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Johann Lau

Product Manager
Johann Lau | Directeur de produits, Google
Johann Lau | Directeur de produits, Google
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Education Pathway

Johann Lau us a product manager at Google in Seattle, Washington.

About me

I was born/grew up in: Honolulu, HI, USA. Raised in San Diego, CA, USA

I now live in: Seattle, WA, USA

I completed my training/education at: MBA - University of California, San Diego; BS Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley

What I do at work

As a Product Manager, my primary responsibility is to ensure that the team(s) I support are delivering the right features and products. To get this right, you need to have a deep understanding of 1) your customers and what they're trying to accomplish, 2) the characteristics of your business and what it takes to keep the lights on and grow, and 3) technology and the capabilities of your teams. Day to day, I spend a lot of time with customers, to understand how they use our products (and other products), to develop an intuition for what they need and what will bring them the most value. I also spend a lot of time with engineering teams, to translate customer needs into clear product and feature requirements, so they know what to build how customers will use our products.

Having a science/engineering background is very helpful here, even though I don't do any engineering myself (though, I used to!). Finally, I think a lot about numbers and measurement, to make sure that we are monitoring all of the appropriate business and operational metrics - not just revenue and cost, but things like error rates, latency, and other things that help us understand the health of our business and how well we're satisfying customer needs. Most commonly, the problem solving that I do involves weighing trade-offs between imperfect options - there is rarely a "perfect" solution. This often has a heavy mathematical component that involves modeling the problem and performing some analysis.

My career path is

In high school, I thought that I wanted to make video games. I was good at math and problem solving, so I decided to pursue a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. After graduation, I worked for several years as a software engineer, but started to realize that I wanted to play a larger role in determining what we were building for customers. I was lucky enough to have the option of quitting my job and going to business school. There I learned a great deal about how to approach business strategy and how to bring successful products to market. I held a few different roles after business school, from which I gained experience doing business analysis and customer research. The breadth of that experience (engineering, analysis, customer research) has contributed greatly to my success as a product manager.

I am motivated by

The most motivating aspect of my career is the satisfaction I get from delivering products and features that improve the lives of customers, whether it's a small feature that makes some small task faster/easier, or a new product that enables them to do something that they were never able to do before. For me, product management is a fascinating career path because it involves aligning the activities of multiple groups to deliver value to customers. This usually includes engineering teams (especially in high-tech), but it also involves working with marketing, sales, finance, research, and operations teams, not to mention customers themselves. Successfully working across those teams is a bit like solving a big, difficult puzzle.

How I affect peoples’ lives

It depends on the industry / product you work on. I'm lucky enough to be part of the team that works to improve Google Maps, so the work we do makes it easier and more delightful for over a billion people to navigate and explore their world, wherever they are.

Outside of work I

These days, I spend my time outside of work with my family - going to parks and playing with my daughter, and cooking with my wife. When I have time, I enjoy playing ultimate frisbee, playing guitar, lifting weights, and snowboarding.

My advice to others

Try lots of different things. It's virtually impossible to accurately predict the type of career you'll love a decade from now, but you can learn a lot about what you enjoy by just trying things out.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Math
  • Science
  • Music
  • Physical Education/Health
  • Technology
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Enjoyed doing things on my own
  • Liked reading
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Liked to take things apart to see how they worked
  • Learned best by doing
  • Was motivated by success
  • Played video games
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • Liked to design or build things

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