Career Spotlight: Angela Hu, Product Manager at Spotify
Behind the scenes of a product manager: best practices, habits & advice
Hi everyone – I’m excited to kick off a new series on top of my regular content.
Through conversations with mentors, peers, and friends, I’ve found many best practices – systems of thinking, ways of working, routines – that deserve some recognition.
Every month, I’ll be doing a ‘Career Spotlight’ where I interview high performers in different industries to dig into their perspective on the role, mindset, and habits.
I’m super pumped for this.
Every role has its nuances, and evaluates performance differently. We’ll get to dive a little deeper into these.
My ask from you... If you have a recommendation of someone I should speak with or specific questions you’d like me to ask, please let me know.
Our first spotlight will be with Angela Hu, a Product Manager at Spotify.
Angela is a PM at Spotify where she builds data products.
We both came from the world of Canadian telco and both recently pivoted to tech in NYC. She’s got a background in corporate strategy, analytics, and data science and is overall an awesome PM who can effectively navigate both technical and non-technical domains.
Basically, she’s super smart.
What I also appreciate about her, is her humility and eagerness for growth, despite already being a high performer at an awesome company.
Let’s kick this off …
What do you do at Spotify? What does product management at Spotify mean?
I’m product manager at Spotify focused on building data products. In short, my role as a PM is to help identify problems, turn them into opportunities, and build products to solve those problems.
What is a data product you might ask? An example is that we build pipelines to gather data. then use this data to build machine learning (ML) applications and analytics tools.
Our team’s goal is to amplify the voice of Spotify customers and share insights back to the business from customer feedback.
What has your path to Spotify and product been? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
My path has always revolved around my interest in data and ML. I’ve always had a specific interest in this area, which is a little unconventional for a business grad.
A bit about myself: I graduated in 2016 from business school at Western University in Canada, and participated in Bell’s rotational program which gave me an opportunity to try out different roles. I completed rotations in analytics, corporate strategy, ML projects, and finally moved into the data science space as a PM. Throughout these rotations, the type of work that I owned had always changed, but the common thread was that my role was always centered around data and business analytics.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to bring the first Hackathon to Bell with three amazing coworkers (shoutout to Nat, Aly, and Cindy!). This idea was inspired by the realization that we stored a vast amount of data and had an opportunity to create products from it.
One thing I learned was that if your day job isn’t giving you the opportunity to learn or develop skills in areas that you’re interested in – you have to find or create your own opportunities.
In this case, I was incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by great mentors, a driven peer group, and an innovative data science org!.
When I was searching for my next opportunity, one of the biggest challenges I faced was figuring out how I fit into the data world with a business background.
In hindsight, there were a ton of opportunities. But at the time, I had assumed the only way into this world was to be a data scientist or engineer. From networking (and with many people generously giving me their time), I figured that what I wanted... was to be a technical PM. From there, I started looking for roles that would allow me to stay close to the development of data and ML products, and that’s how I ended up at Spotify.
Another (more personal) challenge is that I’ve always found it tough to sell myself or share my work. I’m not sure if this is a cultural thing, but I’ve always had a strong focus on modesty. I found this conflicting because in the professional world, a large chunk of your progression is determined by your ability to vouch for yourself and create visibility on the value you bring.
Over time, I genuinely developed respect for people who were proud of their work, and spoke about it proactively.
This was an ‘Aha!’ moment for me. It made it much easier for me to be comfortable with sharing my work and vouching for myself. This is currently still a work-in-progress!
What would your job look like if it were easy?
In this hypothetical world: users know exactly what they want. We design a product that suits our users’ needs perfectly. All stakeholders are on board with no conflicting priorities or timelines. Development goes perfectly, no bugs in testing. Adoption exceeds our expectations. (This is an unrealistic dream that would take the fun out of things! ;) )
What is something you want to highlight about product that is not commonly known?
Make your job obsolete!
This was something that surprised me in the product world, but is a common misconception. You’ll always hear “be the CEO of your product” which may lead many to believe that they need to be in full control of all workstreams. But since there are SO many things to focus on in the product space, it’s important to empower others to be able to manage initiatives and product streams. You'll do your best when your team members can lead within the group. This allows PMs to prioritize product discovery and what the team should be focusing on next!
What key habits, mindsets, or behaviors do you attribute most of your career accomplishments to?
Setting up systems to get things done. Creating rules has been important for me to maintain discipline and honestly, has made it easier for me to remember all the things I need to get done. Also, it takes the decision-making out of deciding whether or not I want to do something (e.g. workout every other day at 5PM).
Writing shit down! From minor things such as to-do lists to larger goals – writing things down has made it significantly easier to visualize what needs to be done
Focusing on the happiness advantage. This might sound cheesy but ...happy people do better at work! Invest in your relationships (friends, family, colleagues) to keep you grounded when stressed or overwhelmed, and make sure to pay it forward when you are managing people (i.e. give people time to reset and take time for mental health).
Be open to revisiting skills you dislike / find uncomfortable. Some of the best opportunities come from that! I used to dislike the idea of project management... now I’m in a product manager role where I’m always doing some amount of project management.
What unconventional advice have you received that has been most influential thus far in your career?
You always want a 10th (wo)man in the room that’s going to challenge your thinking
Feedback is a gift
There are people that are easy to work with and people that you will learn from
Reading is like compound interest!
My first mentor always told me to make time / space for personal hobbies and interests (e.g. taking acro classes) and to NOT to spend all my extra time focused on my career. This one really made me think. Sometimes it can be a challenge but it’s important to maintain a good perspective and ground yourself!
For those wanting to pivot into tech or product – how would you advise them to spend their time and energy?
I’d highly advise folks to listen to podcasts on tech interviews (or jump into clubhouse sessions). Hearing others talk through tech / product development was incredibly helpful for me to get into the minds of those in tech & product.
Seek opportunities in your day job to practice product skills. Product strategy and user journey mapping can be practiced in other areas too – they aren’t exclusive to ‘product’.
I sometimes felt overwhelmed and had ‘learning FOMO’ from seeing all the resources out there. Focus on what you’ve learned and take it at your own pace! Don’t beat yourself up over all the articles / podcasts you’ve missed.
Follow and read posts from current product managers. They usually share content that is a reflection of their day-to-day. It’s a great way to get in their minds, understand what challenges they’re dealing with, and what the world of product and tech looks like. Some great platforms are Twitter, Medium, and of course, Substack!
Appreciation & Support
As I’m sure you’re reading this – Angela, thank you for sharing your insight with the readers.
If you have any specific questions for Angela, please comment below or reply to the thread. If you’d like to reach out and connect with her on Linkedin: please, please provide some context and tailor your message. I’m sure she’s happy to chat.
To those reading: thank you for taking the time to read this.
This article took a while to put together. If you enjoyed it, I’d love for you to subscribe or share it with a friend. I’m also on Twitter now… so how about a retweet? 👇🏻
As a student who is looking to crack into the tech space and sharing similar interests, I find this article super helpful and answered a lot of my questions. I have been taking a lot of notes. Thank you Andrew for putting this together, and thank you Angela for sharing your story! What an amazing read!
This was such a fantastic read! You found a fan in me for this series. Angela, so proud of you and what you’ve accomplished! Amazing stuff :)