March 19, 2019

Career Path: Shana Wickett, Senior Product Manager at PlacePass

What do the career path and day-in-the-life for a Senior Product Manager at PlacePass look like?

We connected with Shana Wickett to find out!

Also, PlacePass is hiring! Click here for all of the company’s job openings!

Where did you grow up?  What did your parents do for work?  

I grew up in Shelton, Connecticut, which is in the New Haven/Bridgeport area and just a train ride away from New York City. My dad was a car mechanic by trade, but after hurting his back when I was an infant, he pivoted toward software. As a result, I was building my own little profile sites in HTML at age 12!

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

I went to Emerson College, where I studied Multimedia Journalism. Once I got the coveted role of City Desk Co-op at The Boston Globe, I had a realization no college junior wants to have: This isn’t for me. I skewed my classwork as much as possible toward anything digital, worked on Emerson’s website doing content and SEO-related tasks, and then jumped into an account management job at a digital advertising company right out of school.

What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?

It has been a mix of luck and relentlessly following my gut. I left the digital advertising company for my first role in the digital product department on Membership Rewards at American Express in NYC. When the team I was on was disbanded, the General Manager of my department time told me to pick what team I wanted to be on next. It gave me an opportunity to think about what I really wanted to do, and I decided to join a team that was replatforming a large, legacy rewards site. The team was sort of an Agile “guinea pig” for the company, tasked with proving that you could relaunch a website one piece at a time, then iterate. Leadership let us experiment. We had squads and co-located designers and engineers for the first time. We changed our legal process so it could flex with software development. I was paired up with a Product Manager at Pivotal Labs who taught me the ideals of good product management. I was in the right place at the right time, fell into a career that I loved, and with my team, proved that Agile could really work.

I moved back to Boston and spent some time at EF Education First, which sells organized international tours, as well as Blueport Commerce, a multi-tenant eCommerce platform for furniture companies. Then I heard about the Senior Product Manager role at PlacePass. My eyes lit up when I heard that this start-up for tours and activities worked with some of the world’s best travel brands like Marriott, which have such loyal customer bases. With my experience in loyalty at Amex, travel/tours at EF, and platform management at Blueport, it felt like the perfect culmination of my experience thus far.

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Senior Product Manager at PlacePass?

We have a saying that we use a lot at PlacePass: “The most important things in life aren’t things at all.” As a Senior Product Manager at PlacePass, I help our Fortune 500 partners match their loyal customer base with the largest online selection of travel tours, experiences, and events. The thought of connecting people to activities that will inspire and educate them--and making it easier to do that online!--is what drives me. Whether it’s our direct to consumer website PlacePass or one of our partner sites like Marriott Bonvoy Activities, I’m looking for trends in travel experiences, identifying opportunities to make the best activities easier to access, and working with our talented team of engineers, designers, product managers, and business analysts to bring them to life online.

Of course, there are all the usual non-glamorous aspects of product management: User story writing, backlog grooming and sprint planning, and collaborating constantly with the team to ensure that what we design and build solves our company’s, our partners’, and the traveler’s needs. I often feel like an octopus: Talking to designers about an upcoming initiative, working with engineering through their current work and any blockers, digging into data with our analyst, discussing supply needs with the team that gathers activities around the globe, connecting with leadership on strategic partner and prospect needs, getting feedback from our customer support team, and more! Every day is different and unpredictable, and I’m often working through something I’ve never done before - which I love!

Any tips for someone considering a career in Product Management?

Seize any opportunity you can to take on product management-like responsibilities at your current company, even if there is no formal product management team structure. Express your interest, and take on small tech projects to get your feet wet in working through an initiative from inception, to design, through build, to launch. And if you don’t have a technical background, don’t let that intimidate you. You’ll get used to taking on something that seems insurmountable to understand, and by the end of it, knowing very well what the inner workings are and how to explain them to others. I still face this from time to time and always tell myself that, as long as I keep asking questions, it’s only a matter of time until I understand and can speak intelligently about it.

Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

One coffee in the morning. My coworkers know that, if they see me with a coffee later in the day, that means it’s been a particularly crazy one!

What time do you get into the office?

9 AM

What are three things that motivate you in your role?

Seeing great ideas become tangible and successful, constantly learning something I never would have thought of before, and gaining the trust of my teammates and partners.

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

Here’s a typical Monday:

  • 9 AM - Get into the office

  • 10 AM - Go to stand-up meeting

  • 11 AM - Meet with other product managers to start planning next sprint

  • 11:30 AM - Brainstorm and kick off a new concept that we think could increase traffic and conversions with a designer

  • 12 PM - Eat lunch in the kitchen with my teammates. I’m guessing today there will be a lot of laughs about this past weekend. We had a company ski trip to Stratton Mountain for the weekend and had an awesome time hanging out and getting to know each other even better.

  • 1:30 PM - Weekly meeting with customer support to understand trends in what they are hearing from customers and brainstorm how we can improve our product accordingly

  • 2 PM - Weekly design prioritization meeting

  • 3 PM - Run backlog grooming (held once every 2 weeks)

  • 4 PM - Partner status call. I’ll take them through a Trello board so we can work through open items for a large project.

  • 5:30 PM - Head home!

What time do you head out of the office?

It depends! Usually 5:30 or 6 PM, but if I’m really in the groove of checking items off my list, sometimes I’ll keep going.

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

Also depends! Currently, I have a lot of projects going on, so I log back in to knock tasks out a couple of times a week. But that’s on my own accord. PlacePass is great for work/life balance.

Any productivity hacks?

I get so many emails internally and from partners that I’d be in my inbox all day if I always responded when something came in. I try to look at my inbox in chunks, and I generally go by the two-minute rule: If I can handle something in two minutes or less, I do it right then so I don’t have to worry about it later. I’m also not shy about asking for meeting agendas or if I need to be in a meeting.

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

  1. Google Calendar. This seems obvious, but merging calendars between work and home, and getting myself and my fiancee to religiously update it, has made life so much easier.
  2. WeddingWire. I’m currently planning my wedding, and it’s checklist, budget planning, and vendor selection tools are a PM’s dream come true.

  3. Furbo so I can take quick peeks at my dog and cat here and there during the day. Shhh, don’t tell!

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

Being part of a core team at American Express that successfully relaunched their Membership Rewards site after previous initiatives to do so fell apart - and seeing my colleagues continue to grow it since I’ve left.

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

I love becoming friends with other female PM colleagues. I’ve kept in touch with everyone I’ve worked with, and we can always reach out to each other for advice, knowing we can speak candidly and get candid feedback.

Colin Barry is the Content Manager to VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter @ColinKrash.

Images courtesy of Shana Wickett

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