A Year Or So in Product Management

After joining SDL and making an intrastate move from San Diego to San Jose five years ago, I posted what the first month was like.

Now I take a look back at the past year or so that started with an international move from San Diego to Nieuwegein, a city in Utrecht in "Holland" aka The Netherlands, near the end of 2015. After finding an unfinished rental, BSMSO did much of the work to fix up the place with paint, laminate flooring, and a yard complete with a small picket fence. The kids helped a bit too.

Can you dig it?

It's small, but it's still a picket fence.

Going Dutch 

We're loving our new home. Local stores are just around the corner along a wooded path and interesting places are a relatively quick drive or train ride away.

A walk to the local market which includes an Albert Heijn, of course.
To enjoy Dutch culture you can do things like visit Gouda. Yes, it's a place. And yes, it has cheese.

There are beaches here, just like back in California. Sort of.
I sometimes forget I'm in Europe, especially at home or when driving the A2, where big flat fields and livestock remind me I'm not in California.

Other details give a parallel universe vibe where traffic lights are on the near side of the street instead of across the street. "Aluminum" soda cans attract magnets. And snuggles isn't Snuggles, but rather Robijntje.

I'm not partial to fabric softener, but this bear stood out as one of many things that have been localized to this market. So much is familiar, yet different.

They have Renaissance fairs just like back home. But with castles.

Learning Dutch

Though I've entertained the idea of learning Dutch I haven't tried in earnest beyond the occasional lesson on Duolingo, Somehow I'm picking up the odd phrase or word through osmosis with phrases like:

  • "Ik ben" is "I am."
  • "Korting" means sale a discount. Like in the US there's always a sale, so it doesn't mean much except that you're looking at some type of advertisement.
  • "Alle-" means "all," as prefixed as an adjective in front of another word
  • "Lekker" is useful when ordering food or eating out.
  • "Met" is with, "of" is or, and "van" is from.
  • And "-je" is a way to make something diminutive, similar to the "-ito" in Spanish.
I've heard (from this guy) that learning an additional language might interfere with whatever other (secondary) language you already know. For Brits that might mean Dutch interfering with the French they may have learned in school. For a San Diegan that might be Spanish. I had an odd moment at a local Chilean Independence Festival, I was wondering how I could actually read a sign until I realized it was in Spanish rather than Dutch.

Cross-Cultural Observations

I've had Dutch colleagues and met a few of my current coworkers before moving here. The thing about Dutch (or any) stereotypes are that there may be some truth in them, but they definitely don't apply to everyone. Make assumptions at your own peril.

And as an international technology and services company focused on content and language, a good number of my colleagues have origin stories that started elsewhere. The thing to notice isn't the short-sighted fear that people grow and move on to other roles and companies. It's in how they come together from different backgrounds (work, culture, nationality, you name it) to further the mission. Where you're from doesn't matter as much as where we're headed.

Here are a few that have served similar roles at work, from the Floridian-New Yorker originally from Portugal to... I better not guess (actually I know most, but 1. don't want to leave anyone out and 2. give away personal info they haven't shared themselves). They all somehow found their way to the Amsterdam office at some point coming with various backgrounds, cultures, and nationalities. All have a passion for technical products and services.
One of the strangest personal adjustments is meeting Filipinos abroad. As a Filipino-American born and raised in Southern California, most Filipino-speaking people I've known are either family members or are in the US through the US Navy (through service or marriage). When I hear Tagalog or meet people speaking English with a Filipino accent, it's surreal sharing part of my cultural heritage but not the American part. What do you mean you're not a Filipino American? I'm hoping my children's status as "third culture kids" will be to their benefit in the long run.

At work and in my public interactions, though, I guess I represent America more than the Philippines. Speaking of work...


New role. New shoes, of course.

After getting proper footwear, I focused on the new job which included much of the past role of knowing, explaining, and sharing about the software plus:
  • Customer meetings, events, and online/in-person presentations
  • Research, including meetings, emails, online searches, surveys, customer meetings, and more
  • Internal meetings including backlog grooming sessions, acceptance meetings, stand-ups (for now), and the big go- no-go meetings.
Occasionally we have to solve interesting problems.

The engineers either identified an interesting solution or an interesting problem. 

Not all problems are of the software variety.

Prioritizing prioritization.


Within the year, I've also had slight adjustments to the role:
  1. We dropped technical from the title. It's product manager, without a qualification.
  2. I started working with Translation Manager and External Content Libraries as "my" products.
  3. Most recently, I'm now working with Experience Optimization and Audience Manager as part of an integrated, well integrations team.
Someone joked I'm the new "previous-product-manager's-name," I asked if I should grow out my hair to match hers. ;-) Hopefully I'll live up to the expectations but my Facebook pics will never rival hers.

Actually, I did have long hair in a past life. This is a slide from my SDL Connect presentation. Some change is good.

I'm still helping a bit on usability and user experience, representing and bringing the customer's voice in grooming and design sessions. We made some changes for editors this year and there's of course more changes to make.


I've almost forgotten what it was like when you had to wait over a year for a Tridion release. Since moving to the Netherlands, I saw the team release Web 8, then helped a bit as they followed up with a Web 8 cumulative update (8.1.1). Then we had the Web 8 mid-year cloud release and my colleague Onno shared a Preview of Web 8.3 and Web 8.5 before we had the actual Web 8.5 release this month. Even better is the fact the SDL Web Cloud docs reflect the latest changes. In terms of cloud you should reference dates rather than versions.


Along the way I rebooted SDL Tridion Ideas while my other colleague Bart released DXA several times (I'm losing count) and started moving extensions to the official SDL App Store with the help of Mark. See an example for a sneak peak before we release the rest of the extensions.

Change is coming.

As an even bigger initiative, we're working on reinforcing this cadence by adopting similar practices used by colleagues in Language (SAFe), which I should share about as we go along.


From wide-eyed MVP winner, I've found I could encourage others to share and then encourage and recognize others that create sharers. For example, after joining the Amsterdam office, at least five colleagues started blogging (two in UX, two architects, and a fellow PM). ;-) I'm working on management next.

And speaking of community, I've posted much (much) less on CreateandBreak (Disruptive Innovator) while finding my new Product Manager voice on SDL Community. See:

Bring on 2017

Let me end 2016 by revisiting Nuno's Staying True to (Y)our Legacy post. The context may be different but the advice remains for organizations and individuals alike. I'm paraphrasing his list of facts into 6 points:
  1. Focus in order to grow.
  2. Recognize your legacy, user your strengths and let go of what isn't working.
  3. Help customers to be relevant to their customers.
  4. Be a good steward and let others shine. 
  5. Play nice with others. Don't try to be all things for everyone.
  6. Embrace what others love in you.
Through choice and aptitude, as shaped by our environments, we often have certain skills and abilities that make us a best fit to solve certain problems.

For me, that means bringing the right people and technology together to solve the right problems. Though "connect" was a theme for SDL this year, I've used the phrase SDL Connected before and believe connection is the perfect focus point for SDL Web's integrations. A good part of my past roles have been about connecting systems while bringing developers and the business closer together, which makes my current role a perfect fit.

That doesn't mean it'll necessarily be easy. Bring on Product Management Year Two.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Alvin. It was great to see SDL Tridion Ideas getting a reboot and to see some good suggestions appearing on there.
    All the best for 2017!


Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Some HTML allowed including links such as: <a href="link">link text</a>.