Meet this week’s Humans of Product, Darren Fraser. Like many of his fellow Product folk, he stumbled into the Product Manager role after his boss tapped him on the shoulder to inform him he’d be a great fit for a PM.
“I was working at a small systems engineering company in 2008. During my time there they acquired a company that made software, and my boss basically tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know, I think you’d be a really good Product Manager for this product. Do you want to start looking after it officially?”
The first question I had was, what does a Product Manager do? So, I started reading about the profession and thought it sounded great and I was happy to get involved. Funnily enough, I was actually doing a lot of the role already even though I didn’t have the title.
But after putting on his Product Manager hat officially, Darren initially saw the role as a possible pathway to something else.
“When I first entered Product Management, I thought it was fantastic but also believed it was a stepping stone to be a manager or run a business. I thought I would learn all these amazing skills and then in a few years, I’d be running big teams.
Which is exactly what happened. At one point in my career, I was running a team of about 100 people and covering Product and Program Management, marketing and R&D and everything in between.
I did that General Manager role for about four years and learned some great skills but the evolution of that role became much more about financial forecasting and sales which I wasn’t really passionate about.
It was at this point I started looking for opportunities to get back into Product Management. I had realised I wanted my career to focus on creating products and everything that goes with that.
I’ve had lots of different opportunities as my career’s evolved. I’ve done all sorts of roles from technical support to creating new products and evolving existing ones, all the way to managing the 100 person team but Product Management is what I really enjoy.
After his realisation that Product was his true love, Darren decided to start looking for avenues to get more involved in the Product Management industry again.
“I started to search for Product conferences. I began reading a lot more Product Management books to wrap my head around what’s happening in the broader industry. It was at that moment in my career, I really started to talk to a lot more Product Managers to learn how I can improve from their experiences.
I am a big supporter of Leading the Product. I was part of the Leading the Product Season Pass community this year which has been great. It’s also been great to try and drive some of the practices I’ve learned from all these avenues into our company.”
Darren is currently leading the Product practice as Product Director for a product called AVEVA Insight.
”I work for a company called AVEVA. AVEVA is a software company that drives digital transformation for organisations that manage complex industrial processes. Everything from design and execution of large engineering projects to the operation and maintenance of industrial assets.
I’m Product Director for a product called AVEVA Insight which is a native cloud platform for industrial operations. In simple terms, we help companies understand how their industrial assets are performing and get the most from those investments. It’s a unique platform that can be applied to any industry, depending on the customer’s requirements.”
Traveling all over the world has been a highlight of Darren’s journey.
“One great thing about AVEVA is that it is global. It’s allowed me the opportunity to see lots of different industries and countries. It’s been a journey. I’ve been to more than 40 countries as a part of my work.
Before COVID, I was traveling to the US six to eight times a year. I went to Europe and Asia often as well. Every six weeks or so I would be off to another destination to meet with customers and partners.
I’ve had a couple of opportunities to live overseas during my career. During the Sydney Olympics, I was flying out of the country for the first time in my life to live in the Middle East for 12 months.
We lived in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. This was when I was still doing engineering. We designed, implemented, and installed the system for monitoring all of the water and wastewater assets for the local water authority. I was heavily involved in developing the software at the time and spent 12 months installing and commissioning that project.
Then, around 2005 I was involved in an acquisition of a software company in the UK. Up until that point, our company had been an integrator using somebody else’s software. And we went from integrator to vendor. I was heavily involved in productizing that software for indirect sales and I lived in the UK for 2 ½ years to set up our Global Test and Support Centre for it.”
After all that travel experience, we wanted to know what Darren’s favourite places were,
”I have two favourite places and they’re completely different. I love New York. The first time I went there was in the early 2000s and I just loved it. There’s never a dull moment there which was just fantastic.
Then, on the flip side, my other favourite is Venice which is the complete opposite of NYC. In Venice, you can wander around for hours having no idea where you are without any particular plan of where you want to go. But, you know after some point in time, you’ll get back to the main canal and reorient yourself. It’s just a completely different feel.”
And when Darren is not traveling around the world or managing innovative products he also has some hilarious stories about trying to navigate life in lockdown.
“My daughter had her HSC trials just after we entered lockdown this year. So, the entire family was working and schooling from home. It was a couple of days before the exams and my wife and daughter pulled me aside and said, “So we have a problem, you talk too loud.”
Our house, unfortunately, has relatively thin walls and I guess I am a bit of a loud talker. For the duration of her trial exams, at about eight o’clock, every morning, I would grab my phone and I’d go for a drive. For around three hours, starting at 8 am, I would take all of my calls sitting in the car.
Once the exam was finished I was allowed to be home again! We live in a beautiful area so it wasn’t exactly a punishment. I took all my work calls looking at a lake but it was during stay-at-home orders so I was always imagining the conversation to be had if a policeman knocked on my window… Sorry sir, my family says I’m too loud!”
Darren’s final piece of advice, aside from his ingenious car/office setup:
“Don’t be the smartest person in the room. One of the key values I have tried to instil in my team is to always challenge ideas. You don’t need to surround yourself with people who will agree with your ideas because it doesn’t matter where the good ideas come from. The goal should be to build up a great team and surround yourself with smart people. More opportunities will come knocking at your door when you are surrounded by smart people who will challenge you to be great at what you do.”