Sunday, May 21, 2017

On Curiosity, Adding Value and Exceeding Expectations...

I finished my second internship at WeightWatchers two days ago. It was an amazing experience. I learnt a lot- about my industry, product management, and about work in general. I wanted to share some of that with you today. I promise I’ll try to not be preachy.

Number one: Go above and beyond what is expected of you

This is actually the reason I got this internship in the first place. When I was an Engineering Intern at WeightWatchers last summer, I ended up doing a significant amount of work which was not expected, required or even part of my job…

I started reading about the industry the company was in, looking at what competitors were doing, and even dropped in suggestions to the Product Managers on how they could possibly improve the app. I didn’t know whether or not they would take them, but I just wanted to help, and show my enthusiasm for the product. As the weeks progressed and I learnt more about what was going on in the industry, I came upon an idea which I believed could improve user growth and engagement. I researched the idea and created a presentation to illustrate the potential of this project. Again, no one had asked me to, nor was it part of my job.

I then reached out to a few people in the company who I thought could be instrumental in taking this forward- including the CPO and a Senior Product Manager I worked with — and tried to sell the idea to them. I was lucky that people of such high level in the company were open and willing to set up a meeting with an intern like me (even though sometimes it took more than a week to get a time on their calendar). The Product Manager then referred me to the Director of Product- I showed my presentation to him, and he was impressed. He then asked me to refine the concept further and do some more research. I did. We met and discussed the concept further over the course of the last three weeks of my internship.

At the time, I had no expectation or desire to get another internship with this company. I just wanted to learn about Product Management and I was genuinely excited about the idea I was working on. 
As it turns out, on my last day as an intern last summer, the Director of Product offered me another internship, to come work for him in Product Management for a semester. I would be working directly under one of the most influential and instrumental Product persons in the entire company. I was elated with joy and euphoria. The funny thing is, I had neither expected nor consciously worked towards getting this. It just happened. 

Well, no, it didn’t ‘just happen’. All that work I did apart from my regular job- that’s what I led to it. 
With the risk of sounding pompous, I will add that what I did beyond my job got me noticed for being someone who takes initiative — if you can succeed in doing that, that’s half the battle won. The other half is your ability and hard work. 
Do your job well, the best you can. But also try to deliver more than what is expected from you. Go above and beyond what you are assigned. This is something I’ve learnt from my father, and it has served me well in all my endeavors.

Two: Stay Curious

About your work. About other people’s work. About your industry. About the way things are done.
One benefit of being a beginner in any field is that you’re not used to working a certain way. And so, at least for me, a lot of questions came to mind as to why things were done the way they were, why a particular approach was taken over another… others were ‘what if’ questions..what if we took another approach instead of this one?’ … and I didn’t hesitate to ask my questions. A lot of the times, I got convincing answers. At other times, my questions to my boss turned into useful ideas, with my boss saying: ‘Yeah, we never thought about that. Let’s try it.’
The other upside to asking questions is simply the learning that you get from it. It’s an obvious fact that the more questions you ask, the more answers you’ll get and the more you’ll learn about the field. Even when the answers aren’t there, or are perhaps not as straightforward, thinking about those questions will help you grow. I know it did for me.

Three: Focus on Adding Value

To the company/product/person/people that you’re working for.
Truth be told, this isn’t something I learnt directly from the internship. I learnt it from my good friend, Sar, who approaches life with the mindset of helping people, with the simple question: how can I help or add value to the people around me… Inspired by him, I have begun to apply this mindset in my own life. 

This attitude proved to be immensely valuable in my internship. During the last week or so of my internship, my boss told me that we’d have to defer the project I had been working on for at least a few months because the engineers and designers were busy working on other projects which had been in the backlog for a while. He then offered that I shadow him for the remaining days of the internship- which means I get to go to a couple of meetings with him everyday. For the rest of the time though, I was free since my project had been deferred and I there was nothing more I could have done on it until the engineers started working on it. So I found myself with three days left for my internship to end and nothing to do apart from attending a few meetings. I could be reading random articles on the internet sitting in office using the Macbook that they gave me and getting paid for it. I had a legit excuse now. I’m sure my boss would have been more than fine with it. 
But I chose to not do that. It just didn’t feel right. Not so much because I’d be getting paid for those hours in which I did my own work, but simply because it didn’t make sense. As trite as it may sound, I seek to live a life of meaning. And sitting in the office doing random personal stuff is not meaningful. What is meaningful is adding value to the people around me. That’s precisely what I tried to do. 

I messaged a couple of my co-workers, telling them that my work for my boss is pretty much done, and if they need any help at all, I’d be happy to do so. Meanwhile, in the meetings in which I shadowed my boss, I made it a point to note down the items that were being discussed. I later did my own research and ideation on them, all with the purpose of giving suggestions and ideas that could potentially help the project that was being discussed. I knew I was only an intern who didn’t even know the ins and outs of the projects that were being discussed in those meetings, but I thought that if out of my ten suggestions, even one was implemented, then I would have added some value. And that’s what I was there for. 
That’s what we are all here for. To add value to the world. 
After the first meeting, all of the ideas I gave to my boss were ones which either he had already considered or they weren’t feasible for some reason. But, my boss liked a few of the ideas that I gave after the second meeting about a high priority project which was under development. He then ended up giving me all the relevant project documentation and told me to make an exhaustive report consisting of suggestions and ideas for improvement. This turned out to be a really fun, rewarding exercise for me, providing me with valuable insight about a specific domain of Product Management. Two days later, when I showed him my report, he seriously considered some of the ideas I had written down. Win-win. 

I had not set out to get an assignment like this. I hadn’t set out with any motive of personal gain. My thinking was simple- I am here to make meaning, and I will do so by trying my best to add value. 

1. Go beyond expectations
2. Stay Curious
3. Add Value

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