Kevin Legere

Cover Image for How I went from answering phones to leading the Product team in 7 years

How I went from answering phones to leading the Product team in 7 years

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

My journey at Galvanize ended up being a pretty good story. I started off in tech support, answering phone calls and working the night shift. Within 7 years I was leading the Product team. It was quite a ride. I learned some things along the way that helped me each time I took the next step in my career. Here are some tips that accelerated my career growth at Galvanize.

Always prep for your next job

When I first joined tech support there were a lot of people on the team that had been there for awhile. I was ambitious and I wanted to get promoted quickly. That wasn’t going to happen overnight. I had to find a way to stand out above those with more experience.

We had an escalation team that consisted of the most senior members of the team. They weren’t on the main phone lines and had a lot more reach into other parts of the company. I wanted that job. So in between calls and during slow periods, instead of surfing the internet or checking my phone, I would roll up my sleeves and learn as much as I could. I read every article on our internal wiki (more than once) and was very active on the user forums. I did this so that I could become an a “goto” person on the team for the toughest questions. I wanted to know the answer without having to look it up. I wanted to become an escalation analyst, before I even had the job. That way when an opportunity came up I would put myself in the best position possible to get the job. That is exactly what happened. My hard work paid off. I trained myself for the job I wanted, not the job I had. When a position opened up on the escalation team, I was the obvious choice.

Expand your reach in the company

If you’re good at your job, that’s great. You’ll probably get good performance reviews and an annual raise. You might even get a promotion. If you are content with your current role, that might be enough. If you want to expand your reach, then you will need to do more. One way to do that is to take advantage of opportunities that go beyond your current role. Some people see this as ‘more work’, I see it as an opportunity to grow. This will increase your visibility on your team and within the company. Especially if you are working with other departments. Those things don’t go unnoticed by leadership.

When I was on the escalation team I would ask my manager to get put on internal projects that involved cross functional teams. By doing this, I got to know lots of consultants and leaders from other teams. I got to work with them and they got to work with me. If you want a job in another department, then why not show them what you are capable of? They will get to know the quality of your work and the dynamics of working with you. When something opens up, then it will be an easy transition. This accelerated my move from the escalation team to consulting and made the transition seamless.

Build relationships

Ever hear the saying:

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know

Well, guess what? There is some truth to that quote. If you are interviewing for a new position and it’s close between you and someone else, then it could come down to who they know better (or who they like better). Let’s face it, work is a lot more enjoyable when you like who you work with. So, if you have ambitious career goals, then take the time to get to know people on other teams, especially leaders. Build strong working relationships with them. Once you become known as someone who is liked and trusted across departments it becomes much easier to make some moves.

It was my relationship with the head of engineering that ultimately lead to my move from Consulting to Product. That relationship was built over time from interactions at conferences, company events and in office run-ins. If it wasn’t for that I might never have gotten the shot I was looking for. I might not be writing this today and I might not be starting my own company. I look back on that moment as a pivotal point in my career. Relationships really matter. Be yourself and invest in building them.

Be clear about your intentions

When I was in tech support, I told everyone that I wanted to be a consultant. I told my manager, my peers, my friends, everybody. When I finally moved into consulting, no one was surprised. When people know about your intentions, opportunities will find you. They already know you are interested. This doesn’t mean that you will get the job. But it does mean that you won’t miss the opportunity. Jobs can get filled internally very quickly. If people know you want something, you’ve built good relationships and you’ve prepped yourself for that next role, then you might be able to get the job before it even gets posted. Having no competition is the best way to get the job you want.

Go deep on the domain

We were building governance software. It’s a complicated domain. I didn’t want to be just another Product Manager. I wanted to be THE Product Manager. So I decided to immerse myself in our domain. Learn it inside and out. Be comfortable talking to analysts, customers or internal employees about any related topic. When I didn't know the answer, I'd do more research and prepare myself for the next time it came up. I read white papers, articles and books about risk management. I even listened to podcasts. Heck, I even did a podcast with Dan Zitting.

Once again my hard work paid off. I knew the product well because I had been at the company for awhile and I quickly became someone people saw a an expert in the domain. It certainly made me better at my job, but it was about prepping for my next job (yes, we’ve come full circle). When my boss, the Director of Product moved into another role, it left a big hole on the team. Do they bring in someone new who doesn’t know our domain or customers? Or do they go with someone they know? Someone who has dedicated their time to deeply understanding the product and domain.

Remember when I said that people often go with the known over unknown when the decision is close? I’m not sure if that is exactly what went into the decision, but I do know that my dedication to learning the domain was a big factor.

That was my dream job and I 💜’d every second of it. It took hard work, good timing and a little bit of luck. Some people say that you can make your own luck. Maybe some of these techniques helped me create some of my own luck. Hard to say. The best thing you can do is be ready for the opportunity. Then when it comes up, throw yourself at it.

Let me know what you did to accelerate your career growth. I’d love to hear your story. Thanks for reading 🍻