In this post, we talk to Kayiita Johnson, product manager at Google Nest and the founder of PM While Black, a site making PM accessible to the Black community. In this Path to PM post, Kayiita and I discuss the challenges the Black community faces in getting into PM and how he is addressing them.
What’s the story behind PM While Black?
In the past five years, I have conducted over a hundred informational interviews, mock interviews and intro calls with people that were interested in product management. What I realized was this process wasn’t working - I needed a scalable way to get my advice and guidance out to the Black community.
Why did you start PM While Black?
I answer this in detail on the site, but essentially I started PM While Black to close the information & access gap on product management for the Black community. Product management is like SoHo House - even if you know about it, good luck getting in. Add being Black to those situations, and your chances are even worse. It’s time that changed, and I hope PM While Black moves the needle on this inequity.
How have the recent tragedies as a result of systemic racism affected your work on PM While Black?
I launched PM While Black the same week the police murdered George Floyd. As a Black man who grew up in Minnesota, this hit especially hard. His murder and the murders of countless others only strengthen my resolve to do this work for my community and ensure that we fight this inequitable, racist system at every level.
I have also felt encouraged by the strong showings of support from people outside the Black community. Many people are waking up to the reality of our society’s racist underpinnings and how this impacts Black Americans today. Senior PMs are reaching out to mentor aspiring PMs; firms are looking to bring Black PMs into their candidate pools; countless others are sharing the site with their networks to ensure the next aspiring Black PM has as many tools as possible to achieve their dreams.
There is so much work to be done to ensure our country lives up to its ideals. I plan to be part of the force that makes this happen, and PM While Black is one small piece of that.
What does allyship look like for the Black product management community?
Amplify our voices. Just like what Exponent is doing for PM While Black right now, but also within your organizations. Find ways to promote black PM voices. If you have a black PM in your team, include them in the next transformational project. Ask them how you can best support them and their career goals.
Mentor. There are many ways to do this. Join your company’s mentorship program. Is there a Black engineer or marketer you know that shows potential to be a PM? Reach out to them! You can also sign up to mentor aspiring PMs on our site here.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a product manager at Google.
After managing the hardware startup market for Texas Instruments for two years as a semiconductor sales engineer, I realized I wanted to be part of the entire product development process, from idea to landing it, beyond just the semiconductors aspect of it. From the founders I knew, they recommended entrepreneurship but also told me to consider product management.
I later attended Stanford Graduate School of Business, where I was considering management consulting and product management. I ended up deciding to do a PM internship at Google in 2017 at Google Fi (formerly Project Fi) and promptly fell in love with product management. Over the next seven months, I networked extensively to ensure that I would land a PM role at Google on hardware, and got an offer to work at Google Nest as a product manager in the smart displays division!
Any advice for aspiring PMs applying, interviewing, and considering offers?
When applying: get a referral. Find someone in your network that works at the company you are interested in, or find a 2nd degree connection. Referrals are, unfortunately, a key method by which tech companies source new hires - be part of that pipeline.
When interviewing: do not underestimate the importance of practice. Conduct lots of mock interviews, and ask for the hard feedback after each one. I outline more guidance on preparing here.
When considering offers: think about where you want to be five years from now, and determine which opportunity gets you there or close enough. Consider the strength of your manager, the likelihood of launching and landing a product, and the skill set that you will be leveraging or will build. Compensation matters too, but do not let that overshadow these other key factors.
Favorite PM resources/blog?
I am a big fan of Blackboxofpm. Brandon Chu covers many key aspects of product management that I think all product managers need to be intimately familiar with - and his pieces are pretty accessible.
What is your favorite product and why?
My favorite product is the SodaStream Fizzi. Keeps me away from pop (read: soda for the coastal folks).
Who’s a product manager you admire?
Erin Teague. She has had an amazing career, is a fantastic PM leader and is constantly giving back through mentorship and systemic change.
Do you have any short pieces of advice for aspiring Black product managers?
Join our fam forums here and we will connect you with product mentors that will guide you to your first PM role! Don’t sell yourself short. No two PMs have had the same journey, and you are more than capable of being a successful PM!
How can we find out more about you?
You can read more of my PM-related advice on pmwhileBlack.com, and you can see what I am up to in the Black surfer community on my Instagram page, @Black.surfers!
To prepare for your next PM interview, enroll in Exponent's product management course today.
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