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For This Product Manager, EduTech Can Transform Traditional Learning | Co.Lab

Greg has worked as a college faculty member for about 20 years before he came to Co.Lab to learn Product Management. Learn his thoughts on how the Co.Lab experience compares to traditional higher-ed, as well as the cool new product he’s working on with some friends from Co.Lab.

Tiwatayo Kunle
July 6, 2022

Greg started off as a journalist but with the rise of the internet and a decline in the demand for newspapers, he went to grad school and studied education, a timeless course.

For the past 20 years now, he has worked in various capacities within the educational sector. At some point, he worked as an Industrial Designer, and one day, his supervisor approached him with the idea and the funds to build an app, so he had to learn how to make a Product. “I had a small team of computer science undergrads and we built some apps together. I remember that it was so thrilling and exciting, especially to have teachers want to use the apps to teach their students.”

Greg managed the product from the idea stage all the way to publishing on the App store. His role in the project also involved figuring out how to make the learning challenging and interesting for the students. The coders learned to code using ‘Swift’ and the team worked with the faculty as a client. In a way, he was doing Product Management but he did not know that. He did not know the process, he just did it.

Finding his way to Product Management

Greg’s official journey to Product Management began, as did many others, with the pandemic. “We were all doing what we were doing and then boom, a pandemic. That was when I decided that I wanted to do something different. I realized that I missed making apps with faculty and wanted to do it again. I knew that the tools would have changed. The things these days are new and fancy and I missed it so after doing my research and learning more about Product Management, I decided to register for Co.Lab.”

Greg chose Co.Lab because there were a lot of elements that he was looking for as he set out to learn product management properly. For him, Co.Lab had the spirit of a hackathon - meeting strangers, time pressure and building something new that you wouldn’t have built otherwise. Very importantly, after being in higher education for about 20 years, he liked that it was not a typical course. “I’ve taught courses, I’ve taken courses and I didn’t want to have that experience. I wanted to have something more structured.”

The fact that there’s a financial commitment involved in Co.Lab made Greg believe that there would be a level of personal commitment from the organizers of the program and from the participants too. He didn’t know what the mentors were like but the fact that there were going to be mentors guiding him through the process really appealed to him.  In his mind, Co.Lab was like a private school that provided a unique experience.

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Greg’s situation was also unique because the majority of those who enroll in Co.Lab are attempting to pivot to tech from a completely different career and so the change in career or discipline is what they have to adjust to.

However having spent literal decades immersed in the traditional system of learning, what Greg, needed to adjust to was the internet-driven learning style that Co.Lab practices. He is familiar with the predictability of traditional higher education and the formulaic process of following a syllabus and having all the students present in a classroom. As he went through the Co.Lab program which was notably different, his mind was seeing the many ways both systems could incorporate one another to make them stronger and more relevant respectively.

“I think that both systems complement each other. I know that many people have said that higher education is going to wither away, but I think it’s very durable. There is something to be said about the traditional higher-ed experience. However, I don’t see why a graduate school couldn’t include a program like Co.Lab as part of their experience or why it couldn’t be moved towards being a graduate school itself. So for example, if you have someone in a coding-type major and as soon as they graduated they did something like Co.Lab to boost their class learning and build bridges to the industry, that would be perfect.”

Greg has been a part of the traditional experience and it’s pretty much his whole career but he has also seen the real-world authenticity of Co.Lab and making something that solves a real-world problem, working with people in the industry that you might not ordinarily have been able to work with, these are dynamic and exciting things about the experience that he feels could be incorporated into the traditional learning experience.

Being a Product Manager, for real this time

Working as a Product Manager on his Co.Lab team, taught Greg the fine details of Product Management which he really wanted to learn. Learning about the scrum process, retrospectives, writing a spec, editing it, dealing with the developers and designers, and learning different personalities and perspectives are all the things he was looking for out of the program.

However, by far Greg’s most impressive takeaway from Co.Lab was the network. He formed a team made up of people he met at Co.Lab and self-funded an app. His vision was to put together all the experience that he had with publishing, web development, teaching and now product management and focus on students with disabilities, making sure that teaching materials are accessible to them.

He enlisted Sara, who had built a Slackbot with her team as their MVP at Co.Lab and told her his idea - to build a custom Slackbot that manages the communication between the client workspace and the internal remediation team. The bot would automate in Slack, all communication, interactions and data related to a client meeting.

Greg, Sara and Daniel, all Co.Lab alums worked together to build Seymour Accessibility. Greg registered the company as an LLC in December 2021 and they currently have their first paying client!

Building his first product as a certified Product Manager

The process of building that product was different from his experience building as an Industrial Designer and as a student building an MVP in Co.Lab. This time, he was more experienced. Similar to the Co.Lab style, he basically said, “hey everybody, let’s give ourselves 6-8 weeks to complete this”. He wrote a spec and it was easy to get through to the team since they all had the Co.Lab background and could use that as a point of reference.  

Building the Slackbot was an embodiment of what Greg considers the biggest lesson he learned at Co.Lab. “The program makes you feel like you can build anything. It helps you learn that with the right tools, you can really, truly work with people around the world.” In their case, one of the developers was in Slovenia and the other in Canada and this was mind-blowing for Greg because it’s considered normal now but prior to Co.Lab, he did not get online and work with people across the world.

Between Co.Lab and building this product, he’s learnt a few lessons. First, is the specificity required in a spec and the amount of time that can be saved by being very specific in a spec and having the criteria. “I think back to previous projects when I was doing product management roles and didn’t know it, there’s so much developer time and communication time lost when the spec isn’t specific enough” He learnt from his mentors to be so specific in writing his spec, that the Engineer wouldn’t even need to talk to you. It was also super helpful for him to have the mentors show examples from their real work and to see things being executed at a professional level.

It’s especially important to Greg because as a busy dad and a faculty member, he only has so much time to work on his projects so it is important to be as efficient as possible.

Currently, work on Seymour Accessibility has slowed down because Greg had to return to teaching but he looks forward to picking it back up in the summer of 2022 when he begins his sabbatical.

He considers his single customer as proof of concept and he learnt so much in the process of building the app to the stage it’s at now, he’s excited to return to work and perhaps put his remaining resources into approaching the technology differently. We’re very excited to see the final product!

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