‘Taking Initiative’ is Not a Buzz Phrase

Actions speak louder than words - see how Fawkes is taking matters into their own hands to get that dream PM role

May 12, 2021

Take initiative.

It’s something we often hear about ways to succeed in our jobs. Don’t wait for others to say what needs to be done; uncover those gaps yourself and take action.

The same mantra is applied to career development and Fawkes shares a great story to exemplify just what it is to be proactive in their professional growth. When they expressed their interest in product management at one of their past jobs, they were explained to a strict 5-year process that must be followed in the company.

A bit too long in their eyes - and so, Fawkes took matters into their own hands.

Prior to coming onboard as a product manager in Co.Lab’s COLAB4 cohort, Fawkes S. was a program manager in Edge Product Development at Microsoft and before then, they worked in operations at two tech startups.

But as with many of our Co.Laborators, they didn’t come into tech with a traditional background. Recently, I sat with them to learn about their career journey and took in what they are doing to break into a product management role.

Fawkes’ story is not the only one we’re sharing with the community this week. Co.Lab’s chatting with Ayo, a product manager at Microsoft, tonight at 7PM EST to hear how he moved from industrial engineering to product management. Sign ups are still open:

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From Animals to Tech

Fawkes started in the veterinary world, studying animal science in school. While the internships they landed had fulfilled their dreams to work with animals, they realized that professional opportunities in the field weren’t as plentiful as they’d hoped.

Fawkes working with animals back in their veterinary days

The perfect opportunity came when they were introduced to an operations agent role at, a pet-care tech startup. Fawkes was able to enter the tech space while still leaning on their love and expertise for animal care. There, they soon learned of product management  and were immediately drawn to the role.

“I knew this was the role for me. I see things in a very analytical way and was already doing PM work before I knew that there was a formal title to it. Although my background was in animal sciences, school still gave me the experience to think about problems analytically. I can look at systems both holistically and at a detailed-oriented level, which is important for a product manager.”

But the company had a particular process for employees to go through before reaching a PM title, which didn’t exactly align with their development plans.

So, Fawkes took things into their own hands. Three months later, they found a role at another tech startup, Modus, where they eventually got more involved with PM-related work.

Look Beyond the Mandate

Despite starting off as an operations specialist, they sat shoulder to shoulder with their VP of Operations. He was talking about implementing a new CRM platform and mentioned Zendesk, which Fawkes had previous experience in.

Seeing an opportunity, they jumped into the conversation and offered their thoughts. Fawkes’ initiative was rewarded when a chance to be involved with the project was offered, giving them the experience needed to get into a PM role.

That was a learning lesson for Fawkes: “find ways to get involved with initiatives that work towards your dream role. Look out for opportunities, even if they're super small, and grab onto them.”

Figure out Their Business Model and Anticipate Their Needs

It wasn’t initially easy to progress their career in the tech space. Despite their capabilities to succeed in a product manager role, it was hard proving it on paper. This all stemmed back to that problem of ‘how to get experience without any experience’ in the job market.

So what were some actions Fawkes took to yield results in their job search?

“I did a needs analysis on myself. The first thing I did was find all the jobs I would really love to have, look at their requirements and apply to them. I heard crickets. Clearly I needed to up my qualifications so I looked at the gap between what they wanted and where I was and just went from there.”

And it’s not only about understanding yourself. Understand the company and role that you’re applying for. Fawkes could not stress enough how important and beneficial extensive interview-prep could be!

“If you’re able to figure out their business model and anticipate what they’re going to need help with past what’s on the job description, then you can show that you’re already capable of thinking in those ways and that you’ve identified those pain-points for them. That’s what really helped me [in interviews].”

Week 3 at Co.Lab for Fawkes

Now, remember that problem of ‘getting experience without having experience’? Fawkes looked to Co.Lab to help fill the gap.

They’ve taken product management courses before and sure, they’ve participated in product development projects. But they’ve never developed and shipped a product of their own. That first-hand experience is proven to be invaluable and Fawkes sees how Co.Lab is helping to break down barriers for those who don’t have prior tech experience. A similar sentiment was heard from a previous Co.Laborator, Ava, who was a product manager in an earlier cohort (read about her unique journey here).

Whiteboarding session in week 3 - ideation time!

Something they’re quickly learning is how not to jump quickly into the solutions space early on in the process. For those familiar with design-thinking, a common trap is getting into solutioning while we’re still in the discovery phase. And for Fawkes’ team, they’ve been working hard to balance that out so they don’t pigeonhole themselves during the ideation phase.

“The project management side of my brain is really mindful of the timeline. I want to avoid crashing plan as much as possible and not have to cut scope at the last minute. In the first 2-3 weeks, we were starting to build out a spec and had an amorphous idea of what we might do in the problem space. It’s been unexpectedly hard for me to wait until we validate all of our user research and analyze the data, before I pitch an idea or solution.”

The best part is? All the things Fawkes has learned in the past three weeks are transferable to their current job.

“It’s been really cool to see the things that we’re doing in Co.Lab already map to what my current company is working on and the problems we’re encountering.”

It’s our goal at the end of the day - turning theory into practice for anyone wanting to get into tech. This week begins with meeting their developer and mentor on the team! Fawkes expresses both excitement and nervousness. They’re thrilled to meet the rest of their team members and definitely want to manage expectations well.

Accessibility is the problem space they’re exploring. Having personal connections with the topic, Fawkes sees the absolute importance of accessibility. Just what is the team cooking up? We’ll keep it a secret so as not to spoil 😉. But we can’t wait to see their idea on Demo Day!

Want hands-on experience as a product manager, designer, or software developer like Fawkes? Curious to know what it’s like to ship real products within 5 week? Applications for Co.Lab’s next cohort are now open! Sign up at:

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