Michael J.A. Clark
Michael Clark is a professional software developer who creates high-quality products for startups in Cambridge, UK. Skills: C#, Java, PHP, XHTML, AS3, CSS, ML.

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Google APM Workshop at the Cambridge Computer Lab

Today I attended a Google Product Workshop, with Associate Product Managers Kenny and Emma, at Cambridge University. It lasted three hours and was composed of an introduction to Google and the APM position, followed by an interactive group-based workshop for the fifteen attendees.

Google are hiring at the moment and now is the time to apply. Unfortunately since this news arose they have received around 75000 CVs per week. Find a backdoor! Most of the APM positions are in Zurich, a beautiful but expensive city (adequate compensation provided).

They introduced Google and the position

The Associate Product Manager Program is an elite two-year rotational program, consisting of two one-year rotations, designed for top recent computer science graduates who are interested in exploring product development and leadership opportunities. This select group is given broad responsibilities, generous access to resources, visibility into Google's executive team and many opportunities to grow within the organization.

They take around 6 new associate product managers in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) every year. This is not a fixed limit, but completely down to the quality of applicants. It is Marissa Mayer's baby, fixing problems with old product managers just hiring people like themselves, while spotting malleable young talent.

Aim of the interaction session

The Googlers then presented an interactive task. We were split into three groups, with the aim being to create a Shopping List product for a specific market segment. These were:

  1. Wedding Planners
  2. Fashionistas
  3. Kids

Shopping for kids

My group targetted kids and our final idea was to create a process based on interactive physical devices like tablets (iPad):

  1. Suppliers are aggregated, with products sorted into child categories (Books, School, Sport), providing the possibility of charging a small percentage for the silent referral
  2. Parents control category, time and budget constraints (you have £20 to spend on books or tennis in the next 2 hours)
  3. The child is provided with the device and they drill-down, selecting products that are within the budget constraints
  4. Each product has educational annotations sourced directly from Wikipedia; currency is not shown instead opting for an indication of whether it will be an acceptable combination with currently selected entries
  5. If the parent selects that the choices require review, the child then passes the choices back to be checked before payment/shipping; this is optional and provides the child an opportunity to learn about online shopping before they have to consider card payments and exact values

I was impressed by the ability of our group to collate differing viewpoints onto a whiteboard before concentrating on a clear aim to develop. Matej usefully organised use-cases for parents and children onto the board and these diagrams guided the user interface drawings. Anyone know a tried and tested method for these situations (there must be a book)?

The presentations

From our team of five, two left before the presentation, and accordingly it became an opportunity to refine my presentation skills. Jen and Stojan demanded that I had to take the lead as the native English speaker but fortunately we all chipped in together when the time came. There was a great team spirit and we shared the more inventive ideas unique to this product, instead of discussing universal technical considerations.

The other two teams had interesting concepts:

  1. Team Fashionista created an annotated-map interface where boutiques are displayed around your current location (iPhone)
  2. Team Wedding List used a text-search interface organised into wedding-related categories with budget/priority annotations (web)

My questions to Google

What happens if deadlines are missed? Have an understanding why it went over-time and a new strategy for completing the product. Remove features or extend the deadline according to time necessity — shopping is dependent on the holiday season and may utilise heavy feature cuts to meet tough deadlines.

Do you use academic research to guide product development (HCI)? Google have breathtaking amounts of data (BigTable) and it is all available for use by internal projects. They use this data in conjunction with user statistics to guide product development instead of relying on research papers (academia progresses slowly in comparison). Products are developed iteratively with refinements based on user interaction testing.

The experience was valuable and enjoyable.

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