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September 18, 2018

Career Path - Isabella Patton, Director of Technical Product Management at Hopper

What does the career path and a day-in-the-life look like for a Director of Technical Product Management at Hopper? We interviewed Isabella Patton to find out!

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Where did you grow up?  What did you parents do for work?  What was your very first job (before any internships)?

I grew up in Afton, Minnesota which is a small rural town about 30 minutes from the Twin Cities. My dad is a software architect, and my mom is a writer; he always emphasized a methodical and mathematical approach, whereas she emphasized creative thinking. It was hardly surprising that my siblings and I all ended up working in, and loving, areas where these two ways of thinking converged. I think the most fundamental thing they taught us was to use our intuition and always ask why, regardless of the other person’s position or authority.

My very first job, which I think was in 9th grade, was working at a photography studio setting up lighting equipment. I got to travel around, and be apart of, various events (weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc.) which for someone who aspired to be a criminal investigator was a cool way of observing human dynamics.

Where did you go to college?  What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs out of school?

I studied psychology and economics at Wellesley College, which led me down a few different paths before landing in tech. My first internship, turned part-time job, was at the Middlesex District Attorney’s office. I spent a majority of my time diving into legal evidence (transcripts, interviews, etc.) and piecing together what may have happened to help solve child abuse cases. I was demoralized after realizing that any impact I could have was after genuine damage had already been done.

Then I got a gig at a research lab at Harvard focused on social cognition, in particular analyzing facial expression response data. The questions we were trying to answer were interesting, but the slow pace nearly drove me mad. It wasn’t until I joined a small startup that had a mobile app for women trying to conceive that I started working with large consumer data. It was fast-paced, high impact and I had the autonomy to learn to code alongside more advanced techniques for analyzing data.

Your career has primarily focused on working with data for multiple purposes, either as a Director of Analytics or Data Scientist. Can you share the details on how your experience working with large data sets provided the foundation for what you are doing today?

I think working with data (large or small) provides you with a foundation for answering your questions, and most importantly pushes you to ask better questions. It requires a deep understanding of what is being measured and forces you to figure out how to identify and reduce noise. It can challenge your assumptions and intuition. I think this translates well to any job, particularly product, in which you have to identify what information is meaningful and discard the rest to find the right path forward; you do a lot of decision-making under uncertainty, and data analysis is all about reducing risk.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Director of Technical Product Management at Hopper?

I spend most of my time working with people and teams across the company to get alignment and help focus our efforts on delivering features that will provide the most benefit to our users. This involves continuously communicating the high-level product vision so that everyone has clarity on what we’re doing and why so that we’re all moving in the right direction as we turn product concepts into deliverable tasks.

Since we’re in the midst of rapidly scaling, this also means I’m always on the lookout for ways in which we can improve the product development process to optimize both quantity and quality of output. It’s a constant battle against noise. Even the simplest features frequently require solving many complex, multifaceted problems; the challenge is to identify the right problems to address and enable the right people to solve them.

For example, adding Fare Class Upgrades to the app requires contributions from airline domain experts, data scientists, designers, and front and backend engineers. By understanding both the high-level vision for the feature and the details of its technical requirements, PMs facilitate cross-team collaboration and drive product delivery.

Any tips for someone considering a career as a Product Manager or Data Scientist?

I think the most important question a person can ask themselves is what kind of problems they want to solve, and then go from there. The tools and skills needed to solve a particular problem are always changing and being able to adapt as quickly as the technology or company does is critical. I would also emphasize the importance of learning how to communicate your approach and findings, regardless of the role you’re interested in. The more you’re able to articulate what you did and why, the more information you will get from others on how it could be better, reducing the risk of a sub-optimal outcome.


Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Coffee is life. I think I’m at four-to-five cups per day now.

What time do you get into the office?

Around 9 AM, but I’m not that consistent.

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

A typical day includes waking up around 6:30 AM, whether I want to or not. I start the day by sifting through a backlog of emails, slack messages, and to-do lists to prioritize what I’m going to do for the week and then adapt it each day. I try to block off larger chunks of uninterrupted time in the morning to go deep on a particular feature or problem so I can ask meaningful questions. Then I usually have a series of meetings that on any given day may include: planning, project deep-dives, weekly status, 1:1s, or the occasional interview loop. All of which are meant to make sure everyone is aligned, unblocked, and moving towards the same end vision.

A look inside the offices of Hopper!

In your role, what is something that you look forward to every day?

The next interesting problem.

What time do you head out of the office?

Approximately 6:30 PM, also not very consistent.

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

I never shut it down completely.

What is your go to office snack?

Cereal

Any productivity hacks?

I think best between 6 AM - 11 AM, so I try not to schedule any meetings and instead use that time to think through problems that require deeper, uninterrupted focus.

I tend to schedule 1:1s or meetings that don’t require a computer during times in which I’d normally go grab coffee and do them while walking.

If I get stuck, I quickly move on to the next thing and come back to it later. I’ve often found that working out, or even going on a long walk, is a good reset. Let your subconscious do the work.

What are the three apps that you can’t live without?

Kindle, PokemonGo (yes, I’m still playing) and Hopper, of course.

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

Building a team of very smart, driven people.

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

There are so many people I call on for advice. It depends on the problem I’m dealing with, but there are probably 5-10 core people in my life that I consult on a regular basis. This includes family, friends and colleagues. Otherwise, I seek out those who have more experience or expertise than I do in a particular area.

I deeply admire Andy Grove, Christopher Alexander, and Claude Shannon, all of whom endlessly pursued the truth, exemplified both brilliance and kindness, and achieved a certain wisdom that one can only strive for in a lifetime. I also read, a lot. I average about 50-100 books per year, half of which are relevant to work. I’ve generally found that there’s nothing I’m dealing with that someone hasn’t already experienced or worked through before, and not everything has to be learned the hard way. Memoirs and biographies are the most useful in this regard.


Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz.  Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6.

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