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Interview with ProductBC President, Timothy Yeung

Our Head of Executive Search, Heidi Ram, recently sat down with Timothy Yeung, an Associate Director of Product & President of ProductBC to discuss all things product, product careers, and Vancouver: 

Video Transcript

 

Heidi:

Hello. Welcome. I'm just so thankful that you have made time to meet with me today, thank you so much.

 

Timothy:

You're most welcome. Thank you for making time to meet with me today as well. I’ve been looking forward to this chat.

 

Heidi:

So, we're based in Toronto and we do a lot of work with product teams across Canada. I love talking with people on the West Coast because I find that people who live on the West Coast (whether in Canada or the US) are somehow living the life that we all dream about. 

Maybe a little bit more balanced, that great outdoor lifestyle. Are you skiing on the weekends and then surfing during the week? Is that what your lifestyle includes in Vancouver?

 

Timothy:

I wish that was the exact portrayal of my life here but I'm sure that's an option for a lot of people given our proximity to both the waters and the mountains. But I don't have time to do both on a consistent, regular basis. I do like to snowboard and go on a ski trip to Whistler Mountains or even do night skiing in one of the local mountains, like Seymour and Cypress. 

It’s one of the major advantages of living on the West Coast. More precisely, in this case, Vancouver or like some people like to call it “Raincouver”, especially as we go into the winter season.

 

Heidi:

For sure. So, I'd love to know, what do you do? Where are you working right now and what are you doing there?

 

Timothy:

I'm currently an Associate Director of Product at EY leading the Product Management function for this team called the Regional Tech Hub Canada team. 

So, a lot of people know EY as one of the Big Four accounting and consulting firms.

While that is true, over the past few years, EY has invested heavily into technology, precisely a billion USD over the course of three, four years. And there's a new department and team that have been created called Client Technology, which essentially builds technology capability in products for both internal and external clients.

As part of that initiative, about two, three years ago, we also created these local teams called Regional Tech Hubs to become like a technology concierge. Their role is to help with the adoption, implementation, and development of products that are localized for marketing or the different regions that EY operates in. EY operates in over a hundred countries, so there are specific areas in countries like Canada, where we have these local teams who are available to help our partners both internal and external in Canada, every step of the way.

 

Heidi:

I love how product management is so transferable and a function that all organizations recognize the value of and apply to their businesses. So whether you are a large enterprise, like a bank or a telecommunications company, or a tier one consultancy service provider, there is room for product management in the business everywhere. 

I'd love to know your opinion on how product is different from where you are today than some of the other experiences that you've had. Because you've got an interesting background where you've worked with startups and been a part of a startup ecosystem, including being on the boards of some companies and then working for a brand like Telus. How is it different where you are today from some of these other companies?

 

Timothy:

So product management as a function is relatively young at EY compared to some other organizations like Telus Digital. 

Telus Digital is a part of Telus that manages, builds, and maintains the digital assets for Telus. It was established back in 2012. It has about eight, nine years of experience running the teams, mastering and fine-tuning the product management practices, whereas at EY, we always had Product Managers but in terms of officially building out that function, having a community of practice, and building a center of excellence for product management, these all happen in more recent three, four years. 

Depending on which development teams and departments you're in at EY; I would say, some teams are still trying to shift from agile project management into product management. In product management, our focus is really on the discovery of customer value. A lot of people like to use the analogy of delivering the right product and building it right. Product management, in my opinion, would be quite heavily focused on building the right product part of the puzzle. 

Whereas right now, with our current practices, we're trying to balance out between spending enough effort and time for Product Managers to be focused on delivering the right product and delivering it in itself. But more importantly, figuring out the right problems to solve and finding the right solutions and properly speccing out what kind of products should we be building, strategically. 

How that aligns with the organizational OKRs and department OKRs and making sure it aligns with the goals and objectives our clients are trying to achieve. There is still room for growth but there are definitely pros and cons. 

One of the things that have been very helpful is the attention, the investment that technology has been getting at EY and correspondingly we're building out a lot of exciting programs like the PMX program, which is the Product Manager Experience Program, where we're transforming how Product Managers use tooling. We have a consolidated place for a lot of the frameworks, tools, and resources Product Managers use on a daily basis. It’s a work in progress, but definitely moving towards the right direction.

 

Heidi:

That's exciting to hear! Some of what you just shared really resonates with me in that we had a call as recently as this morning, our Principal and I with a very large client, who's engaged us and similar to EY, they are a large global entity. 

When they were sharing some of their struggles around trying to figure out how to build and scale some of their product teams, they said that so many individuals out there who they might typically have hired in the past are attracted to how large and successful of a brand they are, but they don't come with the agile more experimental environment. 

A product environment where you're experimenting and iterating and rapidly prototyping and trying to get to something fairly quickly. I found that really interesting, that even big brands can sometimes struggle to hire the right type of product person at the right time for what they need done.

 

Timothy:

I believe that's also one of the reasons that we've set up these Regional Tech Hub teams in Canada because we do precisely what you were talking about there. 

We build products iteratively and we experiment a lot through research, A/B testing, multivariate testing, and all that. But we also do a lot of rapid prototyping and POCs (Proof of Concepts). Basically, any frameworks and methodologies that make sense for us to validate a hypothesis. That's the kind of mindset we want people to have as we recruit new team members and build out our team and build out our practice. Those are some of the main criteria that we're looking at.

 

Heidi:

The market is just crazy right now. It feels like whoever I'm talking with wherever they are in North America the war for talent is crazy. Individuals like candidates, people who are in the market are getting high numbers of reach-outs from recruiters or employers. We all hear about these big numbers out there that somebody got hired at, which are record-setting comp plans. 

What is it like in BC? Is it similar to where you are? Are there lots of openings, not enough talent, are people fighting for sort of the same profile of person? What are you seeing out there?

 

Timothy:

It's definitely an exciting time to be in tech, in BC as well. A lot of you might have heard about the amount of tech unicorns that started in BC and really built out the branding and names across the country. I would say, there’s a lot of opportunities. 

We also see that there is a lot of what I call, the redeployment of talents. Even for myself, a few years ago, I made the career switch to technology and product management. I was in a completely different field before, quite interesting, quite a niche, I was in estate planning. 

I was doing estate planning for a lot of high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth families in Canada – accordingly planning intergenerational wealth transfer and all that. A lot of my friends are either considering or have made switches into a technology career. 

The fascinating part about it is whether you are looking at product management or product development or design, there are always some transferable skills you can take from your previous career. Like engineers, they are wired to think logically. 

Product management has a lot of transferable skills like stakeholder management, communications, project management. In design, it’s having that creative mindset as well as an eye for design. Even a lot of my friends were in marketing and they're transitioning into UX and UI designs. There’s a lot of transferable skills. 

One more thing I find very interesting is, over the past few years, there's been a lot of talk around emerging technologies. It's all very interesting to hear about AI, ML, NLP, RPA, and all those capabilities. 

Over the past two, three years, especially in the BC market, we're starting to see these coming into realization, actually being deployed, actually being leveraged as capabilities for new products that are developed by both established companies, as well as newer startups, rather than just constantly being talked about blockchain and all that. 

So definitely the market is getting into a place where it is ready to hire a lot more talents who are specialists and subject matter experts, or at least folks who are interested in developing their craft in emerging technology areas. Even AI in itself, there are so many different kinds of ways of looking at it. Like deep learning, Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, and how all of those would integrate with the other technology components that you're using for developing products. They're fascinating.

 

Heidi:

Definitely. It's always neat to make some personal predictions on who's the one to watch or who's going to get the next round of funding or who might be the one who gets to be a unicorn.

Now, Timothy, you are also president of ProductBC. Tell us about that, what's ProductBC?

 

Timothy:

ProductBC is a nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to serving the local tech community by offering our members in our community access to high-quality events, programs, mentorship opportunities, and content so that they can grow as a community, get connected, build relationships and grow as product professionals. 

We're focused on promoting excellence in product and fostering those relationships whether you're in product management, product design, product marketing, product operations, you name it. Another very important focus that we have is to consistently do our part in removing systemic barriers to grow an inclusive product community right here in British Columbia and build partnerships across the ecosystems.

 

Heidi:

How did you get involved?

 

Timothy:

A few years ago, I started by joining a couple of meet-up events hosted by ProductBC. ProductBC was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2016 but has been meeting as a community for many, many years. 

I started by becoming a member, joining a few events, and found tons of value in the events and programs that were offered. Shortly after that, I started volunteering. Then, I was leading the marketing function in a volunteer capacity. One thing led to another, I joined the board in 2019 and have been serving as Board Chair since 2020. It’s been a very interesting opportunity and a privilege for me to have the opportunity to serve the community with my other board members and volunteers.

 

Heidi:

Now, with COVID having happened, what's your cadence for meeting now? I'm going to assume it's a digital platform?

 

Timothy:

In terms of the events we're hosting, we just hosted another event last night – completely virtual. We are planning for a very small-scale in-person event later this month, limited to under 20 people – following COVID protocols and requiring vaccination records and passports. Essentially, we're trying to figure out the new normal as well, a lot of workplaces are figuring out what's the new working model? What's the hybrid work model?

Similarly, not exactly the same, because folks don't join ProductBC events daily, we're trying to figure out the balance of, do we offer a hybrid model for a single event? Some folks join virtually, some folks join in-person? Or do we want to experiment, set a hypothesis or do some more in-person events to see if people are comfortable? 

We can start with a smaller group and then grow from there. Again, quoting your words earlier, using an iterative and experimental way of determining what's the new offering that we have for our members in this quote and quote new normal.

For our board meetings, we've been having them remotely for basically the past year and a half. But again, we are always looking for ways to make things better. We’ve explored so many different platforms for events, like Zoom, Hopin, and all that. We’re always looking through our NPS survey from our members to see if these platforms or mediums are working for them. Is there any room for improvement? What other options might we want to explore for the benefit of our company members?

 

Heidi:

It really is a bit of a journey for all of us. Special interest groups that we're a part of. 

Even for employers, as we talk with companies across North America. Most employers have a dream plan. We'd love everyone to be one or the other, either fully remote and we're just going with it or some have a vision around a hybrid situation – certain teams go in and others – it always surprises me – but there are those groups who still aspire to have everyone in an office. It's all over the place. 

Listening to employers and how they're processing this new normal, how they're trying to work smart while honoring how everyone is feeling about the situation. It's quite a fascinating time to be thinking about all of these things. We've never thought so much about location, even though now location shouldn't really matter, but we still are talking about location when it comes to hiring. 

It's a fascinating time for sure. I hope next year, one year from now, things will be a little bit more settled and normal and safer for everyone. That's my hope that we can get through this all.

 

Timothy:

Absolutely. I agree.

 

Heidi:

You've met a lot of product people in your role at ProductBC, you're a very active member of your community. What advice do you have for people who first want to make that move into product? Maybe they've been on the sidelines, maybe they're working for a technology company as an engineer or customer success or whatever their capacity is and they've been hearing so much about product that they think, “I want to get into product”. 

What do you recommend is that course or that road for them to start to think about?

 

Timothy:

Remain hopeful in terms of switching into product management. It's not an easy switch. It's going to take some hard work and perseverance but it's definitely doable. I always tell people if I, as an estate planner, can switch into product management, I'm sure a lot of our friends can. 

Having a plan is important. Learning PM skills is important, but nothing tops the importance of building out your network and really building those relationships. This is not just about paying someone on LinkedIn that you know, to offer you a job or something like that. It's more so to learn about the experience and how you could find some lessons or relevance in terms of how those stories can apply to your unique situation.

Product Management is a very unique career. There are so many different entry routes or paths to becoming a Product Manager. Earlier I said, it's not easy to break into product management, but on the flip side, you can become a Product Manager in many different ways. There isn't a set traditional path of doing so. Who knows, maybe in twenty, thirty years, a lot of universities will start offering a concentration called Product Management, but that's not the case right now. 

A lot of Product Managers I know started in, like you've mentioned, a similar function or a function that is close to product such as product development, design, customer success, product marketing, and they made the switch. But also, I know a lot of Product Managers that are accidental PMs, or they got pulled into helping with certain functions that basically encompass some responsibilities of a Product Manager. And they become the defacto PMs. 

There are folks like myself who made a conscious choice to make the move or again, highlighting the importance of the network, to compile an inventory of what made it work for the folks that you're talking to who have made the switch. 

Also, do a bit of a mix-matching on what are things you can apply to do yourself and your plan to switch into product.  Also, try to get a mentor. Going to do a little bit of a plug for ProductBC...

Finding a mentor through one of our mentorship cohorts would be good. Especially a mentorship program like the one we offer at ProductBC. We try to match folks with similar intentions in terms of, as a mentee, what we're looking for. 

If you're looking for help in switching to product, there are mentors in the program who are interested in offering that advice and building up their mentoring skills in the process. 

But also, a lot of the mentors I’ve gotten in the past are folks that I’ve reached out a bit randomly on LinkedIn. Given a lot of them are second-degree connections. 

Definitely, don't be shy in reaching out to folks, especially those connections who you believe align with the kind of passion you have in product because, at the end of the day, a lot of people I find who become interested in product management are likely passionate in certain fields, like maybe in Healthcare, maybe in FinTech. 

As long as you keep that passion and interest intact and you connect with folks, you start talking about why you want to be in that field in product management. Everything else would flow through. 

Once you build the initial momentum, it becomes a lot easier. Then as your network grows, you get your first role. Then what you would find is, as you get promoted to senior roles, the bigger your network becomes, the easier it is to get opportunities, actually, opportunities would probably be knocking on your door rather than the other way around.

 

Heidi:

It is so true. I'm in support of everything that you just said. My counsel to folks who are trying to get into product, if they're not working in tech – it's interesting how many people don't even work in technology, maybe they work in more business industries but they want to get into tech and they want to get into tech through product. 

My advice is to work for a software vendor. That should be step one. Work for a technology company and try to get your foot in the door any way that you can and become a student of the business because you got to learn the business. You gotta understand how they monetize and grow customers. Understand that entire life cycle of building a business, because ultimately when you move into product, you're going to be responsible for developing and launching great experiences that will ultimately keep those customers choosing you and not churning out and building that business. So, step one, get into tech.

Step two, if you are in tech and you're not in product, but that's where you want to be, align yourself with the people you can learn from. Become that sponge, absorb, start to listen to meetings and groups. There's just so much great content out there to learn from. For organizations like ProductBC that offer those mentorship programs, that is a gift. That is a gift for someone to invest their time in your development and just help you expand your mind. It’s priceless. There's no price on that. 

 

Timothy:

Agreed.

One last thing I would add to that question is, to keep in mind that PM skills can be learned. There is tons of content training over the internet but one very important thing is starting to develop a product mindset. I like to call it the spidey-sense of Spiderman – the “product-sense”. 

It is good to know the framework but it’s also very important to know that Product Managers are here to solve problems. Being able to identify the right problems to solve, being able to understand our customers’ pain points and problems, and asking the right questions rather than jumping too quickly straight into the solution process. This is something that I strive to remember on a daily basis.

 

Heidi:

That is beautiful. Thank you for your time today. Thanks for carving out this moment in our day where we can just connect and get to know each other. I appreciate your time doing this with me today.

 

Timothy:

You're most welcome. Thank you, Heidi. Thanks for this opportunity. It was great chatting with you today.

 

Heidi:

Awesome. Great chatting with you.