My Pivot Journal: Kenechukwu Nwankwo’s journey from architecture to product management

by MMC
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My Pivot Journal is a Ventures Africa weekly series documenting people’s career transitions from one sector to another, particularly into technology.

Kenechukwu Nwankwo had a promising career as an architect. But he realized he didn’t like her as much as he thought he did. He wanted to try something different and more fulfilling. This is Kenechukwu’s pivotal diary.

How it started

I originally wanted to study systems engineering and was offered admission. However, additional mathematics was a prerequisite for any engineering course and I did not take it at WAEC. So I had to settle for my second choice, which was architecture. Before I graduated, I received a job offer from Iconic Africa, a popular development company in Lagos. I had done my computer science there, so it made sense to return there. When I joined them as an intern, they only had one event center. I was part of the trip to talk about projects like the Hard Rock Café, the cinema and Landmark Beach. I worked there for over three years, starting as an architect but also diving deeper into development which involved finding sites, coming up with site ideas, transforming the sites and making money.

Epiphany

It was during COVID in 2020, it hit me. They asked me to come to the office during the confinement. I thought it was absurd because I didn’t have to come into the office to design. I was also tired of endless revisions and tedious design work. One of the things that frustrated me as an architect was the constant demand for new designs. Sometimes a client would give me a brief or vague idea of ​​what they wanted. I would create the first draft, then they would ask me to give them three more samples. This is another way of saying three complete designs. I began to question my professional career as an architect. I had to ask myself some tough questions, What did I get out of it? Was architecture something I wanted to do long term?

I tried to move into architectural development management, but that didn’t work out either, because we didn’t have another architect at that time. I didn’t imagine myself doing architecture in the long term. I decided to explore other options. Somehow technology has always been close to me because my father works in technology. I remember buying my first computer when the kids were playing with toys. I did some research and saw the opportunities offered by technology. When I did the analysis and evaluated my options, it made sense for me to move into technology.

Kenechukwu Nwankwo

Transition

I didn’t know what role in technology would suit me best. I thought about product design, after all, I had a design background, but I also had PTSD. I tried to learn software engineering, but struggled with JavaScript. I was looking for something that would allow me to combine my interests and skills into something beautiful. That’s how I discovered product management.

Product management was a new and exciting field. I’m a visual learner, so I started learning as much as I could through YouTube and video lessons. I took a product management course on Udacity and some courses on Product school. It was during the Black Lives Matter movement, so I took advantage of the discounts that were offered to black people. Then I joined every product community I could find. I joined Product management Africa, a community that started on WhatsApp before moving to Slack. I joined Lagos Tank Product. I would go there, sit, listen to what they had to say and network. I also started applying for jobs almost immediately, but couldn’t find any.

I had the chance to join a program run by Product Management Africa. They placed aspiring product managers in companies or projects for three months. It was like an internship. Under this program, we were assigned mentors who guided us and gave us feedback. While I was still in the program, a former colleague from Landmark contacted me. He told me about a project I had already worked on that had become a school. They had a program for product managers and he thought I would be a good fit. I applied and was selected. I joined the program at the end of 2020 and simply continued to improve my PM skills.

One of the challenges I faced during my transition was skepticism from potential employers. They would look at my CV and ask me why I was applying for a product role when I was an architect. This had the effect of losing self-confidence. But that didn’t stop me from looking. I needed to find a job soon. I had taken care to save a little money just before leaving my job as an architect. The money was supposed to last me a year, but it ran out sooner than expected. Luckily I found something before I ran out of options.

Google was a good resource for finding positions. I discovered some tricks for finding product roles that weren’t widely advertised. I would use Google to filter search results by specific sites and keywords. For example, I would type “site:lever.” co” and then associate product manager in inverted commas. This would show me all the associate product manager roles on Lever, which is a recruiting platform. I applied to as many people as possible. After almost a year of learning and applying, I finally landed my first role as an Associate Product Manager. That’s when I felt like I could relax and focus on my technology development.

My first culture shock working in the tech industry was the concept of remote work. I was like “Are you serious? It’s good!” However, it affected my preferences for future roles. I became more interested in fully remote positions than hybrid positions. Remote work also came with more expectations. I had to learn how to communicate better with my colleagues and clients since I couldn’t see them face-to-face. Stakeholder management was also different. In construction, I knew the field and the expectations of the stakeholders. In software, I had to quickly learn what developers did and how to tell if they were being honest with me. I also faced conflicting demands from two senior managers who pulled me in different directions. Another culture shock was working with young people. In real estate and construction, most of my colleagues were older and had families. In tech, even the co-founders were in their 20s.

I also had to learn many technical terms to contribute to meetings and drive company initiatives. If I didn’t understand half of the things discussed in a meeting, I wouldn’t be able to contribute effectively. Even though I repeated what I heard, my manager would ask me follow-up questions that I couldn’t answer. I also had trouble with customer support. In construction, I didn’t have to deal directly with customers because it was a B2B business. But in tech, it was a B2C business and I had to deal with a lot of support issues over the weekends. The way I coped was to group the problems into categories. I focused on resolving recurring or urgent issues. I asked for help and delegated some issues to my team members. I also became more patient and empathetic with users.

How are you

I am a senior product manager at Mono, a financial technology company that provides open banking services. For me, a typical day starts with stand-ups, which are short daily meetings to discuss progress and identify obstacles. Before that, I check the product’s performance and see if there are any issues that I need to report during stand-ups. Then I meet with my team to find out what everyone is working on for the day and if we have any blockers or dependencies. After that, I spend 30 minutes to an hour reading the latest trends and developments in our industry, such as regulations, competitors, and customer reviews. Then in the afternoon I work on any documentation I need to update or create based on the discussions and decisions we make. I also handle any support issues that arise during the day and communicate with stakeholders and customers as necessary.

The most exciting thing about product management is knowing that I can do things that can change the way the world looks. For example, my company offers open banking, which allows people to access and use their financial data in different ways. This can improve things like lending and financial inclusion. It’s also exciting to work with some of the smartest and most passionate people of all time. My transferable skills help me. My designers enjoy working with me because I have a good sense of design and user experience. I can spot potential problems and suggest improvements that help them. I can also create low-fidelity and high-fidelity designs, but I now mainly focus on low-fidelity designs. On the other hand, working in fintech comes with many risks of fraud and cyberattacks. We must always be on top of our security and compliance. Additionally, the Central Bank of Nigeria may change regulations at any time and affect our business.

I see myself working in technology for a long time. What I could change is maybe explore the intersection between real estate and fintech, which would still largely remain fintech. There are some tech companies doing interesting things in this space today, and I think I have a good background in real estate and fintech to contribute to that.

Career tip

To learn the skills I need for the roles I want, I look at the job descriptions for those roles and find the keywords or skills they need. Then, I develop a personal development plan to acquire these skills. For example, if a role requires someone who knows APIs, I would look into what APIs are and how to use them. I would also take online courses or tutorials on APIs. If the role is senior level and in an industry like fintech, I would also learn about the regulations and best practices in that industry.

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