Curious about a career product management?
In this episode, Hannah Clark is joined by Mariana Antaya—Product Manager at Microsoft Teams & Founder of quantifAI—to discuss her journey into product management and to give advice for aspiring product managers.
- Mariana’s Journey into Product Management [01:17]
- Mariana’s background: Computer science and math major in university.
- Founded companies with friends during university.
- First exposure to product space: building things for others.
- Launched an Etsy store during the pandemic, gaining experience with physical products.
- Transitioned from coding to product due to preference.
- The Competitive Landscape of Product Management Jobs [02:04]
- Mariana initially didn’t perceive the product management job landscape as competitive, but now sees it as highly competitive.
- Product management is appealing due to its shiny image, high salaries, and career prospects.
- Entry-level positions are becoming harder to find due to competition and economic conditions.
The best thing you can do is put your best foot forward and build up a toolkit to demonstrate your value to employers.Mariana Antaya
- Building a Toolkit for Aspiring Product Managers [03:18]
- Mariana emphasizes the importance of understanding the product life cycle for those aiming for associate management or associate product manager positions.
- She notes that formal education often lacks teachings on the product life cycle and practical aspects of product development, especially for those with technical backgrounds.
- Mariana suggests practical experiences such as starting a startup at school or building a product independently as valuable learning opportunities.
- She highlights the significance of not only creating products but also understanding how to release and market them effectively.
- Practical experiences can provide valuable insights and talking points in job interviews.
- The Importance of Communication and Entrepreneurship in Product Management [04:28]
- Mariana emphasizes the importance of communication skills for success in product management.
- She highlights the necessity to communicate effectively with various stakeholders such as finance, marketing, and engineers.
- Mariana suggests that being extroverted and enjoying collaboration can enhance one’s ability to manage relationships and share ideas effectively in the role.
Effective communication is key to becoming a successful product manager, as it involves interacting with various stakeholders.Mariana Antaya
- The Role of Content Creation in Product Management [05:15]
- Mariana encourages individuals, even those with limited experience, to engage in content creation and share their journey.
- Documenting experiences, such as building a product or pursuing a product manager role, can be valuable for personal growth and reflection.
- Mariana suggests that platforms like TikTok can be used as tools for learning about product management, gathering feedback, and even selling products.
- She highlights the concept of “productizing yourself” through content creation and engagement.
- Skills to Develop for a Successful Product Management Career [06:39]
- Mariana reflects on skills she wishes she had developed earlier, particularly negotiation and stakeholder management.
- Negotiation and managing stakeholders are challenging aspects of product management that require continuous learning and improvement.
- Mariana acknowledges the importance of self-awareness in recognizing areas for growth.
- Building Momentum in Your Product Management Career [07:54]
- Two key “hacks” for gaining momentum in a product management career:
- Embrace an entrepreneurial mindset or demonstrate entrepreneurial activities like starting non-profits or launching products.
- Coming from a technical background can be advantageous, especially for positions at big tech companies, as it facilitates communication with engineers and shows proficiency in data analysis.
- Mariana highlights the importance of these attributes for securing interviews, especially for new graduates aiming for associate product manager or product management roles.
- Two key “hacks” for gaining momentum in a product management career:
- The Entrepreneurial Approach to Product Management [09:38]
- Mariana discusses overcoming the fear of failure and the intimidation of starting a new product.
- She emphasizes the importance of seeking support from friends and leveraging university resources such as startup or entrepreneurial clubs.
- University programs often provide guidance on creating business plans, proposals, and value propositions for products.
- These programs may also offer funding opportunities and networking resources to help launch and pilot products.
- Mariana suggests that having a team of like-minded friends who are willing to collaborate is crucial for starting a new venture.
- The Importance of Customer Feedback in Product Development [11:38]
- Mariana discusses the importance of asking varied questions to customers when building products.
- She emphasizes the need to be open to different responses and not just seeking confirmation of the solution the product team has in mind.
- Mariana shares an anecdote about learning from customer interviews for her product, quantifAI.
- She reflects on initially expecting specific answers but realizing the need to pivot based on customer feedback to find the right product-market fit.
- Resources and Advice for Aspiring Product Managers [13:59]
- Reddit and Subreddit pages such as product management and startups for insights from founders and product development journeys.
- The Slack community within Product School offers AMAs with senior product management leaders, mock interviews, and other resources.
- Mariana also suggests following Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia, the CEO of Product School, on LinkedIn for insightful content.
- Mariana’s most valued advice, especially from senior PMs, is listening to customer needs. Customers serve as the North Star, guiding product decisions, feature sets, and improvements.
- Building close and intimate relationships with customers is crucial throughout the product life cycle and aids in product evolution and market fit.
Meet Our Guest
Mariana is a product manager at Microsoft Teams. She is also the founder of quantifAI – a crypto strategy portfolio optimization tool for financial advisors and independent traders.
Listen to the needs of the customer. They are your North Star, guiding you to determine the next feature set.Mariana Antaya
Resources from this episode:
- Subscribe to The Product Manager newsletter
- Connect with Mariana on LinkedIn
- Follow Mariana on TikTok , Instagram, and X
Related articles and podcasts:
Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Hannah Clark: Breaking into product management is a big leap, and if it's something you've been contemplating, it can be helpful to hear from people who've recently made the jump and landed on their feet. So tell me, have you been spending a lot of time browsing the product jobs on LinkedIn? Restarting, scrapping, and then restarting your associate product manager resume? Or just feeling generally lost in your career and getting a little curious about making the switch to product? If so, this episode is for you.
Mariana Antaya is a Product Manager at Microsoft Teams, and unlike many of our guests on the Product Manager Podcast, she's still fairly junior in her career. With that said, in such a short time frame, Mariana has really mastered the art of early career acceleration by taking advantage of the unseen opportunities that allowed her to score a job at one of the most prestigious tech companies in history.
So, if all you need is a little bit of inspiration to start firing off your cover letters, you're gonna want to stick around. Let's jump in.
Welcome back listeners to the Product Manager Podcast. I'm here with Mariana Antaya. She's a Product Manager at Microsoft teams and Mariana, we're so excited to have you on.
Mariana Antaya: Thank you so much for having me. It's such an honor to be able to chat with you today and to bounce some ideas and some advice to your listeners.
Hannah Clark: Yeah, I'm excited for it. So we'll start how we always start. We'll ask a little bit about your background and what led you to pursue a career in product.
Mariana Antaya: Absolutely. So my background is originally in computer science and math. I studied that at university and while I was there, I founded some companies with some friends.
And that really was my first transition and experience in the product space was being able to build things for other people. While I was at school I also actually launched an Etsy store during the pandemic. So building a physical product is also, I guess, another means of gaining product experience.
And that was my first exposure into the industry. Decided that coding all day wasn't for me, and so I decided to pivot into product.
Hannah Clark: Awesome. So this is all fairly recent in your case. So what are your observations about the product management job landscape as someone who's just recently kind of navigated that whole area?
Mariana Antaya: When I was applying, I didn't think it was very competitive, but as I've grown and learned more recently about the landscape, it's gotten so competitive. A lot of students see the appeal to product management. It's a very shiny and glittery, a hot job on the market right now, and especially for a new grad, the salaries are very well paid.
You get to work in tech that has great benefits and the career prospects and opportunities that you have from product management are great. So it's very exciting and interesting, but it's definitely becoming a lot more competitive for new grads who are looking to get into the associate product manager positions or even entry level product management positions aren't as easy to come by nowadays, especially with the state of the economy and a lot of the layoffs that have been happening recently.
So the best thing you can do is put your best foot forward and be able to build up a toolkit to demonstrate and show employers your value.
Hannah Clark: Yeah, actually, I'd love to dive into that a little bit more. For folks who are looking to prepare for their first associate management, or the folks who are, for folks who are hoping to prepare for a first associate product manager position, what kinds of toolkit items are you, would you suggest that they start to work on?
Mariana Antaya: One of the most, I think, critical pieces is learning and understanding the product life cycle, especially while you're young. When I studied in school, they didn't teach you what the product life cycle was or how to even get started building a product. If you come from a technical background, a lot of the projects that you do in class are very heavily focused on software and not about releasing software, or marketing the software and the products that you're actually creating.
And those are all pivotal and very important parts of launching something into the real world. So if you can get your hands on starting a startup at school with your friends or building a product on your own, whether it be a software product or a physical product I think is some of the most valuable information that you can gain and you can speak on a lot of that in your interviews as well.
Hannah Clark: Really compelling. So what are some of the skills that so far in your roles in product that you've really leaned in on that you were really glad that you developed before moving into product?
Mariana Antaya: I think communication is one of the biggest keys in order to become a successful product manager, being able to communicate with different parties.
There are always different parties involved in product. You have to be able to chat with finance, marketing, engineers, and so being able to manage those relationships. I was very lucky to have been able to learn that and lean in at a young age. I think that also comes with being extroverted though, might be a little bit of a personality thing because I love talking with people and sharing ideas and being creative with other people.
So that definitely helped me in my role, for sure.
Hannah Clark: Well, yeah, and speaking of which, so you're very extroverted and also you're a bit of a content creator on the side. Do you think that there's some benefit to getting out in the space and kind of starting things even if you're not a super, super experienced product manager?
Mariana Antaya: Absolutely. There are so many people, if you're even getting started, I have a lot of friends who will record themselves and do like a journey, like come along with me and documenting your journey about building a product or landing a product manager role or even like just learning about your experience is so valuable and then you have a bunch of memories too to look back on of how far you've come. And even if you decide to pivot or move, it really shows that everyone's journey is different and people are really actually intrigued in learning about what your hobbies are and what your journey is like.
And so being able to put it out there in the world, if you're not afraid, I think is very valuable and teaches you a lot about product as well. You know, your TikTok page is even a product. You can sell things. You can sell products on your TikTok page. You can speak to your users too and gain feedback and iterate on it.
So in a way you can productize yourself, if you want to say.
Hannah Clark: That's really cool. And I really like that kind of entrepreneurial mindset when it comes to content creation and put yourself out there. Yeah, that's such a great mindset to have. So on the flip side, are there any skills that you realized once you got into your first product roles that you could have probably spent more time developing earlier on or while you're in your education phase?
And things that you would caution other people to focus on and make sure that they're prepared for.
Mariana Antaya: Absolutely. I think negotiating is one of the things that I'm still learning now that I wish I had more experience with when I was younger and being able to manage different stakeholders is actually challenging.
You'll have different people, have different problems, and you can only come up with one solution to their problem. And so being able to manage their expectations and communicate to that in not a harsh way is challenging and is definitely something that I'm still learning. And I'm on that journey to get better at, for sure, and grow in.
Hannah Clark: It's good to be self aware, I think, in that respect. I think everybody struggles with that to some extent.
Mariana Antaya: It's hard letting people down.
Hannah Clark: Yeah, I think that there's a bit of polarity. Most of the people that you talk to either are really, really good at people pleasing or really, really good at confrontation but, maybe a little bit too much one or the other, so I think everybody has to work on finding that middle ground.
Mariana Antaya: For sure.
Hannah Clark: So, as far as building momentum, I know that you, fairly early on, got a really, really good job at a very prestigious company. Are there some things that you think, like hacks that you think have really helped you to gain that kind of momentum in your career early on, that other people can copy paste into their own career trajectory?
Mariana Antaya: I think one of the biggest hacks to product management is being entrepreneurial or I guess making it seem like you're entrepreneurial. At least for me, that's in my instincts and definitely comes out, but a lot of my peers I have seen like a copy and paste in the entrepreneurial space. They've also started either non profits or started their own products with a group of friends.
And I think being a founder or starting a product in some way, shape or form has really propelled them at least to get the interviews, especially as new grad. So that is one of the hacks. Another hack is being coming from a technical background. If you are more data minded and quantitative, I think a lot of, especially big tech companies, are looking for that.
On the contrary, you're opposed to someone coming from a humanities or a business background. A lot of technical PMs, our new grads will understand how to speak to the engineers because they have the coding background and they don't have to train or the companies don't have to train someone coming from a more humanities background when they're starting their product management career.
So those, I think, are the two biggest hacks I have if you want to leapfrog the field and to become an APM or a new grad PM.
Hannah Clark: That's really cool. I do want to talk a little bit more about some of the entrepreneurial stuff. So I think that's a really, really fascinating. And I know that there's so many people who come up with this great idea and you're like, ah, I would love to do that.
And it sounds like a great idea for a product, but it sounds a little intimidating to start something out or they did not just not sure how to start or what the tools could be. And as somebody who's done a little bit of that before, what are some of the steps that you've taken to just get yourself started and just get something out in the world?
Mariana Antaya: One of the biggest things I think that held me back was fear of failing or creating a product that people didn't want. And there's definitely a lot of stamina and determination that has to come from inside in order to launch something. But don't be afraid to tell your friends or lean on other people.
Most universities have some sort of startup club, entrepreneurial club, or program that will guide you through how to create business plan, a business proposal, create a value proposition for a product. And so if you can integrate yourself in those communities, that is one of the biggest resources I was given from my university in order to start my products.
And a lot of the times they're equipped with funding. They're equipped with networks of people who will help you and demo and pilot your product for you. As long as you have a team of friends who are willing to build the product with you and are like-minded is really all you need to get started.
Hannah Clark: That's amazing. I would actually love to do that. I think we might have something cooking on that in our little world. I did also want to ask a little bit more about the specifics around some of the building that you've done personally. So, if we can spoke for some, like, if we can focus a little bit on an anecdote, a product that you've built, or something that you felt was really, really helpful as an experience, whether or not the product was successful, but something that maybe you call back often to in an interview setting, or that you just think about often when you make a decision now in your role.
Can you tell me a little bit about something that you've done in the past that has really been formative for you?
Mariana Antaya: One of the most, I think, informative pieces, especially while building my own products, was asking different questions to customers. And what I mean by this is kind of A/B testing the questions that you ask people around the problem that you're trying to solve for them.
A lot of people will have different responses to the different questions that you have. And a lot of times we try to, myself as a product manager, I try to mold the question or I hope to elicit the feedback and to the solution that I'm trying to build for the client or the customer. And we are listening for a very specific answer to be told to us.
And that answer we want is the solution that we're building. But we have to be open to listening. About maybe another problem that the customer is having and that is in alignment with our solution. But if at the end of the day, the customer is having some other challenge and we're not solving for that, we aren't meeting the customer's needs as a product manager.
Just being open to listening to customers and all of their problems is helpful.
Hannah Clark: Cool. Was there like a time when that actually happened for you, like where you kind of were looking for or expecting a certain answer and then someone really, like a user tossed you something really out of left field in an interview?
Mariana Antaya: I was interviewing some customers for one of my products, quantifAI. And I was sold on the solution. And a lot of times customers would come to me with a completely different problem and it was in a lot, kind of in alignment with what I was doing, but I would mold the questions at some points in the interview to elicit the answer that I wanted, that prove the point that my solution had a product market fit.
When in reality, I had to pivot in order to find the product market fit that I was looking for.
Hannah Clark: See, well, I think it's really courageous and also speaks to that self awareness part to be able to go like, hey, maybe we need to make some changes here. So as far as other resources that you personally leaned on or that you recommend for folks who are starting out and still learning about the role and trying to develop themselves early on in their careers, what are some of the books or podcasts or communities that you've really gotten a lot of value from early on in your career?
Mariana Antaya: Early on a lot of actually, this might be very underrated, but Reddit and Subreddit pages like product management, even I'll be lurking in the startups subreddit. There's a lot of information to learn from other founders who are, like, starting their products from inception.
Those are some of my favorites just to read on and better understand. Lenny's podcast and his whole community is awesome. I've learned a lot from them over there. And then, early, early on, when I was first in my product management journey, this gold mine is the Slack community within the Product School.
And it's, you wouldn't think of a Slack community, but they have AMAs from different senior product management leaders. And I would go asking questions that I was supposed to be asked in actual interviews so that I could get some ideas on how to answer these PM questions in my big tech interviews, which was pretty cool.
They have mock interviews that you can do in there, but I always recommend the Product School Slack because it's filled with great resources. On LinkedIn as well, the CEO of the Product School, his name is Carlos, and he has some great content on there too.
Hannah Clark: We've had him on the show, actually. He's a great guy. Carlos, if you're listening, thank you for coming on the show. Come back.
So that's really great. As far as advice on that, you made me think of early on in my career, I think that there's been some pieces of advice that sort of rang in my head often that I would think of from time to time in certain challenging situations.
Have you had any really, really great advice from like a senior PM or someone that you really admired in the industry?
Mariana Antaya: Most of the advice that I keep at the forefront of my head is always listen to the needs of the customer. The customers will guide you. They're your North Star. They're going to guide you to what the next feature set should be.
They're going to tell you all of the issues that you have with your product or your feature. And so having and building a really close and intimate relationship with them will pay you so much within the product life cycle and the growth of your product in general. And if you can keep a couple of them really close, they're going to help you evolve your product and really find a good fit for the market.
Hannah Clark: That's great. I think that's advice that is just always worth coming back to. I think that it's one of those things that it's really easy to forget about, what are the customers saying? Yeah. I think that's really solid.
Mariana Antaya: Thank you.
Hannah Clark: So, Mariana, where can people follow you? And I especially want to make sure everybody hears about your TikTok because it is actually great. I think you have great content on there. Where can people find you online if they want to follow you along?
Mariana Antaya: Thank you. Yes, I am on TikTok. My username is mar_antaya. I also go by Mar. And I really love posting about building your own product, product management advice, coding, and more technical topics as well.
And I'm also very active on LinkedIn. You can follow me there at Mariana Antaya as well.
Hannah Clark: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show and we wish you very well in your product management career.
Mariana Antaya: Thank you so much. It was such an honor to be on and talk to you, Hannah, today.
Hannah Clark: Thanks for listening in. For more great insights, how-to guides and tool reviews, subscribe to our newsletter at theproductmanager.com/subscribe. You can hear more conversations like this by subscribing to the Product Manager wherever you get your podcasts.