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Both Rich and Vicky didn’t start off in software, so how did they end up there? This week Rich is joined by Postlight’s Head of Product Management, Vicky Volvovski, to talk about their professional paths. They discuss what drives them and share tips on how to get that next role you have your eye on. Hint: Don’t be afraid to show your work in progress.

Transcript

Vicky Volvovski Are you doing yourself and Paul a disservice by not saying that you guys are A list celebrities? I’m not sure.

Rich Ziade Thank you so much, Vicky. And Vicky, now that you’re on this podcast, you are also an A list celebrity. 

VV Thank you. [music ramps up, plays alone, fades out]

RZ You know what’s the worst kind of creep?

Paul Ford Oh yeah, I read the New York Times.

RZ Scope creep.

PF Ohhhhh, different topic. Yeah, that is awful. That is bad stuff. 

RZ Yes. 

PF Well Rich, who knows something about scope creep?

RZ We are experts at defending the scope of a project, making sure it doesn’t get out of hand such that you can’t deliver. And we’re going to share a lot of the tools and ideas that we use–

PF Are we gonna have a conversation that people can tune into via Zoom?

RZ We are. We’re having a special edition of The Postlight Podcast. It’s gonna be live streamed September 16th at 1pm.

PF Okay, where do people go?

RZ Eastern Standard Time. They go to Postlight.com/events. We’ve done these in the past. They’re always kind of fun. Very lively.

PF Don’t think webinar. Think lively, fun goofball experience.

RZ Please join us. Postlight.com/events.

[music fades in and out]

RZ Welcome everyone to this week’s Postlight Podcast. Typically, Paul says “Richard!” and then I respond and say hello. But Paul is not with us this week. He’s on a much deserved vacation. And I have a new co-host with me. Vicky is our Director of Product Management at Postlight. Welcome, Vicky. 

VV Thank you. Should I say “Richard!”?

RZ You say “Richard!” and then you kick it off, yeah, but you don’t—you know what? You’re your own person, Vicky. You know, who wants to emulate Paul Ford? He can’t be replaced. There’s no other good way to put it. [Vicky laughs]

VV That’s a good point.

RZ Paul Ford is the Paul Ford. But this podcast is not going to be about Paul Ford. This podcast is about something you and I have in common, Vicky. And I don’t know your entire backstory, but I’ve gotten bits and pieces of it. And what we’re going to talk about today is our professional journey. I want to say out of college, but I shouldn’t even assume you have a college degree, but I’m sure you do.

VV I do have a college degree. [Rich laughs]

RZ Where did you go to school? 

VV Yeah, I went to school at the University of Wisconsin Madison

RZ And year one, had an idea of what you’re going to do when you grow up? Or didn’t have an idea? Or had particular interests?

VV Oof. So I should back up before college. So both of my parents are software developers, and my sister is a designer. And so I was very, very much not going to go work with a computer, I was going to go into business.

RZ Ahh!

VV So I resisted the familial push into computer science degrees, and instead was very determined to get a business degree, which I did and then swiftly graduated and started working for a software company. So that went really well for me.

RZ Of course, so your degree was what? Business management or like, what is the—what was your major?

VV Yeah, it was, um, management and human resources. And I did a internship, I think my sophomore junior year in an HR department, and it was like, okay, yep, definitely don’t want to work in HR. There’s just a lot of the people part of the job that I was like, actually, I don’t think this is what I’m not interested in. And so I did graduate with the management Human Resources degree. And I think a lot of that course around like organizational structure and kind of setting up teams to be successful within an organization has been really helpful for me in my career. But beyond that, I’ve pivoted, maybe not as hard as you’ve pivoted from from your education, but definitely went down a different path.

RZ I’ll just give a quick, quick background on me. I’ve talked about myself enough times on this podcast. But I have a law degree. I majored in political science in college for my bachelor’s thinking that political science was a good setup to go to law school, because I’d always been thinking about going to law school, I got to law school, went through law school, realize that the law isn’t exciting, like trials with juries. And it was mostly sitting in a library. And for me, it was timing. It was 1995. And the internet was a baby at that moment in time, but things were really curious and interesting. It sounds like your act of rebellion, which I’m I gotta say, Vicky, isn’t much of an act of rebellion, to not be in software and going and majoring in Business. Did you like computers? Like I love computers, I was always into—I started with video games, but I found myself not a gamer. I found myself more interested in computers. I had an old Commodore 64, so you know, way, way back. So I always loved them. Did you love them? Did you love technology?

VV I did. I did always love technology and as a kid I think I had the giant PC in my room, which I think for like at 12 years old was pretty unique for kids. But here’s—you were gaming. I got Quicken, like Quicken the accounting software installed on my desktop. And I was obsessed with tracking expenses as a kid, like I could run reports on how much I spent on gum, since I was like 12, which I don’t know what that says about me personally. But I was very interested in kind of like, how that all worked. And I think that again, kind of is why I was like, well, not software, like I like using it. But building it seems like, I don’t know, that’s not for me, but like, let me get this business degree. And I think I understand business really well.

RZ I’m gonna speak from for myself, I viewed, it wasn’t software as an end in itself. And it wasn’t to make a living. It just felt, I felt powerful. I felt like I was given power that I didn’t have otherwise. And it was sort of a perfect storm because it was early internet. So nobody knew anything about what was going on. Nobody knew how to hire people or what skills you’re supposed to have. But more importantly, I just felt like I could do really big things with a little bit of code. And I wasn’t a coder initially. Even if I was just sitting next to coders. It was exciting to me. I’m gonna make an observation which you’re free to correct. you’re someone that looks for patterns and likes to organize things. 

VV Yes. 

RZ Okay. You go out, you get a job. Okay, take me through the interview process. Are you like, are you just looking for a job? Are you just trying to get an apartment? 

VV Yeah, so I had interned with Deloitte actually my senior year and kind of saw the consulting world, I think I interned for their, like, human capital program. And I think it was really eye opening for me, like, I had thought I wanted to go into this, like big, you know, work for a big business, like work with and consulting was interesting to me, because you get to experiment with all these different types of clients. And then doing that work, I realized, like, actually, I don’t think this kind of like large organization, it feels so competitive, and like a really unappealing way for me. So I actually after I finished that internship, I was like, the software side of things started to be more appealing to me. And I don’t remember if it was like, super intentional that I interviewed with a company called epic, which is a healthcare technology company out in Madison. But that was actually where I ended up starting right after college. So I jumped right into software in what at that time was more of an implementation role. So it has some kind of product management esque skills to it. But it was not product management, as we know it now. And I definitely didn’t recognize it as that at the time.

RZ Yeah, I want to get to product management in a second because nobody says I want to grow up and be a product manager, or I’m getting my master’s in product. Maybe a master’s in product management exists somewhere. I don’t know, probably not. I’m going to say, but maybe, maybe so, I don’t know. But I’ll speak for myself here, I’ll say, you know, I was not motivated by getting promoted. I’m not gonna lie and say that I wasn’t motivated by money. I was motivated by the freedom that money could give me I grew up in more humble circumstances than I eventually ended up in. But it wasn’t the driver for sure. Because I know a lot of people and friends and colleagues were very much they keep score with money. And I don’t, I’ve done well, but that’s not the driver. What was the driver? Like to take a job, usually, it’s, I think there’s a career path for me, I can make good money, I can buy a house. And then you’ve got the rare case of I want to do what I love. Maybe you’re going to tell me you love ticket management of software. But go ahead. Like what were your drivers? 

VV Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that at least graduating college, I had that much clarity to think about my drivers. What appealed to me about the the first job I took out of school was that, you know, it was in health care. The company is, you know, its mission is to really change the way healthcare is done by modernizing it, right, like going from paper records to—

RZ Electronic, yeah. 

VV Yeah, the vision of the company appealed to me. And it seemed like interesting work. And the company was like, hip and cool. And the campus was cool. So like, that’s what got me in the door, I’d say, what kept me there and kept me motivated was that the work was really interesting. It was a entry level job, but they gave people true responsibility. And I am someone driven by solving problems. And so I think I just kept taking on bigger and bigger and more interesting problems as I went, and that’s really what kept me interested there.

RZ Interesting. that runs parallel to an experience I had early in my career where just it wasn’t really delegated to me it just there were this massive gaps and the right at home, and you were able to roam and learn and I don’t know if we’ll ever see that again. There was we grew up and I’m not you know, I don’t know exactly the timing. I think I’m pretty sure I predate you in terms of coming out of school and going to work, but it was wide open, nobody had the right titles in place yet there weren’t really responsibilities. Like, there was like come help the Technology Group. But that’s about where it ended. And boy, that it was an awesome place to be. Because you got to learn and you were sort of left alone. I don’t know, if you had a similar experience?

VV There was more structure, I think, at the company at epic when I when I first started, but I think when I reflect on my career over the last however many years, it’s been like, the thing that has always propelled me forward is being a gap filler, like, that’s what I’m good at is like, I joke that I have a crippling sense of responsibility. And so when I see problems, it’s like, I’m just gonna get in there and figure it out. And I think in every jump I’ve made in my career, that’s been the thing is I just leaned in, roll up my sleeves, and did the work the best I could until I either got good enough that it was a new skill I had, or I understood it well enough to like know, who do I need to hire? Or what do I need to ask for in order to actually be able to do this thing? 

RZ Maybe it’s because of where we, you know, sit as we look at, you know, a newer generation getting jobs, it feels like, there’s less room to roam these days. I feel like I don’t know, I mean, maybe some new industries are cropping up around new forms of energy and crypto and their industry—there’s always industries that are sort of taking form and when industries take form, roles aren’t in place yet. They haven’t taken hold just yet. I don’t know if there’s a lot of that today. When did you realize you’re a product manager? 

VV Oh, that’s a good question. 

RZ Or did you? Or have you yet? [Rich & Vicky laugh]

VV Am I a product manager? I mean, in title, I think it was, honestly at my time at Zapier, which was where I was before here. I knew like at that point, I understood that I really loved working with products. I really liked solving customer problems. And I really liked kind of working with design and engineering to figure out what is that solution. But I came into Zapier in a support role thinking about how do I get to know this product that I used as a user and really loved, I’m skipping a middle part of my career where I started my own business and just discovered discovered Zapier as a solution. So I had been a user for a long time and I came to Zapier when they were still startup 30, people really like let me work in support. Let me understand this product deeply. And let me figure out how to help the company make it better. To your point about roles not being defined. I mean, I think at that point, in an early startup, you might have a clear role, but like there’s a lot of gaps, right, that have to get filled. And even if it’s not in your definition, right. Like I think there’s still a lot of opportunity to do that. And that was really when I stepped into more of an official product management role was just identifying opportunities and problems and then pitching my ideas, getting people’s buy in and then making it happen with a small, scrappy team.

RZ Did you ever get confronted with the Vicky, what are you doing here?

VV I mean, I’m sure I did. I’m trying to remember I guess. Rich & Vicky laugh] 

RZ I mean it in a positive light. You know, I think most people stay in their lane, right? Professionally. 

VV Yeah, I’m bad at that. I’m sure I did. But I feel like I, you know, I tend to ask a lot of questions and understand a lot of—try to understand people’s motivations. And so if you know, somebody comes—

RZ Yeah, you don’t barrel in. 

VV No, I don’t barrel in. But at the same time, hopefully, I’m a big believer of like, letting the work speak for itself. And so that’s usually what I lead with, rather than, you know, any sort of grand proclamations about what I’m gonna do. It’s like, let me just, let me show you. And I think that usually, that has served me well over my career.

RZ This year, it’s been about eight months or so since you you joined Postlight, eight or nine months. And, you know, a few times we’ve crossed paths on various projects and the like, and you’ve put forward stuff that was never asked for. And I, you know, I think if we’re if we’re sharing, you know, advice or guidance, that’s risky, right? We’re proud of Postlight. I find it to be a relatively apolitical organization, you don’t have to ask a lot of permission and it gets sign off and initials on documents and whatnot. But man, I encourage people to I don’t think it was a risk in your case, you’re a senior manager. But for people that are still finding their way and don’t know if what their the role they’re in is going to be the role they’re going to be in for the next three, five years, venturing out and showing value in other places in unexpected ways. Boy, is that welcome.

VV Yeah. And I think there’s a couple ways to do it. One is, you know, I think ask a lot of questions and find real needs first, right? Don’t just, I think some people have these pet projects that are not a priority for the organization and they, you know, devote all this time and energy to it and then they’re disappointed when it doesn’t go anywhere. So find a problem that really needs to be solved. And then talk to a lot of people, understand, like, get other people’s opinions and like work out in the open is my other advice. You know, I think a mistake I’ve seen people make is that they go heads down for like months on end, and they’re working on this perfect solution. And then they come out and they’re like, “Let me show you this thing!” And people are like, start poking holes in it, and they get really disappointed or defensive.

RZ It’s incredibly deflating. It’s incredibly deflating.

VV Right. And so what I try to do is I, you know, I find the thing that seems like a good priority that I’m passionate about that I feel like well suited to be able to solve, I talk to people, I show my work early, I get people’s opinions, I like have them poke at it as it’s being built, or as my proposal is being built. And in fact, I’ve had many conversations where it’s like, “Hey, I have this idea, let me throw a draft of it at you, and I want you to tear it apart, because it’s going to make it better, or it’s going to uncover things that I haven’t thought of.” And so you kind of like build the, you know, fan base for whatever it is you’re doing as you go rather than doing some sort of grand reveal, which I think always has the risk of being disappointing and, and failing. If you you know, you miss something, or it’s just you weren’t aligned with people. So that’s very much how I like to work. And I’ve seen, it’s been great to be able to do it at Postlight and for it to be, you know, well received here.

RZ You know, I have this saying that I say to myself, I don’t know if I’ve ever said it to anyone. But don’t create audiences. And what I mean by that is, I’ve presented in the past and often get presented to nowadays, where it’s not been a collaborative process, but it’s rather a—first off the presentation deck is not collaborative. It’s a presentation. It’s literally a show you’re putting on and now you’ve put me in the audience seat, right? Which establishes us particular dynamic right out of the gate, which is you are spectator, not participant, A. B, this is hardened, and not soft and mushy. It’s already published, I’ve seen you share drafts, and you’ve put at the top of the document draft and let’s talk about it. That difference is huge. It’s huge, because, god, first off, it’s incredibly uncomfortable to sit there and poke holes at something someone else has worked hard on with no state, like nothing at stake. Everybody will do it. To no one’s fault. It’s just, you’re getting to be movie critic, I spent an hour a year and a half making a movie and the movie critic writes an article up in 20 minutes, or whatever it is. It’s just a very risky, risky move.

VV Can I share my very controversial opinion, at least I feel like it’s controversial at Postlight. Because Postlight loves decks and we do a lot of them for clients. And I hate decks, I hate presentations, I avoid them almost at all costs, even with my clients. Like sometimes you got to do a presentation. Sometimes the presentation is the right is the right format. But that is my absolute last choice of ways to communicate information.

RZ Noted, Vicky, for the next time I present you with anything. [Rich laughs] Look, we’re not alone in the presentation deck world, right. I know of other very large consulting firms that have put initiatives forward to undo sort of the institutional muscle memory around decks. I get it, it tends to like speed things up and distill it down. You don’t have to read along memo and whatnot. But if you are on and this, this podcast is about that professional path, that professional path, is you’re not going to steamroll through it, you’re going to build consensus through a collaborative dynamic. And it doesn’t have to be collaborative as in like you’ve got edit rights too. It just means like tell me what you think about this. And let’s talk it through. And that openness, I think is often not, not what’s put forward is, especially as you go higher and higher up the chain. I’ve been in companies where it’s like, oh, boy, we’ve got 30 minutes with the big boss. We got to get it right. cut those extra words out. He’s going to give you so much attention and go. And that’s to me, that’s an unwinnable. You’re not going to win anyone over and leapfrog in your career over that 30 minute presentation. It just doesn’t happen. Do you love what you do Vicky? 

VV I do love what I do. 

RZ Do you feel like you grew to love what you do because you kept at it or you chased what you love to do?

VV Yeah, that’s a great question. I think a little bit of both. I think what got clear to me as I went through my career, so I started in kind of bigger organizations, a little bit tangential to product. I then went to, eventually started my own business, my own consulting business and worked with a lot of small companies. But I was by myself and I did a lot of like operational work for them. And a lot of it involved ike what software do they need to make sure that their operations are effective. And what I was missing is that like team dynamic, being able to build something real, like I was kind of hobbling a lot of stuff together using a lot of low code tools. It’s so kind of that contrast between enterprise type software work to working by myself. What became really clear to me is like, I want to work for a product company. That’s building a product that I really believe in and and I want it to be small and nimble and have that freedom to experiment and fill gaps. And then kind of I had done that for a couple years and why I ended up at Postlight, I was very clear on the type of agency that I was looking for, or I should say differently, I found out about Postlight, and you guys piqued my interest. And I’ve never thought about agency, but the ability to work with these different types of clients on, you know, project based work and get a peek inside all these different industries. So to answer your question, I think as I got, you know, further my career, the type of company became a lot clearer. And product management became a lot clearer, but like exactly what the role was, that evolves as I grow.

RZ That’s similar to my journey, because my roots are in product—I mean, I started postflight with Paul, but my rooted roots are in product management. To me product is this sphere, where design and engineering is secondary to something cohesive and useful and not cobbled together. And that’s been kind of the driver for me. And did I go chase that because I love product management? No. I think I like hard problems. I like challenging problems. And I think I chase it because of that. But I consider both of us incredibly fortunate here I find myself trying to convince people to quit their jobs a lot. Not at Postlight, because Postlight is a great place to work. And by the way, we are hiring. Postlight.com/careers, I think is the URL. But if you just go to postlight.com, you’ll see a link. But what advice would you give to someone—and look, let’s face it, we’re incredibly fortunate, we’re doing something that we find engaging, and isn’t a slog. A lot of people, you know, I have friends, I have acquaintances that to view their job as a job in a classic sense. And, you know, how do you—what advice do you give that person? What advice do you give that person who you know is capable, by the way, like, it’s not just like, oh, I’m tired of being a neurosurgeon. I’m not going to tell a neurosurgeon to go and do something else with themselves. Like they’ve invested a little too much there. But sure, that person that is on that—they’re kind of just on a hamster wheel. What advice would you give? Quit? [Rich laughs]

VV Well, I think it depends on a lot of factors. First, I guess there’s like, kind of the obvious economic ones like, can they quit? Is that a viable option for them? Like, let’s leave that stuff out of it. But I think if you know what you want, you’re like, the job I have today is not the job I want, I am clear on what I want. Let me go find that. I think you should spend the time finding it, right. Like, I think you should figure out what companies to target what roles to target and find that better fit and make that switch. And if you don’t have necessarily the skills to do it, like figure out how you can supplement your own skills, whether that’s through like, you know, whatever training programs exist, bootcamps that exist, or just on the job. Like, oftentimes, there’s a lot of transferable skills that you just have to fill out and get some more experience. And then you can make, you can you can tell the story about how you know, your work at job A applies to job B, even though you had a different title. So that’s for people who know what they want. I think if you don’t know what you want, I think in your in the role you’re in, you have to think about what is most—like, what are the challenges that you enjoy? And how do you go after more of those challenges? How do you turn something that maybe the end product you’re working on isn’t that exciting, but like there’s something you’re, you know, there’s some activity you’re doing or process you’re going through, or people that you’re working with, that you want to spend more time with? Or more time on? And how do you get more of that? And how do you get away from some of the pieces of your job that maybe aren’t as interesting to you. Obviously, you’re not going to be able to totally shift things up. But at least if you can, like find a little bit then you start to get more clarity on what it is that you like and spend more of your time on it. But it’s definitely tougher if you’re like, I don’t like this, but I’m not sure what’s next.

RZ Maybe I’m thinking about this too narrowly. But I have to imagine that’s a harder thing to go—it’s harder to explore in the new sort of hybrid working model that’s taking hold. How do you explore? I mean, some of the best people we’ve we’ve hired at Postlight came in through visiting Postlight in an event or or in in some social setting. There are less of those in a professional—I think, you know, people have their friends circles. But going to meetups, design meetups, product meetups, meetups in general. I think it’s trickier now it’s getting harder to go and see what’s out in the world. You know, I hope that’s not forever. It doesn’t need to be. But you know, we had we had a podcast recently about—it was a wonderfully spirited debate about remote work. How do you go find those new relationships? Those new relationships you want to go have? Maybe it’s just let’s have virtual coffee? I don’t know.

VV Yeah. I mean, I don’t I don’t have a great answer to this. I’m thinking about how I’ve done it because I’ve switched jobs during the pandemic, both remote roles. 

RZ Yeah that’s a good point. We met you, during the pandemic. 

VV Yeah, I mean, for me, it was seeking out like, I listen to a lot of podcasts that are about, you know, in my case, Product Management, but that is my exposure is that I listened. And I read, and I kind of like even even though I’m not interacting with people face to face, I’m hearing the conversation, and it’s leading me down, you know, this podcast introduced me to this concept or this person. And I follow that until I like, kind of find my people. Like, that’s been my experience. But I don’t know if that’s a great answer. And, you know, applicable across the board.

RZ No, I do think I do think there’s a bit of guidance here is reaching out isn’t hard these days, like, it’s not hard. I mean, probably, if you’re listening to a podcast, that’s niche, and within a particular industry, it’s probably pretty easy to reach out to the people you’ve been listening to in your ear and connect. And you may not go work with them. But you may go, you may get introduced or get introduced to a community or a forum or whatever it may be. I think those channels are out there. You aren’t the only person actually who’s come through both client and employee Postlight, who came in through the podcast and like, I feel like I’ve met you guys. And it’s not, I would encourage people to go ahead and reach out even again, unless it’s an A list celebrity, and that’s going to be a little trickier, probably, but, but if it’s somebody that’s in the industry. And you know, because you’re getting a sense of the culture by listening. You’re actually getting a peek in. I think what we’re talking about, it’s so easy to give you like, “Hey, man, shake it up, you only live once, quit your job and go try something new.” I think the guidance we’re giving here is reach out. Whether internally, whether you’re collaborating, you know, be in a more collaborative mindset, rather than a presentational mindset. And, you know, collaborating involves reaching out and having dialogue. And you can have that beyond your own company, like you can have that in a lot of places. I used to think of this way for the purposes of business development, which was a way to, like get Postlight in the right circles, and in the right industries, and whatnot. But as someone that’s looking to advance themselves professionally, you know, I think being a little forward and reaching out, you’ll, you’ll be surprised. People welcome those conversations very often. And sometimes it just ends up as advice or whatever.

VV Yeah, and you know, how you reach out is also really, I think there’s a lot of different strategies, like I find people reach out to me, whether they find me through whatever, like, you know, media channels that I’ve participated in, or through social media, and they say, “Hey, like, I heard you on X, I read Y article, I have a question, like, I’m in this situation.” And I am so inclined to help those people, or at least like give them some advice, whether it’s a conversation or an email. So like, appealing to that person—

RZ How are they reaching out? Like through what channels?

VV Email, LinkedIn, are probably the two most common things that I get. I get kind of cold, you know, I get a lot of like, kind of sales, cold stuff that I ignore, but I’ve also gotten like meaningful connections with people who just said, “I read this thing you wrote, or I listened to this thing. And here’s the situation I’m in like, do you have any advice?” And I always respond, maybe I take a phone call, and maybe I help you know, get more involved with whatever they’re asking for. But it feels good for me to like, have people recognize and appreciate the the stuff I put out there. And so I want to return the favor.

RZ How do people reach out to you, Vicky? [music fades in]

VV Well, so you can reach out to me at vickyvolvovski@postlight.com and since I know that last name is easy to spell, I won’t I won’t spell it for you. But you can find me on the website and figure it out from there.

RZ Vicky, you know, it’s actually interesting, if you look at some of the people that have come into Postlight, they are the product of pivots. We’ve had, I think, you know, sort of your traditional architects come in, we’ve had branding designers who evolved into product designers, and so on. And so you’ll see that. We’re actually continuing to hire, we’re looking for everybody. Product managers, designers and engineers. So please reach out to us if you’re interested in coming to work at a really great company. We’re virtual and hybrid work. We support hybrid work. Am I saying it right, Vicky? 

VV Good job. 

RZ Thank you. Alright, Vicky, thank you so much. This was a great chat. Everyone reach out to us. Hello@postlight.com. Check out our work. I’m not gonna, I feel like we’ve sprinkled Postlight marketing throughout this podcast. But check us out, postlight.com, there’s case studies. All kinds of good stuff there. Have a great week, everyone. Thanks again, Vicky. 

VV Thanks, everyone. [music ramps up, plays alone, ends]