We talk to Hemanth Kempanna, an Exponent alumnus, on his journey to breaking into product management and his experience building cloud-based products. Hemanth is currently a PM at Motorola.
Q: How would you answer the “Tell me about yourself” question?
I usually try my best to convey my story and talk about my journey so far. Each of us has a unique story and my journey would be different from yours.
When I started preparing for this question, I asked myself the following:
Why should an interviewer remember me of all the candidates he or she has spoken to so far?
And this is when I realized the importance of purpose in life and how well can we communicate it to the interviewer. With that said, here are some key points that I would like to address as a part of this question:
- Who am I as a person, both professionally and personally?
- The product that I am currently working on and why I chose to work on that product and not some other initiatives.
- My education background and how it inspired me to get into this role.
- My family details and hobbies.
Q: How did you first hear about Exponent?
Through the Exponent YouTube channel.
Q: Could you explain your interview prep stages from applying to interviewing to landing a job? What were the most difficult stages and how did you overcome them?
Here are some of the key things that I would like to share based on my experience so far:
- Know what you want. It is not always easy to have this understanding, but earlier you start this process, the better it is for you. This can be in terms of the companies you want to target, the roles you want to get into or the kind of industry, products, or technologies you want to work on. I understand and appreciate that things may not always work as you plan but failing to plan is planning to fail and by going through this process you may get an answer to some of the deeper questions.
- Analyze your skill and experience gaps. I usually do a gap-analysis of my current skills and the skills demanded in the new role. Based on the gaps identified, I ask a fundamental question of do I really see long term value in learning this skill—if yes, then I would figure out the most effective way to acquire that skill and experience. For product management and UI/UX related skills, I have personally found LinkedIn Learning and Udemy to be helpful.
- Interview preparation. You want to do some research regarding the industry, company, team and the role before the actual interview—get this done quickly as there are many more important things to focus on. The trend nowadays is to work on a pre-interview assignment even to be shortlisted for the initial discussions—so put in your best effort for this pre-interview assignment. Brush upon the skills and jolt down some key metrics that you want to mention during the interviews.
- During the interview. While there are lots of content out there advising on this subject, I would just like to call out one thing which I believe has helped me time and again: having empathy towards my interviewer. I try to understand what would make the interviewer comfortable in recommending me to the company and then act on it.
- Post-interview. Irrespective of the outcome, I make it a point to thank the interviewer for spending their valuable time interviewing me and I look at possible ways to retain that professional relationship as much as I can.
Q: How did Exponent help with your interview process? Were there specific things that you learned from the course materials, coaching sessions, and the community?
If I have to mention one specific thing that I learned from Exponent, then it is definitely the art of responding to estimation questions. While I was already familiar with developing target addressable market, revenue and profit forecasting, efforts estimate etc, Stephen’s approach of responding to estimation questions was very helpful.
Q: Any advice for aspiring PMs applying, interviewing, and considering offers?
Every individual is unique and what helped me does not mean that it may help others as well, but here are some of the key learnings for me so far:
- Job descriptions can be misleading, so never depend solely on job descriptions. Instead, ask yourself if this is a role for which you can deliver meaningful contribution.
- While some encourage you to fake it till you make it, I would advise against it during the interview process. My advice here is to be transparent with your skills and experiences and walk them through your plan to address your weaknesses if any.
- While evaluating offers, always look at an overall package and not just the compensation. While raw compensation is still a key component, having a good understanding of the company and team culture, learning opportunities, kind of talent that you would work with and future exit options would help in the long run.
Q: Virtualization and Cloud Computing pop out as your domain expertise. When did you decide to double down on these fields?
While virtualization was a technology that was forced upon me, cloud computing is something that I enjoyed learning purely based on interest as I strongly believed in its potential.
Regarding the second part of the question, I try to keep an eye out on the current requirements, conduct proactive gap analysis in terms of the skills and experiences needed and if I truly see long term value in gaining that skill then come up with an effective plan to acquire that.
As listed below, there were numerous questions that came to my mind when I started evaluating if cloud is a technology that I should focus on:
- Is Cloud Computing just another buzzword or is the industry really seeing true business benefits with its adoption?
- Why do I think that the entire ecosystem (Ex: skilled people, easy access to technology, price etc) is now best placed for cloud technology?
- Do I see opportunities in my current organization to implement cloud?
- Will Cloud technologies still be relevant after 5-10 years?
- What kind of job opportunities, both in terms of number of opportunities and the premium in the salary being offered for people with cloud skills?
And once I started researching on the following topics, it was quite evident that Cloud as a technology is here to stay for 3 main reasons:
- Global reach and ease of use gave businesses the much needed agility to scale their business across geos
- Moving away from CAPEX heavy model to OPEX based, pay-per-use business model
- Trust factor through various audits, security, quality and process certifications and similar case studies
Q: How did you cultivate and highlight these specialties of yours, especially in the context of breaking into product management?
First of all, I should admit that being a cloud specialist did help me to an extent landing my first product management job. Having a good understanding of various cloud concepts helped me bring in different perspectives to solve a business problem compared to traditional methods.
I still remember a specific situation when our development teams were spending significant time doing non-core activities and facing significant delays in product launch due to unavailability of multiple environments due to cost constraints and by introducing cloud we were able to launch products in a much accelerated manner by leveraging cloud’s highly automated provisioning, dynamic scaling and cost effective pay only for what you use business model.
While having a strong cloud background helped me land an interview, my ability to think how cloud can address customer pain points and build a business viable product helped me seal the deal.
Q: When you first transitioned into Product around 2011 from your role back then as a VMWare architect, how was the process like?
I was fortunate enough to be working with product managers before I started considering the move to a product management role. Working with product managers for a long time had given me a good understanding of what this role demands and also helped me make a conscious effort to gain the skills needed.
Some of the key skills that I was missing but rather picked up over a period of time through online courses and in-person workshops are as follow:
- User Research & Market Research
- User interface and User experience design
- Business model development and Monetization approach
- Feature Prioritization and Launch Plans
- Stakeholder management and ability to influence without authority
Q: How is building products for the cloud distinct from other product areas?
Cloud is no longer a disruptor or a niche technology as what it used to be few years back. While cloud offers great opportunities in terms of global reach, it also comes with its own set of challenges surrounding security, data governance and privacy.
Irrespective of the technology, our goal should be to build a commercially successful product for the long term value creation and there are various things to look at and various ways to do it. With that being said, let me highlight the following key learnings:
- Entry barriers for cloud based products are typically low, so be extremely cautious of what you are building especially if it is only offering slight improvements over the existing products or if that capability can be easily duplicated in some capacity. As a rule of thumb, aim for at least 4X improvements in terms of ease of use, performance, or cost savings.
- Select your cloud partner wisely. Identify a partner who is committed to protecting your IP and has no interest in developing a competing product of yours. If you are offering only incremental innovation or small improvements over existing products, there is a good chance that incumbents themselves may build that capability over a period of time or provide workarounds that may counter the benefits customers may get by going with your product.
Q: Do you have any advice for those interested in becoming Cloud-based product managers?
While having a good understanding of technology definitely provides a strong foundation and also an ability to align with the technical teams and technological innovation, it is not sufficient to build successful products. Whether it is cloud/virtualization, your primary goal should be to address spoken/unspoken pain points of your customer either in terms of improving efficiency, reducing costs or improving revenues.
Q: Favorite PM resource or blog?
Sachin Rekhi’s blog.
Q: What is your favorite product and why?
- The emotional value delivered: Lots of people in India do not have access to 4 wheelers. While my mother was hospitalized when I was in a different country, Ola acted as a trusted partner helping my mom reach hospital on time.
- Price leadership and ability to inspire: Ola has managed to achieve a price leadership position by delivering necessary services in affordable prices. It is not the monetary part that impresses me, but Ola’s ability to inspire thousands of partners to join them.
- Awesome UI: App has been designed purely focusing on key jobs to be done which I think reduces cognitive load for the users as well as significantly improves the overall user experience.
Q: Who’s a product manager you admire?
That's a wrap! Thank you so much for reading.
You can find more about Hemanth on LinkedIn.