Product Managing Your Career—Stanford PM Instructor Daniel Elizalde

path to pm
Stephen CognettaStephen CognettaLast updated

Daniel Elizalde teaches Internet of Things product management at Stanford University, and works as an Internet-of-Things PM Coach full-time. In this Path to PM blog post, Daniel and I discuss IoT product management and how to succeed in PM recruiting by imagining yourself as a product.

Tell us about how you broke into product management.
I was born and raised in Mexico City, went to school there, and graduated with a dual degree in Electronics and Computer Science. My first job was in Austin, Texas at a company called National Instruments, which is an industrial automation and instrumentation company. That was a fascinating job for me because it started me on a path of IoT that I work on today.

One of my favorite roles in that company was serving as a solutions architect for the consulting team. My role was to go out to customer sites to understand how our technology could solve their needs. I loved that I could speak with customers and then bring back the customer feedback to the team. I could tell marketing about how to adjust their positioning or how R&D should be working on different features to target customer needs. That was really when my love of product began.

I've been working in product related work for about 20 years now.

Why does IoT PM particularly excite you?
I believe that these types of cyber-physical systems are really the next cutting edge of technology for us and helping us solve some of the biggest challenges facing us today.

These types of systems are helping us create a more reliable energy grid or to integrate renewable sources into the grid, or creating autonomous vehicles, or helping us clean the oceans. Those sorts of things. I'm passionate because I can see these incredible applications.

Are there any misconceptions about IoT product management?
I hope to demystify this idea that IoT is just smart toasters and coffee makers that send you text messages. That certainly exists, but the power lies somewhere deeper.

Also, the scope of IoT development is much much bigger. When you're in a mobile app, you have challenges connecting to APIs, etc. That's hard enough as it is. But with these types of products you have hardware, you have embedded software, you have networking hardware/software, cloud platforms, front-end applications, etc. Often times, they are going into critical infrastructure applications - energy, healthcare, water. So the level of risk and complexity is elevated to a high degree.

Do you have any advice for aspiring product managers?
Think of yourself like a product.

If you’re a PM candidate and think about yourself like a product, you start asking the right questions. Who is my customer? What are their needs? What company is having a pain that I could be the best solution for? These questions help to narrow down the types of companies and opportunities that you might consider. Otherwise, it becomes a blanket statement - "who's hiring?" I mean, my dentist is hiring, should I go work there?

Some of the questions I get from PMs, even senior PMs, are things like: "Should I get an MBA" or "Should I learn this coding language?" I say, I don't know. If you were talking about yourself as a product, would you ask a random person if you should build a new feature?

What do your "customers" think or care about? Engage with them - companies can tell you what sorts of qualities they're looking for, and help you make the right career decisions. Be focused.

I think asking yourself these introspective questions can also help you articulate a better story in the interview process.

How would you answer the “What is your favorite product and why?” PM interview question?
One of my favorite products is the Tesla Model S car. The interesting thing about it is that it really is a full IoT product. It has sensors, hardware, collects data, sends it to the cloud, etc.

What I really like about that car is that they don't push it as an IoT product. It's a unique, excellent vehicle that solves the user problem of transportation that's positioned toward a well-thought out niche with a mission.

Is there a book or blog that you'd recommend?
Product Roadmaps Relaunched by C. Todd Lombardo and Bruce McCarthy. I think that is one of the best books that has come out in terms of product recently.

Anything else you’d like to mention?
One of my core missions is to continue to push forward the PM profession. I do believe that the IoT is the new normal, and is way more complex than normal. PMs need to catch up and make sure we can understand these new trends coming our way.

Learn more about Daniel Elizalde at his site where you can read his blog on IoT Product Management and listen to his podcast: IoT Product Leadership.

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