Meet this week’s Humans of Product, Brad Shaw. Now based in Newcastle, Australia, but has spent a lot of his time traveling the world (25 countries and 25 states of the US to be exact!). “Living in Canada helped with visiting the 25 states of the United States of America. I think I nearly filled up my passport with entry and exit stamps.”
Whilst living in Canada, Brad picked up what any other local would do, skiing and skating!
Unfortunately for him, Australia isn’t as ice cold as Canada, so he had to trade that skill for some other sports. Brad is currently coming off an injury, but ready to hit the ground running this New Year with the aim of getting back into running 50kms a week, just like the good ol’ days.
When talking to Brad, it was evident that his journey into Product Management was both unexpected but rewarding.
“I started out not really knowing what I wanted to do. I liked technology, and my older brother did Electrical Engineering so I thought it sounded alright. I was a bit more of a computer nerd so I threw myself into Computer Engineering. I had no idea what that meant and I had no real clear career path.
I did reasonably well and enjoyed most of the course, and then I got picked up at a career fair to work for an Industrial Automation, Control Systems Engineering company. I was building industrial control systems for water utilities – essentially helping to ensure that clean water comes out of your tap, and that waste water goes down the sewer (not the street!).
I was doing that for quite a few years, and dare I say, I got quite good at it! I moved up the ranks in that company from a cadet through to a Senior Systems Engineer, leading teams of engineers delivering projects across Australia.
I still didn’t quite know what the next career move was and couldn’t really see what my career path ahead of me was. The only next step I could see was to become a Project Manager and then a Business Unit Manager, but that didn’t really appeal to me.
Then something exciting happened! An opportunity came up where I got to move overseas with the same broader company, to help a product organisation and team to work more closely with their customers and help them with the solutions.
I was based in Canada where they didn’t really have the high-end product application expertise, however they did have an existing Product team. That was the point where I had my first real engagement with a Product Manager.
In Australia, we would periodically receive a new version of software that had a couple more features, but your focus would be on that one version of the Product and to deliver a solution. Whereas, this was my first exposure to the Product line where new versions would be produced and I was a bit closer to that ecosystem.
Then, the current Product Manager was moving on and the company started looking for a new person to fill this role. My boss pulled me aside, and suggested that I should apply. I quickly dismissed it as I believed I was too young and far too inexperienced. I felt like Product Managers were up there on a pedestal, and there was this huge gap between where I was and where a Product Manager was.
I was interested, but I just couldn’t see myself filling those boots. I thought it was too big a step, and even though moving into Product would mean that I’d no longer be able to fulfil my current role in his team, my boss saw my potential and didn’t want to hold me back.
He posed the question “If you want to do it, and you don’t think you’re ready now, then what would you do in the next 12 or 18 months to get yourself more ready?” It challenged me and got me thinking. If not now, then when? It forced me to think critically around what my barriers were. Did I have actual knowledge or capability gaps, or was it just my own inhibition? My insecurity prevented me from putting my hand up initially, but I said “I’ll do it!” and I’ve never looked back.
I held this role for about 5 years, and throughout that time, there were a lot of business landscape changes that occurred. So after nearly 3 amazing years in Canada my wife and I (plus one extra Aussie/Canadian we grew while over there) moved back to Australia.
I figured if I’m not located with either my Manager (who was in Ottawa – the other side of Canada) or my R&D team (who were in the UK), then it doesn’t matter where I live.
The business landscape was evolving such that colocation with the Sydney team, as part of the broader business, was beneficial. Back in Australia, I continued to lead this product for another 2.5 years.
After this, I took an opportunity to work closely with the Sydney R&D team on a different product in our portfolio, where I wasn’t the technical expert and it forced me to focus on my Product skills not rely on my Technical competence. It exposed me to new industries and customer needs, across many more countries, and different channels to market.
Fast forward to October 2021, and another internal transfer, this time moving from on-premise Industrial Automation software to a different department that looks after our Cloud Platform for Industrial Operations. This role is more collaborative with the R&D team and more customer focused, with lots of opportunity for rapid experimentation in both the problem and solution space.
I believe as a Product Manager, that we need to be more customer-led with our products and understand their true needs. We should be rolling out products that provide both the functionality and capability of delivering business and customer outcomes rather than just adding one more new shiny feature. It ensures that we are really valuing the input of customers and using these as validation of what our ideas are throughout the Product journey.”
For Brad, it didn’t take the Avengers to come and save the day, it only took his boss to tap on his shoulder and give him the courage to go for it! He had to overcome his insecurities to finally hold up the Product Management shield, ready to take on the next chapter of his career.
“That moment of picking up the ball and putting on the Product Manager mantle will forever be a huge defining moment in my career. I have revelled in evolving my understanding of what that was, to the point of where it is now. It’s been a huge journey for me. About 9 years ago, I got that tap on the shoulder that changed my life. The concept of what it meant to be a Product Manager was less defined, and there was less formalisation of it.
It was fairly well established within the company and well defined from a structural point of view; there was a Product Manager, managing a Product team made up of Engineers and Tech Authors as well as the support, marketing, and operations teams behind the scenes. But within the broader ecosystem at the time, I had very limited exposure to Product Management resources and training. I had to find my own way and do what I thought was best. I was living in Calgary, with the rest of the Product Management team based in Ottawa on the other side of the country, and the R&D team in the UK!”
For many, with great responsibility comes great challenges. With the first product Brad managed, he was the Product expert and thrust into responsibility. He may have known everything about the product and been the guy that would be brought in to solve customer problems, but when he was in charge of a product that he wasn’t an expert in, he was faced with an important realisation.
“I was trying to battle this perception or expectation that the Product Managers need to be the expert in the product. At that time, I didn’t know all the settings or all the details, but I knew how to articulate the way in which it solved problems. A learning experience for me was this, how to be a Product Manager without being an expert in the product.
My advice for others is that you don’t need to feel like you have to be an expert. You’ve got a team of experts who know how to back you up. That’s their job to understand how it works and how it delivers on the objective. Your job is to understand what needs it solves for the customers and how it does that. If you don’t know already, look into what areas it needs to improve in order to deliver enhanced value for the business and continue to solve needs in more efficient ways for the customer going forward.”
Brad could not have imagined that he would find himself as a Product Manager. He was graduating high school with Engineering in mind, and a love for computers and technology! Fast forward to today, and he is a Product Manager that has a burning passion for what he does and wants to constantly learn from others.
“If you’d asked me all those years ago when I finished my degree, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?”, there’s no way in the world that I would have mapped out this career path. I really enjoy where I am and whilst there’s been some challenging times over the last 5 years, transitioning between Products, Managers and business units, the core of Product Management and what that role encompasses, is really exciting.
As long as there’s an opportunity to keep doing that and growing, I will continue to build products that customers love. I’m taking a very active role in progressing my career, with mentorship, training and leadership opportunities.
There are so many people that I follow on Twitter and LinkedIn that have provided so much perspective and value to the Product community. Whether it’s just a post they share or the books or articles they write, it is invaluable to this industry. For example, Marty Cagan, Teresa Torres, Rich Mironov, and John Cutler (to name a few!) are role models and thought leaders in the profession that are the shining lights to help guide and provide influence to younger and more Junior people.
Most recently, I helped onboard the new Product Manager taking over my previous role. I wasn’t really looking forward to it, as I saw it as a task I just had to do. I thought it’d be arduous and maybe even a little bit frustrating, but I knew that he needed help – this role was his transition into the Product Management profession.
I took it upon myself to guide him and give him the start to finish of what Product Management is about, because after all, he came from a technical background like I did at the start of my career. I suggested books and articles to read, as well as people to follow on LinkedIn to hear their stories, and in the end it became a really fulfilling experience.
This instilled in me an interest for coaching and mentoring others wanting to get into Product Management. I loved being able to help others get on board and fulfill their passion. And in a few short weeks, it’s been amazing to see him start to take the reins and effect positive change already.”