Skip to main content

Craig Kerstiens

Top 5 Product and Management skills: SQL, Excel, Clear Communication, Story, Prioritization

A few months ago there was a tweet from @jasoncwarner about leadership skills/super powers:

  • SQL
  • Excel
  • Concise writing
  • Story telling
  • Prioritization.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in product management roles, and in recent years more in leadership. I’ve found a lot of the skills in product to translate into good leadership skills as well, but maybe I’m bluring the lines there. Regardless, with his 5 skills I found myself nodding and have written about each of these some on my blog and then at times on twitter. He long since deleted the tweet, and while I wait for him to republish I thought I’d reprise a few of these with my own view point.

Exploring a new Postgres database

At past jobs I’d estimate we had 100 different production apps that in some way were powering key production systems. Sure some were backend/internal apps while others key production apps such as the dashboard itself. At other companies we had a smaller handful of Heroku apps that powered our cloud service, about 5-10 in total. Even just working with those internal apps it’s a number of things to keep context on. But when it comes to interacting with something you don’t know getting a lay of the land quickly is key. In helping a customer optimize and tune, or even just understand what is going on in their app an understanding of the data model is key.

As I just started a few months back at Crunchy Data I found myself digging into a lot of new systems and quickly trying to ramp up and get a feel for them.

Spokesperson certification

One of my most fascinating work experiences was going through the spokesperson certification process at a large tech co. This isn’t some rubber stamp virtual training to not use profanity on stage type training. This is the training they would give to any executive before you were greenlit to talk to press. When I say press I mean Techcrunch, but also Bloomberg, or Jim Cramer, or any major big brand news outlet.

As a product manager over a specific product line I knew my product well. Put me in front of an unhappy customer and I could lay out our roadmap, listen to their questions, take product input, and get them to a happy place. But this wasn’t about my product (only). A person with the spokesperson stamp could be asked any question about an entirely other area fo the company. You had to know every recent product launch, all the key metrics, know where traps may lie, and you had to land the core company messages in addition to the ones you cared about. To study you received about 100 pages of a powerpoint presentation that had key releases from each product, key numbers, customer stories.

Lessons from college: Efficient meetings

I think back to my time in college, and I learned some valuable things. I also learned some incredibly worthless things (i.e. don’t flip a car upside down and then backover… it’ll break the axle so you can’t roll it). Even in classes… the basic approach to a supply/demand curve to maximize profit is cute when done in a classroom vs. the complexities of how things actually work… I mean I get the idea behind it, but what you learn is so far being able to be translated into being usable. But what surprises me looking back was a couple of skills around running meetings that I find so rare in the workplace that have immense value.

I’ve always been fascinated at the intersection of business and technology. I’d been coding for a long time before college, and while interesting it was also a means to an end. When you combine technology with business you can solve things in entirely new and valuable ways. My major was management information systems, and all folks in my program came out with a computer science minor in addition to their business degree–something pretty rare for more MIS majors in other programs and well generally for anyone coming out of a business school. Perhaps I’ll get into the value of CS training even if you aren’t looking for a CS job some other time.

Within the program we would have a senior project that was actually a real world project for one of the large companies that sponsored part of the program. We’d have monthly reviews with the company stake holder. We’d also have weekly meetings, these were especially well run. There were really 3 items that made them especially efficient.

An interview on what makes Postgres unique (extensions)

I’ve been at dinners before with developers that admitted developers, themselves included, can be a bit opinionated. In one case one said for example, “I love Postgres, but I have no idea why.” They were sitting at the wrong table to use Postgres as an example… But it is quite often that I am asked Why Postgres.

In fact a little over a year ago good friend Dimitri Fontaine asked if he could interview me for a book he’s working on for Postgres. I’ve long said their is a shortage of good books about Postgres and he’s done a great job with his in providing a guide targetted at developers, not just DBAs, that want to become better with their database. What follows is the excerpt of the interview from the book. And if you’re interested in picking up a copy he was friendly enough to share a discount code you can find below.

Interesting Upcoming pgDays

I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the years. PgConf EU, PostgresOpen, too many pgDays to count, and even more none Postgres conferences (OSCON, Strangeloop, Railsconf, PyCon, LessConf, and many more). I’ve always found Postgres conferences one of the best places to get training and learn about what’s new with Postgres (in addition to Dimitri’s recent book, more on that below). They’re my regular stop to catch up on all the new features of a release before it comes out, and often there is a talk highlighting what is new with a simple easy to understand summary once released.

I just got back from PGConf EU a little over a week ago and it was a great time. I’m sure we’ll see some rundowns of it start appearing on Postgres planet. But, as far as I’m concerned PGConf EU is in the past (unless your counting next year which is in Berlin-in which case I’ll see you there). For me it’s time to look to the future and there are a number of upcoming pgDays I’m looking forward to.

Guidance for conducting offsites

Offsites an invaluable tool in getting a team aligned. I’ve been a part of organizations where offsites never happened, and then when they happened at a regular interval. Just because offsites happened it didn’t mean they had the same significant impact to alignment and ability to execute moving forward. What follows is a few key principles around conducting an impactful offsite.

The Engineering Manager/Product Manager Marriage

I’ve worked as a PM at a number of size companies for a few years now. At a startup and then as a part of a larger company once startups were acquired. I’ve been the first PM for a team as well as first for a company. I’ve written at times about product management, and today I’d like to drill into one aspect that doesn’t seem to get talked about enough and that is the pairing of product manager and engineering manager.

Come over for dinner

When I first moved to the Bay area I was fresh out of grad school. I was frequently heading out to dinner or to happy hour after work with colleagues. I was young and single, so why not of course. As time passed, marriage, kids, etc. the ability to go out for a quick drink or dinner was competing with various priorities. Dinner and drinks with co-workers was always a great time. It wasn’t just about hanging out, it built rapport and trust which I found made me a more effective teammate and product manager. It was about 8 years ago that I started to implement a variation of heading out for dinner and drinks.

I started inviting people over for dinner.

Talking on the phone: better communication

I interact with a lot of people in a given week, a few in person and far more on video and conference calls. I don’t claim to be a perfect person to talk to on the phone, but over the past several years I’ve noticed how painful some conference call experiences can be. As more and more work is conducted virtually and not face to face an ability to do communicate well on conference/voice calls is tied to what success you can deliver. It isn’t about having a fancy phone or high bandwidth video call–though that can at times be useful