Mega-corp to growth stage company transition
How changing jobs has meaningfully impacted my sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose
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It’s been two months since I left a wonderful and huge tech company (read Starting a new job – ready, set, go) and in Mind the Beet’s spirit of sharing our lived experiences with our community, I’d love to tell you about my observations on the differences between a large tech company and a mid-size growth startup.
In reflecting on my short time at my new company, I find myself really fulfilled and happy. I’m excited to get up in the morning and tackle the problems of the day. I am aware that I’m still in the initial glow of a new job, but nonetheless, the question stands on what has meaningfully changed from company A to company B to give me this renewed spring in my step. Lucky for me, Adam has shared the Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose framework awhile back and when evaluating across all three aspects of AMP, I see a meaningful change in my perception of autonomy, mastery and purpose that I have. Let’s break this down.
💪🏻 Autonomy – Meaningful increase of influence at my career stage
The cool thing about going to a smaller company is the spike in autonomy. And sure – that’s a reasonable expectations, but the “big pond, small fish vs. big fish in a small pond” metaphor is a bit more nuanced in real life. Combining the seniority I was hired in at with my previous experience working in a matrixed company, and my cross functional background, I perceive my ability to move the levers of the organization to be incredibly inspiring. As I compare this to my ability to do the same at a large, established corporation, it is closer to someone who is 5-10 years later in their career journey than I am.
Additionally, I love that it is easier to find opportunities to contribute outside your immediate domain/ownership. Basically, if you see a problem and have the energy and time to propose a solution and see it through, it is welcomed and supported. Additionally, as a manager, I am able to support my team in doing the same, which they in term find empowering. For example, I encourage senior PMs to share, set up and operationalize best practices for the broader product organization as opposed to think of just their areas. For me, I don’t feel confined to just thinking about product, but able and expected to think holistically about the customer experience (including operations, marketing, support) - and that is incredibly rewarding for me.
As a manager, I have also noticed that I am less bound to a one size fits all approach in terms of my personal training and prep. I am able to get external help via 3rd party coaching, Dare to Lead certifications and more – that best fits my needs rather than going through the required manager training developed internally for the mega tech corporation. By the way, this is not a knock on how big companies tackle this – for a first time manager, the internal trainings were great, mandatory resources to help with initial “schooling” and to level set everyone on expectations as a manager. However, as I progress in my career as a manager, having more autonomy to pick what kind of support I need to succeed, feels great.
🏆 Mastery – Bringing my A game to the PM discipline
Having come from running a worldwide service for 100M+ users, my mastery of what a PM should do is a meaningful and important contribution. Consequently, I was able to participate from almost day 1 to my team and broader organization on what it means to be a product leader.
For example, I quickly identified attainable wins to help us be more product focused – like providing our own employees an opportunity to give feedback on our product. It was amazing to me how often we said “let’s eat our own dogfood” but didn’t necessarily think through how to operationalize that. Additionally, I asked the right questions to assess bandwidth constraints across the PM team and used that to jointly with the time come up with a few small but doable ideas on how to free up space for innovation (this had a cascading positive effect on both designers and developers as well). Some of this spanned making meetings more effective (back to the basics of adding agendas and sending notes), reducing frequency/length of meetings, dividing and conquering and punting on randomizing requests to various other decision-making forums so we could stay focused.
While it’s great that I feel like I have some knowledge and experiences that can help other PMs grow, I don’t think I’d be as fulfilled on the topic of mastery if I wasn’t also able to be in an environment where I would be learning myself, believe I want to always be sharpening my craft (side note - I love Michael Gervais’s podcast series on Finding Mastery where he interviews masters of their trade and their advice on how to get there).
So coming into a business that needs to get to scale brings an opportunity to build the right tools, rhetoric and processes around it. It’s exciting to use my past experiences of using systems at scale (business desk for customer requests, execution reviews and shiprooms, accountability and follow throughs at all levels of the organization) to now introduce and think through the right approach. The organization I am in now, over-time will move from celebrating every big customer contract to celebrating technology and operational flows that we put in place to allow us to sign, launch and support not 10s of enterprise customers but 1000s and beyond. I can’t wait for all that I will learn, adopt the good stuff and avoid pitfalls I’ve observed, to help the organization scale up.
Net-net, it was comforting to realize that at the end of the day, the PM at a 200K person or at a ~1000 person company has the same essential responsibility to get a product built and shipped by defining what it is and why it matters. I continue to see that the skill set required is a mix of hard and soft skills – an effective combination of being scenario focused, tech savvy and a strong communicator/collaborator. And the best news – these skills are transferable.
If you are honing your PM skills, there are a ton of resources out there, but here are my few favorite tips:
· Push yourself to really understand the customer problem you are trying to solve (I like using the 5 why’s approach)
· Write well organized and succinct product specs/briefs that clearly convey your customer problem and scenario (lead with a user needs statement)
· Write meaningful and regular status updates to keep stakeholders aligned
· Always send notes after meetings where you made decisions, discussed open issues or have follow ups that need to happen. If you organized a meeting or attended a meeting without notes, I’d ask the question if the meeting needed to happen.
🙌🏻 Increased sense of purpose – an added bonus
Upon graduating from college with an ever-practical political science degree, I found a career in politics, because I believed it to be a meaningful way to serve our country (following my parents footsteps in becoming a doctor was out of the question due to my dislike of blood and memorizing human parts in Latin). Over time, my interests shifted and I looked for a new way to achieve that purpose – which led me to business which evolved to tech as that is what I believed to be the most meaningful way to drive change in the world. As I was approaching 9ish years at one of the largest tech companies in the world and the pandemic hit, I started wondering how else I can help as my sense of purpose was weaning.
I was starting to look for some cool way to volunteer to give back (I looked seriously at COVID-19 Tracking Project) and/or to help with remote learning (living through it first-hand as a parent was eye opening), but I wasn’t thinking about my job needing to be mission driven as a key requirement.
However, now that I am at a mission-based company, it feels really rewarding to be a part of upskilling and reskilling the American workforce especially since technology has played such a big part in changing the landscape of employment in America. While I don’t think about purpose every day, I do know that I am directly impacting wellbeing and job prospects of real people. I am having impact at a lesser scale than I did in my previous company, but the opportunity to help someone unlock new doors with education is real and humbling.
In retrospect, the job I am doing right now really does feel meaningful and purposeful and that adds to my enthusiasm and joy of coming to work. I wasn’t expecting that – but grateful to have it.
Tying it all together
My biggest takeaway on why I was able to move positively across the spectrum of AMP, is because I have found a sweet spot of going from a huge company to a mid-size growing startup. I am able to have the best of both worlds –in leveraging past learnings and processes, I build better product, which brings me joy and satisfaction. This reflection also makes me appreciate that I made the right decision in going from super big to a mid-size growth company vs. an early stage, truly small start-up.
So if you are currently at a big company wondering what it’s like to make the jump to a smaller size organization, I hope this write up sheds some light on types of opportunities I am experiencing.