Sahana Yerragunta’s career moves have been driven by her desire to explore new areas of technology development.
After earning a master’s degree in computer science, Sahana moved from Munich, Germany, to Silicon Valley to take a job with payment provider Adyen. In 2018, after she’d been with Adyen for just over a year, a Signifyd recruiter approached Sahana. How would she like to join Signifyd’s implementations team, the group that helps Signifyd customers make sure the company’s solutions are running correctly on their systems?
“Coming from a software engineering background, I wanted to be on the customer-facing side of things where I would get to help users adopt our products,” Sahana says — so the job sounded appealing. She joined Signifyd and learned a lot working on implementing Signifyd’s solutions, including, how to work with merchants, for instance, and tackling the nuances of stakeholder management.
But she wanted to explore other areas of the business and expand her horizon. Product management sounded like a natural extension of her current responsibilities.
“When it comes to providing feedback or product ideas, at the end of the day you need to go to product management,” she says. Product managers translate customer needs into features that can be built in partnership with the engineering team. They also have the ability to drive the product roadmap and strategy. I wanted to explore what that looked like: being able to produce and deliver a new product.”
Signifyd encourages employees to explore new roles
Signifyd is an ideal place for employees who want to keep learning new skills. The company encourages and promotes internal mobility for employees.
“The key ingredients are awareness – that this is an option and that it’s an equally accessible process for all. That, and curiosity and hunger on the part of the employee,” says Emily Mikailli, Signifyd senior vice president of people operations. Signifyd has career ladders for each department showing possible paths for growth, and managers have frequent conversations with employees about their career goals.”
Sahana had, in fact, asked about the potential to try different roles when she first considered joining Signifyd.
“During the interview process, I did ask the question about how Signifyd looks at transitions – moving from one role to another,” she says. The recruiter said the company is eager to help employees make internal moves. “It was good to get that positive response.”
When her manager on the implementations team asked what career path she was most strongly considering, Sahana expressed an interest in the product development team. And she found that the company lived up to its promises.
“My manager took it seriously and started talking to the VP of product – just discussing to see what the possibilities would be,” Sahana says. These conversations took place over several months, and her managers kept Sahana in the loop. “They were not making false promises to me.”
The move to the new team was smooth and gradual.
There was no fixed timeline for moving to a new role, or even for making a decision about whether a move would be possible. Sahana started by working on a project where the implementation and product teams were working together. She was contributing to the team in her implementation role, but she was also able to see up close what product management was all about.
The transformation starts with understanding another team’s work
The group was working on Signifyd’s integration with NetSuite’s ecommerce platform, and Sahana contributed to the product management tasks – among them gathering requirements and collecting feedback from people including the implementation team. Sahana’s role was to create an onboarding process that would help both the customers who were going to use the integration and the implementation managers who would be walking them through the process.
“I learned skills like gathering and prioritizing requirements,” she says.
Because the product manager she was working with knew she was interested in a possible move, the manager provided extra explanation and tips.
Sahana also spent part of last year shadowing the product management team, attending team meetings to become familiar with the department and how it worked. She knew Signifyd’s products well from having worked on the implementation team, but the shadowing helped her envision what a product role would be like.
Late last year, she got the word from her manager that it looked like a good fit – and they planned her transition to the new team, allowing enough time for her implementation role to be filled before she moved entirely. Sahana began her role as a product manager in January.
Sahana is the sole product manager on machine learning operations, or ML ops, a team that consists mostly of engineers. The team’s customers are internal: Signifyd’s data scientists. The team builds the infrastructure that the data scientists require to build Signifyd’s machine learning platform.
The new role has opened her eyes to the complexities of product development.
“On the implementation side, you don’t really see what the backstage looks like – everything is nice and shiny,” Sahana says. “Only when you get to the backstage do you realize what you did not see being on the customer side.”
For example, product managers receive requests from people in a lot of different customer-facing roles. “That’s where the job gets complicated. What do you focus on first? What is the company goal, and how are you aligned with that?” she says. “Every problem is important to the person reporting it, but it’s the role of the product manager to prioritize.”
Peers’ support is a big help in making a change
For Sahana, moving to a new role in a company she already knew had some advantages. She went into the new job already knowing about the company’s products, its culture and the people she would be working with. She has found her new product management team very helpful in her career transition.
“I don’t hesitate if I have to reach out to another product manager,” she says. “They’re more than happy to mentor you and guide you through any issue.”
Sahana says she is enjoying her new role and is happy that she was able to make this transition at Signifyd. Looking ahead, she can see several possible career paths from her current role. For example, because she is on a machine learning team, she could go deeper into that area. She could also branch out in product management, focusing on other types of products. Or she could move up in the product management organization.
“The learning never stops for me,” she says. “That’s another big advantage of being in a product manager role.”
Photo by Getty Images
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