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Karen and Solmas recount their experience working in a team and its effects on their confidence, and job opportunities.
For Solmas, like many of us, the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in some career changes. Weeks into the pandemic, Solmas was laid off from her job as a UX designer for a small start-up. In a bid to upskill and get a better job, Solmas found Co.Lab and it seemed like the perfect place to get more experience and acquire more material for her portfolio which she could use to sell herself more intensely when she started interviewing again. At Co.Lab, she was matched on the same team as Karen.
Karen’s career had also been impacted by the pandemic. Before Covid-19, she had spent a few years running her own business as well as teaching courses at a local college. However, she was looking for something to give her a more consistent income. As a person with a lot of different skills and different interests, Karen could not put a finger on the exact role she wanted.
However, she found that a lot of the job descriptions she was drawn to had the title ‘Product Manager’ on them. “Initially I thought it was the same as Project Management but as I looked into the role more carefully, I realized that product management was what I was after. I felt like a lot of my past experience and the type of person I am made me an ideal Product Manager”
After coming to this realization, Karen applied to Product Manager positions but she received a lot of “no’s” and got called back for only a handful of interviews. When she saw an opportunity to work with designers and developers and gain practical experience at Co.Lab, she knew it was what she needed to help her stand out.
Solmas, Karen and developers Marshall & Julia worked on the app ‘Podball’ during their time at Co.Lab. Podball is an app that detects errors in audio recordings to assist podcasters in making simple edits that improve the quality of their work and results in great stories. Everyone in the team had a relationship with audio media. Karen is a podcaster, Marshall an avid podcast listener and Solmas’ background in music had familiarized her with the process of editing. And so when Karen suggested the idea and presented it to the team along with preliminary work that she had done to get the ball rolling, it was a no-brainer.
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“Working on a team was stressful, but fun”, says Karen who worked as the team’s Product Manager. Having worked at a start-up years ago, she was familiar with teamwork but not in the same capacity as what she had to do at Co.Lab.
“I had never worked with designers and developers to build a product. It was my job to understand perspectives and I found all of that very cool.” Her major assignment on the team was rooted in the fact that everyone had valuable opinions based on their specific discipline and so she had to marry all those ideas to make the team’s product stand out.
For Solmas, the team’s Product Designer, teamwork gave her respite from doing everything by herself. “It was my first time working directly with developers and a product manager. I did not have a good experience of collaborative work in my past so I was excited because I didn’t have to do everything on my own.”
She was able to pull from the research and interviews Karen had conducted. “My load felt lighter and having each member of the team perform their specific role changed my perspective on working in tech.” Teamwork was good practice for Solmas in reaching out to others and asking for help. She now encourages those who reach out to her for career advice to ask for help whenever the need arises. In her experience, there is always someone willing to help and one can achieve more within a short time when you allow others to assist.
One of the things both Karen and Solmas agree on is the need to be both adaptable and autonomous when working in a team. After all, they had only a few weeks to deliver their product. For example, as part of Solmas’s duties as the Designer, she had to create branding for Podball which involved choosing theme colors, font and brand personas.
“That’s usually a nerve-wracking process because you don’t know how people are going to receive it but I didn’t have time to overthink the issues. I had to make a decision and present it to the group and make suggested changes”.
Concurring with her, Karen says that the team did research geared towards figuring out their main audience, what would appeal to them and how best the product could solve their problem. After that, they quickly figured out what they were working with and what they needed to do. There wasn’t always time to discuss each person’s ideas and weigh all the pros and cons of everything. But with the right amount of adaptability, autonomy and transparency, they were able to work well together to deliver a great product under such a short timeline.
For Solmas and Karen, the most significant results of working on an MVP at Co.Lab was their boost in confidence. Solmas says: “I felt more knowledgeable about what I was doing and I could speak from a place of actual understanding, not theory.” Before landing her current job as a web designer at Uberflip, job interviewers were always drawn to her work on Podball. As the project was still fresh in her memory and something to which she had contributed significantly, she was able to show employers her design process and talk them through her thought process which are the things they wanted to see.
Similarly, Karen’s confidence in her job interviews came from the support she enjoyed from her team members, mentors at Co.Lab such as Elyse Clement and other product managers in her cohort. She loved that even within such a short time at Co.Lab, she was able to do work that she could put on her resume and her LinkedIn profile and even reference when she spoke to employers. She could say “I created the user stories” or “I provided support with user testing while working with developers”. Such concrete statements sparked the interests of interviewers and they were often keen on hearing more about her work.
Coming to Co.Lab and working with her team on Podball took care of Karen’s imposter syndrome. The title of ‘Product Manager’ can be nebulous and she had felt that she was lacking in the tangible experiences that her counterparts had. However, the program “gave [her] the confidence to be able to put everything in action.” When doubt creeps in on her at her current job as a Product Manager at Buddi, she reminds herself of the product she built, and the fact that she took the initiative to get that experience and she’s able to get back to work.
It seems appropriate to conclude with Karen’s words: “working with a team to build an MVP at Co.Lab was a game-changing experience and it definitely served its purpose.” It gave everyone confidence and helped them land their dream jobs. With building a product, the proof is in the pudding. Talking to prospective employers about Co.Lab and Podball showed that they were able to take initiative, that they have good ideas and that they have what it takes to bring their ideas to life.