Rebecca Varnhagen found a career in product management through a windy path.
There was her pre-med major, where she quickly realized she got “really queasy around medical stuff” and switched from biological engineering to operations research.
There was her engineering internship at a large tech company, where she was placed on a data-oriented team, felt lost in a sea of Computer Science majors, vowed that the “big fish, small pond” was the better model for her, and decided to look at smaller startup companies after graduation.
“I cared most about finding a role I could give my all and excel at, on a team I wanted to work with every day, and figured a startup would give me that opportunity.”
Rebecca’s transition to a smaller tech company started with a role in client solutions, which quickly grew into a product role.
When it came time to switch companies to pursue stronger growth opportunities, she took a role in product management at SeatGeek.
Now, five years later, Rebecca works as the ticketing platform’s Group Product Manager. She’s taken on people management and strategic product management responsibilities, and is confident she’s found a company that will support and enable the next phase of her career growth.
We sat down with Rebecca to hear more about her career journey—especially about how she’s found the transition from individual contributor to manager, and what advice she has for other professionals looking to do the same.
The Importance of Translation
Rebecca’s first product-adjacent job was when she worked in client solutions. Her role was to understand how clients wanted to use her company’s platform, then communicate that to the engineers who worked on it.
“It was part strategy, part technical, where I found myself having to translate between business and technical teams by connecting the business reasoning to the product change,” she says. “Like I get that you want that button to be pink—but why?”
A major responsibility of hers was figuring out which changes could or should be “one-offs” and which should be built into the platform as a whole. Demonstrating her capability to make those types of decisions led to Rebeca getting an offer to join the product team, where she found natural affinities with her experience doing operations research as an undergrad.
“I’ve always loved solving problems,” she says. “Switching over to the product side was about solving problems agnostic of any one of our clients, and thinking more broadly about the target market and the addressable client base.”
Even now, problem solving is a key part of her job—and one of the skills she is excited to pass on to her direct reports and mentees.
Finding a New Problem Space
When it came time to leave her last company, Rebecca knew she wanted three things:
- A new problem to solve and a new product she felt connected to
- A larger product management and technology team, so she could learn from others and start teaching them, too
- A collaborative, friendly culture
She was connected to a hiring manager at SeatGeek and immediately found all of those things.
“I had a connection with our product, which helps get people off their phones and couches, to experience the magic of live events with other people,” she says. “And when I met the people at SeatGeek in interviews, I could tell that it would be really easy to work together, and that I could really learn and grow here.”
So that’s two of her three criteria met. But as she found out her first week on the job, she was bought in on the SeatGeek community, too.
Rebecca attended what was then the in-person Friday happy hour for the product team. Here’s how she remembers it:
“My first time there, the room had people sitting on all of the chairs but also standing up against the walls. It was clear that this team used to be small enough to sit at a single table, yet it had grown to ‘standing room’ and I loved that. It still felt like everyone knew each other and actually wanted to stick around the office at 5 p.m. on a Friday to have a drink with their team. That was when I knew I could see myself there for a while.”
Growing in Scope—And Learning Along the Way
After Rebecca’s first few years on the job, she started thinking about how to grow her team to support the increasing scope of the product.
“I had to push myself to think about the longer term. Instead of just planning the next few sprints or the next quarter, how do I think about what I want this product to be in a few years and what kind of team I need to support that growth?” she says.
That was a useful skill to apply in the early days of the pandemic, when the future of a ticketing platform for in-person events was up in the air. Now that we’re beginning to imagine a post-COVID—or a coexisting-alongside-COVID world, says Rebecca—those strategic decisions have become even more important.
“For instance, do we build an integration with health pass providers, so you could sign in and link your COVID test results to your profile? Or does that only make sense for the next six months and not long-term?” she asks.
While navigating those changes, Rebecca’s team kept growing. She moved from the senior product manager level, where she was mentoring an associate PM (APM), to becoming that APM’s official manager. When that went well, and the demands on her team increased, she added more people to the team, and now manages several APMs across her group.
And she’s still learning how to do it well, Rebecca says.
“My biggest concern [when I became a manager] was that I would be bad at it, but then I realized a lot of the job is just genuinely caring about your direct reports’ growth and development, and putting in the time to help them. Then you’re doing everything that you can,” she says.
8 Tips for New Managers
Once she overcame the fear of failure as a manager, says Rebecca, she got excited about learning new ways to grow in the position. And for anyone else who finds themselves eager, but unsure how to manage others effectively and with care, she has a few tips to share:
- Management doesn’t only happen in one-on-ones. “It’s time spent outside of one-on-ones where you’re thinking about how you can give them opportunities for growth—with guardrails, so that they’re failing safely and not impacting the goals for your team—and when you’re advocating for them, and making sure their work is well-recognized even when they are not in the room,” she explains.
- Always consider context. “Broadcast the context that you want people to have when making decisions, whether that’s top-level company priorities or a product vision. Remember we’re all running a million miles a minute and people absorb information in different ways, so it’s important to reinforce the direction through repetition,” she says.
- Hiring is a complex problem. It’s not just knowing when you need to hire someone, says Rebecca. Hiring well also requires team design thinking—identifying what the team needs, matching complementary skill sets, and managing different personalities.
- First performance review cycle? Lean on what you learned doing peer reviews. “Recognizing the skillsets of others, what they’re doing well and what they need to develop, is a critical skill as a manager,” she says. “From day one, you’re expected to be giving your direct reports feedback and coaching. Use the time before you hire your first team member to hone this skill through peer reviews.”
- Be patient! “Managing is an entirely different job, and you’re doing it for the first time…while you’re probably doing your old job, too!” says Rebecca. “You need to give yourself some time to get used to it, and then be good at it.”
- When managing your replacement, give them space. “They’re not going to necessarily do things the way that you did. Focus on setting expectations for outcomes, then figuring out how that person likes to work and how you can coach them within their own working style,” she explains.
- If you tend to be hard on yourself, make sure you remember to celebrate your team’s accomplishments. “It wasn’t natural for me to celebrate my own contributions, so it didn’t come naturally to recognize those of my direct reports. But it’s incredibly important to do so,” she says. “Positive reinforcement shows your team members they’re valued and helps them recognize that their work is having an impact.”
- When managing PMs specifically, it’s important to convey that they’ll never check every box. “That’s just not how product management works,” says Rebecca. “You’re never going to be great at everything. So you need to help your direct reports get to that realization themselves and hone their superpowers.”
💎Want to implement change in your team or organization? Watch the video to the end to do it successfully.
📼 To implement change you need to follow certain steps. Play this video to get three top tips on how to do it the best possible way. You'll hear from Kyle Lisboa, Support Operations Manager at Esri, who shares her experience with you!
📼Why implement change? Tip #1: Identify the reason. Think about the business reason for the change. If you understand why change is needed, it helps you explain it to others. Avoid making change for change's sake and implement solutions that solve problems.
📼Plan to implement change! Tip #2: Develop a plan. Create a detailed plan to help implement the change. If you create steps and timelines, this will guide the process. It also helps others understand how you are progressing towards the implementation and what the next steps are.
To Implement Change You Need Others - Tip #3: Seek Feedback
Gather feedback from those affected before, during, and after any changes are implemented. Allowing others to provide their feedback helps to create an inclusive atmosphere where everyone feels part of the solution.
📨 Are you interested in joining Esri? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Kyle Lisboa
Kyle is an experienced Strategic Operations Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the computer software industry. She’s skilled in Arcgis Products, Databases, Management, Geography, and Cartography. If you are interested in a career at Esri, you can connect with her on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Esri
At Esri, they build cutting-edge geographic information system (GIS) technology that customers use to solve the world’s most complex challenges: slowing climate change, stamping out disease, designing a better city, fighting crime, and much more. Their ArcGIS software is helping communities around the globe respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by monitoring the surge, managing testing sites, aiding essential workers in finding childcare, mapping food and essentials, and keeping residents informed and safe.
Nearly 80% of workers want to work for a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, per a CNBC survey.
But how do prospective employees — and, for that matter, current ones — know whether an organization takes diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) seriously?
Metrics can help.
What are DEI metrics?
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging metrics are measurements of how a company is doing against its stated DEIB goals. They help track progress, light up problems, synthesize momentum over time, prioritize investment, and allow a company and its employees to have accountability over DEIB intentions.
How can DEI metrics help my overall DEI strategy?
Creating a DEIB strategy is the first step in making your workplace more equitable. But having DEI metrics is a vital second step in ensuring that progress happens.
DEI metrics help a company actualize their strategy, live out their values, meet employee expectations, and make the workplace more fair for all employees.
10 examples of DEI metrics
1. Hiring: the diversity of your candidate pipeline.
How diverse is your applicant pool? Have your candidates self-identify and track what representation looks like in your candidate system.
2. Representation: the demographics of your current employees.
Many companies put pressure on their new hires to make up for gaps in their existing employee population — so make sure you’re benchmarking against data on what your current workforce is made up of.
3. Representation: the demographics of your leadership team.
People need to see that there is a path for success for people who look like them at your organization. What does the makeup of your board look like? Your directors? Your managers? And what does the promotion pipeline look like into those roles?
4. Representation: the demographics of your suppliers.
The money that you spend can significantly impact communities around you — so you should be measuring whether you’re doing that in a way that challenges bias and champions equitable treatment.
5. HR systems: pay equity.
Do all employees, regardless of gender or race, make the same amount of money if they’re doing the same job? If not, what’s your gender / race pay gap and how quickly are you closing it?
6. Employee experience: HR issues.
It’s important to track wins when it comes to DEIB, but it’s also vital to track times when your organization falls short. How many HR / People issues related to DEIB, including allegations of unfair treatment or bias, has your organization dealt with in the past year? What was the result of them? How quickly did issues get resolved? These metrics are key to know.
7. Employee experience: satisfaction with DEI progress.
When you send out employee satisfaction surveys, make sure you include questions on how employees perceive your current progress on DEI goals. They’re the ones most impacted by your strategy — and their opinion matters.
8. Employee engagement: participation in communication platforms.
How often do employees participate in Slack? What about by-channel participation? Looking at data on who talks to who and when can help highlight issues with inclusion or culture. Some companies are using AI-enabled text analysis tools to look for signs of frustration or for problematic language.
9. Employee participation: ERG membership.
Employee resource groups can be hugely helpful in creating community around different identities, interests, and demographics. They can also provide guidance on how to actualize your organization’s DEIB goals. (Which is part of the reason you should pay ERG leaders for their efforts, but that’s a topic for a different blog.)
10. Brand reputation: customer perception.
We’ve talked about key groups for whom DEIB metrics matter — prospective employees, current employees, leadership — but they matter to your customers, too. Whether you add a DEIB component to your existing NPS process, conduct 1:1 customer interviews, or get feedback some other way, it’s important to see whether your customer base is seeing progress on your DEIB goals, too.
Have you ever been so exhausted that you quit your job?
You may have been experiencing burnout.
Burnout is characterized by overwhelming exhaustion, detachment from your work, and a sense of ineffectiveness.
And while anyone can experience burnout, if you have ADHD, you may be more susceptible to it.
Before you get to the point where quitting feels like your only option, there are steps you can take to set healthy boundaries and start feeling more like yourself again. Read on to learn how you can recognize burnout in yourself, and what to do if you’re experiencing it!
How Does ADHD Burnout Feel?
There are some clear signs that you’re burning out, but ADHD can make the descent to burnout harder to detect. These warning signs include:
- Lack of motivation - not wanting to do the things you need to do or the things you love.
- Exhaustion - feeling overly tired both mentally and physically.
- Irritability and mental fatigue - feeling short-tempered, mean, or like you snap easily.
- Physical discomfort - body aches, low energy levels, and general pain.
- Negative outlook - the tendency to find something wrong with nearly everything.
- Emotional dysregulation - feeling weepy, sad, or unable to smile or connect with others.
Generally, burnout starts with taking on too much. Exhaustion creeps in, and you feel like every day is working against you because you are constantly overwhelmed. You may start to feel like the entire world is spinning out of control, or like no matter what you do you can’t keep up (or catch up).
If this resonates with you, you might be on the road to ADHD burnout.
Why People with ADHD Can Be More Susceptible to Burnout
So why does ADHD make some folks more susceptible to burnout? There are a few common ADHD traits that often result in behaviors correlated with burnout (taking on too much, working too long, etc.):
- Hyperfocus - ADHD is not exclusively about attention deficits. In fact, hyperfocus is the opposite – a deep, intense concentration to the point of being oblivious to your surroundings. Per WebMD, hyperfocus is a state of highly-focused attention that lasts for an extended period of time. You concentrate on something so hard that you lose track of everything else going on around you. When hyperfocus sets in at work, it can be hard to unplug or be aware of the people and environment around you.
- Time Tracking - Losing track of time is one thing, but if you find yourself losing track of hours without realizing it, that could be related to burnout. People with ADHD perceive time not as a sequence of events the way others usually do, but as a diffuse collection of events viscerally connected to the people, activities, and emotions that fill them.
- Difficulty Prioritizing - Do you take on too much and then struggle to prioritize it? When someone asks for help, does everything often go to the wayside so you can jump in? Or maybe the daunting anticipation of the tasks ahead prevents you from starting. Per ADDitude, ADHD impacts your temporal processing abilities, which can affect executive functioning.
Combating ADHD Burnout
If you think you may be suffering from ADHD burnout, there are a few ways to take back control. Here are three tips for combating ADHD burnout:
Reserve Your Yeses - Pump the brakes when you recognize the early signs of ADHD burnout. Start reserving your yeses right away. Say no, and practice not apologizing. It is okay to say, "I have a lot on my plate right now and cannot take that on. Thanks for thinking of me." Saying no is nothing to apologize for, and it should be celebrated! You are working to protect your energy above all else.
Practice Over-Estimating - If you think you could knock something out in a day, give yourself a week. Overestimate on time and allow yourself the grace to have a little more time than usual to complete projects. Slowing down when starting a new job or role will help you produce high-quality work and prevent ADHD burnout.
Drop the Mask - Be honest with your employer and friends. Let them know that although you seem to keep up internally, you struggle. Identifying ADHD burnout from the outside can be extremely difficult. Your honesty and transparency will position you to determine if your environment is supportive and inclusive.
How to Support Colleagues Dealing with ADHD Burnout
The experiences above may not resonate with you personally, but perhaps you’ve noticed other people you work with describe or experience them.
If you’re a manager, there are several ways you can support colleagues with ADHD (as well as neurodivergent employees more generally) to help prevent burnout. Ask for clarity on when they have felt the most supported at work. Discovery questions like, “how did you feel at that time?” or “how was the pace of that project?” can help you to understand their actual capacity.Download this free guide if you’re looking for more ways to support your neurodivergent coworkers. Work with your DEIB and HR team to develop new neurodivergent inclusivity standards to help you stay ahead of the ADHD burnout cycle.
💎Worried about bias in the workplace? Watch the video to the end to find out how to reduce it!
📼Avoiding bias in the workplace requires a lot of effort. Play this video to get three top tips that will help you. You'll hear from Ben Lopez, Talent Acquisition Manager for EMEA at Workiva, who shares advice on how to create a more fair, equitable environment where everyone feels welcome and has a seat at the table.
📼Acknowledging bias in the workplace is the starting point. Tip #1: Recognize Bias. Take the time to recognize your own bias. Both conscious and unconscious. And look out for bias within teams and among peers. Work together to understand how you can all avoid each of those biases that you may encounter.
📼Avoid sneaky bias in the workplace! Tip #2: Rely on a structured process. Whether it's about interviewing, promotions, or performance reviews, relying on a consistent, fair, and objective process will help guard against bias. Document the process to keep both you and your peers accountable. And when it comes to interviewing, work with your peers and other participants to define clear questions and objectives to cover with each candidate.
Reduce Bias In The Workplace By Knowing Different People - Tip #3: Widen Your Network
Don't always engage with the same people. Widen your internal network, and interact with different teams, and different departments. Get to know those with different life experiences, different academic backgrounds, and different work experiences. Understanding those who are different from us allows us to be more empathetic and create an environment where we all feel a sense of belonging.
📨 Are you interested in joining Workiva? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Ben Lopez
With a robust background in recruitment, Ben is an agile and well-networked talent acquisition leader. He’s been recruiting high-caliber talent around the globe for 15 years, spanning SaaS software, professional services, oil & gas, and healthcare across four continents. If you are interested in a career at Workiva, you can connect with Ben Lopez on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Workiva
Workiva was founded to transform the way people manage and report business data with various collaborators, data sources, documents, and spreadsheets. Today, people all over the world use their platform to seamlessly orchestrate data among their systems and applications for transparent and trusted connected reporting and compliance. At Workiva, they are innovative in everything they do—from how they build their software, to how they serve their customers, to how they treat their employees.