What Exactly Does A Product Manager Do?

This post was originally published on Women 2.0

How To Be The Next Marissa Mayer (A Great Product Manager)

Think of building a website like building a house.

There’s the engineers, who are akin to construction workers, actually putting the nuts and bolts of the structure together. The site’s designers are like decorators, making sure the house looks and feels put together and polished. And, the marketing team are the real estate agents, making sure the house attracts buyers — or, users — and driving up the house’s value as much as possible.

But, before any of that can happen, there has to be an architect. A person with the vision to plan the house out from studs to ceiling, and the project management skills to make that vision a reality. When building a website, that person is the Product Manager.

A lot of people don’t know exactly what a Product Manager does. Which is understandable, because a good Product Manager tends to do a little bit of everything. They’re involved in planning the site from a technical perspective, figuring out which features to pursue and which ones to punt on. They often wireframe the site, laying out all the elements according to the best practices of user experience,information architecture and the like.

And, since they know the product most intimately, they often tend to help out with marketing the site, speaking directly to users via copy and collateral, and helping the executive team formulate a strategic vision for the future.

A great Product Manager, like Google’s Marissa Mayer, Hunch’s Caterina Fake and Quora’s Sandra Liu Huang, has their hands in every little bit of the product – whether it’s the on-site experience or the way the product is presented at a conference or marketed in an ad. This is why you often see great Product Managers, like Marissa Mayer, go on to become great executives.

Product Managers are the ultimate advocates of the product — and by extension, the end user — above all else. And, like a great architect, they’ll fight tooth and nail to protect the integrity of the overall product vision.

That means that a typical Product Manager’s day might include everything from a business development meeting to a problem solving session with engineers. She could be looking at the birds’ eye view of the big picture one minute and conducting a microscopic examination of a single line of broken code the next.BusinessWeek detailed seminal Google Product Manager Marissa Mayer’s daily schedule which illustrates this point perfectly.

She jumps from design to business development, engineering to recruiting, all within a given day. That’s the beauty of being a Product Manager. You never get bored, because you’re never doing the same thing long enough to be. And, like an architect, you truly get to be involved with every step of the building process, from vision to execution.

Unlike an architect however, there’s no official schooling path to become a Product Manager. Well-known Product Managers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Marissa Mayer and Leah Culver started off on the engineering side. Caterina Fake started her career as Art Director at Salon.com and she majored in English at Vassar. Sandra Liu Huang studied Economics and Management. I studied Film and Media and pre-law before helping to launch Ranker.com, which kickstarted my own career as a Product Manager.

Google has an Associate Product Manager role designed to help ease new graduates into the Product Manager position. But, if you’re not one of the lucky few to make it into that program, there are many other ways to become a product manager.

The best place to start is to begin developing your knowledge of the core competencies required of a good product manager:

  • the best practices of user experience
  • the basic tenets of website design
  • a working knowledge of web development

These are not skills you necessarily need to learn in a classroom. There are plenty of online resources to get you started. A few great places to begin include Smashing MagazineStanford’s Engineering Everywhere Program, the Usability Professionals’ Association and Jakob Nielsen’s Useit.com. There are also some fantastic books out there, like Steve Krug’s user experience bible Don’t Make Me Think and Marty Cagan’s Inspired.

No matter how you choose to do your research, successful product managers all agree — the best way to become one of them is to take all that research and apply it to as many products and projects as possible. So go find a great idea and do your best to turn it into a great product.

The worst thing that can happen is that you walk away with the kinds of lessons you need to turn yourself into a great product manager, and your next product into a great success.

Trick Or Track: What Google Tells Us About Halloween

This post was originally published on Lalawag.

Halloween is less than a week away, which means it’s time to start stringing the cobwebs and stocking up on the candy.

Of course, most boys and ghouls start thinking about Halloween well in advance. In fact, according to Google, U.S. searches that include the term ‘Halloween’ start to really take off around mid-September. And that’s not the only fun fact Google Insights has to offer about All Hallow’s Eve. In fact, Google Insights offers all sorts of trivia treats about the holiday, and enjoying them won’t even give you cavities — unless your name happens to be Bing.

 

  • Based on data from the last 90 days, LA ranks #1 in search volume for the term ‘Halloween’. In laymen’s terms, that means that lately, us Angelenos have been a whole lot more Halloween-obsessed than folks in other U.S. cities.

 

  • Interestingly, California as a whole ranks tenth when it comes to ranking the popularity of the term ‘Halloween’ on a state by state basis. West Virginia takes the top spot on that list.

 

  • Within the LA area, Lancaster, Temecula and Victorville are the top three regions with the most interest in Halloween — at least in terms of Google searches.

 

  • Over the last 90 days, the top five most popular searches around the term ‘Halloween’ have been  ’costumes’, ‘Halloween costumes’, ‘Halloween costume,’ ‘Halloween 2011′ and ‘Halloween ideas’, in that order.

 

  • In Los Angeles, the top five most popular searches related to the term ‘Halloween’ have been almost exactly the same, except that ‘Halloween Horror Nights’ takes the fifth spot. Of course, with Universal Studios in our backyard, that’s about as surprising as a ghost saying ‘boo’.

VC’s Invested $603.2M In SoCal During Q3, Including $165.7M In Software Development

SoCal Venture Capitalists Invested $603.2M In Q3 2011
This article was originally published on Lalawag
Today, SoCalTech reported that in Q3 2011, venture capitalists invested $603.2M in Southern California companies, marking an increase from last year’s $443.8M Q3 total.

 

The numbers come from a MoneyTree report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, using data from Thomson Reuters. The report also showed an $829.47M total for Q2 2011.

According to SocalTech, “In terms of industries, Software gained the most investments with a total of $165.7M invested, followed by Industrial/Energy–boosted by many clean technology investments–at $135.92M. Other large investment sectors were Biotechnology, with $65.8M invested, and Medical Devices, with $63.6M. On the other side, the most active firms investing in Southern California were DFJ Frontier, New Enterprise Associates, and the Tech Coast Angels, all with four deals each in the quarter; they were followed by 500 Startups, Siemer Ventures, Google Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, all of whom had three deals each.”

Conversely though, the LA Times recently reported a  significant drop in third quarter venture capital fundraising. “Venture capitalists, thrashed by months of bad economic news, are scrambling to find investors after pulling together the smallest pot of money in eight years,” the LA Times said. “Firms raised $1.7 billion in the third quarter — less than half the $3.5 billion collected in the same period last year and the lowest amount since the third quarter of 2003, said the National Venture Capital Assn.”

Nationally, the numbers are also trending downward. According to SoCalTech “Nationally, venture capital was down 12 percent in terms of dollars, and 14 percent in terms of deals, dropping to $6.96 billion across 876 deals, compared with Q2, when $7.9 billion was invested in 1,015 deals.”

But hey, at least now we can all read the not-so-sunny economic forecasts from our new iPhone 4S’s. And, with $165.7M going into software development, it shouldn’t be too long before those phones can read our news to us — while also toasting a bagel and brewing up a cup of coffee to go with it, of course.

Coming Soon, To A Startup Near You. . .

During my time at Cooking.com, I’ve worked with amazing clients, gotten a crash course in E-commerce 101, spec’d an entire mobile website and even gotten to try bacon, peanut butter and chocolate cookies. I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing colleagues and making wonderful friends. And, I’ve learned a very important lesson about myself.

As much as I enjoy regular sleep and a steady routine, in my heart, I’m truly a start-up kind of a girl. There’s just something about the energy and excitement of building a product from the ground up that just clicks for me. God help me — and the bags under my eyes — but I love that startup pace and passion.

Which is why I’ve accepted a Product Manager position at BetterWorks, where I’ll be starting on Monday.  I can’t say enough how much I believe in the product they’ve built thus far. And, I couldn’t be more excited about joining such an intelligent, innovative team. Between the concept and the creative energy of the folks building it, I see huge potential for the BetterWorks product, and I’m psyched to have the opportunity to help contribute to it.

Of course, I’m sorry to leave Cooking.com. I’m so proud of everything I’ve helped to build there, and I truly believe in the strength of the team I’m leaving behind. I love what we’ve done together, and I know they’ll continue to do great things once I’m gone.

That said, I’m extremely excited about this next step in my career. I know it will be a challenge and an adventure, and I can’t wait to get started. Wish me luck!

MobileHackDays LA Calls For Developers, Designers & More

This post was originally published on Lalawag.
Los Angeles Mobile Hack Days Dials Up The Competition
Better start charging your phones and flexing your fingers, because Los Angeles’ first mobile hackathon is less than a week away.

The event, termed MobileHackDays  LA, is set to kick off on Friday September 16, with a session where aspiring developers will do five minute pitches of their mobile app ideas to attract team members for the weekend’s festivities. Of course, pre-determined teams are also allowed to enter.

Once the teams are finalized, hacking kicks off at 9AM on Saturday the 17th. As the MobileHackDays website says, “This will be the day you get the majority of your coding complete. We suggest you focus on doing 1 or 2 things really well to demonstrate your concept, as time is limited. This also depends on the size and experience level of your team, but just don’t try to throw in the kitchen sink in a weekend.” Starting at 10AM on Sunday, teams will demo what they built Saturday, answer a few minutes of Q&A and have their work judged for the chance to win a $500 cash prize, face time with seasoned investors and a feature on the MobileHackDays homepage. Plus, plenty of glory of course.

According to a press release posted on the LA PHP Meetup group, #MobileHackDays is “A three-day, no-holds-barred, almost no rules event […] This won’t be your normal hackathon, it’s going to have a true LA flair and high energy, we’ll have all the normal components, beer, developers, VC’s, etc; but also Juice bar, Masseuse for tired coders, a film crew filming for a startup internet show […] think of this as the “luxury hackathon.”

The whole thing takes place at The Aviation Room at 3400 Airport Ave. Bldg D in Santa Monica.Tickets are selling out at about $75 each on the lower end, but there’s still room for a few more UI/UX designers, VIP teams, engineers, developers and more. For more info check out theMobileHackDays site.

Beyonce’s Baby Bumps Twitter

This post was originally published on Lalawag.

Last night, Twitter clocked a record 8,868 tweets per second. The cause of the big bump? A baby bump. R&B singer Beyonce’s baby bump to be exact, which she revealed at 10:35PM ET during the MTV Video Music Awards.

The awards, which took place at the Nokia Theater here in sunny Los Angeles, also set a record for MTV. According to  TechCrunch,  the network “also saw record online viewership of the event, with 2.3 million video streams for the day. MTV reports that on Sunday, MTV.com attracted its biggest VMA day audience ever (nearly 2 million), while MTV’s mobile site scored its biggest day ever, including 2.7 million mobile views. MTV.com also had its highest level of referrals from Twitter ever on Sunday and it was ‘the most social VMA day ever,’ according to the network.”

TechCrunch also had some interesting stats to put that Twitter record into perspective. For example, prior to Beyonce’s record-breaking reveal, the US Women’s Soccer Team held the tweets/second record, with 7,196 tweets sent per second during their July game against Japan. Osama Bin Laden’s assassination also caused a tweets/second spike, capping out at 5,106. During the royal wedding, almost 23 million viewers tuned in on TV’s worldwide. That caused a spike of 3,966 tweets/second.

It’s interesting to see how symbiotic Twitter and these live television events are now. In the course of a few short years, it’s become hard to imagine a moment like Beyonce’s big reveal happening without a chorus of Twitter reactions blowing up in the background. Sure, the Britney and Madonna kiss went viral — by 2003 standards. In this day and age, it may very well have brought down the internet. Or at least the Twitter stream.

Not to get too academic about it, but personally, I love that the world can — to an extent — experience these events together. Sure, Beyonce’s pregnancy isn’t exactly world-changing news of sociopolitical import. But, it’s a shared topic of conversation and maybe, just maybe, that conversation can be a conduit to connection and engagement across global, political and ideological boundaries. Sort of like the Golden Arches theory with hashtags instead of hash browns. Twitter — over 200 million served…so far.

17 Web Design Resources To Teach Yourself How To Design Online

This post was originally published on Mashable.

While summer vacation winds to a close and students prepare to go back to school, the days of brand new backpacks and crisp notebooks are long gone for many adults. Although classrooms, teachers and tuition might be off the table, it doesn’t mean education needs to be.

In fact, the Internet itself provides a wealth of educational opportunities. Furthermore, long summer days and relatively relaxed offices might provide the perfect setting for web education. Just think, while other people are rounding out their summer tans, you could be ringing in autumn with a whole new skill set — in this case, web design expertise. Tans fade. Beefier resumes keep shining.

Here’s a look at some of the best web resources for web design education.


101


Design 101 is all about the basics: master the lingo, learn the software and familiarize yourself with the driving principles that govern good design. To that end, your first stop should be a survey course of sorts. Try thePsdtuts+ self-study curriculum, where you can soak up the basics of shape, spacing, rhythm, typography, color, texture and more. To reinforce those basic skills, check out the Albany Library Design Tutorial, a sort of interactive “design for dummies.” While the tutorial is a bit old school, technologically speaking, design-wise, it effectively covers the basics.

You may also want to learn a little bit about the grid system while you’re at it. The system is exactly what it sounds like: a grid or set of guides on which the elements of a web page are built. Working with the grid can help in mastering the art of clean, cohesive web design. And speaking of cohesiveness, you may also want to review Web Pages That Suck for examples of how not to utilize your newly minted design skills.

Once you’ve tackled design theory, get practical with Adobe Design Center. It has all the tools you need to turn that theory into design reality. If you’re more of a visual learner, investigate this collection of helpful YouTube Photoshop tutorials.


Upper Division


You’ve mastered the basics, which means you’re ready for some fresh challenges and inspiration. For example, participate in The Daily Design Challenge by pledging to take on one design-related task per day for a full year. Whether you design a new font, doodle a small graphic or create a new logo for a beloved brand, set aside a few minutes every day to keep your skills sharp and your creative juices flowing.

If you’re really looking for a challenge, Layer Tennis is the web’s most creative competition. Sponsored by Adobe Creative Suite, Layer Tennis pits two competitors against each other in a weekly match-up. Every fifteen minutes, participants swap a single design file “back and forth in real-time, adding to and embellishing the work.” A writer provides play-by-play commentary while an active community of design aficionados looks on, providing a great forum to witness inspirational creative design in action.

Next, use that creative inspiration to fuel some serious studying. MIT offers free online coursework in comparative media, in which you learn about the design principles of different mediums. Similarly, iTunes offerspodcast lectures about aesthetics and the philosophy of art. Vimeo’s Smarthistory videos discuss everything from Representations of David and the Florentine Renaissance to Duchamp and the Ready-Made, because there’s nothing like a little art history to help you create design history of your own.


Ongoing Education


Once you’ve gained a comprehensive understanding of the basics, a background of art history and a fresh set of advanced skills, ongoing education can provide you with the tools necessary to showcase your talent, not to mention the additional innovation to advance your craft.

According to Smashing Magazine, “The résumé is the first portfolio piece that potential employers see, and if they’re not impressed, chances are they won’t look at the rest of your portfolio.” Smashing offers a great tutorialto ensure that your résumé showcases your design skills. While you’re at it, make sure your portfolioillustrates the best of your aesthetic abilities.

Nothing inspires your future work quite like taking in current innovative design. To that end, check out the creative collection at DesignspirationTumblr is also a great resource for finding fantastic designers, andQuora’s active community of graphic designers engages in dynamic conversation about the industry. Finally,Twitter has a plethora of design people worth following.


Whether you’re looking to get a grip on design basics, or you want to sharpen your advanced skills, web resources can help you construct the perfect creative (and flexible) curriculum. And with the right smartphone or tablet, you can even study while soaking up the last of the summer sun. Now that’s what we’d call an advanced placement course!

What’s The Best SEO Advice You’ve Ever Heard?

Inspired by the success, and fascinating answers to “What’s The Worst SEO Advice You’ve Ever Heard“, I’ve got a brand new Quora query up: “What’s the single best piece of SEO advice you’ve ever gotten or given?

With SEO being as much an art as a science, I always find it to be a particularly interesting area for crowdsourced wisdom. Especially since it’s so trend-driven as well. Plus, being entirely self-taught, I’m always a sucker for a good piece of advice. So…what do you think? Answer on Quora, or in the comments below.

Google Hotel Finder Is Pretty Suite Indeed

This post was originally published on Lalawag.

Need A Hotel? Google It.

Yesterday, Google booked itself into a whole new realm of the web — the hotel search business. The web giant unveiled Google Hotel Finder, which allows user to search listing from sites like Expedia and Hotels.com as well as the web sites of many individual hotels.

What makes Google Hotel Finder different from the countless similar services already out there is how users conduct those searches. There’s plenty of the data filtering you’d expect from a service coming out of the Googleplex, including price filtering, hotel class and ratings. But, there are also two relatively cutting edge features that are pretty cool indeed.

First of all, when you enter a location, the tool draws a shape around that area on a Google map. Want to adjust your location to be closer to a particular landmark or broaden the neighborhoods your’e searching in? Just adjust the shape. It’s a brilliantly simple touch that makes searching for the perfect place to hang your hat that much easier. Google also highlights major tourist areas, and gives you the benefit of that big, all-too-familiar Google map to help you make your search area that much more precise.

The other major feature is the ability to search by the discount you’d be getting if you booked a particular hotel. Because Google is indexing historical pricing data, they’re able to tell you how much of a discount a hotel’s current price is versus their typical price. And, they’re letting you search via the percentage of that discount. For example, you can limit your search to only return hotels that are currently 50% cheaper than their usual cost per night.

Google isn’t yet in the business of booking hotel rooms — when you’re ready to book you’ll still be directed to a travel site or to the hotel’s website. But, if Google is looking to get into the full-on travel booking business, this is certainly a suite place to start.

Google+ Gets Advice From The World’s Most Recognizable Friend

Myspace’s ‘First Friend’ Offers Google+ Some Friendly Advice

This post was originally published on Lalawag.

You may recognize Tom Anderson as the first smiling face to friend you on Myspace.  The social networking pioneer, who helped found the company back in the early 2000′s, is now accepting friend requests on FacebookTwitter and the new darling of the social media world, Google+.

In fact, over 8,000 people currently have Tom in their circles. Those aren’t exactly Myspace-level numbers, but hey, Google+ is still young. And, today Anderson posted a whole list of good advice for the fledgling social site on TechCrunch, based on his very public ups and downs as the president of one of the web’s biggest success-story-turned-cautionary-tale.

Tom’s five main points:

1) Start seriously courting the journalists, tastemakers, and celebrities

2) Exhaustively think through the privacy issues

3) Move Google’s top analysts (probably focused on monetization right now) onto the Google+ project

4) Hire the best product executors & visionaries in the world

5) There must be one ring to rule them all.

A few juicy gems to takeaway:

“I don’t believe Privacy is a real issue to most people, but most people think it is a real issue to them. As thus, it plays a big role in the psychological justification for defecting from competitors. “Safety” hysteria destroyed MySpace in the press. It got MySpace banned from schools, Apple stores, and by well-meaning parents who had been terrorized by what they were reading. Privacy advocates have tried to destroy Facebook and Google in the past. You need the best PR person in the world on your team, Google, but even more so, you need to make sure the software doesn’t give the privacy hounds something to be rightfully angry about.”

“Mine the data about G+ usage like it’s Gold, because it truly is the future of Google’s long-term revenue and profit growth. (And I actually don’t think there’ll ever be advertising on Google+, theme for another article.)”

“Though I love G+, some parts of G+ are really a mess right now, and two that are incredibly important at this stage are in need of much work: onboarding & photos.”

“Making a website is similar to making a movie—hundreds of people work on it, one person makes the final decision, and they make them every minute of the day. I use the LOTR analogy because there may be 12 extremely important product people (point #4). But someone needs to make the decisions […] The Internet moves at lightning speed. If you mess up, a resolute leader can iterate and fix […] You learn a lot when you mess up. I messed up a lot, so these are just a few of the things I learned. By the way, these lessons aren’t just for Google.  They also can be applied to any startup, so good luck everyone. I’m hoping to see you all make your mark on this world.”