Vanessa Garber is Director of Product Management for Raizlabs, a Rightpoint company. She is responsible for product quality and delivery, and her portfolio includes innovative products and mobile apps made in the Oakland office. As part of our #WomensHistoryMonth series highlighting women in leadership at Rightpoint, we sought out Vanessa’s insights on product management, management styles and the importance of sponsorship in the interview below. This is part 3 in the series; read our interviews with other women in leadership at Rightpoint throughout this week.
What advice do you have for women looking to break into the product development and management space?
Product Management is about bringing new things into the world. You need to be passionate about inventing things and ensuring that your products see the light of day. The other skills can be learned, but that drive to deliver is something that needs to be ingrained in your everyday way of thinking.
What’s the most important skill you believe a Product Manager should have?
As the Product Manager, you act as the rally point for developers, designers, data engineers, dev ops, stakeholders, and clients. You are the person who brings everyone all together.
One skill that all successful product managers have is the ability to “manage without authority.” On a project, no one reports to you, but you are responsible for delivering the product. It is critical to learn how to manage through influence.
As a woman working in Product Management, how do you approach product management?
As women in tech, we often find ourselves as the minority. I believe that can be an asset. Multiple perspectives create interesting products. But, particularly in cases where there may not be many other women around you, “managing without authority” is challenging.
The way you overcome it is by building healthy work relationships. Spend time learning who you’re working with, how they like to work, and how they can partner with you. Some may argue that the main responsibility of the Product Manager is to the product, but it’s important to remember that it is people who build those products. Product Managers don’t deliver anything alone.
Sometimes this means you need to be a little louder, a little more persistent, and need a little more time to find common ground with your team. Be patient with yourself, and your team members; find areas where you can align around common goals.
A passion for making great products combined with diversity of thought, and empowering, intelligent discourse makes for a better product outcome and successful team.
You’ve been active as a mentor in the bay area product community. How important is mentorship in this space?
I would love to help everyone, but I don’t always have the time! And I think many of us relate to that feeling. While mentors can be incredibly helpful, women may want to start thinking more about sponsorship. Not everyone is going to be a great coach, give the best advice, or have time to be your mentor. But there are lots of people who can be your sponsor.
Sponsors are the kinds of people who make sure that doors open for you, or who make introductions to opportunities you wouldn’t have had otherwise. People love helping each other, and while not everyone is a great fit as a mentor, there is a whole community of people in technology who can make introductions that could change your career. Just be ready when the opportunity comes.
And, if you haven’t read “Never Eat Alone”, you should pick up a copy.
What woman in your life has has been inspirational to you?
I worked for a woman named Jennifer Paulus who ran customer service in the first job I had in tech. My first day on the job, Jennifer sat me down and said, “I’m so glad I hired someone smarter than me. I’m so grateful to have you here.” Every day, she expressed gratitude, not just for me, but the whole team, and was entirely sincere. She championed us, every single day.
A few months into the role, after doing some research, I went to her and said that I want to be a product manager. She immediately sponsored my move from the customer service team to the product team, and created alignment throughout the organization on my behalf. She was the first of many people who’ve done that for me, and I am very grateful. To have powerful, thoughtful women paving the way for others is something that Jennifer exemplified. I hope to do the same for others.