We collectively have been a fan of Angelist since their founding a number of years ago. If you were ever in the tech startup industry (or still kicking it here still), you'll have come across Angelist in one way or another. They've been instrumental in connecting investors with startups and with early startup employees in particular -- some of us here got our start or was connected to our first startups through Angelist's network. Thanks Angelist.
One of Angelist's founders is Naval Ravikant. I first heard about him on the podcast by Jason Calacanis' This Week in Startups many moons ago. I honestly couldn't tell you what I gleaned from that interview in particular as it was a number of years ago but I remember walking away thinking that I need to follow this guy or subscribe to his blog if he had one.
There's so many wise things he mentioned, but I found it refreshing that it always got to the core point in little words. It cut through most of the BS but there was still room to dream, to grow or build and continues to be inspiring to a budding entrepreneur and product manager.
What I've found fascinating was that over the years since I started following Naval Ravikant was that his nuggets of wisdom and zingers were always so diverse and far afield. Other journalists and bloggers have named him the philosopher of the internet or certainly of the tech industry. I choose to think that Naval's daily meditation routine has helped the rest of us see more clearly about the work we do in the tech industry as product managers, developers, designers, marketers (or everything and anything in-between).
A while ago we featured Naval's tweet chain on How to Get Rich (without getting lucky).
How to Get Rich (without getting lucky):— Naval (@naval) May 31, 2018
We loved it and I personally refer to it regularly to remind myself of my own personal goals (and that they are somehow irrelevant too).
There are too many good quotes from Naval and some of them can be controversial at times but the one that he recently stated made me realize why I broke into Product Management and why I've been drawn this as a career.
But first, let's start with the quote:
Building technology means you don’t have to choose between practicing science, commerce, and art.— Naval (@naval) January 19, 2019
This really hit me to reflect on what my heart was driving me toward when I graduated from high-school. I had no idea what to major in in college and while I was good at math and science, I always had the heart to do something more creative. Though, I didn't the the skills or was naturally talented in sketching, drawing, painting or writing. So naturally I went to Engineering school. :)
I started my freshman year in Electrical Engineering and hated it. Three quarters of the way through the first year I knew I had to transfer to something else. I didn't want to restart first year and I didn't want to move too far from home (the wasted time of commuting) so I decided to transfer within Engineering this time, serendipitously to Industrial Engineering.
I remember I didn't have a clue what Industrial Engineering was. (For most people, they still don't have any idea, including me.) I remember reading from a marketing brochure of what it was and decided to put my hat in the ring. A few weeks later the university registrar sent me a message in the (snail) mail saying I was accepted for the transfer.
Within Industrial, I found solace in a discipline called Human Factors Engineering. Designing things for people seems like a common sense thing to do but back then it wasn't something top of mind for most people (if you could imagine). Nowadays, everyone knows what UX and UI and User Experience and Customer Journeys and Personas are to some extent -- back then it wasn't even considered real science.
But that's was really my point exactly -- I wanted to study inexact sciences and applying it wherever I can. Seemed more interesting to me. There's the "artistic" part of me that was bubbling to the surface again. I wanted to play in the sandbox of more than just one discipline, I want to cross-breed knowledge with other departments at the university. So for the next few years, I married psychology, statistics and engineering design and learned a ton. I had a blast with those explorations in class.
It wasn't easy to find a job doing user experience design 15 years ago. It's much more widely understood that it isn't is a discipline but coming out of college it was hard to find jobs because there just wasn't that many of them.
Still I found my way, did UX for a while and at some point I realized too that UX wasn't broad or multidisciplinary enough for me. I needed something more.
I know we all know the three circles in the Venn diagram of product management. But it's one thing to think about it in those terms and connect the dots about why I'm attracted to it in the first place, especially amongst all the other careers paths I could've chosen.
For me, being in technology, being as a product manager especially, is a way for me to fulfill my childhood inclination to be contrarian but also this innate desire to bring it all together through multidisciplinary ways. Far too often in school, especially in higher education we spent 3 to 5 years studying with in the same sphere -- and while that's good for certain professions and to bolster identity to some extent, the desire to become more is found in the spaces between the disciplines where there isn't a lot of people spending time looking.
I would go further to hypothesize that those of us found ourselves in product management or those that want to take on their first product manager roles to some extent are the artistic technologists. Or the technological artists who have an distinct interest in markets and business. And this is where Naval is right -- I felt displaced elsewhere. I didn't want to choose so narrowly about how I used my skills and how I came up with ideas. Technology and especially in Product Management, we get to use and be all of ourselves, we no longer have to choose to be A and B or B and C -- we're BBACCACBA and any notes we have to plan inbetween.
Don't stop playing and keep your melody going.