- JJ Rorie
Building a Product Management Career by Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
Mudassir Mustafa: "So I think the first thing is you need to figure out what makes you happy. If it doesn't make you happy, you need to rethink really hard, like, why you're doing that? Second thing is this, it's gonna sound cliché, but the fear of failure is way too big. Like in today's economy, with inflation, and this and that, like people are already scared. And these things are obviously not going to make them take this decision quickly. But I think people are just too afraid. 'Hey, you know I've never been in product. So what can happen to me if I just start talking to some people?' Just kind of held back because they're afraid that you know, what's going to happen."
Welcome to Product Voices a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources to help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests, or to submit your product management question to be answered in our special q&a episodes. That's all at ProductVoices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.
Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. Product Management is one of those careers where we must be constantly learning and evolving. And that's not always easy. It's not always an easy career to get into in the first place. So today, we're gonna be talking about how getting out of your comfort zone and continuously learning new things can help you build a successful career in product.
My guest has a really cool background and is here to share some of the wisdom that he's gained from his journey. Mudassir Mustafa is co founder of capable, he started out his journey as a field engineer on oil rigs with Halliburton, and then transitioned into tech, he's worked as a DBA. And a scrum master then jumped into product manager roles, he moved up fairly quickly to become a group Product Manager at Superfeed Tech. And then just about a year ago, he co founded capable with Aaron Alpeter to bring more transparency into the fulfillment in eCommerce Industry. Mudassir, thank you so much for joining me.
Thank you so much for having me excited about that. And happy to be here.
Yeah, it's gonna be a great conversation. So I appreciate you being here to share, share a little bit about your journey. So let's start there. Tell me a little bit more about your path and your journey and what you've been through.
So I was one of those few people who always wanted to be in tech, but just didn't know if there's a future for someone like me, who doesn't know any coding who doesn't like coding, but still want to be in this industry. But I started out as a field engineer, an oil rig, as you mentioned, in the Middle East working with Halliburton, and somehow just, you know, just figured out that, okay, spending, you know, couple 15, 16 hours a day on the oil rig is not something that I want to do with the rest of my life. So just take a bold step, take a leap of faith.
And just, you know, left a job came back to Pakistan. And, you know, So, long story short, Halliburton has the same subsidiary, that isn't in the tech. So I got hired there as a BA, then worked there as a scrum master a little bit, get my first taste of product team that work as you can say, pseudo product owner, that sort of a person, you know, we just managed to work on a couple of cool products, they will, you know, legacy products, but they were rebranding them and a whole lot of things.
And then I got the big opportunity to work with like, amazing, amazing people in Phoenix, Arizona, so I just, you know, work with them. So when we started out, we just had an idea. And we just want to build it, like, like, build a team build a product, that sort of stuff. So you know, it's really, really early on. And then then you start working on that. So we build the team from the ground up, build the product from the ground up. And then yeah, I think I spent almost two years there. And then again, they blessed and fortunate to just climb the ladder fairly quickly. Became a group product manager, that's when I met earn, there was my, my founder at cable. He also founded a couple other startups and he helps startups, startups in growing, you know, from from a series a startup to 200 million to a million dollars brand.
So yeah, he and I just talked about, I had an idea. And I was like, I want to, you know, be a part of that journey. I want to you know, build things around it is what excites me. So, yeah, this is this is the, like a real weird kind of journey that I have. But yeah, that that's how I ended up working in product. That's how I ended up as a co founder of the South politic rebuilding today.
I love that story. So I mean, it's, it's very interesting, because you've been, of course, oil and gas and I believe construction and news and media and now supply chain and fulfillment and those are, you know, all quite different. So, you know, tell me tell me about how you found it within yourself to feel comfortable or, or to take that leap. One of the things and we've talked before and I love I love something you said so I'm gonna, I'm gonna quote it or at least paraphrase it. So, one time recently, when when you and I were talking you, you said, the worst enemy you can have is your comfort zone. And I loved that I thought that was a really poignant way, or poignant saying for product managers. And not always easy, though, to live by. So tell me about what it was that, you know, allowed you to move industries and move roles and really kind of take the reins on your career, even if you didn't know how it was going to end up.
Oh, thank you for remembering that. We're saying a quarter we're like, whatever you want to call that. So yeah, I think. So, you know, while I was doing my bachelor's in material sciences, and today, at that time, particularly impacts that this is an r&d related field, and just like, not many jobs are out there. So one of the things at that time, I just realize, you know, sometimes you just get into a program, and you're just like too afraid to leave it, but you don't like it, like, your heart's not in it. So I was like I was, but like that sort of a person. I was triggered in obstetrics, I was too good in talking to people, I was good. And, you know, I had a couple of misfires, and then we started a couple of companies getting my undergrad and but you know, did it turn out to be that big, or big at all. So I was, you know, fascinated by all these things. But like, whatever I was studying, I just didn't like it at all. So I think at then, I just started looking out that, you know, I'm not gonna sit around, I'm not gonna be one of those guys is gonna go to the plant that's gonna go to the oil rigs. And then, you know, you just, you just complain about moan about a few all your life, like, what, for the next 20 years, and you just don't do it. And that time, I would say, okay, so that the best thing that I can have at this moment, is to be, I would say, agile, or maybe nimble enough to just learn anything that I want to.
And anything that I can get my hands on. So that hopefully should be should get me somewhere. So that was, I think it's hard process back in early 2010s. And then, then again, you know, as you mentioned, it's pretty hard to stick by. So it's easy to think of things, something like that. But then again, you know, pretty hard to work off of that and build that sort of momentum or that sort of a confidence. So then I started working with Halliburton on on those field jobs. Initially, it was, it was a good one, not gonna lie about that. It was like a good paying job, you have a career, you can see, all of you know, oil and gas is a pretty big industry and all that. But then in 2015, I think there was this massive oil slump thing that happened, and all of a sudden, you know, the brand prices went down.
And they were like, mass layoffs throughout, throughout the globe. Like, you know, oil and gas was hit pretty hard. So I remember, there were like, 600,000, people were being laid off, like every other day that was stored, like every day. And then I was one of the fortunate people, again, we just managed to have the job. But you know, then again, you see dozens of people working with you this, they're just being let go in a single day of notice or something like that. So that obviously didn't leave you. But to think about like, okay, you know, what are we doing here, there's, like, in terms of security, you know, I think when people think about jobs, or even, comfort zone, comfort, don't come with that sort of a sense of security, that, you know, you would want to be secure, don't worry about, like what's going to happen in the future, that sort of thing.
So I think at that time, I was like, okay, you know, this is not, this is not going to be be your life, there will not be your life, you're not happier. So let's just, you know, do something that you want to do with your life, because I just had this opinion that one day, I'm gonna get laid off anywhere, like, maybe today, or maybe two months from two months from now. So that's, I think that's this is hard process.
And during that time, I was like, in the Middle East, I got a part time opportunity to work in a in a construction industry. So one of the person that I've worked with, has worked and so he just kind of, you know, talked to somebody in the past weekend, and they, they had me just, you know, oversee, kind of manage the entire 50 stories, building or something like that. So I worked like as an assistant project manager on a part time basis there. And I think at that time was like, Okay, it's not a pretty hard if you from project management point of view, I would say it all comes down to basic common sense, a lot of a lot of the times and I think that's when things started to get really easy for me, okay, you just don't have to worry about that. You just have to learn. You just don't have to learn a whole lot, but you just need to learn basics and then you know, you're gonna get better a few percentage every day because you're working with some smart people in this domain, so yeah, that's gonna help.
And then when I came, came back to Pakistan. And we just started talking started working in, in the tech companies, I think that was the same idea. Like I had some sort of knowledge in project management. I was doing a master's in project management that time. So I just knew a few things, if not a lot about product management and how it works in in an IP world. But when I started working as a VA, so there's like a whole new scrum thing. And I was like, Okay, well, that's cool, but it's not, you know, it's just not that difficult to learn. So I just, you know, fairly watched a couple of videos, there was a couple of idiots hack my way today. And then the big thing was, again, I think it was pretty much the same scrum master, product owner, so you just work with those people. And well, I think the one of the things, if I have to point out, I would say, you know, when you work with the, you know, with people in your team, regardless of the experience, and regardless of like, what they bring to the table, if you have the attitude that you just want to learn from anybody. And like literally anybody, you're probably gonna learn a lot, I have learned a lot of things from a junior Dev, and a very, very, very senior group, product manager, sort of a person. So it just comes down to this thing, I think.
Yeah, I think that's wonderful advice. And a good point to remember is that everyone around us can teach us something. So I have a question, though, going back to the, it's fascinating that you worked as a project manager on a building project to a kind of commercial building or 50 story building? Did you at that time know you wanted to get into product? Or was that pre like your idea of getting into tech and getting into product?
Funny, you asked me this question. So honestly, I never thought about, you know, getting into a tech world without learning, coding, you know, that that's the sort of, I wanted to be, you can say that I just wanted to be a part of this industry, way, way back, you know, when administered, my engineering and all that, but I just couldn't figure out a way without just doing, you know, without just doing learning, coding and development, and all that sort of stuff. And I didn't even know at that time that there's a there's a thing that's called product management. So like, I didn't even know that.
So, you know, when I started working in project management, there's a couple of friends of mine, they just introduced me to this thing. They're like, okay, you know, we do this, this kind of stuff. Like, I was like, how, like, why would you use that? Because, you know, my idea was, it was a very traditional waterfall, sort of an approach that you just, you know, lay down the foundation, you just lay down, you know, the walls, and then then the ceilings and this and that, you know, from construction industry, you would understand these things. But I was like, you know, how do you guys do that in? And it doesn't make sense. They're like, so how do you expect this new software? And then there's another, another version of that, and there is another update version of that? So how do you think this can happen? So somebody needs to plan this thing, then we just kind of use the same principles, but in a whole different way that we use as islands. And so I think that was the first time I just, I just learned about that, like, okay, there's something out there, that doesn't require you to be a developer. But obviously, it doesn't help if you know, a lot of things. It never, I think it never hurts if you know, a lot of things. It's like, there's no two, there's no such thing as too much knowledge. There's always a, I think there's, there's need for that to learn more. So I think that that was the first time when I when I get to know about this thing.
And then I was looking as I was just looking how to kickstart my career into this thing. Like I wanted to be a product manager, but I just had no idea, like whatsoever how to be a product manager, rather than just applying for a product manager job. And then I was like, No, I'm not gonna get that. And the opportunity presented like they were looking for, for a scrum master slash project manager, you know, because it was an old, old part of the day working on they were like, they needed someone with a project management background. And I just kind of tired. So they asked me if you think I studied scrum couple of days before they introduce this kind of a stat. And then I get to know Okay, so I am a scrum master that this these are the thing that I need to learn. If I want to be a part owner, then that's what I was planning for want to be a product manager. And then one thing that helped me a lot was this weird itch that I have of solving problems and coming up with solutions. So I think that kind of played its part.
Yeah, that's absolutely wonderful and I, um, the reason I asked the question about whether you knew you wanted to get into product is because I coach a lot of people who want to get into product at some point, they've realized that now, you know, they want to get into product management, and they want to know how to get there from some other background. And to your point, there are a lot of similarities, even if we don't think about it, right. I mean, there's a, there's a fairly, you know, clear connection between project management and product management, but still, you know, building a building, versus building software, you know, as you said, there are some things that you can take from that. And so I always tell people to think about what you've done. And try to think about the ways that, you know, the things that you've learned, would translate over into a product management role, even if it doesn't seem like it would on it serve surface, always look back and see what you could do. So I love that, that you kind of tied it back and said, even though you didn't know, you wanted to get into tech or product that you were learning things along the way. So that's a, that's a great part of the story.
So just to add one small thing here is that if you look at product management in its totality, I mean, there are people who are doing like, such an amazing job, and they come up with all these complex frameworks, and, you know, theories and this and that, because, you know, the one was just making product manager better, better every other day. But the thing that I just want to share here as well is, if you if you separate that group out, you know, we're just doing amazing, unbelievably amazing job like it costs, like a doctorate person in product management, I think, anything that you're doing in this industry, like anything, for example, anything as a dev that you're doing, there's a part of that, that you can always tied to, to product management, even though you don't realize that, even though you don't know about it, even though you just don't want to, you know, maybe admit it or something like that. But I think there's always a part of your job that you can always tie it back to product management. And that's why I see today. I mean, I obviously don't chain a lot of people that you do, but I do a lot of people do awful lot of interviews these days, and one of the things that I really, really impress is that, like anybody can get get into this thing, if they figured out how to get into this this thing. So I think that's, that's something I want to hear that.
I agree 100%. And I think it's important for us, that are in for those of us who are already in product management to try to knock down some of those barriers, even if they were just perceived barriers of, you know, you have to have a certain background, or you have to have a certain education. And I just I think that anyone with a sense of curiosity and a sense of problem solving, and a sense of, you know, wanting to make the world better in whatever way that is, right. That's basically what products do for their users. And so I agree with you, I think that it's important for anyone out there who, who thinks they might want to get into product management to not hold themselves back on, you know, just based on where they've been to date.
So that actually brings me to my next question, which is, you know, knowing your your path, which you've, you've kind of, again, taken the reins and done some really interesting things, and made some changes along the way that may not have been totally comfortable. What advice do you give to someone who may want to change things in their career, maybe they're in a role that they don't like so much, or they want to make some sort of pivot. But maybe you're a little intimidated or scared of that change? What advice would you give to them?
Okay, that's a good question. So I don't follow a whole lot of people, but I do follow some people on the internet. And I think Gary Vee and all these other people, they have to talk about these sort of things. So whatever I say, I think there's already out there and I have learned from the same people. But there are a couple of things that I would like to mention here. I think, I think so I took you I think two or three people almost every day, because you know, we were going within this space, we want to have a very nice structure team and this and that. So and I meet a lot of people for, you know, for partnerships for client and this and that, and I've seen a lot of people that you would be surprised to know, like a lot of people they're just not happy the jobs, they just go to the office or like in today's world in post COVID world, they just, you know, get up in the PDAs or they just, you know, sit in front of the screen. unhappy about it. They'll just, you know, take off from from that place and happy about it. And they did He's gonna go to the bedroom that's gonna go out with the family and happy about it, they just like, all they do is they just, like, there's no happiness left on it.
And a lot, a lot of that is thinking about like, 1/3 of the time of your life almost spending doing a job that you don't like, like, you can just do the math, you probably can be like, you know, if if somebody present you in a 80% of the time that you're spending of your life is being unhappy, that doesn't make any sense. And that also considers a time when you were studying. So you take that out for probably 50% of your time of your life, you're just doing something that you're never happy about. So what's the point in doing that? So there's a couple of things, and I was one of those people, when I was doing, you know, the job was good, the pay was good, the carrier was pretty good. I've managed to survive a couple of you know, layoff and this and that. But then again, you know, this is not something that I wanted to do, I got an opportunity from a very big FMCG, you know, but just don't want to name the company here. And they just wanted me to be, you know, some sort of a floor manager or something like that, you know, the one that does the supply chain, training, management, the trainings in this and that, but it's not something that I want to do, I just don't want to live on a remote side, on a plant or, like, for me, you know, this and that. So this is that was that was not for me, that was like never for me.
So I think the first thing is, if you need to figure it out, what makes you happy, if it doesn't make you happy, you need to rethink really hard, like, why you're doing that, because it's not, that, that's the idea. Second thing is this, again, which is whatever I'm gonna say is it's gonna sound cliche, but there's the fear of failure is way too big, like in today's economy, with inflation, and this and that, like people are already scared. And these things are obviously not going to make them, you know, take this sort of a decision fairly quickly. But I think people are just like, they're too afraid, hey, you know, I've never been into product. So what can happen to me, if I just start talking about something, people, just the, you know, just kind of held back this because they're afraid that you know, what's going to happen. And I think a part of that is because how others may perceive you, because you know, your peers, and people graduate with you, and they have cool jobs, and you run a startup. So you know, you're all in the same domain, but somebody else is like switching jobs in the middle of his career and doesn't know like, where to go. So he has a probably had this thing in mind that maybe, you know, my peers, my group validators are gonna judge me on this thing. So that also comes into play. So there's a whole lot of thing going on. I think that pressurizes people not to not pick the move, but just to, you know, in bullet points, if I have to say that, number one is, please just do it, like pretty pleased to do it. This, your life does take care of that.
Second is, your ability to learn is probably going to supersede like anything, you know, the different from today, I don't know, if I just put it in the right way or not. But then again, you know, if you have the ability, and you have the right sort of confidence and attitude that you know, you're going to learn anything that's going to throw at you, you'll probably be never on a job or never heard of the market or something like that, if that makes sense. So I think these are the two things I would like to share with everybody.
Yeah, I think that that is great advice. And I would agree, it's, it's not always easy. And everybody's situation is different. And you know, there's a there's a bit of a, I'll use the word loosely privilege of being able to make the jump and understanding that some people don't always have that. But I love your advice of beef, get one life and a lot of your time during that life is spent at your job. And so make sure that as much as possible, you enjoy that job that it fulfills you, and you do something that you love. And so, you know, the second part of your advice is, is really, to me, the important thing about have confidence, you're going to learn, not everybody knows everything. In fact, in product management, nobody knows everything. We're always constantly learning. And that levels, the playing field in many cases. And so, of course, the more experience you get, the more confident you will get. But even in making that jump, I think, just kind of move forward know that you'll learn quickly and continue to learn and I think that will help some people maybe be a little bit more comfortable with making some of those jumps like you've done I think that's great advice.
So my my last question for you is is the question I asked all of my guests which is, do you have any specific resources that you have found to be valuable as you were learning product management, you've mentioned a few classes and that sort of thing. So obviously, you've done some online learning and videos and that sort of thing. But any anything else that you like to use, not only as you were getting into product management, but now as you continue your learning?
I am one of those people who is this regularly getting into the habit of learning, like regularly now, so. So books, books are amazing, like, really, really amazing. But I really learned books on business and unlike, you know, managing teams and building startups and this sort of thing, because maybe that's the nature of the job that I have now. So that's something that I do.
There's one guy I want to recommend. And his name is Ken Norton, I think he's the, he's the godfather of the park management, and all these things sort of thing that he's the one is, is blogging, if you just Google it, you're gonna find it out. His blog is the only blog that I follow regularly. And I just try to keep up with posting and whatever he says post now. And the last one is obviously, you know, things like skincare are pretty helpful nowadays.
But YouTube is pretty helpful if you just if you just know where to look and what sort of content that you just want to look out for plain SK, sorry, YouTube is good. But the best one, the one that I want here to sit out is Twitter. It's a whole different different world, if you know how to get advantage of that. There's a there are people who are just posting such valuable content in terms of in terms of like threads, you don't even have to, you know, read a whole book of old blog or something like that, but just read that one thread. And there's a product management community, I think there's a couple of those now, you can easily easily follow. And such valuable content is out there for free, obviously, that you can just go out on the moon, wherever you are free, wherever you are just you know, you can have something to learn from.
I too love Twitter. In fact, I think that I think that's where you and I met originally? I'm not 100% sure on that.
Okay, good. I meet people on Twitter all the time. So yeah, I totally agree with that hashtag #prodmgmt is the best way to just find all of that content. So I love the fact that we've got all of these different resources and, you know, YouTube and LinkedIn learning and Skillshare and Twitter and, and the communities around there. And you really can find some amazing resources to learn each and every day. So I love that. And I think it's really important for those of us not only already in the profession, trying to continue to learn, but also those getting into it.
So, Mudassir, thank you so much for joining me today for sharing your wisdom for sharing your journey, and for inspiring those who may want to make a change in their career to be able to do that and get out of their comfort zone. Thank you again for joining me.
Thank you so much for for having me, you know, I totally enjoyed the thing and and I hope you know that somebody can just benefit from all the things that I have learned over the period of five and I just have like one small weird thing that I want to tell everybody is like, um, like, I used to be an average student. If I can make it, I think everybody else can make it. So yeah, thank you so much for having me.
I love that. That's that's such great, great advice and and vulnerability and showing folks who you are, and you definitely will make an impact and folks will gain a lot from your wisdom and your journey. So again, thank you for joining me Mudassir. And thank you all for joining me on product voices. I hope to see you on the next episode.
Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product voices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.
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