Can you tell us a bit about your path to becoming SVP Digital Products at ASCAP?
I studied Psychology as an undergraduate and focused on environmental psychology and perception. When the time came to pick a graduate program my advisor handed me a book listing Human Factors and Ergonomics Graduate Programs. It changed everything. After getting a Masters of Human Factors (UX) from Cornell I spent years focusing on UX.
I loved solving problems. To this day every time I get on an elevator I’m mentally redesigning the buttons, to say nothing of so many digital tools I encounter.
Since the process for a UX designer is to start with a deep analysis of needs and opportunities it became natural for me to lead initiatives and that transitioned me into leading Product teams across a number of industries.
ASCAP was an opportunity to join a purpose driven organization, it feels great to focus on products that are intended to make music creators more successful rather than making our organization richer.
Can you share with us insights from your career journey that you learned the hard way?
- A big part of any job is making your boss’s job easier. Don’t be the person that just brings them problems, offer solutions.
- The biggest part of a manager’s job is to support, mentor, and develop your team.
- Don’t lose sight of the big picture. As product managers we can get caught in the minutiae fighting for features and miss the opportunity for the big win.
Marty Cagan once wrote that women make the best product managers, what are your thoughts on that?
I know there are those that argue this feeds a stereotype and diminishes the incredibly hard work women put in to get to senior product roles. I do, however, think there are certain traits of very effective product managers that in my experience women exhibit more often. Two examples are being very organized and being a good communicator.
A product manager is constantly juggling user needs, business needs, features, releases, stakeholders and more. You can’t do that well, and sell others on your product vision without being very organized and a deft communicator.
Best or worst career advice you have received?
Best: Think Bigger – when I was managing a UX team and struggled with what the next step in my career would be, my boss told me to think bigger, that I wasn’t “just” a UX lead that since my team was driving products from ideation through launch the next step was to embrace that and transition formally into a senior product role.
Worst: Don’t show who you really are. A well-meaning person once told me that I should have a work persona that’s separate from my private or real one. I’m not sure if it’s bad advice but it certainly doesn’t work for me. I can’t do it. I’m a very open person and wear my emotions on my sleeve. No, that hasn’t always served me well. It can leave you very vulnerable. However, more often than not, being sincere has helped me build relationships across organizations that were key to doing my job well.
Meet Dena and other inspiring product leaders at PMF Europe 2019 on the 13-14 Nov in Zurich.