Meet Daniel Ayele.
He’s been working in product for over a decade and is currently a Group Product Manager at Atlassian, working out of Las Vegas.
How did you get into product management?
I feel like it was a couple of different phases in life that got me into product and getting excited about it.
My earliest memories are being close to technology and playing with technology.I grew up in Bellevue, Washington, which is right outside Seattle. My dad was a software engineer when I was growing up, and my brothers and I would go to this old electronics store on Saturday mornings and pick out all the old electronics they couldn’t resell and then bring them back to our garage to put them back together.
We put together this old 8086 IBM machine and called one of our friends on the internet. And I remember being this six-year-old losing my mind over how all this worked and just wanting to figure it out.
I got more excited about maths and economics when I got into high school. I ended up majoring in economics at university – where I got introduced to the development of financial technology.
After graduating, I got a job at a start-up called Inflection, which was a public data records search company. That’s where I got my first introduction to product management.
The good thing about a start-up is that you can wear many hats. I got to see how the software was built and the different ways we were trying to grow. I spent a good amount of time in the growth team and eventually fell into a product management role.
What skills do you find to be the most valuable in a product manager?
Stats is a highly underrated skill.
It helps if you have the core principles of thinking statistically. For example, with the experiment results of an A B test, you need statistical thinking to understand what confounding variables were there, what might have been affected to cause the result or if it was a randomised trial.
Because often, we see people dealing with so much data, but they don’t have basic data literacy. And without that, you cannot have a proper conversation about the datain front of you.
Collaboration is also an essential skill.
I live in Las Vegas and moved here during the pandemic. When you’re working remotely, you appreciate even more how central to everything the ability to collaborate effectively is.
I spend a lot of time thinking about collaboration loops – how to make them more effective so that teams can ultimately be more successful with their products.
As a product manager, you must also be an umbrella for your team. With so many people asking for your team’s time and so many distractions, you need to do some blocking for them.
I think the best product managers I know are great at supporting and protecting their teams from distractions, allowing them to focus and get great work done. It gives themthe time and space to do the things that will be the most effective or valuable with the time they have.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
One of the reasons I moved out to Las Vegas is that it’s close to so many national parks. I often go to Red Rock and have been to Zion National Park several times.
The Grand Canyon is not too far away, either. So for the past couple of years, I’ve been doing lots of weekend trips and a lot of hiking.
I do a lot of landscape photography as well. It’s nice to be out in nature.
Outside of that, I snowboard and got into racquet sports in high school and college, so I play some tennis and squash too.
How would you describe product management and this industry to someone who has no idea what it is?
An example I give would be that a product manager is quarterbacking your team.
You need to lead without authority, right? So that means that you’re ultimately responsible for the success or failure of your team, but nobody reports to you. So you need to build that influence by understanding your data really well, understanding your customers really well, and understanding their problems really well. Then you need to communicate effectively with very clear priorities to your team.
People need to believe that what you’re doing will make them more successful, right? So a software engineer will write better code because they’ll be working on the right features. A designer will design the right features because you’ve done the diligence and focus. You’ve brought the team together and made sure suitable structures are in place – much in the same way a quarterback on an NFL football team has to get the linemen in the right place for the play to work.
Each person is doing a job in service of something greater, and it has a broader impact than what’s obvious.
Have you been in a product management situation where things have failed?
It’s not so much any one thing that fails; it’s often two or three things that will fail simultaneously.
We were working on a new product feature that we wanted to ship to Confluence almost a year ago. We had done some due diligence and research around a new way to display specific line comments and use them in the product, and had started building out a fully-featured experience.
We got feedback from leadership early on saying that this was great, and the direction was pretty solid – but they were concerned about certain aspects of it. So, we got some feedback, then iterated on it and got to a place where we were much more confident in the feature.
Once we turned it on for internal dogfooding, we got a tonne of negative feedback. Sometimes there’s an aversion to change, where people just don’t want you to move their cheese – but I think it really had to do with the changes that we made.
We intended to solve one problem, but then hedged ourselves out and started to try to solve two problems. And in doing that, we ended up breaking the pattern for a lot of our power users who had expected this feature to work in a certain way. So, it wasn’t necessarily that it was the wrong solution, but that we were probably five years ahead of where we needed to be in terms of updating the user experience. We didn’t give them a graduation path to getting there.
While we ended up having to shut down, which is not great from a team morale perspective, I do think there were good learnings at the backend in terms of the kind of design work that we had done.
I think biggest learning there was to not get stuck in the weeds on certain things and, to get early feedback and really dig into that feedback. I think you’ll end up with a much better trajectory out the back end and won’t necessarily waste as much time and energy.
Where do you hope to see yourself in five years' time?
I’ve never targeted a role or a level or anything. To me, it’s been more about what impact I can have. So, I see myself still working in product, and in software.
I think that there’s so much happening in terms of emerging technologies, especially in the software space.
I see myself working on evolving products into new emerging technologies. Everything that’s happening in the web3 and cryptocurrency space is just phenomenal. We have global digital native currencies, and we have the next iteration of the internet being bootstrapped as we speak. There’s just so much opportunity there.