Advice From Google Insiders On How To Be A Great Manager

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Photo: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Google is run by engineers, but it still needs a lot of people to manage the teams and make sure things are running smoothly.Enter the product managers — a batch of executives who sit between the top brass and the teams for each product like Chrome or advertising.

A few former Google product managers and engineers have chimed in on Quora about what makes a good product manager at the traditionally engineer-centric company.

Since it’s a company as well run as Google, you should probably take note — a lot of them are just best practice for any tech company.

Be ready to live near the corporate headquarters — or visit it frequently

The Google hive is based in Mountain View -- and that's where most of the executives and power sits.

If you want to work remotely, you'll have to be ready to visit the corporate headquarters often. You're better off just moving there.

Take ownership of the product and all issues related to it

Whatever product you are assigned to, it is entirely your responsibility.

That means you should be going out of your way to make it perfect -- grilling engineers, checking for bugs and finding out what users think.

'This goes a long way, if you own the product, you are the first one looking for bugs, first communicating with users and first worrying about whether or not you got it right. You're always first to volunteer to do the many varied tasks that go along with running a product/team like taking notes, sending emails to customers, filling things out, triaging bugs, or doing a quick mockup.'

Understand the nitty gritty details of your product

Google likes to employ engineers in just about every role. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to be a software engineer -- just think like one. Be technical.

'I don't mean that you actually need to be coding the product. I mean you should be curious about how the product is built as if you were an engineer. You should be interested in understanding how much something costs in engineering time, and why it costs so much.'

'What algorithms are in use for that feature? Why is this page slow? Any engineer on the team will pay a lot of attention to big architecture decisions that affect the product and so should you.'

Be incredibly persuasive

You should be ready to convince the next guy ahead of you that your idea is a good one.

Even if it's someone like Vic Gundotra or Sundar Pichai. Especially when you aren't directly in charge of the team you are working with, per se.

'You want to get things done, but you are not in charge so to speak. None of the team reports to you and they really don't have to do anything you say. You need to be convincing rather than commanding to get things done at Google.'

Be endlessly positive

If you're a product manager, you are the team's window to the larger company, one product manager says. That means if you're negative, the rest of the company is going to think your team is pretty negative.

And that won't give a good impression of the work of your team.

'Your team is likely composed of engineers and some of us tend to be very cynical. A very positive PM can make a world of difference in the mood of the team.'

Don't self-promote

Google doesn't like to employ individuals that aren't team players -- like most companies. Here's what one product manager had to say:

'Celebrate others on the team, you and the Tech Lead(s) are already the primary contacts for the project and you don't need any promotion. If you are dragging around the hard work of others attempting to earn kudos for yourself, you're doing it wrong and you won't go far.'

'Whether it's a blog post, or a launch video for a new feature the best PMs promote their team members. Take a look at the blogs for some of the best products at Google.'

Be fearless

Even in the face of Larry Page, you should be ready to defend your team's ideas.

'You must be blind to titles. The best PMs will speak to the founders the same way they speak to engineers or designers on their team.'

'If you freeze up when questioned about your product decisions by execs, you won't be successful. Give succinct answers and be fearless when defending your team's ideas.'

Be an academic powerhouse

Here's what Google likes to see in its product managers, according to one former product manager:

  • 99 percentile on SAT and GMAT
  • CS Undergrad from top school
  • MBA from top school

Talk about pedigree.

Be able to communicate effectively with your executives AND your engineers

There's pretty much no question that Google is run by engineers.

But that doesn't mean there aren't other managers or executives. In fact, you'll still have to manage advertising input and input from other branches in Google.

You should be able to communicate with both kinds of employees -- and they might require totally different communication skill sets.

Write concise emails

Jumping on an email thread with an irrelevant comment is actually considered a faux pas at Google.

You'll be communicating with a lot of people. Don't waste time, and be concise with your messages.

Google will sometimes hire an engineer or a product manager without placing them on a specific project yet.

You'll need to be flexible enough to work on an unspecified product assignment -- and more importantly, willing to do so.

Think like an entrepreneur

One former Google product manager suggests you have a 'mini-CEO mentality' with rapid learning capabilities and a self-directed attitude.

Those are pretty obvious traits you'd want in any employee, but this one also suggests you have experience at a startup.

Have a high tolerance for meetings

Unfortunately, this is true for just about any executive -- you have to be able to manage everyone.

The good news, though, is that this suggestion was given before Larry Page re-organised the heck out of everything, so there might be fewer meetings now.

That's how to be an awesome product manager ...

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