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Branching Out Your Skillset as a Junior

Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Juniors

17 June, 2021

Rachel Wasko
Rachel Wasko

Product Manager at Lyft

Rachel Wasko, Growth Product Manager at Lyft, is always looking for new ways to supplement her knowledge as a PM with parallel skillsets that strengthen what she already brings to the table. She encourages her reports to do the same, never shying away from learning something new.

Problem

A piece of advice that I find myself giving: instead of focusing on which career ladder a junior should follow, I tell them that instead, they should just focus on learning continuously. I try to help my juniors think through this aspect of planning their futures: changing their perspectives about their careers and helping them to figure out what they would like to learn next. The opportunities are right there for them.

If you change your perspective, you can unlock a lot of different things in your path. My controversial opinion is that a professional should never narrow their interests down to one area or another. You can always weave new things in and grab new opportunities from different places without limiting yourself to a specific label.

Actions taken

People won’t tell you to stay in your lane when you’re adding value. I think that’s sort of a mental block that a lot of people have. People worry about stepping on other peoples’ toes.

If you come at it from a collaborative perspective, if you’re honestly curious and that comes across, you can communicate with your boss or to a peer knowing that you will almost never hear something negative in response. If I dabble in the work of another department as a manager, I can help the other team because everything in a company goes hand in hand. You just have to manage your own energy.

When I decided to focus on learning, I realized that there are a couple of different phases. One thing that took me a really long time to learn was storytelling — how do you create a really great deck? What are the pieces that are important? I took some time to learn more. I could have been focused more specifically on moving up in the career ladder in front of me, but I knew that if I focused on doing this other thing well, pushing myself forward, it would shine through my other work.

When I was in ops, I didn’t know how to ship anything. Then, I moved into Product and learned that skill there. For me, it’s about finding a professional theme and little tasks that I know are part of being good at what I am expected to do within that theme. I practice these things over and over. Some of these things, I was not good at naturally. I really had to work at them.

The execution and process-focused skills that I possessed, an area in which I was more naturally-talented, became reinforced through these lessons. You need to be good at storytelling, or you will never get to the execution phase in the first place. Because I became better in this other area, I became better at producing these new product ideas and earned more trust from others as a result. They saw that I was putting in the work to make sure that we were building the right thing.

Lessons learned

  • Deciding what you would like to get better at is a very personal decision. Everybody comes to the table with different skills to offer. Observing others and identifying the things that they do well may show you what really interests you in the long term. From there, you can figure out your own learning plan.
  • For some juniors, it can be easy to over-index on learning. Sometimes, they may not realize when they are taking on too much.
  • You don’t have to do any of this alone. Talking to a mentor is a great way to do it. Write it out. Set goals.

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