Career Spotlight: Linda Zhang, Founder at Product Lessons
Pivoting from management consulting to big tech, identifying your talent stack, and taking a growth mindset.
Every month, I feature a top performer on a ‘Career Spotlight’ and interview them about their journey, mindset, and habits.
Last month, I chatted with Kyle Hagge, Lead Community Manager at Morning Brew—to discuss the meaning of building community, engineering serendipity, and dot connecting.
This month, I’m talking with Linda Zhang – Founder of Product Lessons, and previously a Management Consultant at Bain & Company, and a Group Product Manager at Faire.
Linda’s career path has been tremendously dynamic, with a breadth of experience spanning management consulting at a top firm, to leading product management teams at tech companies. She now runs multiple newsletters: one on product management, and another on venture-backed startups.
I’m appreciate her thoughtfulness and candor in responding to my questions, and am excited to share her story.
We’ll touch on topics that I’ve observed many grapple with:
Why leave a prestigious, high-paying management consulting job?
Why leave big tech?
What is product management like?
I’m sure you’ll find the interview as useful and fascinating as I did.
Enjoy the read, and let me know what you think.
Can you walk us through your career journey?
It’s been a winding path. I grew up thinking I would be a doctor, was destroyed by organic chemistry, then decided last-minute I would go into business. Consulting was the most prestigious thing back then, so I made that my goal.
I spent close to 2 years as a consultant at Bain, all the while wondering why I was unhappy. I thought the solution would be working on a cool product, so I moved into an analytics / research role at Snapchat. Then I learned big tech was slow and work was territorial, so I joined an early-stage startup, Faire, and transitioned into a product role.
I really got into a groove there: business was booming, I was promoted to Group PM in under 2 years, and started managing a team. I also started writing about everything I was learning, and a few months in, realized I enjoyed writing more than my day job.
I got an Instagram offer, almost took it, but instead decided to quit tech for now, and have been working as a solo founder of different projects.
What inspired the move from consulting to tech?
I was really unhappy during my final 6 months in consulting. It came down to a few things:
I didn’t see the connection between the slides I was making and actual results
I had no idea whether I was doing a good job; the only judge was my rotating panel of managers; in hindsight, I think I just prefer to perform for customers
My disdain for pure output (like impressing the client by making 200 extra slides)
With that said, I did learn how to be presentable and how to think rigorously, which has helped me in all my subsequent jobs. Tech felt like a place where I could be more of an operator, and get direct feedback from the market.
Why product? Where is your passion from product management from?
When I was at Snapchat, I learned that there are two groups of people in tech:
Revenue-generating (people who build and sell the product)
Non-revenue-generating (people who support the above)
I was strictly in a non-revenue-generating role, and wanted to get closer to the action - ideally make decisions about what we were building. That’s when I learned about the product role.
I don’t know if I can say I have a “passion” for product management, but I do get a ton of energy from making an idea come to life. PM is just one way of doing that, starting side projects / businesses is another.
After writing for 20 months straight, what is something you’ve learned?
As a kid, I was told that you can’t make a living as a writer. Ironically, I think nearly everyone now is making a living as a writer, even if their title is product manager, founder, or something else.
We’re all writing online in some form or another. The hardest part is getting anyone to listen.
I’m still learning every day, but some top-of-mind lessons include asking: why should anyone read this? Every word, every sentence should be crafted with that question in mind. Write like everyone is skimming (because they probably are). Respect their time, and slowly but surely, they will respect you with their attention.
What have some of the biggest obstacles in your career been?
In all honesty, I’ve had an easy career. The economy’s been booming for years, and there’s just abundance everywhere.
For me and most of my friends, the obstacle has been figuring out what we need, not just what we want - which is insatiable and heavily influenced by others.
Early on, I worshipped prestige because I just wanted to know that I was good enough.
I’m now at the point where I do feel good enough most days, and this next chapter is about finding and working on projects that I would do regardless of the outcome.
What key habits, mindsets, or behaviors do you attribute your career success to?
There are two things that would probably work for most people:
Growth mindset: a determined mind can move mountains; most of what I’ve done (learn how to PM, design, code, start a profitable business) I would not have expected when I started, so keep striving and don’t count yourself out
Bet on people: whether it’s a tiny startup or a big company, working with quality people makes all the difference; surround yourself with people you admire, and inevitably, some of their admirable traits will rub off on you
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
If you want to be irreplaceable, make my life easier.
Words from an honest manager.
Some things I would add in retrospect:
Figure out what your manager does NOT like doing, and take it off their plate - not always fun, but rarely goes unnoticed
Find ways to share what you’re learning and how you think online - turn your career into an external product, not just internal to whoever you work for
What advice, resources, and general wisdom would you share with those looking to get into product?
Start doing the job unofficially: get to know PMs at your company, shadow their customer interviews, offer to take notes, write takeaways, do the data analysis. It builds your credibility and helps you pressure-test whether you really like the role.
Figure out what your talent stack is — there are a lot of PMs out there, what sets you apart?
What’s next for you?
Looking back, I would not have been able to predict any of my jumps, so it’s hard to answer this!
Bonus: Are you looking for a new job in tech this year?
I’m building a crash course on getting a business job in tech. It’s relevant for those looking for roles like strategy, operations, product management, marketing, and sales.
As a result of doing 80+ interviews (at most large tech companies), reviewing 100+ resumes, and mentoring 20+ folks in the past 24 months, I’ve been able to create a playbook on how to successfully get a tech job.
It’s helped my close friends land jobs at top companies, and I’m now opening it up to those in my close community (you!) and am looking for 1-2 people to mentor over the next few weeks.
Resume & LinkedIn Optimization
If you’re interested, please fill out this form.