Thoughts on Product Management

On my last day at VMware I was pulled aside by Glenn Sizemore who interviewed about me for the “career day” episode of the vSpeaking podcast. Glenn asked me a few questions about my role and I thought it would be helpful to write my responses and add a bit more detail for people who are interested in the Product Management role.

How would I describe Product Management?

Product Management for enterprise software is about building the right products, products that provide real, demonstrable, value to the customer. As a Product Manager you have to be able to get to grips with some of the underlying business challenges faced by customers. Keeping everyone aligned on that north star ensures that, as a team, we spend our effort building something that customers both value and are willing to pay to unlock that value.

How did I decide to get into Product?

I trace my Product Management roots back to my time at a small startup company in the UK called Mobysoft. When I joined as the first full-time employee the company was much smaller than it is now. Being involved at an early stage gave me the opportunity to take on a lot of responsibility, build the engineering team, and develop a new service called RentSense.

In the early days of developing the new service I got to work closely with customers to understand the challenges they were facing and ensure that the product my team were developing was going to hit the mark. That was my first experience on the Product side of the fence and I definitely wanted more.

I decided at this point I was interested in transitioning my career from engineering to Product Management. I made the move to the USA to pursue my MBA and began transition into Product Management.

3 things I love about Product Management?

First, I love the satisfaction of seeing something through from beginning to end. Being able to work with customers to identify their needs and then work on bringing to market technology solutions to solve those challenges and close that loop is hugely satisfying for me.

Second, is the people. I get to work with some incredibly intelligent peers across multiple disciplines. As a former engineer I always appreciate being able to work with high caliber engineers and I have been incredibly honored to have worked with some exceptionally talented people during my times at AWS, VMware, and now Rubrik. Being able to share the context of the customers pain points with the engineering teams is one of the things that I think Product Managers absolutely need to do. Ensuring that customer empathy is baked into the product throughout its execution is how good products are forged.

Third, as a self confessed data geek, I love the opportunity to dive into data. Direct customer interaction is critical to gathering insights, but the qualitative insight has to be married to quantitative analysis. Without this combination it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of building a great solution for just one customer and being a consultancy versus a Product company.

Something people don’t tell you before taking the job?

Probably the biggest surprise for me was the opportunity to work collaboratively across many different teams. Not just cross-functionally with the teams that were involved in delivering the same product, but also with teams across the company working on a variety of different initiatives. Ensuring that as a PM you remain focused is critical, but being open to working with adjacent teams (both within and outside the company) can bring a lot of leverage in delivering value to customers.

Some Thoughts on VMware Cloud on AWS Stretched Clusters

Companies are considering a variety of migration strategies as they are looking to leverage the cloud. For VMware Cloud on AWS (VMC) migration is one of the key use cases that VMware have promoted (alongside Disaster Recovery). A key benefit touted by VMware for their offering is the ability to re-host applications without having to re-platform or re-architect, however, this is not without caveats when it comes to availability and resiliency.

For a customer migrating to the cloud, delivering the right level of resiliency and availability is a key concern. On AWS the Availability Zone is a key building block for designing available architectures. For customers who are willing to re-architect their application, designing the application to ensure resiliency in the face of an AZ loss is critical, as well as ensuring customers are eligible for AWS SLA credits in the event of an EC2 outage! But what options are available for delivering multi-AZ availability when pursuing a re-host migration strategy?

For VMware Cloud on AWS, delivering this re-host capability this is also one of the most significant limitations with what is currently available. When customers provisioned a new SDDC it could only be placed within a single Availability Zone (AZ). The combination of vSphere HA, vSAN’s erasure coding, and VMC’s auto-remediation of failed hosts ensured that failures of the individual bare metal EC2 instances could be handled well. However, there remained an issue of protecting against failures of entire Availability Zones.

With the unveiling of a technology preview of their new stretched clustering capability, VMware is presenting a differentiated offering. Stretched networking, by NSX, and stretched storage, from vSAN, combine with vSphere’s HA to deliver a platform that delivers resiliency against AZ failure, without having to re-architect or re-platform your application to take advantage of multiple Availability Zones. On the vSAN side, the increased costs of mirroring the storage are now offset by the introduction of deduplication and compression support. More details were shared during VMware’s recent Cloud Briefing event and I also spoke about VMware’s plans here during my VMC storage deep-dive session at VMworld.

It will be interesting to see how VMware’s customers evaluate this new offering when it moves out of tech preview status and into General Availability.