On transitioning from advertising to tech, an interview with Rival's Staff Product Manager, Caitlin RobertsFeatured
This interview is brought to you by our partner company, Rival.Hi, my name is Julia Joung and I’m the Marketing Lead for Rival, a SaaS technology platform for the biggest live events in sports and music. But this article isn’t about me. It’s about my incredible colleague, Caitlin Roberts, and the lessons she has to offer through her journey into tech. Cait is a Staff Product Manager at Rival and leads a team of engineers in developing our enterprise platform. She isn’t just a functional leader, she’s one of those people who has the charisma and bullish confidence that makes her an unofficial leader for the entire organization, often going toe-to-toe with our CEO and setting the tone for everyone else in the company. Her journey began in advertising, where she made the transition from being an account manager and creative producer to one of our most well respected PMs at Rival. I asked her to share with me her career journey into product management and any advice for someone else who’s looking to make the same transition.You started your career in digital as an Account Manager then transitioned to a Producer. Why and how did you make that transition?I am hyper organized and really love building relationships with people, which is what drew me to Account Management at first. Over time, I found myself constantly wanting to fight for the right product approach or feature development instead of just what the client wanted to implement or exactly what we set out to do from the start. More often than not, I also was the first person in the room openly calling out budget and timing considerations when new requests came through or scope changed on a project. These factors helped me decide producing was the right path for me at the time. It allowed me to continue pushing projects forward, while also being able to strategically impact the direction of work based on research, product findings, and implementation considerations.What does a producer do in an advertising agency and what are the key skills required to be successful?A producer wears ALL the hats at an agency. Timelines, budgets, briefs, creative reviews, development progress, client requests - you name it, we do it. Being a producer puts you at the epicenter of delivery and it’s something I truly love. It requires flexibility, because nothing ever goes as planned. Tenacity, because perseverance and overcoming obstacles is critical. Lastly, being able to build relationships and trust with coworkers is a huge component of the job. At the end of the day, the producer works with every single person responsible for shipping a piece of work; forming bonds with teammates to inspire them and keep everyone motivated is still my favorite part of the job.What made you transition into Product Management? How did you know that’s what you were looking for next, and how did you make that transition?I was fortunate enough to have exposure to product management during and just after my masters program in London. While I was pursuing my MA in Marketing Comms at Westminster Business School, I was working for two small start ups. There, I was able to have a direct impact on the roadmap of the products by working with the founders and our first customers. I knew someday I wanted to come back to that, after I rounded out my experience in other areas.In the agency world, lines are drawn clearly around roles and responsibilities. As a producer, you don’t always get to weigh in on the product strategy or product design as much as you want to, because there are teams specifically built for that purpose. I continued to find myself wanting to be more and more apart of those conversations across all my projects. I also found myself constantly wanting to build more, measure more, and iterate more after launching a project. Scopes are clearly defined and once something launches in the ad world, it tends to stay that way. The best part about being a product manager is being able to impact how a feature or project evolves over time, instead of just how it’s launched.I knew whatever I wanted to do next, it had to be for a product that I personally felt passionate about and wanted to use myself. I spent a lot of time talking to others in the tech world around what it’d take to make this transition, along with reading up on whatever I could get my hands on that outlined how to succeed as a PM. In my day to day, I started to openly partner with creatives and strategists who would let me get involved in their areas and began to expand my focus beyond the responsibilities of producer. Fortunately, when I decided to make the transition and take the role at Rival, I knew I’d also be surrounded by a group of PM’s who could help me grow my skill set and push me to get better daily.What are the skills and attributes that make a great PM?I think a lot of the attributes I named above around being a successful producer actually hold true for a PM - great communication, the ability to build trust, staying flexible, and being resilient. Additionally, having empathy for who your users are what they’re trying to get out of your product is attribute number one to me. Being able to immediately identify the ‘why’ in what you’re building and articulate that clearly to your team is top priority as a PM. Last, understanding the ‘how’ is just as important sometimes. Even though I don’t consider myself overly technical, having knowledge of technical feasibility across our work creates an efficient feedback loop between design and engineering, which is key to building a successful product.What’s been challenging about the transition?Since I haven’t been working strictly as a PM for my entire career, I definitely catch myself with imposter syndrome sometimes. The team here is hyper intelligent, focused and made up of all stars. That can be intimidating at times! In order to overcome this, I try to constantly remind myself that the main judge of success at any role, including as a PM, is the happiness of your team and the output of what you’re delivering. I’m SO proud of everything we’ve built in these past 2+ years and how we work together to get it done. When I’m able to get in a room with a user and show them what we’ve built and find that they’re excited, engaged, and openly joyful about the experience, I know I am doing all I can do as PM.Finally, do you have any advice for anyone that wants to get into Product Management?Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and start looking across your existing team to see what’s needed and where you can fill in. Some of my biggest growth periods were when I threw my hand up to do something I had absolutely no experience in, but was willing to try because it’s what my team needed at the time.