Brittany: Hi, I am Brittany Canty, Senior Product Manager at Braintree.
Suzanne: This is a large office here. There's a lot of different companies going on.
Brittany: Yeah, it's a pretty massive office and about every six months we expand.
Suzanne: Because Braintree, PayPal, Venmo, who else is in that constellation?
Brittany: That's mostly it. We get PayPal folks every so often. I think even Zoom folks tend to come here. We're kind of like the office of the PayPal family in Chicago. If you happen to be in town, you come by.
Suzanne: Does the rest of the city of Chicago like you all or they're like, "Oh those Braintree folks are taking up space again. There's no good office space left because this company just keeps getting bigger."
Brittany: I hope they like us. They probably have no idea who Braintree is, 'cause the first question people ask me rather, when I tell them I work for Braintree they're like, "Oh what is that? Is that like an educational thing?" No.
Suzanne: What is Braintree?
Brittany: Well, now that you ask, Braintree is a payment processor. Kind of like how people know PayPal very well as processing payments from more of a consumer to a business, or consumer to consumer. Venmo process P to P, or peer to peer rather. Braintree really focuses on the merchant side. We power the payments behind some of the big brands like Uber and [inaudible 00:01:36] and Lyft. We make it easy for them and hopefully easy for the buyer as well.
Suzanne: Did the company start in San Francisco or it started here in Chicago?
Brittany: It actually started here in Chicago.
Suzanne: This is like a Chicago-
Brittany: Yeah, this is home base.
Suzanne: Wow, Chicago success story. Do you know the backstory on how it came to be? Is that all in the training manual at the beginning?
Brittany: Well when I started about three years ago, it was more like, "Here's the whiteboard timeline and here's is when we spiked and here is all of this stuff." I remember vaguely some things about it but not all the details, unfortunately.
Suzanne: When you did start referring back to that whiteboard moment, where was the company in its product life cycle?
Brittany: It was pretty established for the main product. Essentially the product is like our gateway of what processes the payments. They kind of have some additional staples out there as well. Specific for different types of business cases, so for a marketplace like a TaskRabbit we had something to do for them. We had an international offering, things of that nature. Still, very straight forward and then the last three years I've been here, it's been a lot of expanding and scaling and adding new features here and there, like Apple Pay and Bitcoin. All of the fun stuff as the market evolves over time.
Suzanne: Right. Now, I am the co-founder of a company called the Development Factory. We're a product consultancy so we do end to end solutions. We work with startups that have the next great idea and want to bring a product to market. We work with existing products. We're a good example of the type of organization that would leverage Braintree API to put into products. This is a good opportunity to pitch me on why would Braintree be the right payment processing. I guess there are other options available.
Brittany: That's true. Yes.
Suzanne: So, why Braintree?
Brittany: There's probably two main things when I talk about why Braintree is best out there, 'cause it is. One is that we try to make things as easy as possible. One integration and then as we evolve over time and as you scale you kind of get all of the new things and it's very easy to turn them on. I almost want to say it's like a toggle in the control panel. Like, "Oh you want to accept Amex? Easy. You want to expand to Europe and you need to be able to process there? Flip that switch." It's really simple. We really try and continue to make that a key part of our business as we grow.
Then second is our customer service. We have actual people here in our office. I can show them to you, that answer emails, that answers phones, that answers tweets, all of that to make sure that we have that white glove customer service. That, I think some of our other competitors don't focus as much on but it's really one of our core competencies that ... In the hallway even as we'll walk past it, you'll see like one of our things is care a lot. That's one of our mantras. I think we really try and embody that.
Suzanne: Okay, I'm bought in. We'll see how the rest of this conversation goes.
Brittany: All right.
Suzanne: No, I'm kidding. You're talking about customer service, let's talk about the relationship between the product team and customer service because when you're in a larger organization and departments start to formalize, when we move past the early growth, when we move past the flat organizational construct, the product managers rely more and more on intelligence from the customer service team. How often ... Are you buying them chocolates and flowers and being like, "Give me your worst case scenarios. What are people saying on the line?" How do you collect information from that group?
Brittany: That's a good question. I think there's the initial of when you first onboard a PM, we make sure that they shadow the team both on the phones and via emails that we really get a sense of what this team does, the kinds of problems they solve and what types of merchants who they deal with. The questions that come through. Then on an ongoing basis we really try and get a good sense of data via the Salesforce tickets or Zendesk tickets or whatever tool we're using nowadays to make sure that whoever owns that product really understands the pain points that customers are feeling.
Then we, with an addition with accounts, really try and talk to our customers on a regular basis. It's really great to talk to existing customers to find out what's wrong with your product. But also talk to new customers and really hear the new variations of the business cases that you think you already know and you have down pat, but maybe a change. Maybe you haven't thought about it in this way for. So it's really great to get some first hand thoughts to validate any of those assumptions or invalidate.
Suzanne: I'm interested to understand a little bit about the rhythm. I think some people have this question of like what is ... Describe a day in the life of product management. Then of course, there's no such thing as a day in the life, everything is...different. But given that it's a larger ... How many people, first of all, that Braintree employees, approximately?
Brittany: I think we've passed the 500 stage total across all of our offices.
Suzanne: Right, so fairly large company and you're working constantly on improving existing products. Working constantly on finding new ways to deliver that ease of use promise, that key differentiator, how often are you in the product team dialing into those customer service calls, reviewing those tickets? What I'm trying to get a feel for is how much time is spent thinking about the customer ongoing or does that come in waves? If you can speak a little bit about that.
Brittany: Yeah, I would say it probably comes more in waves. I think because we're ... It's funny I was going to say because we're still a smaller product team, but we're pretty big now, but probably not as big as we need to be. It's still managing all of those priorities. There's always like seven priorities that should be number one that you have to rotate, that are in the top three at any given point in time.
I think it's more of in the waves things. I think ideally we'd want to do it on a more structured basis whether it's monthly or every two to three weeks. The way it is now is we tend to have monthly newsletters and checkpoints with all our stakeholders to really make sure that nothing's changed and to gather any additional requirements or inputs if anything has happened in that timeframe.
Suzanne: Tell us a little bit about how the team is structured. Is it based on different products or it's just everybody working on Braintree as a whole?
Brittany: Yeah, so we do have product managers leading specific products and then we may have more than one product manager on a more complex product. I'm trying to think of a good example but nothing came to mind. We have some products that are customer facing, we have some products that are more internal facing, like Salesforce or our disputes team. Then we have more things that are initiative based, meaning that we'll spin up a team for that thing. If we're adding a new payment method and then once that's there and ready and working as expected, then we would expand the team and move on to the next new initiative.
Suzanne: Like a task force, basically.
Suzanne: Cool. To talk about the scenarios where more than one product manager might be involved is that typically a construct of a senior person that's augmented by a junior, or two people of matched skillset, just simply dividing up the work?
Brittany: I think it depends on the product and who we have available at the time. Right now we're hiring a lot of senior PM's because we need ... We need that, kind of fill some spaces in our hierarchy. When I started we had a very flat hierarchy with essentially you were a product manager. Then there was a lead for each office. Now that we've grown we have to now, kind of have some additional levels so that we have some oversight onto similar products to make sure that we're making the right decision, so we're not overlapping effort and we're being smart about how we build as we continue to grow and scale.
Sometimes it could be a very massive complex product that has a lead senior PM and maybe we have a product that is very complex, has a lead senior PM overall focus on the direction of that product. Then we have maybe a more mid-level PM or an associate helping with the day to day stuff. Right now for instance, I have a PM intern. She's helping me, I have a bigger complex product that in addition to working on her intern project, she's also helping me with some of the smaller features.
Suzanne: Do you all ... You have engineers here.
Suzanne: Do you use this term, role of product owner that comes from agile and scrum, does that even come about here? Or everyone's just a product manager and we don't talk about product ownership?
Brittany: We don't necessarily call product ownership. It's usually the product manager is essentially the product owner. We become the subject matter experts on that product.
Suzanne: In these scenarios then when there's two or maybe even three PMs, how does the matter of ownership, is it negotiation? Is it, "Well, we've got to work together to make the best decisions."
Suzanne: Rock, paper, scissors.
Brittany: I think what the massive, the very big ones that are then kind of broken up into sub-projects and you may have a owner for, or project manager that really owns that small piece of it. Then they'll have kind of, I'm trying to think of a good example. Then you have a senior PM that leads the overarching things. When we're thinking about if someone were to call an account's person, like who owns X? They would likely go to the senior PM. Then if it was something specific to one of the lower defined products then we would probably redirect them to that PM, if that makes sense.
Suzanne: Yeah. Do these product leads that you're describing, you talk about them kind of bringing the vision ... I'm moving my way toward roadmapping so I'm curious are they the people in the organization that are coming and saying, "Okay, here's our themes for the next six months or 12 months or 18 months, now let's start to figure out how we can break those apart into initiatives, which will then break down into specific features or improvements." To what extent is somebody like yourself or the rest of the product team playing a part in that process?
Brittany: Yeah, that's a good question. We've been evolving that process the entire time that I've been at Braintree. I think before it used to be much more top down, where the "business" would decide what the priorities were for the company. We would then prioritize below figuring out how we would get there a little bit. A lot of those inputs coming from all of the typical things that you would expect. The market, sales, account all of those things.
I think we're in a transitional state right now. We're in a transitional state where we're trying not to be so specific on our roadmap about the products. Are we gonna add this feature at this time? But really try to make sure that we talk about the experience that we want our merchants to have and what do we want to enable. Like I said, I think we're in this transitional place where we're going to ideally start to get more input bottom up of like what are the product managers that are working in this day to day, what are they seeing? What are they hearing when they're talking to the customers? What makes sense from their perspective and kind of bubble it up. Those senior PM's that are looking at it from a more wide perspective are able to find things among all of those pieces of information and help identify what the priorities could be but then present that as more of a proposal, I would say, to leadership.
Suzanne: If I can reframe it, it sounds like versus somebody showing up and saying, "Here's the objectives, meet them." It's that senior level becomes an integration point between certainly filtering what is of course, gonna still becoming top down business objectives, company direction, but also synthesizing the feedback from the teams that are working in the day to day. Say, these initiatives that are coming bottom up can be made to align with these other mandates that are coming top down.
Brittany: Right, yeah. Exactly.
Suzanne: You brought up business. The audience can't see that you put business in parentheses by the way but I saw it, and you're a business ... I don't know if it's parentheses or legit, you went to business school, is that how you found your way into product management was through business?
Brittany: No, actually I have a Bachelor's in Computer Science, so I started off as a developer.
Suzanne: Female developer.
Brittany: Hey, we exist. I started off as a developer for a consulting company. The reason I chose that company was because they sold me. This is the whole selling in college, "Come to us because we offer all of these things." They told me that I could develop as well as be more of a combination developer/business analyst. I knew then. I knew in college that I loved logic of coding. I love the problem solving that it allowed me to do.
I also have a lot of opinions. I wanted to be able to have a place that allowed me to voice those opinions and those opinions be heard. I chose to go down this route and over time I started to ask for more business analyst positions. It started small. I still coded, but it was good to be able to decide what I was coding.
Suzanne: User stories were your gateway drug, basically.
Brittany: Exactly, exactly. I love me a process flow. I started there. Soon enough, was fully at one point transition into like a business analyst role and then realized that that wasn't enough for me.
Suzanne: Right. I want to just stay here for a moment 'cause you said so many juicy things. First of all, developers always get a bad reputation. Especially sometimes we talk about product managers being translators and having that requirement of needing to package up a piece of information and communicate it in a way that resonates for these highly structured logical people. Then uncouple all of that and make it flowy and present that to the design team and on and on and on.
Of course, it's not true that developers are only kind of wired one way. I'm curious knowing as much as you did about yourself and what you needed, was it challenging as a developer to work with other developers who may not have been as, call it extroverted, call it dual-minded, as you describe?
Brittany: Then, as a developer, I wouldn't say the issues were about if they were very logical or not. It's usually I think about the personality. What information does someone need to hear in order for them to understand what you're getting at? I think that's the same issue, I won't even call it issue. That's the same thing you'd have to deal with as a PM or I feel like really in any role, is really understanding your audience and I was gonna say cater to them, but it's not necessarily cater to them. But present the information a way that they understand.
When I was working with my peers, as a developer, I was coding I think it was straight forward because we just really got down to the brass tax about what needed to be done. Then now, as a PM I think it's valuable to come from that world because I also know what they're looking for. You had mentioned that designers are looking for maybe X, maybe our main stakeholders are looking for Y. All of that's still valuable to give to a developer as we understand the full context. At the end of the day, it's like I want to know how it's supposed to work. I don't care as much about these other things. It's good to know but this is kind of what they need to know or what they really care about most of all.
Suzanne: Right. You said that you knew going into this role that you wanted to have a more call it, holistic viewpoint or the ability to contribute more, so you were becoming increasingly exposed to the business analyst side. Then you said that wasn't enough.
Brittany: It wasn't enough.
Suzanne: Talk to us about that. Where was it coming up short for you?
Brittany: I realized once I was like full in business analyst mode that ... What frustrated me most is that people are stupid. Customers, our clients-
Suzanne: That can be true.
Brittany: Our clients, as a consultant we had to go on site to different clients and sometimes the engagements were three months, six months, what have you. I realized that one, some of these customers didn't know their customers. They wanted me to implement something that wouldn't work for their buyers at the end of the day. No matter how much I proposed something, there was always a limit to what I could control.
Then after all of that was done, after I made it perfect and pretty, I then had to hand it over, and walk away. That was a second killer point for me of realizing, I'm too much of a control freak that to hand over this nicely built thing that I've done, researched and perfected, and have gotten all the feedback for and can see people smiling when they use it. Now I have to completely walk away from it and hopefully that you don't mess it up.
Suzanne: You were getting cease and desist emails from clients saying, “Brittany refuses to give us the deliverable” that you were contracted to give.
Brittany: I would log on and check the sites that I would worked on for weeks afterward and I have to ween myself off. You just have to let go Brittany, it's no longer yours.
Suzanne: It actually sounds a little bit like the pain point was less about business analyst role and more about the difference of being in a consultant capacity. Somebody like myself versus working inside of the organization. This is a theme that we've surfaced on the show because we speak to product managers who own products within the company, and then we speak to product managers who work consultatively. I think that is definitely, I can share from that experience that sometimes you become so vested, especially if you're working on something for six months, a year, we have clients where we've worked with two, three years, nurtured them through different phases of the life cycle. Then you're like, "Wait a minute I'm not part of that. I'm part of it, but I'm not." I can definitely appreciate that. You want your fingerprints all over it. You're like, "This is mine."
Brittany: Partly, and you also kind of want to be involved in all of the aspects of it. You said you invest your time and your heart into this to really understand the customer, really understand that pain point. As a consultant at least, at the time, as a business analyst, you would get, as parts in some companies you would only get the distilled version of it. Right?
Brittany: You would get what someone thought that the customer should have. You didn't get the full access that you potentially would want to see. Then at the end of the day regardless of what you thought was right for the customer, you had to do what, for their customer rather. You had to do what your customer wanted to, 'cause that is your customer. I was thinking at the end of the day more about the end user of this product. It was probably like a fundamental difference in the job that I had versus the job that I wanted.
Suzanne: Right, so you eventually got to the job that you wanted.
Suzanne: Which was product manager within an organization.
Suzanne: What was the first role?
Brittany: It was actually a role at Red Box. I had no idea that product management was a thing at this point.
Suzanne: You didn't? You didn't know you were like touching it from all these different sides?
Brittany: I had no idea like, it was called a thing.
Suzanne: Did you apply for that role or they were just like you'll be a product manager and then you had to go home and Google what that was?
Brittany: When I was looking I was like, I'm done with consulting, I want to find something else. I started essentially searching for project manager roles 'cause I thought that's what the next step was gonna be. Okay, I'm gonna own a little bit more. I get to decide these things and I realized soon enough that wasn't it.
As I started to look at project manager roles and things that were connected to that, I was really focuses on the job description and then I came across this one really cryptic, it was extremely cryptic job description for Red Box. The reason I said it was cryptic is because they wanted a product manager for a confidential product so they couldn't even tell you about what the product could be. It was like, "We want someone who wants to make decisions for it," and they use this terminology, "Be their own CEO," all of that stuff. I'm like, well that's me. That's everything that I want and that I'm not getting at my current role.
It wasn't until I interviewed and I was on site, got the job that I was like, okay yeah this is the combination of still being close to technology and still working with developers. I was still very much really focused on how the thing was being built. Also, getting to do the stuff that I was really excited about with usability and talking about the markets, and looking and talking to our customers directly. Then working with design, and then connection all of those three things to make sure that what we built was what we needed to build and people were gonna love it, and all of that stuff.
Suzanne: Do you do any coding anymore, or you don't? You just had to let it go.
Brittany: No. Yes, I had to let it go unfortunately. I do kind of get the itch from time to time. I'll play around with some things from time to time. But no, I don't code anymore.
Suzanne: One of the things that I find challenging, something you just said brought it up in my mind. Part of why we typically end up in this role is because we are a little thirsty for touching everything. That's usually what brings people into the more generic centers. I want to talk about design and be involved in design, and I'm interested in code, but then the challenge is you have to continually defer to the expert.
For me, for example if I'm working on a project and it's rare occasion now, where I'll actually get to participate on the user experience design. There are reasons. I'm not always the best suited to be doing that within the organization, but I think that's the challenge, is like you're lured into the role because of the promise of getting to touch all this stuff, but then it's actually like you don't get to touch it. We have a user experience designer for that. You can talk to them. If you really want to sketch something you can go into a conference room and do a white board but then that's it. You miss coding. You don't get to touch it as much, but you're happy.
Brittany: It's funny that you say that because I kind of forced it in my first product position I read about. I would hack together images of what exactly I wanted and then give that to design and like, "Do this, but make it pretty."
Suzanne: Did they like getting that level of detail? Or they were like, "Oh great, thanks for telling us how to do our job again,"?
Brittany: Put your expertise on it, I'm not the expert but... I think it was the interesting ... I think I was blessed in the sense that I became really good friends with my designer. She's actually one of my best friends. I think we had a good rapport, so she understood what I was getting at. She would make fun of me, "Did I create that comp or did you create that comp?" I'm like, "Oh I did it, I just did this really quick." And she's like, "Oh that's great." I mean, go for it.
Suzanne: How integrated are the designers, developers, PM's here at Braintree?
Brittany: I think it's probably the best I've worked at. Granted I've only been a PM at two other companies. Here, we have ... I forget what we call it. A three in the box or a pod or whatever it is. Essentially it's we have a team surrounding a product where it includes the PM, the UX, U designer, a front end person, development people manager, which we call [inaudible 00:29:47] managers and the tech lead. We're all very technically-
Suzanne: I hope they don't call that three in a box, 'cause that's at five.
Brittany: I know, it's like five, right?
Suzanne: Five in a pod.
Brittany: That's essentially we all work very closely together, when we're planning, when we're executing. It's good that we have them dedicated, those resources dedicated to the team so that we know we have them at any point during the project where we need a new UI screen, or we need the usability or what have you.
Suzanne: Thinking about those organizations where it's like you talk to, go back to roadmapping for a moment, you have all of your initiatives mapped out and it's like, "Oh, but great. Development is backed up," and so June of 2018, so you might have to rethink it.
Suzanne: Do these pods disassemble and reassemble? Are you constantly working with a different UX designer? Or once a team or pod is formulated that's your crew until something changes?
Brittany: Yeah, I think it depends on the product. There are some products that we have at Braintree that are kind of like staples. For instance there's a disputes team, for like forever until eternity we will have disputes. We need a team that is focused on that and they have a PM.
Suzanne: You mentioned disputes before. I just want to get clear on this part. You're saying that at Braintree thinks about disputes as a product?
Brittany: Yeah, exactly. If we think about the fact that a buyer, a cardholder-
Suzanne: There's no disputes, I know. There's probably only ever like two.
Brittany: I probably use the word charge backs interchangeably, but it's when a buyer sees something on their credit card, calls up their bank and was like, "I didn't purchase this. Someone stole my credit card." Or they call up and say, "This item wasn't as described," and they want to charge the cost of that item back to the merchant.
We probably have to process that saying, "We know you processed the initial transaction." There's a lot that goes into that. The merchant has to be notified. They have to respond to it. They sometimes have to upload evidence to prove that they did what they said they wanted to do. They have to do it in a bunch of different ways potentially if they have business in Europe versus if they have business in Australia. Those are all done a little bit differently.
While disputes may seem like very straightforward, we do have a team around it because we just have so many merchants. We have to handle the scale of it. We also want to continually improve upon the product, we want to make that product as easy as we can for our merchants as the market changes, as the banks changes and offer more functionality. Then we want to be innovative. Is there a different way that we can notify them? Can we pre-populate some information so that they don't have to? Can we fight it on their behalf?
Suzanne: I feel like you would be willing to take on that mission. “Give me the number of this person, I'll march on over…”
Brittany: I'll figure this out. Yeah, you don't deserve this charge. I got this.
Suzanne: I only derailed you because one of the things that I think is so interesting, especially for folks listening in who maybe haven't worked in larger organizations, or this idea of what is a product can on an obvious level we think of, its physical product or increasingly we understand it is software. To begin to see the nuanced ways in which organizations carve up their product offering can also be tremendously enlightening. It's like, "Oh wow, yeah I never thought about disputes," which in a way is almost like a workflow to think about owning a workflow as a product and bringing a product centric view point to it. It's fascinating.
Brittany: Yeah. At one point I owned a sales force team. We think of sales force as a tool, but we also think of it as a product because a lot of our operations teams use sales force but they use it in different ways. They all have, like you mentioned a workflow that they use it for whether it's the risk team who needs to create risk cases in some type of automated way. Or whether it's accounts that needs to create and capture all this metadata information, be able to search upon it and report upon it, on the different types of merchants we have, and the number of merchants we have.
There were tons of requests coming through and we needed someone to manage that. We needed someone to prioritize and create a roadmap and then not only look at fixing the specifics of what people were asking for but then also taking a step back and looking at it like, do we need to move this piece out and create its own little app for the queuing system for risk? Do we need to look at another tool to do this specific thing for support? Or do we need to ... How are we thinking about our merchants overall if we know that seven teams go to Salesforce to find out all this information? Is there a better way for us to represent this?
Suzanne: Were you in the capacity of that role essentially documenting and developing processes for how the different teams would leverage sales force?
Brittany: I think ideally that was the aim.
Suzanne: That's why I'm projecting 'cause I'm thinking that's my dream job, strange as that sounds. You mean I get to document the process?
Suzanne: It's not that.
Brittany: I think at the beginning it was really understanding how these teams used it and seeing if there's ways to optimize some of that stuff. Then it was looking feature of like what could we take this to? What could we really, if we're thinking about it as a product, not just fixing bugs or making this workflow a little bit easier in this way instead of excel form we have a field, things like that. What makes the most sense for the business overall?
Suzanne: Fine, I guess that's an okay job too.
Brittany: Yeah whatever.
Suzanne: I took us far down a path but I wanted to come back. I was asking you about the team constructs. I was asking you that on the heels of your earlier comment about how much of the UX you were owning versus not, but what I'm curious about is your perspective on how to bring a feature to life? And what is the right level of collaboration? Some organizations for example, use an informal scrum ritual known as story time. Where you're gathering ideally folks from the development team, folks from the UX design team, product managers taking the user story, simply acknowledging the customer goal. Then letting the different perspectives bring the details of the implementation to life usually through the form of acceptance criteria.
Is that ... How much of your process looks like that? How much of it is product managers really owning the full vertical of a story and its implementation?
Brittany: Yeah, that's interesting. I’d be interested to see how that would work here, if we could do that just because we have so many operational stakeholders. I probably have a dozen teams of stakeholders. But in the case here, it really is more of the latter of the PM really owning the whole story creation and we are just gathering input through interviews, through requirements gathering from all our stakeholders, synthesizing it down and really trying to make the best decision with all the additional inputs of what our competitors doing, where is the market taking us, what are customers asking for versus what do they really need, all of those things-
Suzanne: So then are you more prone to say grabbing a UX designer from your team and going into a little huddle room or something and saying, "Hey, I'm thinking about this problem. How might you solve it," and kind of collecting their input in kernels?
Brittany: Absolutely. Yeah, so I would grab one of our designers and essentially white board out the problem, statement, how I think it should be solved, get their input and potentially pull in our temp lead if we already have one assigned to validate any of that, point out any gotchas. If we go, design ... And I love design because they really think about the customer first, of like what is easier for the customer. Sometimes what is always the best for the customer may be like ridiculously three times as hard for technology to implement.
Brittany: Yeah, so trying to come to that balance is why we try and put them all in the same room at the same time.
Suzanne: Right, very cool. I like the visual that you're creating. It means that all the stock photos everywhere, teams gathered around, putting sticky notes up, that's truly how product management works. Sticky notes and sketches.
Brittany: At least, yes I would say at the very least whiteboards, M&M's and LaCroix.
Suzanne: You speaking of task forces are involved in a diversity task force here.
Brittany: Yes, yes. In addition to my day job-
Suzanne: I have this whole other ... What was the impetus for that? Did somebody solicit you and say, "Hey do you want to be part of this?" Or did you force that in? How did that come to be?
Brittany: You know, it was one of these things where Braintree had released internally our diversity numbers for the first time. So PayPal releases its diversity numbers widely, we publish those. Braintree also kind of got some information and we did town hall about it and that was the beginning ... In addition to showing our diversity numbers we also formally started our diversity and inclusion initiative and made it one of our business priorities.
Suzanne: The numbers, I guess weren’t promising if they didn't directly inform ... "Here's our numbers and by the way we have a new take action initiative."
Brittany: Right, to be honest, it wasn't horrible but it's what you would expect from a technology company, right? It's kind of what everyone is dealing with and it's not like no one expected the numbers what they were considering we see who's walking around our office on a daily basis.
Brittany: It was at that point, prior to that we had business resource groups, which some were big and active and some weren't. The beginning of that was this diversity and inclusion where we had three pillars. One focused on adding diversity inclusion in our hiring. One focused on our internal people or employees making them feel good here. Then one was worked on community outreach. At that point, I started to get involved in two of those pillars, their hiring and outreach and eventually took over to lead the outreach. Then took over to lead a sub-pillar of the hiring.
Suzanne: Once again things weren't enough for you?
Brittany: Right, exactly. So it was kind of like, I have a lot of opinions. They kept seeing me raise my hand and being like, "Well we need actionable things and we need ... "
Suzanne: Is there anything that you're most proud of in regards to the work that you're doing there that you want to share with us or frame in the format of advice for other organizations who are certainly listening and going, "Yeah we could probably do better?” Most people can do better at diversity.
Brittany: There's probably a lot of things I could say, but the two that come to mind. One from the respect of what has made me most excited or happy recently is being able to show the impact that we had. For one, seeing the change in already a year has made to a company, seeing the amount of people that have come through. For instance our new hire email that came out today had three new hires starting today and they're all women of color.
Brittany: It was just like ... They were all on the product side.
Suzanne: Wow, okay.
Brittany: When I say the product side, it's not just the product management team but including all of our developers, designers-
Suzanne: You're like, shedding a proud tear-
Brittany: Right. It's just like, it's really awesome to see that the entire list that day, or today was a woman of color, which is awesome. In respect to what other companies could do or how would you want to start it, I laugh because it really started I think of just being like completely honest with my manager and my CTO at the time. I emailed him and was like, "I have some feelings and I'm gonna share them with you. Essentially if you want to hear them or not." Kind of forced the subject, essentially. A lot of good things have come from that. I will credit Braintree a lot is that they've been open to having the conversation that a lot of people don't want to have. They want to shy away from it and let's not talk opening about actively going after people of color, women of color, or any of the other under-represented groups in technology, or any of those types of things.
We've pushed through a lot of great things from the top like having a gender neutral bathroom, having gender identity training here.
Suzanne: Oh, these are great initiatives.
Brittany: Yeah, really great things.
Suzanne: Come work at Braintree. We're not just an easy to use product.
Brittany: Right, exactly. I really feel the heart and the importance from our leadership about the things that we're doing outside of our product things, but about the people themselves.
Suzanne: Right. Now, when you sent that, I'm giving you my thoughts whether or not you're ready for them email, had you already perceived that there was somewhere within the organization a receptivity to it or that was just straight up, you being like, I'm gonna say stuff. I don't care who likes it or doesn't like it?
Brittany: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think I felt comfortable sending my general manager the email because I had already talked to him and he knew me personally based on the work that I was working on within Braintree, so [inaudible 00:45:30] a job.
Brittany: I knew he was receptive to it just based on the way that he approached product management and the product management team of soliciting feedback and trying to iterate on things of if this new process didn't work, let's try and figure out a new way to go about it. I felt, although I didn't have very specific evidence of having talked to him about some of these things before, just based on my other interacts with him. I was like, "I'm going for it." I may have been too candid to go for it, but I went for it.
Suzanne: You went for it. You did say you were opinionated.
Brittany: I have opinions.
Suzanne: Full disclosure.
Brittany: I essentially just sent him an email saying like, "Hey I would love to talk to you about so and so." And he was like, "Yeah, let's find some time and let's talk about it." And I did, and then I used a follow up open office hours that he had to re-talk about it again. Things just continued to push from there.
Suzanne: The reason that I'm asking the question because I think one, as it relates to folks who might be listening in and thinking what can I do to effect change? One is you can take a page from your playbook and it's just start the conversation. I think there is this other element of why should it be upon me to do so, right?
Suzanne: So my question to you would be, what could allies do? What could other people do if it shouldn't be upon somebody who is in a minority to shine the light on, "Hey we have a diversity problem." How can people who may be coming from more privileged position also help to stand up these initiatives or drive change within an organization?
Brittany: It's a good question 'cause I know it's been talked about a lot here. I think my advice would be [inaudible 00:47:49] hard to do the same thing. To just start the conversation. At the core of it the conversation needs to be had in a public forum. There's gonna be a lot of opinions coming out, a lot of feelings that it's gonna incite, and that should happen. That's the only way people are gonna grow. Allies, they have this inherent privilege that they know that they have that they can use in these powerful ways. Sometimes just knowing that to be able to push the conversation a little bit farther than maybe someone of an underrepresented group can do, will help alleviate the burden, and get a little bit farther to start with.
Brittany: I'm not sure if that was all clear.
Suzanne: No, I think so. I think what I'm hearing you say is, yeah if you're passionate about it, even if it's not a problem that directly affects you. In fact, all the more reason if you're passionate about it and it doesn't directly affect you, then step up and help out because I think it is problematic to have to say, "Well, if you think it's a problem, Brittany, then you send an email." In your case you're like, "Yes, I will send out an email." I don't think that kind of confidence ... I don't think everybody feels that level of permission or safety to be able to come right out and ask. I think it's awesome that you did that.
Brittany: Yeah, and I ... Absolutely, if someone would have told me that if you feel this way then you should say something, I probably wouldn't have done it, quite frankly. Because again, as being a woman of color, I don't want that ... I think we're always kind of battling this line of ... I wouldn't even say as a woman of color, I think just people in the under-represented group in general, of trying to be like known for the work that you're doing versus known as I'm the loud-mouth female, or the loud-mouth person of color or intersectionality then that then becomes my brand. You know?
Brittany: I think at the end of the day, it's like the conversation needs to be started one way or another and whether it's asking the question during a public town hall to force the conversation, whether someone has a little bit of privilege that's in a leadership group can bring it up at one of their monthly meetings with the rest of the leadership.
Suzanne: Whatever they do in those ...
Brittany: Exactly, those off sites that sound fabulous, but who knows. Or even if it's just like making a continued effort with your boss to say like, "This really concerns me. I'm really frustrated about ... I'm seeing my peers or seeing what's happening in the news and I'm concerned. I want to know what my company is doing about this. What are we going to do for the people that this affects?" Even if you don't happen to be one of them, but it's something that you think about on a daily basis.
Suzanne: Yeah, I love that. I think there's another option, which we've surfaced here today, which was people can just email you directly.
Suzanne: You can take your Evangelism outside of Braintree on behalf of other organizations.
Brittany: I have a Twitter account but I don't use it. I will ... Feel free to ping me and I will tweet your boss.
Suzanne: That could be a whole new product.
Brittany: It could be a whole thing.
Suzanne: Tweet my boss. All right, folks you heard it here first in case anyone's gonna try to ... Just kidding. Idea is a multiplier of execution, you gotta do it well.
We do a segment here on the show called Get the Job, Learn the Job, Love the Job. What advice do you Brittany, have for a ... I'll frame it specific to your circumstance. What advice do you have to a developer who's listening in, who has themselves always felt a call to own a little bit more than just the programming piece, how can they break into product? Especially if they didn't get recruited by a company that made that opportunity available.
Brittany: Yeah. My first and biggest suggestion is just ask. Ask for opportunities. One of the developers on my team, I meet with him monthly to just talk about the PM stuff that I'm doing. It gives him better context from a developer perspective of like why I'm pushing for a day or why I changed requirements on this thing. If you as a developer are thinking this might be one of the things that you're interested in, talk to product managers. Maybe like once a month, take them to lunch for a span of six months to see what their day is like and understanding how things change for them over that time period.
Then tell your boss that, "Hey I would love to sit in on some sales calls if there's an opportunity," or shadow a PM for a day or so if that's the opportunity. I think it's also about just getting exposure and really seeing what the job is. Is this really interesting? Is this really what I want to do? Then if you can validate that, then take it to the next step, like ask for an associate role or ask for a little project to manage, a little feature to manage. I think as a developer you're in perfect position to see all of the stuff coming in and talk to your product person and say, "Is there something small that I could dig a little bit deeper into and understand more of the use case for?" I'm sure they would love the help.
Suzanne: Okay, got it. What about hard lessons learned? Was there ever a moment either in your own career or watching other, more junior product managers working their way up, if you will and putting that in parentheses, listeners. Where you think, "Oh, this is a pitfall. This is a place where people mess up because it's easy to forget, or it's easy to fall into this trap?"
Brittany: Yeah. I think the biggest thing that even happens to myself from time to time, even though I try to guard against it is when you're working on a very big thing, or even if you're very new to something and it takes let's say even two months to develop and push out there, of continuously reminding your stakeholders what it is that's happening. What it is that you're building. I think at the initial kickoff, everyone's all excited like, "Yeah, this is great, this is amazing! This is gonna be the perfect solve for the thing that we're trying to fix." Then two months later outside of status updates, just saying, "Yeah we're on track." One, don't forget all the details about it and two, things could've changed in those two months.
It could've been a slightly different pain point now, or it maybe it pivoted slightly but you weren't aware of it because you weren't necessarily reinforcing exactly what you were building over and over and over again. I've seen that issue here where we've built something or we've built something, released it. Let's say six months later and now, stakeholders are like, "What? This is not what I thought it was." You're like, "But I got your buy in. I did what I was supposed to do. I got your buy in. I updated you on the progress of things. You got to test it and why are you so confused now?"
Brittany: Sometimes, I don't think we ... There's like a specific solve for it but I think it's maybe more about like I mentioned before of just periodically starting from scratch again with them. Reminding them the full extent of things and making them turn off their phones and their computers to focus on it.
Suzanne: Right, the distracted executive piece. I'm pulling you into this room and reminding you we're building this.
Brittany: In this way. In this specific way and this is how people are going to use it. I think everyone can remember the use case of why we're building it but not always the implementation details. That seems to trip people up, six months, eight months, 12 months later.
Suzanne: Right, good advice. What do you love about this? You found your home in product management, it sounds like. You finally getting enough. What is it that you love so much about this job?
Brittany: I love solving problems. At the end of the day, the core of me will probably always be like that engineer who wants to solve a problem. I love that I can do it and not only in a very logical way but in a creative way. I love, I think what keeps me coming back is seeing someone use it. Once you spend all of this time of planning and comparing and contrasting features and prioritizing and working with stakeholders and all of that. You can see someone intuitively use the thing that you've built, like there's nothing like that. There's nothing better.
Suzanne: Right. What about ... Do you have any recommended resources for folks listening in that you think are just like, if you haven't read this book, read this book. If you don't know this podcast, listen to this podcast.
Brittany: I wish I did. I think the only book that comes to mind that I personally received at one of Paypal’s Leadership Summits was a book called, What Got You Here Will Get You There.
Brittany: I wish I could tell you the author of it.
Suzanne: I could backfill that for you.
Brittany: Right. I think that's a great book because I think the title says it all. It's all of the things that got you to that new promotion, to that new job is like to get you to that point in time. There are additional skills that you just need to be aware of to get you, if you want to, to the ... Everyone wants to continually move up this corporate ladder, but if that is one of your goals, to think about it and to use the next time, the next X amount of months or years to really make sure you have an opportunity to do those things that'll get you to where you want to be at the end of the day.
Suzanne: Some people just want to get off the corporate ladder. Some people aren't looking to get up, they're looking to leap off.
Brittany: To leave, to leave. Those take a whole other set of skills. You want to open your own business or you just want to call it a day.
Suzanne: Either way, what got you here will get you there.
Suzanne: I think it's equally true for product as well, especially as your product moves through the life cycle. What worked at early stage, won't work at maturity.
Brittany: Right, absolutely.
Suzanne: What about a personal mantra or philosophy that you use to guide yourself in the world, to guide yourself here at work, something you want to share with us?
Brittany: Yeah. What I tell myself and this is actually like the screensaver on my computer is, "Remember why you do it." I think we can at times, get so bogged down on the day to day. Someone's screaming about this and development's off schedule and whatever it is, I use this both for the diversity stuff that I work on, which can be emotionally taxing. A lot of [tape 00:59:13] to get the types of things that you want implemented. At the end of the day it's when I'm able to see the fact that we were able to donate money to this racial literacy group for these teenagers who are creating a text book on how to talk about this for high schools. I'm able to see in the product that I'm building and the usability test that customers are like, "Oh yeah, this is super simple." And they got it in less steps and with less direction than I expected. That's why we do it, right? That's why we put all this effort in and why we stress about it internally and why we are fighting to get the right thing done is because at the end of the day, it just puts a smile on your face.
Suzanne: Remember why I do it. Brittany Canty, thank you so much for being a part of our project. It was great talking with you.
Brittany: Thank you. Yeah, same here.