Since I embarked on my journey with Zalando, I am often asked what product managers of infrastructure products do?
Infrastructure Product Managers manage mainly two things: Products and Processes. Products are things like Kubernettes on AWS, CI/CD, or Documentation Publishing Platform. Processes are thing like Support, Cluster Update Process, or Incident Management. Those products and processes have to be managed within a set of constraints such as budgets, compliance rules, reliability targets, security goals…etc.
The way I think about it is that it is similar to any other product management job with a few differences.
One difference is domain knowledge. Before starting my job I studied the material of the AWS certification to understand what is this, then my manager and team gave me crash courses to help me understand how our tools work together. I tried the products myself, but because I am not a developer I don’t have the same deep understanding someone with developer experience might have. Someone with no technical background might be struggling to work on these products.
Another difference is instant feedback. Because customers are internal, the product feedback loop is faster, and can be daunting if you don’t have the right processes in place. This means when you screw up, someone will email you about it. When you don’t want to satisfy that stubborn user, they will escalate you to get their things done. This doesn’t happen with consumer products where the development team is isolated from the customer and they are only connected through the data.
There is also a difference in the mode of working. In a consumer product you move fast and break things. In infrastructure it is completely the opposite, move cautiously and don’t break anything. Reliability trumps new features. Big part of the teams capacity will be consumed by maintenance and user support. It something you have to accept.
It is also not as glamorous as consumer products. You are mostly working on internal tools that don’t generate revenue. The truth always lies in someone’s opinion, as there isn’t much data to inform your decisions.
I personally enjoy it because I get to build relationships with my users, and because it involves a lot of persuasion which is a skill I am always trying to improve. I also like the domain knowledge I am getting and the many lessons I am learning, that’s something for another post.