THE FAST FIVE
The Short Story: Kylan is a Senior Product Manager at a Fortune 100 Silicon Valley technology firm. Three years after graduating with his undergraduate degree, Kylan was named to the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list in Enterprise Technology.
Biggest College Fear: “My biggest fear was being stuck in a job or career that made me unhappy. I feared the idea of being chained to a desk from 8 to 5. The idea of going from controlling my own time in college, to being on someone else’s schedule in the real world was a big concern for me.”
Virgin Business Lesson: “Internships and college begin the process of exploring who you are. But these opportunities are experienced in a bubble, so to speak. It’s refreshing to step out of the bubble every now and then to evaluate where you are, what you are learning, and how you are feeling. Look for opportunities to transfer learning from one bubble to the other, and don’t be afraid to burst the bubble, when you’ve outgrown the environment.”
Industry Uniqueness: “Technology operates like a pulse. A project can have the highest of highs, and spectacular lows. Managing innovation requires a clear vision, a purpose for what you are creating. Constant iteration takes perseverance and internal conviction to stick with a concept through all the peaks and valleys. At the end of the day, technology is really about solving problems, and making the world better in someway.”
Right Now YOU Should Be: “Perfecting your communication skills. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t communicate it effectively, it’s never going to happen. Regardless of what industry or what career you pursue, the ability to speak and write drives success or failure in any role. You can always improve your skills because there are so many styles of communication; and the best communicators know how to adapt their styles to engage specific audiences or individuals.”
MORE FROM KYLAN
I questioned where I wanted to be and what problems I wanted to solve.
In college, I had a list of things I thought I wanted to do, but didn’t know the dream job or the ideal industry. I explored my hobbies and interests, which at the time included technology, exploring new ideas and creating opportunities. I didn’t know if I wanted to create my own start-up, work for an established start up, or work for a large company. As I searched for opportunities, I came across the job description of a Product Manager, I immediately thought, that’s me. Essentially, the role functions as a “mini CEO” of a product. You interface with all different types of stakeholders from designers, to analysts, to engineers, to users in order to shepherd a product through all stages of the life cycle. So I started talking to alumni in the role, and researching internships that would give me hands on experience in someway.
The fears I had of the real world while in college never materialized. Fortunately, I learned the right tools in college to think critically about what companies would be right for me. Understanding corporate culture is so important to assess your potential in a given environment. My first day as an intern, I knew I wasn’t going to be chained to a desk. I immediately began working with people, and taking meetings outside on a sunny day. I also really wanted to make a difference, change people’s lives in my work. Being hands on with products where I could see the impact made me happy. In all, LinkedIn and I shared the same values, so I felt confident that this was the right organization for me.
Internships serve different purposes depending on what you are seeking. Regardless of the kind of internship, there are three important benchmarks to assess the experience: 1) Am I getting an understanding of how this world works? 2) What skills am I learning that I can do in any future role regardless of the industry and 3) Do I like this? Can I see myself doing this in the future? I had different internships, first was at a start-up gaming company, the next was at an educational tech company. My first internship gave me the experience of a start-up and working with customer perceptions, the second was more process oriented and less about the technology. By the time I got to LinkedIn as an intern, I had a good sense of what it was like to work in a company, and a sense of what I wanted or didn’t want to do. But if I hadn’t established a framework to evaluate my previous experience, I wouldn’t have known what to look for when I landed at in my ideal company. LinkedIn was the first company I’d been at with a strong mission statement, a defined culture and people who walked and talked those values. That’s when I realized I could be happy there.
Balance has been important for me since I was a kid.
As a competitive gymnast throughout my childhood, I trained several hours a week and went to school, while competing with athletes that were home-schooled. Early on, I learned the importance of prioritizing my day. Work life integration or balance, whatever you want to call it, really depends on what makes you tick and how you work.
It’s easy to get caught up in the world of Product Management because you have so many responsibilities. There’s always work to do, but understanding what hobbies bring me happiness actually makes me more innovative in my job. I’ve always enjoyed swimming and volleyball, and recently began competing as a triathlete. I’m also acquiring new habits like yoga every Tuesday night. Cooking has become a real passion; an activity that I find myself getting lost in. Getting lost in something is important because it rejuvenates my mind. Balance is really a personal commitment to make sure you are in the mix of your priorities. It’s about creating a schedule to make time for the things that you love, then sticking to it. Keeping to the plan may not work immediately, but just having an approach will at least guide you to recognize the need for a break.
At this stage in life, you aren’t going to have all the right answers.
My life has always been my ship to steer, though I’ve been fortunate to have guidance along the way. Having high expectations of yourself or pressure from others is tough; but it’s important to remember that we don’t have all the answers, and we aren’t always going to get it right. I feel like life is a journey, and I’m going to have a whole lifetime of figuring out what I want to do because my wants and needs will change over time. Hopefully, molding into a direction where with each decision I will become happier. I completely own the fact that it’s my life. I take what people around me have to say as constructive learning and ideas to consider. But it’s my choice, my destination. Therefore, I’m empowered to make the best decision for my journey. And if it my choice turns out to be wrong, I know I’m strong enough to learn from my mistakes and keep moving forward.
Don’t let what’s happening around you impact your own focus.
Opportunity is really what you make of it. I’ve met some of the greatest leaders in my industry that didn’t finish high school. They simply saw a problem, and got to work solving that problem, growing their skill set, leveraging their confidence to keep moving forward. At the same time, I’ve met graduates from top universities who didn’t take advantage of their platform to connect with others, figure out who they are, seek out experiences and launch with both feet into their destiny. Starting a career from any transition point is about taking the time to form a clear vision for yourself; really exploring the question of what you want to do. Your vision can and will change over time, but once you have a direction you can put everything, all your energy, research, time in that arena, shadowing folks, building products, networking and failing in that arena. When you fail fast, you learn fast, which is why driven people aren’t afraid of failing.
There can be angst associated with not knowing what you want to do and being in a position where you may be watching those around you move ahead in a major or in a career. It’s ok to not know. It’s normal to be on a path to figure it out. Listen to your voice, follow your own heart, work hard and be yourself. Eventually, you’ll land in the right place where you can be or grow to be the best version of you.