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Coffee with Amit Somani on Product Management!

17 May 2008 7 Comments
Hi All,

Its my pleasure to invite Amit Somani, Product Management Head, Search, Consumer Applications and Infrastructure, Google India.. for a show on Coffee With Sundar! In this episode, We mainly talk about Product Management, typical day @ Work, product development cycle etc.. So, without further ado, its Coffee With Amit Somani!!

Coffee With Amit Somani
Me: Sundar Rajan G S
AS: Amit Somani

Me: Hello Amit, Can you please introduce yourself. You can talk about your educational qualifications/prior Industrial Experiences. What Companies you worked for. What were the roles you played etc.

AS: I’m a technologist at heart. I started my career in the mid-90’s at IBM’s prestigious Almaden Research Center working with and for some of the best computer scientists in the world. Almaden is where the relational database was invented, as was SQL and numerous innovations over the last many decades.

After about 6 years at Research, I wanted to get closer to the customer and a line of business type role so I jumped into the IBM Software Group. There I led the creation of an Unstructured Information Management portfolio through several new products that we created and two acquisitions. When I left IBM almost exactly a year ago, I was the Director for WW Engineering and Product Management for the IBM Enterprise Search and Discovery group.

Today, I’m heading Product Management for Search, Consumer Apps and Infrastructure at Google, India.

Me: Can you explain to us what a typical day @ Office would be? I can safely assume that there will be multi-dimensionality in your job. Can you explain about it?

As: Product Management at Google is a very, very exciting role. Every day is a new adventure. Two activities where I spend the most time :

(a) Figuring out how users are using your products. Google is a very data driven company. One spends a lot of time looking at metrics for user happiness, usage, etc. as a way to figure out user happiness.

(b) Working closely with engineers to build or improve features for existing products or create new products.

Of course, as a product manager, you also spend a lot of time reading about what’s happening in the market, working with a cross functional team across Marketing, Sales, etc.

Me: There are 2 ways for one to become a product manager… One is rise up the technical ladder and then become a PRODUCT manager… The other is to pursue an MBA.. What are the pros and cons of both these approaches…? Are there differences in the roles played by the *PMs*…?

AS: Both are viable approaches depending on the kind of product you’d be leading and the culture of the company that you’re based at. Google is a very technology driven company and hence whether you have an MBA or not, practically all of the PMs at Google have a technical background and in most cases they have an undergrad in Computer Science. We also have folks who have a graduate degrees like MS and PhD’s in Computer Science who go on to do a PM role.

An MBA definitely helps develop your business and analytical skills, ability to understand markets, improves your communication skills, helps you build a great network of people, etc. There are many technology companies where an MBA is a must for you to get into a Product Management role.

Me: Can you explain the product development cycle in IT industry… Who are the various players in the life cycle and what their responsibilities…are… Can you explain this..

AS: There are a lots of different technologies and methodologies that exist in the industry so it would be hard to cover all of those here. Let me talk about two approaches which are representative of a significant fraction of our industry – one is an enterprise product (from a company like IBM, Oracle, Symantec, etc.) and another one is more of a Software as a Service – SaaS (from say a Google, Yahoo, Amazon, etc.)

The major roles and players are generally the same – i.e. Sales, Marketing, Product Management, Engineering, etc. However, typically, for an enterprise product, you will likely have a more established Customer Support organization, a pre- and post- Sales Organization, etc. On the SaaS side, you will have an organization that ships software much more iteratively, perhaps as frequently as every day. You will typically also have core competency in operations management.

The way the development cycle works is typically similar across both styles. Typically you start with a market and set of customers you want to focus on within that. You might represent something like that with a Market Requirements Document (MRD). You then understand and articulate the pain points for these customers and define a product or a set of features that will address these pain points. This is usually called a Product requirements document (PRD).

Engineering will typically then figure out what’s the best, most innovative and effective way to build the product. Simultaneously, the product is being sold to customers (in an enterprise world); once the product is ready and bought by a customer, it will be deployed, etc. On the SaaS side, its sort of “instant” deployment.

Me: What are the metrics on which your performance is assessed? What are the success metrics for a web product? Can you explain with examples?

AS: Its all about Users 🙂 Users, Users, and more Users. Typically that translates into number of new users, usage and user happiness metrics.

Me: What the typical Career path of the product managers in IT industry… What are the various options available to them?

AS: If your passion is to create innovative new products, Product Management is sort of a destination job – once you get there you try different products, different markets but that’s what you do 🙂

However, just as well, since a PM has a cross-functional leadership job it lends itself really well to General Management or Business Leadership positions.

If you have operational and people management experience along with PM experience, it would be an ideal combination for a CEO type role as well.

Me: What is the best thing you like about product management as a career? What are the occupational hazards associated with product management?

AS: It gives you the direct ability to have impact to real customers and be a able to measure it. It lets you to see the big picture, even create it in some cases. Occupational hazard associated with Product Management – its the Eagle’s song titled Hotel California – You can checkout any time you like, but you
can never leave! 🙂

Me: Thank you Amit, for sharing your insights on Product Management.
AS: Thank you! I hope it was helpful! 🙂

Readers, hope you enjoyed this edition of Coffee With Experts! For the previous episodes,
check it out here.




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  • Amit Kangutkar said:

    Dear Amit,

    We having the nice opening with one of our client Senate technology,located at pune for the profile of Web product Manager.If you are looking for the same then revert ASAP or atleast give me some refferences for the same.-Amit K.

  • dymndapyBoamnalori said:

    npnuwghttwxhnjgrwell, hi admin adn people nice forum indeed. how’s life? hope it’s introduce branch 😉

  • Shama said:

    Good one Sundar. Thank you for sharing this wealth of info from a veteran!

  • Ganesh Natarajan said:

    Hi Sundar,

    Thanks for the article, though I guess I read it a bit late. I work for Confianzys Consulting, a company which is dedicated to evangelizing product management. We have our own series as well where we talk with Innovation leaders: http://www.confianzys.com/blog/?cat=112. Do read it and let me know your feedback

    Ganesh Natarajan