Breaking the bias of privilege to break into tech and a product career
“Though I was used to growing up with people telling me I was too naive, or dreaming too big, or that I didn’t belong, it became a little bit easier to block out the nay-sayers when you’re alone in the middle of the pandemic” - April Canillo
After her graduation in 2020, April Canillo decided to fully commit to learning as much as she could about product management. The world was on a mandatory lockdown, she had time on her hands and a dream she was eager to revive, so she took the leap.
When you look at April now, you’ll see is a young, confident and thriving associate product manager —a role she fully transitioned into after her time at PMDojo.
But her journey wasn’t a smooth ride. In fact, from the very beginning, she’s had it rough.
During our conversation, April opened up about being born without luxury or financial access. Having to drop her dream the first time, and how she found the right community when she needed it the most.
Tell us about your journey so far. How did you get started?
As an undergrad, I had a strong interest in tech and decided to take a course in Computer Science. However, I could only afford to stay for half a semester because the software we used in class was not compatible with the laptop I had.
Using the school’s computers wasn't feasible because of the long commute between the campus and my apartment. I also couldn’t afford to buy a new laptop, so I dropped that dream and pursued more accessible options. To give some context, my family lived in poverty all my life and I continued to live in poverty even after I had moved out for college.
In my final year, a health scare and my graduation both served as a catalyst for me to re-explore my interests in tech. I picked up on UX design and continued to learn independently during the pandemic.
After years of instability and not feeling like I fit in anywhere, I started seeing a lot of opportunities in tech. Then I learned what it meant to be a product designer, which deeply resonated with me. It was one of the rare moments I was entirely sure about a decision, so I ran with it.
Instead of choosing a specific industry, I went after companies that had strong women in leadership that I could look up to, learn from, and eventually become.
My most recent performance review - or any moment I get a random compliment for my work - validates and reassures me that I made the right decision to break into Product.
Why did you choose to join PMdojo?
PMdojo is all about diversity in tech. That’s why I chose to join.
I used to be in hackathons, webinars, and tech spaces that were filled with cis white men and cis white women, but I really didn’t see much of myself. I didn’t see young people who looked like me or those who came from similar economic backgrounds like me. I didn’t see diverse people of color. I didn’t see very diverse backgrounds and I didn’t feel like I fit in. Even though I still wanted to pursue my chosen career path, I felt like I had to prove myself so much more in those spaces.
PMdojo being a diverse group of folks from different types of backgrounds really spoke to me and so I decided to give it a shot. I spoke to Bosky, the Founder of PMDojo who was lovely and made me feel safe.
What are some of the major lessons you learned during the PMDojo accelerator?
The biggest lesson for me in PMdojo is that it’s important to treat your team with empathy and compassion. Product management is tough because you’ll be working with a lot of people and there are a ton of moving parts. Having compassion for yourself and others needs to be a conscious daily practice.
In PMdojo, building a product in 10 weeks with a group of people I’d never met before definitely felt like a pressure cooker and tested me in more ways than one. However, we all learned to show up for our team in a way that was positive. We learned to focus on the end goal and see it through without getting lost in all the details. The key was to keep lifting each other up and pulling each other forward. I’ve come to understand that’s how you’ll come out on top. and that is something that I’ve carried on through my work until now.
I also learned that it’s important to prioritize wellness and self-care because it makes a huge difference. Taking breaks means you’re refreshed and alive to bring a lot of energy into your work. It transforms the way you work, the way you approach problems, and the way you ideate.
How did being part of PMDojo impact your career?
For a big chunk of my life, I took pride in being independent and not relying on anybody, and I realize there’s a lot of trauma there. I always felt that to get into tech, I had to be super independent and hustle my way in. So, I tried to learn on my own, binge-watch tech YouTubers and attend webinars alone.
PMdojo introduced me to a community of people that I could engage with instead of just being a passive observer and I noticed how big of a difference that made for me. When working on team projects, we talked about our personal lives, what we wanted and how we could align on our end goals. I think doing that made me feel more supported. PMdojo helped me open up to this community and let me see that if you let people in and let them help you, you can get so much farther. PMdojo helped me warm up in that sense and was a safe space with brilliant minds exchanging ideas. I got so much out of that.
I had absolutely incredible mentors and I spent time learning from a lot of other folks. I definitely took advantage of the jobs channel on the private Slack and thanks to PMdojo, hiring managers knew my name. I wasn’t cold calling anymore. It was always a soft intro which made me feel more comfortable and less nervous.
I was introduced to my current job because one of the mentors shared a job post and I decided to go for it. She had seen my work in PMDojo and Bosky championed me for the opportunity as well. I went through the interview stages and here I am. I also was promoted in my current company shortly after joining.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering product management as a career path and wants to join the PMDojo Product accelerator?
When you start pursuing a career in Product, you’ll realize quickly that the advice and opinions of other product managers across different industries are often contradictory because of the “chicken and the egg” problem.
Early on in my journey, I had both senior leaders and junior PMs advising me to pursue a Master’s degree first before pursuing a product role. Most of them said that I needed to have a bulky portfolio of certificates and join large tech networks in order to be seen by recruiters. Others suggested that I work in unrelated roles and transition to a product role later or work at a startup in order to climb the corporate ladder faster. Some even declared that I don’t stand a chance at all.
As someone who is new to tech, all the information and advice out there can be overwhelming, so you really need to pace yourself and be selective with what advice you follow. PMDojo was a gift to me, because it not only had a structured and immersive learning, a cross-functional team, and real stakeholders to work with, but there was also a strong support system of mentors (which I still have), access to career/job support (like interview prep, resumes reviews, etc), as well as workshops and other learning opportunities that you have access to both while you’re in the program and post-graduation as alumni... The support is truly above and beyond.
Want to learn and gain industry experience by launching products in a cross-functional team? Applications are closing soon so jump right in to send your application to our upcoming cohort of PMDojo Product Accelerator.