillow is a relatively bigger company as well so maybe there are multiple chief of staff, in which case how did you decide on the particular team you wanted to join? vs. continuon the path of Product management (or similar).2) Coaching: when you coach women: what are some of the primary challenges you see these women facing? I'd love to understand if there are ways to categorise the challenges and come up with some solutions/frameworks to help.3) Books: What's a book that changed you (and by changing it doesn't have to be like a complete 180 but think of it more as a book that opened your perspective or challenged your ways of thinking)
Great to hear from you @iynna!! I'm glad I decided to do this :) 1. Fantastic question. Zillow doesn't have a lot of CoS kind of roles. So when I came across this one, I made sure I understood the expectations of the role before I signed up. Ex: In the role I'm in, it has a lot of overlap with my product management background. So was more of an easier choice. For anyone considering this role, I would highly recommend understanding what the day to day would look like before moving into the role.2. I have coached and mentored 500+ folks so far and mostly prefer women given the unique challenges. Some of the common themess are reluctancy to claim credit for the work they do, staying too long in a role that does not help them grow, not knowing what they want from their career, etc. Funny you ask this because I'm in the process of curating a coaching program tailored for women to break through these barries and to help them advance in their roles for better role and pay. For those of you interested, follow me on LinkedIn.3. One book I love is 'Radical Candor'. As a leader, I always want to lead with empathy but I also think the other dimension mentioned in the book is equally important which is to 'Challenge Directly'. If you haven't read already, I highly recommend.
Thank you so much for your super thorough response and spot on advice! 1. So glad you found the right fit at Zillow! also this might resonate so cool to hear about your programme and interesting to hear the common challenges, i see them a lot here on elpha too. 3. thank you for that rec., i have heard great things about it!
Thank you @gowrisivanathan for giving your time to this community. What advice would you have for someone like me- want to pivot to a Product Manager role from a technical Engineering role?I am getting passed on as none of my job titles in resume have a PM title on it.
Hi @noopursingh, my pivot to product management was not by choice but I loved the space and stayed in it for 10+ years. It might be easier to transition into a technical product manager role given your background. You could also consider doing a PM course. I'll be happy to help if you need further assistance.
@gowrisivanathan thank you for getting back to my question during your office hours.It's encouraging to hear that you loved the time in PM space for almost 10+ years. I think PM role would be a good fit for me given it's creative, problem solving and people collaboration aspects.I have taken these steps to transition to Product Management.1. Completed Product Management Certification from UT, Austin in 2022.2. Have continued to find mentorship, this platform being a great resource for it.3. Continue to work on my resume and LinkedIn profile and apply for roles I am interested in.I did land one Technical PM interview last year after applying for 50+ jobs, but could not convert it into an offer.The feedback I had from one Recruiter for a recent TPM role I applied for over LinkedIn, she glanced at my LinkedIn profile and responded with "your current role doesn't say you've the PM experience".When I completed my PM certification in 2022, I was pregnant and my job search was put on hold for half a year and that's when the tech job market took a downwards trend. But I continue to push and be forward looking! Thank you for offering help. It would be great to get a resume review from you or any resources you think could help in case be it a resume review platform, job posting planform. Would be much appreciated!