Career Skills & Transitions with Rebecca Cooper, Principal PM at SafetyCulture
What’s your career story so far?
I started my career working in hotels. I thought I wanted to be a Hotel Manager but the reality of working in hotels was very different from the vision I had for it.
I worked in hotels for 10 years and it helped me see the world with 4 years abroad and 6 years in Sydney, Australia. I worked in almost every department in a hotel from housekeeping to event management to front desk.
When I returned home after living in Canada I knew I didn’t want to work in hotels anymore. The shift work was a killer and customer service was really taking its toll on me. Serendipitously a tech company in Sydney was looking for Customer Support team members who had a background working in hotels because they had previous team members with that same background. So I very luckily got a job working in Customer Support for a tech company called Ansarada here in Sydney.
While there I fell in love with tech. I loved hearing customer problems and seeing how we were building solutions to solve those problems. I loved learning about how technology works. I loved the culture and the people.
I wanted to get more involved with the Product Team at Ansarada and asked if I could shadow some meetings and understand more about how product management works. I decided to take a General Assembly course to learn product management and when a position became available in the Product Team for an Associate PM, I jumped at the opportunity to interview.
And so my Product Management career started! After a few years at Ansarada I left and joined SafetyCulture as a Product Manager. I loved the mission of ensuring workers return home from work every day. I loved the focus on outcomes for the customer and thrived on the customer centricity at SafetyCulture.
Over time I moved up and I’m now working as a Principal Product Manager looking after a new growth opportunity that has the potential to exponentially grow the company.
What ingredients were most important early on in your career?
Tenacity - When I decided I wanted to be a Product Manager I did everything I could to get exposure to the Product Team at Ansarada.
I stalked calendars and asked to be invited to meetings that seemed interesting. I asked to help with projects and did the work outside of my full time job in Customer Support.
Relationship building - Building relationships is integral to being successful in Product Management. One of the things I think has helped me most is purposefully building relationships with teams like Customer Support, Sales & Marketing. This helps to bridge the gap between Product and these teams but also makes it so much easier when you are looking for information or needing help. These teams are also key to helping you understand the customer better!
What is the biggest career transition you’ve made?
Moving from working in hotels to working in tech was a completely different experience. There are some soft skills that cross over really nicely like the ability to deal with difficult customers and the desire to build great experiences for people. But the transition from working shift work, having a set list of tasks that need to be completed each shift and set breaks to working in an environment where sitting and thinking is considered working was a wild transition. I found it really hard to structure my days and prioritize what needed to be done.
What helped me was taking the time to structure my day/week:
- Creating a to-do list
- Setting time in my calendar to complete tasks
How do you approach learning new skills?
I’ve found the easiest way to learn new skills is to just jump in and try them.
You need to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable in the beginning and this can be really hard but like Product Discovery you know very little when you start and over time as you learn more and uncover new things you start to get clearer and eventually you get clarity on the problem you’re solving.
It’s exactly the same when learning a new skill. You won’t know much in the beginning but asking lots of questions and being comfortable admitting you don’t know everything helps. Eventually you’ll master the new skill.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
Building your brand is exceptionally important. I remember doing a building your brand workshop when I was at Ansarada and we went through setting up our LinkedIn profiles and at the time I thought it was all a bit silly and I struggled with the concept of promoting myself but I think dedicating the time to doing it has really helped me.
You need to be your biggest advocate because if you sit back and wait for others to do it, you may end up waiting forever.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Maybe a little different of a spin to this question but since becoming a parent I’ve realized just how trivial some of the things that used to frustrate me at work actually are. So I guess my advice here would be to think “will this matter in 5 years time when I look back and think about this moment in time?”. If the answer is no, then just move on. It’s not worth stressing about.
What’s one resource that’s helped you in your journey?
When I first started in Product Management I loved listening to the classic PM podcasts like Intercom on Product & This is Product Management.
As I’ve furthered my career I’ve loved listening to podcasts that are more around how a business operates. I think this has helped me to really start to think bigger picture and understand more of the pieces that make a successful software business.
Acquired is my personal favourite. But I also frequently listen to Decoder & How I built this.
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