Office Hours: I'm the founder of and chair for Executive Women in Product. I was formerly the head of product management at Lob and led product management teams at Docker and Cloudflare. I'm Shanea Leven.Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Shanea Leven, founder and CEO of CodeSee, a developer platform that helps developers and development teams master the understanding of codebases. I am also the executive women in product lead and chair for Women in Product. Prior to founding CodeSee, I was head of product management at Lob, senior director of product management at Docker, director of product management at Cloudflare, senior technical product manager at eBay, and product manager at Google. I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Columbia College and a masters degree in computer science from the University of Maryland. Ask me anything about product building, leading technical teams, founding companies, and more!
Thanks so much for joining us @Shanea!Elphas – please ask @Shanea your questions before Friday, December 11th. @Shanea may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites πŸ”₯πŸ‘πŸΎβž•
Hi Shanea, I am Soafy Karine, i just git my bachelor degree in business administration and developped a big interest and passion about tech. I am taking some online courses on UX and i have read a lot about the jobs in tech. Actually i am trying to focus on learning more and more about founding a startup (with some friend we are creating an event coordination platform). I would like to know do i have to learn to code to be a product manager? Or to work in UX? Thank you for your insights. and for being oart of this community.
You don't HAVE to learn to code to be a founder, product manger or UXer. If you are going to be a founder, you probably won't have time to learn it anyway. For product manager, though coding is not required, having the ability to understand how software systems work gives you more options and gives you an additional edge. I've never personally been a User experience designer but I know plenty who don't code.
Hi Shanea, I'm a new grad software engineer, I just graduated from University of Maryland, College Park in May. I noticed that you're very self-directed in life and know what you want. You don't follow the crowd, but at the same time you're very driven. I wanted to know how to let go of the pressure in the industry to achieve rapidly (I prefer work-life balance over a high-paying engineering job) and instead hone in on my strengths and weaknesses to piece together a suitable career.
Thats an excellent question. I'm not sure I have any experience with this. This is me personally so you have to do whatever works best for you. I'm not driven to 'achieve' but I'm driven (although this may sound cliche) to actually change the world. So the pressure to 'achieve' is kind of like a by-product of that and I don't let it go because it fuels me. I've tried to 'let it go' but I physically can't. πŸ˜‚Also this may be controversial but I don't believe in 'work-life balance'. I believe in work-life integration. I'm an avid consumer of information so I listen to books while I run or grocery shop. I love food (although I don't like cooking) so dinner time is dedicated time to spend with my partner without talking about work. Pre-pandemic I would outsource what I didn't like to do to free up more time and energy for the things that I do like to do like running. There's a lot I want to do in life and I want to be 'all in' in every area of my life as much as I can be. Moral of the story. You're a new grad. Try a bunch of stuff and figure out what you want and more importantly don't want. There are some things that you 100% know you don't want. But for the things you are wishy washy about, you will never know if you really don't want them unless you try.
Hi Shanea!
Hi Shanea! Thank you for giving so much of your time to us this week.I'm a PMM / PM at Botmock. We're a team of 5 and the company is doing really well. However, from a product perspective, I've been struggling to figure out how to bring some order to the chaos. Some context: Our CEO is awesome. He's a brilliant dev, a brilliant designer, and has good business sense. BUT because of this, he built our tool from the ground up for 4 years basically by himself, until about a year ago. Anything he thought up, he'd code up, and it looks nice and works well.But like any product, there's lots to improve. And we're lucky enough to have customers who are very vocal about what they like and don't like. Now as of last November, the team is made up of him, me, a lead developer, an intern dev, and an intern for marketing (who I manage). Our CEO doesn't micromanage me, and in fact it's quite the opposite: he gives me full reign to sort of reimagine our product development process, and reimagine the product itself. Which is a big task.So, my question: Given that our design and development process has been *SO* ad hoc since the birth of botmock (get X idea from customer, build it... get X report of a bug from customer, fix it...) what's one piece of advice you'd give to me in order to "formalize" and "process-ize" our product development process? Or, am I asking the wrong question here? Haha
I really have been thinking about your question and I think you are asking the wrong question. Given what you wrote (and I'm sure it's more nuanced and there are more details) but it seems to me you shouldn't make process for processes sake. You should truly understand/narrow down what is the actual problem here. One thing that I can foresee or infer from what you are saying if you have a lot of customer feedback and only 2 devs or less (lead = 1, CEO=.5, Intern = .5) you have to figure out, what goal are you working towards, where do you invest/spend time towards that goal and what will provide the biggest investment for the time spent. So the process however light it needs to be is, what are the steps required to get you to your desired outcome the fastest. ATM that process may be totally on you the PM but I wouldn't bog down my team's time for just processes sake. For example, we have 3 engs (and will have 4 or 5 engs in a couple of weeks). I meet with all of our users/customers on Zoom. Then I use Sonix to automatically transcribe our calls. I review that transcribe to pull out feature questions or jobs to be done and I put that into product board. Then when another customer asks for that same thing, I have a data driven way of seeing impact. Then I make jira tickets for my eng team and I can keep the team informed about why the decisions I make are prioritized the way they are.
Thank you so much for this perspective, Shanea, I really appreciate you taking time to think about it and respond so thoughtfully. I'll be taking your advice!
Hi @Shanea, thank you for doing this AMA!What's your advice for product managers building products from scratch within companies (not startups)?Thank you!D
Now that I've started building everything from scratch (the product and the company). This may be controversial πŸ˜‚ but it's much easier to build a product with constraints than building a product without. As with anything, use all of the resources that are exposed to you whether they are within your company or outside. There's a book that I love called Master your next move. It's a follow up to the first 90 days. read it! it's about how to navigate company cultures.
Thank you Shanea! just ordered the book!
Hi @Shanea! I was the first product hire at my startup for about 10 months before I started to grow the team. Do you have any recommendations on transitioning from wearing multiple hats and being in the weeds to being able to focus on more on product strategy and team development? In addition, how to permeate this cross-functionally where I may have been the sole point person in the past? Thank you!
Repetition, light process and patience. It's your job now to give some order to the chaos, see my response below. You need to announce to your company, "this is the new way we do x" (feature requests, roadmap reviews, etc) and who's responsible for each. Then it's your job to enforce said process. When someone makes a request to you, you acknowledge and then redirect them to your process/team member responsible. In the short term, it may be easier for you to keep doing everything, but it will hurt you long term. Your team won't feel like they have ownership and autonomy and you will remain overwhelmed meaning you won't have the time and space for your creative juices to flow. That will block your ability to create strategy and vision.Also be patient with your xfn stakeholders, your team as they learn and yourself. The first few months of onboarding will seem like you are doing more work but it truly is an investment that will pay off.
Hi Shanea,Thank you so much for offering us your time and sharing your knowledge!I’ve been an active member of WiP community for several years, and I absolutely loved it! From chapter events to an engaging group on fb β€” it’s amazing to see so many women from the same space supporting each other. I also spoke at WiP conference this year and I can say it was an exemplifier event.I’d be curious to learn more about Executive WiP. What are the criteria and/or application process? Do you accept people based on their title or are you looking more at their responsibilities (e.g. some PMs at large companies often oversee way larger areas than VPs of Product in startups). If someone is not up to the criteria, are there any ways to be involved (e.g. volunteer, ambassador etc)?Thank you in advance!
hi shanea! as you went up more and more in your career, how would you say your day-to-day shifted?
Well, I have a very particular opinion on people management. My management style is embodied in (an ironically named acronym) S.E.L.F.Support - teaching and coaching, figuring out what my team needs, and making it happen. I love the Situtaltional leadership framework for a more tactical approach to this.Expectations - Setting expectations with not only my team but other cross-functional stakeholders. In previous roles that was everyone from the sales leader to the CEO. Leadership - Thinking about the long-term strategy of the product, what customers needed, and making hard calls. Feedback - Giving my team the right feedback at the right time. I love the book Thanks for your feedback and Crucial conversations for this. Outside of that, I spent a lot of time being a source of information and creating information pipelines from my team up to the rest of the leadership team and from the leadership team down to my teams. I think the shift here is that you aren't a day to day executor. So you need to think strategically about how to set up the right light, easy to follow processes to make sure that information is constantly flowing. I used a few tools like product board, weekly team round tables to manage this.
Hi @Shanea thank you so much for doing this! Just like the others, I would like to reiterate that you have such a cool background! Given you studied computer science, what prompted you to switch to product management? Given that product management is not something you study at school, what was your path of breaking into it? Lastly, really cool what you are doing with Women in Product; I didn't know this existed and would LOVE to be involved!
I didn't study computer science at first. I was a self taught developer. I actually went back to school while I was working at Google to get my computer science degree because at the time, Google required all PMs to have CS degrees. I love engineering but at the time, I was already a product manager I just didn't have the title and I focused on that. But I've mostly worked on technical or developer-focused products and I get to balance my engineering chops and product chops.
Hi Shanea! You have such a cool background. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!We're building our first tech product and looking for a technical lead who specializes in 0-1 products and who can work with an offshore full-stack dev team. Do you have any recommendations in finding and vetting a technical product lead for early-stage startups? (We're ~14 people and just raised our first seed round)
It really depends on what your needs are and where your company is. If your product is launched and you as the founder created the roadmap and still want to lead near term product vision that will require one type of PM. Likely a PM to manage day to day ticketing, prioritization etc, probably someone with 2-3 years of experience that can continue to grow. But you will still need to be heavily involved and provide mentorshipIf you want someone to come and lead both strategy and execution, that will require a different type of PM, Likely a principal (which is a Director level IC role) who has done this before at small companiesNot sure how many of those 14 people are engineers but if you are looking to grow the team right now that will require a different skill set a VP/head of product.So, not sure if that's helpful but the answers is ... it depends πŸ˜„
In a separate question - I would really like to hear about Women in Product. Have you seen many changes in the industry in the last 4 years, and what are your predictions for the next 4?
I think that product management was always a fairly 'new' field. So I think that as the field becomes more mature we've started to see accepted truths take hold which in my opinion is both good and bad. I think that every product has it's own unique challenges and as our entire world changes, product management is one of those fields that will continue to evolve as people do. Product management has always (and I believe always should be) remained focused on building products for people and providing them value. Therefore you need a true understanding of what said people need and what's important to them. As our world changes, product people are the best people to push the envelope on what's acceptable or not. For example, need your product to be accessible? PMs are the ones to prioritize that work. Don't have any diverse people on your team and you need extra time to make sure your product is not racially insensitive? PMs usually have ownership over that. Need to make a controversial decision? The PM is usually involved. Need that extra layer of security so that people trust your data is safe?You get the idea. So I think over the next 4 years, this responsibility won't change but the needs of people and what's table stakes will. PMs and founders for that matter need to be aware and willing to own and push on that responsibility.
Hi Shanea,Thanks so much for doing this Q&A.I am a non-technical founder (so I can use no-code and understand how to build, but can't code). What is your advice for building a high-quality digital product and running a technical team as a non-coder? I worry about understanding what each member of the team should be doing, how they are performing, and timeframes, since I do not fully understand the job (from design, to front/backend, to devops, and testing/quality).Thank you!Lauren
I think it's a valid concern. You have to decide what works best for you as a founder and how you want to spend your time. - You can appoint someone as a tech lead. They could work to outline the best approaches for the things you are trying to accomplish and translate your requirements back and forth between you and the team (kind of a slight divergence from what a tech lead does but I think it could work)- You could hire an eng leader who mains purpose is to lead the team and work directly with you (if budget allows)- You could spend time learning about how to create technical products. (This is the most time-consuming option). But once you learn its really hard to unlearn it. I would say though, engineering is a skill in which you are never, ever, ever done learning. So don't stress yourself out when you realize there's so much to learn. Just prepare yourself you are never going to learn it all and that's ok. Your job is to learn enough so that when you engineers say that they want to do something you truly understand yay or nay and determine if its more important than some other task (it's more commonly phrased as 'speak the same language as engineering'). Resources that I recommend: - Grokking the system design interview by - gives you a soup to nuts understanding of how to architect systems. Anything you don't understand I'd simply Google to build your understanding.- The Manager's Path by Camille Fournier - how to manage an engineering team. - Shameless plug πŸ˜„ - - will also give you a soup to nut visual understanding of how your system works but you don't have to do any work. It's all dynamic! This tool (which I think is the reason I was put on this earth, but that's another story) is to help engineers and teams understand how their code works. So by having a visual picture that you and your team can share and talk about together you can cultivate a mutual understanding of why things need to be done.
Thank you Shanea - this is a super detailed and actionable answer. Going to look into everything you suggested. And also worry a bit less about knowing everything!
Hi Shanea! My name is Hadas and I am currently working on building my own start up company, feeling a bit overwhelmed since I "suffer" from the problem I'm trying to solve; and to solve it I will need to hire/partner/depend on others that have the ability to solve the issue (mainly a stylist and a technical algorithum developer).... I'd love to hear how you go about finding the right people to work with and any tips or tricks that you can offer to make sure the relationships start out strong and in a productive way.Thanks in advance!
Good questions. The mindset of "you have to do everything alone" has to completely shift as a founder. Always have your asks in mind and at the end of every call, every meeting you take, every person you meet be shameless about asking for the things you need. I'd simply ask, "do you or do you know anyone who knows something about x?" Or, "Now that we know a bit about each other, is there anyone who you think that I should meet?" We need others to build strong companies, so you have to embrace it as early as possible. Sometimes those first people who you connect with don't work out and that is totally ok. You rinse and repeat!Finally, setting really good clear explicit expectations upfront. You are the best advocate for your company and being specific about what you can provide, time commitments, and your expectations of others for deadlines, invoicing, deliverables, while communicating early and often about updates and changes etc will ultimately set the parties involved up for success.
Great tips and super helpful!!!! Thank you so much Shanea!!! You're 100% right! I should be using the contacts I already have to find new contacts and partners to work with.
Hi Shanea! I just started as a product management a HPE in our cloud data services team (my background is in corporate strategy) and I am very curious about best practices in customer research. Everything I have read and heard on good product management seems to indicate that you should be doing multiple customer interviews every week. But no one talks about how you get these set up! At a B2B2B Enterprise company like HPE, we are twice removed from our customers and it can be very slow and painful to get them on the phone (you often have to go through partner sales teams). External recruiting is an option but costs a lot of money and also time and effort. How did you go about getting high quality customer insights in your various PM roles? Thanks!
That sounds really rough. One thing that may work for you is my PM team partnered directly with customer success and the account managers. So as part of building relationships, CS would offer the customers time to talk to us. All of the coordination resided with the account manager and the PM would be responsible for the meeting prep work (the research questions etc) The PM team could get valuable feedback and customers felt special because they truly felt heard. Moral of the story, don't do things alone. Enlist others to help you!
Hi Shanea. Thanks for the feedback! I wish we had customer success. And our account managers mainly work with partners who control the customer contact. But I am sure with time and patience I will be able to build relationships with the right folks on the front lines and get this up and running.