When Things Fall Into Place

Sreeraksha Kondaji Ramesh, Product Management Academy 

Sree

I grew up in India and did my undergrad in Electronics and Communication engineering. I moved to the U.S. after graduating to pursue a master’s degree program in Electrical Engineering. I have always been fascinated with building things, and I began my career as an FPGA/ASIC design engineer. After a few years of doing that, what I realized was that while I enjoyed working on complex engineering problems, I also wanted to learn more about the business and customer-related aspects such as – why are we building this product? What customer problem are we trying to solve? Etc. To get exposure to these aspects, I decided to enroll in an MBA program at Dartmouth College. Through my MBA, I got exposed to a variety of different career paths and met people across various industries. But after doing two product management internships, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in product management –  I loved the fact that no two days are ever alike for a product manager (PM) and that there are always new things to learn. I also realized that I liked working at the intersection of business and technology problems. 

It is interesting how I ended up at Palo Alto Networks. I had heard about how dynamic the cybersecurity space is, and I started looking into opportunities in the field. I came across a career posting for an early-in-career PM at Palo Alto Networks and decided to reach out to a few PM leaders in the company to learn more about the role. I sent a LinkedIn InMail to a Director of Product Management who in turn put me in touch with the hiring team. Things moved quickly from there, and within two weeks, I had an offer to join the company’s accelerated rotational product management program (Product Management Academy – PMA). It’s been a year since I joined Palo Alto Networks, and looking back, I believe it was meant to be. When you’ve found the right fit, things fall into place. 

Reflecting on the last year

It’s incredible how quickly the time has flown by since I joined the program, yet I also feel I’ve gotten the opportunity to do so much in just a short time. During my first year at Palo Alto Networks, I focussed on building a Telemetry platform that helps our customers maximize the benefits they enjoy from the products and services that Palo Alto Networks delivers. As part of this, I got exposed to a lot of different aspects of being a PM such as working with UX and engineering teams to build a product, collaborating with marketing on positioning it, and creating field enablement content.

My most significant areas of growth through the year have been in developing critical thinking and soft skills. As someone who came from an engineering background, one of the learnings for me through the PM journey has been to become comfortable navigating through ambiguity. Because as a PM, you are discovering what is the real problem for the customers and then finding ways to solve it  – so there is no set path to follow here. I learned how to go about breaking down large ambiguous problems into smaller consumable parts, how to validate assumptions for each of those parts, and figure out a way forward. Over the last year, I have also become comfortable acknowledging that “I don’t know something, but I will figure it out.” As a PM, there will be new things coming up, and there are going to be some areas that I know nothing about. It’s okay to acknowledge that and learn. That is where I think having a growth mindset helps!

Through the PMA program, I have also had a lot of opportunities to learn from senior leaders in the company. For example, we have had discussions with leaders on what are some best practices for developing a pricing strategy or aligning product development with go-to-market. And these discussions help me expand my horizon and learn from experts who have years of experience in these fields. To me, these learning opportunities are one of the biggest benefits of being in the PMA program. There is no straight path to becoming a successful PM – it is about learning best practices along the way and working on applying them, and the PMA program helps accelerate that learning. I also enjoy the diversity of our PMA cohort — we’re a small group, and all of us come from different backgrounds, but that means each of us brings something unique to the table, which makes for more robust interactions and innovation. We are always bouncing ideas off each other. Being able to share experiences and knowledge that way gives us a bird’s eye view of what’s happening across the company and helps us see how all these different products are stitched together in a much deeper way than we realized. 

The PMA program is a rotational program, with our second year pushing us to challenge ourselves more and drive more significant impact. I am excited to see what the next year brings! Because Palo Alto Networks is continually evolving and growing, I don’t think there will ever be a time when I’m not learning at this company.  I think as a PM, you want to be in a place where you’re looking on the horizon and seeing new things happening. I feel I have that here.