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Women in Product: Joanna Miller, VP, Product Operations, InfoSum

Joanna Miller, VP, Product Operations, InfoSum

ARTICLE SUMMARY

We met with Joanna Miller, VP, product operations, at Infosum, who shared her career experiences so far.

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR CAREER JOURNEY SO FAR.

Early on in my life, I had a passion for technology. I enjoyed gaming and tinkering with computers. I went to Cranfield University and did a very specialist degree in how to apply technology to the military. Nine people were on the course, and I was the only female. On campus, gender proportions were one female to 50 males as the degrees were science and engineering-focused and other students were Armed Services officers.

After graduation I joined a global IT consultancy in their graduate training program, driven by my desire to apply what I had learned at university to the real world as they had a defence sector division.

However, after being unable to get a transfer from Telecoms to their defence decision, I left and joined a specialist software house working on a project for NATO. In those days, the term product didn’t exist. You were either a software engineer, a manager, or a project manager. So I created that role by taking on management roles very early on because I saw that as a way for me to interact with the user and the customer.

Overnight, there was a stop to the defence contract which resulted in half the company being made redundant including myself. I was 26 and decided to join a smaller company where I could learn and grow. I hit a glass ceiling within three years with no new growth opportunities.

I took time off to do a full-time MBA and then joined Cobalt, where we created RingGo – a mobile phone parking service system. I felt I had found my sweet spot – designing and building a product I owned and led that made a difference in people’s lives.

After leaving Cobalt, I worked in a similar space with various small tech businesses. In 2021 I decided to start a new chapter in my career. So I sat down and wrote down the job criteria of what I wanted to have next. I joined InfoSum in February 2022.

HOW DID YOU LAND YOUR CURRENT ROLE? WAS IT PLANNED?

InfoSum came on my radar when I was looking for product jobs around Basingstoke for a friend. But once I saw the job description and read up on InfoSum, I realised that the role met my own criteria list.

I submitted my application, got a very speedy response, and met up with its Head of Product and Solutions. While they were surprised I wanted to join InfoSum, given my background, I shared that I wanted to do more with people and processes rather than products, experience a new market and make sure I am still capable to start afresh and keep learning.

HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ROLE AT INFOSUM TO AN OUTSIDER?

I start by saying that I am a facilitator, focused on people, processes and products. I move things along and even shake things up from time to time. I avoid using geeky terms and explain our product with examples so an outsider can relate to what we do.

WHAT DOES AN AVERAGE WORK DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

An average work day for me is very varied. My responsibilities encompass product strategy and execution, and I manage a team of people in various product roles, including product management, product ownership, technical writing, agile coaches, and data science. I’m constantly communicating and influencing and am lucky if I can get through what I plan to do in a day.

You need to be flexible. The role requires jumping from topic to topic, ranging from;

  • people management – including mentoring and coaching; 
  • product management – learning more about the problems we’re trying to solve;
  • providing support to my team members and others in the business; and
  • process improvement where product-related – trying to encourage maturity across the organization in what we do and how we do it.

HOW DO YOU THINK DIVERSITY CAN IMPACT PRODUCT DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT?

Diversity is essential, generally due to unique individual experiences. For example, if you had a fantastic idea that didn’t work out in the past, you might sit on a similar idea, afraid to put it out there, which is a shame. Or perhaps you can relate better with your users due to your past experiences, while someone else on the team can’t. That’s a massive advantage. Putting yourself in the shoes of your user is priceless.

WHICH QUALIFICATIONS HAVE YOU FOUND TO BE THE MOST BENEFICIAL FOR SECURING JOBS IN PRODUCT? ARE THEY TECHNICAL QUALIFICATIONS? / WHICH QUALIFICATIONS ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?

Product Management has only recently reached a professional maturity where specific qualifications are worth investing in. In my book, experience is more important than any qualification because the role is varied and the product life cycle is vast.

HOW DOES INFOSUM’S BRAND MISSION GUIDE HOW THE TEAM BUILDS PRODUCTS?

Our privacy-first principle guides us in how we ethically build the product. We’re leading the way and inviting others to become more ethical about managing their customers’ personal data and collaborating with others.

HAS ANYONE EVER TRIED TO STOP YOU FROM LEARNING AND DEVELOPING IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE, OR HAVE YOU FOUND THE TECH SECTOR SUPPORTIVE?

I have always been encouraged by others to keep on learning and always felt lucky because I have had positive experiences compared to other women in the tech sector. The tech sector supports people who are curious-minded and proactive in discovering how they can sate their curiosity.

If you bring that energy, you’ll always find another group of people with similar interests that you can grow and learn from. The good thing about the tech sector is that we use tech to help us find our people!

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER, SO FAR?

I am proud of what we achieved with RingGo and how people have grown and developed their careers from that opportunity.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN WANTING TO REACH THEIR CAREER GOALS IN TECHNOLOGY?

We are our own worst enemies. We need to be more optimistic about how we think of ourselves. You hold power within yourself to reach your career goals and don’t be self-limiting in reaching for them. And care less. Care less about what others think or do.

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