2021 Year in Review - a time to reflect and aspire
Updated: Dec 23, 2021
2021 ends in just 2 weeks and what a tumultuous year it has been. The chaos of the pandemic still continued for most part of the year. Although there were few moments of normalcy, they quickly disappeared as different variants of the virus started spreading in the world.
As I sit down reflecting on the year, I have flashbacks of some of the worst things humanity has experienced. At the same time, I am also grateful for a handful of good things that marked the year.
The world that was 2021 (Image source: Wall Street Journal, 2021 Biggest Stories)
And it is in these moments of deep gratitude, that I find the grit and determination to not only continue the work that PMDojo has been doing but also challenge myself for doing more and making a lasting impact on our community. 1 year in, it is so exciting to see so many others from people, communities, companies, universities and others who are jumping in their own ways to help make the tech industry more diverse, inclusive and accessible.
The early days:
It is hard to believe that just over 12 months ago, PMDojo started as a hobby project to help people looking to break into product roles. From everything that I heard mentoring and talking to hundreds of people, breaking into product roles was extremely overwhelming. In spite of the abundance of resources available, it was hard to distill the noise. It still is with opinions floating around that disguise as advice.
The minimum viable prototype (MVP) from start to finish took 2 weeks. This was an extremely scrappy way of integrating a number of tools and launching a repository of FREE curated learnings consisting of some of my favourite resources I had collected over the many years I used for myself and readings for my teams.
48 hours after MVP our launch, we had over 800 people across 12 countries sign up for curated learning resources. These resources consistently rated between 4 to 4.5 out of 5 and I received lots of feedback on areas to improve. However, within a few weeks, it became evident that in spite of these FREE resources being useful, we were barely scratching the surface of systemic challenges that our tech industry faces.
Pause and reflect:
One can devour all the resources, watch as many videos, take any number of courses, one can never gain the "experience", every job description asks; be it for the first role in product or trying to get a promotion for a role one has not done before.
This feedback was not surprising. Digging up on some research I had started more than 5 years ago and more interviews with over hundreds of people from those looking to pivot into product roles as well as Hiring Managers, the real problem was far from making resources available. This was a time to pause and try to think about this problem like a Product Manager...
I had also started reflecting on my personal journey and what I needed to do to feel accomplished, valued and that I was making an impact. For those who don't know, after 18 years in the tech industry and reaching the so-called zenith of my career as the President of a tech company, I decided to step back in 2019. Why? PTSD and burnout caused major turmoil emotionally, mentally and physically and I could simply not carry on. You can read more here - Career, Motherhood and Burnout - Year of Shame, Unlearning & Empathising With Myself
After months of intense therapy and medical care, I found myself at an interesting and challenging crossroad:
Do I go back to work to help my partner financially?
Do I take a break and devote all my time to motherhood and home?
Do I take up hobbies to keep myself busy?
Do I continue as an Advisor and Fractional Product Executive with companies under Spark To Substance, a company I started in 2019
Do I do something new with the findings from PMDojo's early days?
For anyone who knows me well, I decided to continue my work with Spark To Substance, while balancing home and motherhood decided to pursue PMDojo seriously and turn it from a mere hobby into a passion initiative and a venture.
The bigger problem in our tech industry:
There is a lot written already about the problems in the tech industry. However, I am particularly passionate and frustrated with a few of these that I wanted to see if I could help solve:
A lack of diversity in tech:
On the surface, we see the imbalance every day in gender and racial representation and equality in tech. There is more to this though. Diversity means different perspectives are considered and people from all walks of life believe that they have a place in tech. This might include people from different social, cultural backgrounds, people who do not have a college degree, people who took time away to care of kids or family, people with unique learning needs and countless others. To help make tech more diverse, we need opportunities to be accessible and equal for everyone.
You can read more here: Why I am building PMDojo?
Chicken and egg problem:
It is pretty clear that without experience in a product role, it is extremely hard to transition into product management or design roles.
At the crux of the problem, one needs the experience to get the job BUT you need a job to get that experience. This statement holds true for the following situations:
If you want to transition into your first role in product
You want to transition into the tech industry from another related or non-related field
You might be experienced in a certain vertical in tech, but transitioning to a different domain is hard (e.g. think eCommerce to health Tech and countless others)
You can’t really learn about this without actually doing a role. Companies do not want to take the risk if you cannot show that you can do the job. This is the harsh reality and also something that Ken Norton (Ex- Google, Product Coach) says.
Change learning from passive to rich, immersive and accessible:
We can all agree that learning through existing courses or certifications either feels lonely or all too theoretical. Whilst case studies might be a good resource to look back at situations and problems, we also know that hindsight is always 20/20.
Moreover, no amount of courses, certifications or training can give us the experience that companies require from candidates of having done the role. Although they might look great on paper, the reality does not match what is in the paper. Thriving in product and tech needs learning and honing the craft and this is way more than frameworks, checklists, templates, watching videos or listening to lectures. Moreover, much of the lack of diversity in tech stems from inaccessible learning opportunities that teach theory.
Evolution of PMDojo to its current form:
Over the 12 months, PMDojo has had its fair share of learnings, unlearnings and pivots. One thing that was absolutely clear from day one was that if the problems above needed to be solved, we needed to think about this from both sides of the equation - i.e. people looking to pivot or grow their career in product roles as well as companies who needed to feel confident about hiring people from all walks of life, backgrounds and experiences or lack of.
So what is PMDojo?
PMDojo is a global learning community that centers around diversity of thought, background, experiences, walks of life and learning needs. Our community has Mentors and Fellows who might be veterans, people of colour, neurodiverse, musicians, medical professionals, engineers, marketers, sales professionals or entrepreneurs all looking to grow in tech and in product roles.
The mission behind PMDojo is simple - we want to make tech more equitable, inclusive and accessible for everyone.
People from marginalized sections of our community lack resources, role models and opportunities for learning and career growth from the start. This means that they are less likely to feel confident in applying for roles in the tech industry even when they have skills.
So how is PMDojo solving the above systemic problems in the tech industry?
A little over a year, and PMDojo has become so much more for so many of us. I have cried and laughed and all seems to make sense in a way that I have found my purpose that aligns with my values, how I think and what I have always been so passionate about. Along the way, I have met some of the most amazing people in our industry and rekindled past relationships as well. I could not have done this without the unwavering support, constant encouragement and also being challenged by all the amazing mentors, fellows and alums from PMDojo. You each know how much this community gets from each of you.
The many faces of PMDojo community make this a thriving community of people who make the magic happen here...
The impact we have made so far together:
What started as a random request on some product groups to get together for mentoring 6 people trying to break into product roles has today become a way for so many of us to make a lasting impact on people's lives. This impact is real and fulfilling in so many ways.
Resources from PMDojo:
1. PMDojo Product Accelerator has been instrumental in achieving the outcomes above. It is a unique learning experience that helps solve the systemic problems in the tech industry outlined above.
This 10-week immersive learning experience gives people real-world experience, skills & mentorship to transition into Product and Tech roles. Our Product Fellows step into the role of a Product Manager or a Product Designer, collaborate as a diverse team, explore a problem and launch a v1 of the product in the market.
Learn more about the program or join here- https://www.pmdojo.me/product-accelerator
2. One-on-one coaching from Hiring Managers has made coaching accessible for people globally. A handful of mentors from PMDojo who are Sr. Product Leaders and Hiring Managers make time to coach people 1:1 to help them navigate their career in tech. You can learn more about the coaching here and book time - https://www.pmdojo.me/product-career-mentorship
3. Alumni Journeys is a place to find inspirational stories from people and their journey in product and tech. You also get to read how they launched real products in 10 weeks, YES not hypothetical projects or case studies but real and live products. Check it out here - https://www.pmdojo.me/alumni-journeys
4. Live mini-courses launched recently to help people skill up in specific areas by participating in live and immersive classes over 1- 3 weeks long. These skills can be in professional or personal areas and are taught by Industry Experts who have battle scars from doing this over years. Why? Because we have heard this again and again that learning from people who have experienced the good, bad and ugly is hugely beneficial over opinions. Check out the mini-courses here - https://www.pmdojo.me/mini-courses
5. Want to mentor or collaborate with PMDojo? We need everyone to get involved to make our tech industry more equitable, accessible, diverse and inclusive. Check out our website to get involved and change lives - www.pmdojo.me
What is next for me and PMDojo?
I have big dreams and aspirations for 2022. Personally, I want to focus on my health and feel better. I have been pretty good at avoiding the constant hustle and burnout that cost me my health in 2019. However, I do realize that I do have this tendency to go all in and become completely focused on what I am working on especially if it is interesting. So I will need to watch out for this. I will continue focussing on some of the things that have kept me sane in the past such as:
For PMDojo, I am really excited to be collaborating with a few of our amazing mentors on some exciting things for 2022 to further help with our mission of making tech more equitable, accessible, diverse and inclusive. This could take shape in how we further evolve the Product Accelerator, more inspiring stories that drive change and help uplift us all and many others.
Stay tuned, follow me and PMDojo on LinkedIn!
To our community:
It's been a crazy run so far, but we're only just getting started. To everyone who has been a part of PMDojo community so far, referred a friend, joined us as a mentor, or lead a community initiative, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You who make PMDojo so special.
From our community to you:
I also wanted to share some of the biggest learnings from a few of PMDojo's inspiring community members:
That's it for now. Keep inspiring others even if they are one step behind you.
Happy holidays and an amazing 2022!