Empowering Innovation: Insights from a Woman Product Manager

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Shakthi Series focuses on insights from a product leader

Amrita Kaushik is a product leader with over 15 years of experience in the field of Information technology. She has experience across different domains like e-Commerce, Fintech, Risk and Compliance. I first met Amrita at eBay in 2011 and to be honest she was the first woman product manager that I worked with. I still remember that she came across as someone who was eager to learn the domain and easy to approach as an engineer to share our thoughts. She has had a huge impact on how I approach product management in my current role and here are some wise words from the leader herself which I am sure will help aspiring leaders.

  1. Can you briefly describe your journey to becoming a product management leader? 

In 2011, I began my product management journey at eBay’s Chennai office, fresh out of an MBA and eager to dive back into the tech world. Back then, product management wasn’t a common path in India, where tech work was mainly service-based. But my background as a software engineer in product-centric companies fueled my desire to make the shift.

Over the next eight years, my journey took me from Chennai to Bangalore and then all the way to the vibrant tech scene in the Bay Area. Along the way, my family expanded with the addition of three wonderful kids. I evolved into a Product People Manager, specializing in the complex realms of risk, compliance, identity, and trust within e-commerce and fintech, all within the eBay ecosystem.

In 2019, I took on a leadership role at Intuit, overseeing onboarding, account, and risk management product teams for their financial services, including payments, payroll, lending, and banking.

A year later, I was drawn to an exciting opportunity at Shopify, primarily due to its fully remote work requirement. There, I led the creation of a 0-to-1 platform product and infrastructure team, catering to multi-country and multi-product needs in Shopify’s financial services, spanning payments, lending, banking, and credit cards.

From eBay to Shopify, my journey has been one of continuous growth and exciting opportunities in the product management landscape. I can’t wait to see where it leads me next.

  1. What inspired you to pursue a career in product management, and how did you work your way up to your current leadership position?

The foundation of my passion for product management was built on my deep love for technology. I regarded myself as a proficient engineer, and product management was the natural choice for someone like me, who wished to step beyond my engineering prowess and embrace a broader perspective.

As I reflect on what propelled me into a leadership role, it’s a blend of skills and leadership qualities. I take immense pride in my work and treat my skills with utmost seriousness. Confidence, for me, is rooted in knowledge and skills; I find it challenging to exude confidence without the necessary expertise, which fuels my insatiable curiosity.

Along my journey, countless questions have been answered, shaping my current worldview, opinions, and the confidence I have in building the right product team to address complex business challenges. My leadership style is context-driven; I place great value on possessing the right level of context and seeking informed opinions. This, in turn, facilitates making swift and high-quality decisions, a vital ingredient for ascending from an expert in a particular function or domain to a leadership role.

I’ve also acquired a wealth of people skills as I’ve progressed, understanding that effective leadership isn’t solely about technical acumen but also about connecting with and motivating people – being extremely straightforward helps me make deep and trusted connections. It’s this multifaceted, layered learning that continues to fuel my motivation in this role.

  1. Can you share some valuable resources or books that have influenced your approach to product management and leadership?

The world of product management has evolved significantly over the years. To keep pace with the changes and prepare for job interviews, I’ve found interview books to be incredibly valuable. They offer a peek into how prominent product companies approach this role.

When it comes to developing your product management style, remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each business is unique, with its own set of priorities. It’s essential to understand the specific needs of the business phase and tailor your product management style accordingly to avoid overengineering.

Now, for a bit of an unconventional twist, I draw inspiration from my passion for geopolitics and history. These readings may not seem immediately relevant in the early stages of a product career, but they provide a wealth of strategies that I’ve found applicable as I transition into a leadership role. It’s about gaining a holistic perspective that benefits both work and personal life.

If you’re looking for book recommendations, consider exploring Samuel P. Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations,” Henry Kissinger’s “World Order,” J. Sai Deepak’s “India that is Bharat,” Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” and Chanakya Neeti translations. These texts have not only enriched my understanding of the world but have also provided me with invaluable insights from lived experiences and stories.

  1. What are your thoughts on the future of product management, and what emerging trends or technologies do you believe will shape the industry?

Absolutely, the future belongs to technology, and AI is already making seismic waves in the industry. There’s a strong push to infuse AI into our products, but it’s worth noting that the current conversation tends to be rather broad and generic. In the coming years, I believe we’ll see a shift towards more specialized, vertical applications. AI will need to become sharper and context-specific because there will be scenarios and use cases that demand expertise beyond general capabilities.

Another technology close to my heart is decentralized identity and currencies using blockchain. This holds immense promise for the areas I’m deeply involved in. The potential to address various economies and use cases, as well as expanding into new countries, is truly vast. I’m eagerly awaiting clear regulations that will allow us to enhance the global reach of financial services while ensuring we have the means to deal with bad actors, especially in these turbulent times.

  1. As a female leader in a traditionally male-dominated field, have you faced any unique challenges or biases, and how have you addressed them?

I have a strong aversion to adopting a victim mentality. In terms of biases, they undeniably exist; some may have presented challenges, while others might have acted in my favour. Life, as I see it, isn’t inherently fair, but it should strive to be equitable for the most part. Honestly, I don’t see systemic bias as much of an issue, thanks to the right voices that made a significant impact in workplace biases.

Let’s also remember that when we come across an unfair situation, our aim should be fairness, not revenge. As women gain more representation, it’s important to ensure we don’t inadvertently sideline men’s interests in the process. It’s all about striking the right balance, and we must work together to make continuous improvements.

By the way, when I’m tackling discrimination, I usually lean towards lifting up those who are at a disadvantage, rather than dragging down those who are in a better position. It’s about making everyone stronger and promoting humility and mutual respect.

  1. Diversity and inclusion are important topics in the workplace. How do you see this contributing to the success of the organization and how do you think this can be promoted?

I believe that awareness is crucial, and fostering open, humble conversations or platforms for such discussions is vital. Moreover, it’s important to identify the genuine factors contributing to any lack of inclusion. My approach is to maintain objectivity; the primary focus at work should be the work itself, and everyone’s contributions should make them feel like a valuable part of the team. This approach helps the employee and the business and gives everyone a common plane to engage on.

I recognize that this may not always be straightforward, which is why I place my faith in the power of crowdsourcing. The more we engage with diverse perspectives on multiple fronts, the greater our chances of promoting inclusivity. I’ve noticed that, in general, workplaces are becoming increasingly open and sensitive to these issues, which is a positive development. However, I’d like to emphasize the importance of avoiding superficial, quick fixes in favor of comprehensive and holistic approaches.

I understand that these are deep-seated issues that each of us learns to navigate at our own pace, drawing from an internal strength that isn’t solely reliant on processes and the people around us. 

  1. What advice do you have for young women who are in the industry looking to climb up the leadership ladder especially in the tech industry?

This isn’t specific to any gender; it’s about finding balance in your life. It’s a continuous effort to align your priorities with your strengths while effectively managing your weaknesses. The more self-aware and candid you are with yourself, the quicker you’ll make progress toward your goals.

It’s essential to maintain an ongoing dialogue with yourself and your mentors. Be straightforward and ask the tough, pertinent questions that need answers. Transform your observations into actionable solutions and dive in. By repeating this process, you’ll steadily move towards your objectives.

And remember, don’t feel pressured by your age. There are multiple variables at play when it comes to achieving your end goals. If early retirement isn’t in the cards, consider the long and steady path. The pace at which you reach your destination is entirely your choice.

This was one awesome insightful thoughts from a inspirational product leader. We look forward to more conversations with inspiring individuals like her, and we hope her journey continues to inspire you to reach for new heights and motivates you to find the right pace to achieve your end goal. Thank you for reading this content and celebrating Stree Shakthi.

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