From writing about tech to pioneering e-commerce innovation at Venmo, it’s no surprise that Ashley Phillips has quite the story to tell. It’s common for product managers to enter the field from different professions or industries. That said, what does it take for a “product outsider” to find start their product career? As part of our Diverse Voices series, Ashley talks about learning tech as a journalist and how she ultimately found her way in becoming a product manager.
Product Career: Tech Journalist to Tech PM
If you’ve worked as a product manager for many years, it’s safe to say that you didn’t start out with “PM” in your title. That said, I’m sure that you haven’t heard about many journalists becoming product managers. Well, my product career actually did begin well outside of the product world! After finishing my master’s at Northwestern, I worked for ABC News as part of their media team.
However, this didn’t prevent me from being exposed to the tech world (which I would eventually find several years later). Early on in my career, I was able to cover science and technology in Silicon Valley. My timing could not have been better – as there were plenty of major moves taking place in 2006. For example, Twitter was just starting to take off and there were all kinds of amazing stories to cover in the valley. Furthermore, my first big story was about the first-ever iPhone being released in 2007.
By getting exposed to these incredible stories, it’s not a surprise that moving into a product career became a necessity. As a result, I learned about what would become my first product role at Nickelodeon. That said, my early scope at Nickelodeon did not represent a linear path into a full-on product role. In other words, I joined a large-scale organization with a well-defined structure that allowed me to learn the function from a number of different angles. Fast-forward to a few years later, I found a new challenge at Viewpoints – representing a much different opportunity with a completely different culture.
Simply put, there’s a massive difference between a large cable TV company and a burgeoning startup.
At Nickelodeon or any big company, it’s easy to get access to data or rely on others to sort out problems with you. Conversely, being at a startup requires much more self-discipline and personal ownership of finishing projects. In other words, you have to figure things out on your own and essentially re-learn how to do your job.
That said, I personally believe that this goes a long way to enhancing your product career. Ultimately, we should all be mindful about understanding that every decision we make is impactful. This guiding principle drives better product development – and ultimately, more happy users.
About the speaker
Ashley Phillips is the Director of Product at Venmo - leading the product team for one of the world's largest payment services. Prior to joining Venmo, Ashley led the product team at a startup called Modest - which was eventually acquired by PayPal. In addition, Ashley worked on the product team at Groupon - along with media production positions at ABC and Nickelodeon. Ashley holds a master's degree from Northwestern University and currently lives in Chicago.
About the host
I build products that challenge the status quo of the workplace experience. I'm also a writer, podcaster, and mentor to college CS students.