After a 6 year break… I’m back to blogging again!
- After 4 years and 2 internships I left Microsoft, it was tough but I was seeking a change and Databricks felt like the right opportunity at the right time.
- The initial 90 days in a new Product Manager role can be quite demanding. Here are some key takeaways:
- Embrace adaptability; familiarize yourself with the team dynamics and adapt to their communication style.
- Talk to customers… like ALOT of customer
- If you are working on an enterprise product, talk to your field sales team regularly.
- Embrace a fast-paced environment, learn from mistakes, and actively seek feedback.
- Foster a sense of community within the organization.
- Have a plan for your first 30-60-90 days and celebrate your wins.
- Databricks is a great company to work at. While it presents challenges like most companies, the rewards are substantial, and the people here are not only talented but also exceptionally friendly, welcoming, and supportive.
- The transition has been a remarkable journey, and I’m constantly expanding my knowledge and skills.
So… I’m leaving Microsoft after 4 years..
My decision to leave Microsoft wasn’t an easy one and took quite some time to finally move, but alas, in September 2023, I decided to leave behind something familiar and embark on a new adventure @ Databricks. As I sit down to pen this blog, I reflect on the whirlwind of experiences that have defined my first 90 days as a Senior Product Manager at Databricks.
Motivated by the insightful posts of fellow PMs at Databricks, such as Greg, Bilal and Eric, I decided to take a shot at sharing my own experiences about stepping out of my comfort zone. Like many early and mid-career product managers, I often found myself wondering about the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of a career transition and the strategies to navigate them successfully. With this blog, I aim to provide a perspective that I wish I had encountered when I first embarked on my journey to find new opportunities.
Why leave Microsoft?
People have often asked me, “Why did you make the move?” The answer is multifaceted.
First and foremost, I needed a change. Although I still strongly believe Microsoft is one of the best places to start and grow your career, after 4 years and 2 internships on the same team, I felt a compelling desire to explore new horizons and challenge myself in a different setting. I believed that intentionally changing my environment and pushing myself out of my comfort zone would greatly enhance my learning and career prospects, ultimately yielding dividends in the future.
Secondly, the interview process and conversations with the individuals on the Databricks team played a pivotal role in my decision. It instilled in me the confidence that Databricks was the right fit for my aspirations. The opportunity offered the perfect blend of potential future financial growth, with the possibility of an IPO, and the chance to experience leadership within a smaller company. This aligns with my goal of gaining the skills needed to start my own company in the future.
Key Takeaways from the new place
At Databricks, I found myself immersed in a culture that was both invigorating and challenging. Here are the key takeaways from my first 90 days.
PM Tips from my first 90 days
- Engage with customers… like A LOT of customers. Also, if you’re working on an enterprise product, maintain regular communication with your field sales team. The numerous customer calls and interactions with the field sales team I’ve had in the past 90 days have provided me with an exceptionally strong foundation of product knowledge and valuable internal and external connections, which will be crucial for building future products.
- Embrace a fast-paced environment, learn from mistakes, and actively seek feedback. Things move at lightning speed here! There’s a genuine bias for action at Databricks. In the last 90 days alone, I’ve either been a part of or witnessed the most feature launches in my entire career.
- For me this is probably the most I have achieved in a 90 day span in my career. Within this short period, I’ve co-authored two blog posts (LLM as a Judge, Evaluation with MLflow), overseen the release of numerous new features for the product I manage (MLflow), interviewed 40+ customers, ran the first product survey in recent year, attended Afrotech, and engaged in countless other activities.
- Adaptability is 🔑. Not only are all the tools new, the way PM’s are expected to persuade your team to prioritise features is different. Rather than getting frustrated, I had to quickly adapt to the environment and blend my past experiences to meet the unique demands of my new role.
- Foster a sense of community within the organization. To my pleasant surprise, Databricks has a thriving Black employee network (see my post here). Honestly, when I joined Databricks, I didn’t have high expectations in this regard, as AI tech companies are not typically known for their diverse communities. I’m hopeful that Databricks will continue to make progress in this area.
- Have a plan for your first 30-60-90 days. Before starting, I read many blogs about planning your first 90 days. Working with my manager to agree on some milestones and goals for each of these intervals was great for my confidence and give me something to celebrate. In my case:
- Day 0-30: I focused my first 30 days on onboarding, getting to know the team, competitive analysis, product walkthroughs, and talking to customers. Also, sharing the findings and notes with my team and the company helped enhance my reputation as a bright new PM on the team.
- Day 30-60: I focused on creating insights and invalidated/validated hypotheses from customer interviews, as well as assisting the team with sprint planning, based on my newly gained knowledge of the product from my first 30 days. I feel like this helped build my reputation as one of the new leaders on the team.
- Day 60-90: I focused on blog writing, releasing some scoped-down product requirement documents, and demoing my product to all our sales reps. I feel like this helped build my reputation both externally and internally as a thought leader working on ML at Databricks.
- Day 90+: I reflected on my first 90 day journey and started creating more long term plans on how I can make more impact.
Takeaway about Databricks
- Databricks Culture: Databricks’ culture is exceptionally open and collaborative! While many companies claim to be open, Databricks takes it to a whole new level. Transparency runs deep, from the CEO to senior leadership to managers, everyone holds themselves accountable. This level of openness is truly motivating and quickly reminds you that nobody is perfect.
- Customer Obsession: Most companies boast about being “customer obsessed,” but at Databricks, it’s a reality. In my first 90 days, I’ve conducted over 40 customer calls, participated in numerous informational sessions with our field sales team, and engaged in various competitor analyses and product walkthroughs. As a Product Manager, this experience has provided me with invaluable insights into customer needs and the support required for successful product sales.
- Customer Love for Databricks: Databricks customers are genuinely passionate about the company. I’m not sure what it is, but people absolutely adore Databricks. Whenever I interact with a customer or someone who has used our product, they never fail to express their love for it and its cutting-edge features. This level of enthusiasm was not something I encountered in my previous experiences at other companies.
- Excitement About the IPO: I won’t deny it; IPOs are thrilling. Personally, with the impending IPO on the horizon, I can sense an atmosphere charged with excitement and determination. The journey ahead is truly electrifying, and being a part of it fills me with immense pride.
Reflection about Microsoft
- Microsoft undeniably stands as one of the foremost enterprise software companies globally. During my time at Microsoft, I may not have fully grasped the extent of its influence. However, my experience at Databricks has shed light on this fact. It’s become abundantly clear that nearly all the customers I engage with rely on Microsoft solutions within their enterprise, particularly in light of the partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI.
So… What’s Next and my Aspirations
As I look ahead, I find myself daring to dream BIG once again. In my role as a Senior Product Manager at Databricks, I feel empowered to turn those dreams into reality. My ambitions include spearheading the launch of a new iteration of an industry-leading software, a goal I’m particularly excited about achieving with MLflow, the product I lead—an open-source tool boasting an impressive 14 million monthly downloads.
Additionally, I aspire to expand Databricks’ presence by introducing offices or AI initiatives to more regions in Africa, including my homeland, Nigeria. Lastly, I would love to collaborate with enterprises and the open-source community in LATAM, where I can put my five years of Spanish language learning into practice.
In closing, my first 90 days at Databricks have been a whirlwind of change and personal growth. I’ve embraced this incredible journey, learning, and adapting along the way. The decision to make this transition was undoubtedly the right one, and I’m filled with excitement about the boundless possibilities that the future holds. To my fellow product managers contemplating a change, I urge you to embrace change wholeheartedly and actively seek opportunities for growth. Sometimes, it’s the unexpected twists in your career that lead to the most remarkable adventures.
Stay tuned for more updates on my journey at Databricks. The best is yet to come.