THE BLOG
02/15/2016 06:51 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2017

Who Says English Majors Can't Lead a Technology Product Team?

“Do you have any female millennial superstars at your startups?” I asked Steven Cox, friend and founder of TakeLessons.com - a technology company that delivers software and marketing services to help instructors make a better living doing what they love; and a marketplace where students connect with teachers for classes in over 400 categories. He replied with the name, “Jennifer Pugh.”

That’s how I met Jennifer Pugh.

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I was excited to learn about her personal journey and her leadership role at TakeLessons. Pugh shared the story of a young woman, an English major from UC Davis, who on her path to becoming a rock star stumbled upon TakeLessons and became a technology product team manager.

Pugh took a customer service role at TakeLessons when the company was focused on providing musicians and music teachers a way to earn money by teaching music lessons; and provide lessons for music students. She was interested in the music aspect and, well, “helping people,” and so she fell in love with her job.

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Her boss encouraged her to seek growth opportunities within the company and she did. Pugh grew passionate. She explains, “I was inspired by our students and teachers because their story was my story - I wanted to do whatever I could to help more students experience the power of an incredible teacher.” Asking around, she found that she could have the biggest impact by moving to the product team. Pugh said to me, “I moved into Product where I started doing general support, bug triage, product training, project management--basically anything I could get my hands on.” That was the start to her path to star female millennial, English Major, and Technology Product Team Leader.

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I was personally impressed by her story and curious to find out more about how being an English expert could help in becoming a technology-product manager, and about her thoughts on what helped her achieve her leadership role!

Taub: How does an English major help in technology-product management?

Pugh:  There are 3 misconceptions about English majors in technology-product management:

  1. Studying literature has nothing to do with product management or technology. Creating successful products relies on a fundamental skill all good English majors possess: the ability come up with an airtight thesis. When English majors sit down to construct a thesis, they have to examine the full experience of the text and find the most important parts to explore and derive meaning from. English majors are hardwired to constantly ask "what else could this mean?" When it comes to examining a user experience, PMs have to ask this question constantly. PMs know that finding the root issue of any problem helps you make the right product choices and saves you time and resources. The questioning nature of an English major can be extremely valuable when trying to figure out what could be going wrong in your product experience. Plus, once you figure out what you need to change in your product, an English major knows how to communicate that need to stakeholders because they are experts at creating airtight arguments.


  • You'll never use your creative writing skills. One thing I've found in Product Management is that there is no limit to the number of hats you might wear when working to launch your product. Many companies--especially startups--don't have the luxury of separate departments handling things like product release notes, product launch emails, product copywriting, even social media posts. In my experience, part of being a good Product Manager is being able to step in and produce whatever you need to keep the product moving--which definitely includes persuasive writing skills and a creative eye.

  • You're not wired to understand complex technical issues. I would argue that English majors are in fact designed to understand complex technical issues. Anyone who has ever tried to make sense of Ulysses or wildly experimental poetry and has succeeded to any degree is capable of understanding complex technical issues. It's all about decoding. Sure, you might need to get familiar with some new concepts to be able to speak the same language as a tech team, but there is nothing about an English major or anyone studying in the humanities that makes them less capable of digging into the nitty gritty details and coming up with great solutions. English majors are decoders and problem solvers by nature.
  • Taub: What helped you achieve your leadership role?

    Pugh: I believe a major contributor to my success has been the supportive and open culture of TakeLessons. We are here to empower people--our students, our partners, and our employees. I've definitely been empowered by this company and I'm not alone--there are students and teachers all over the country who have also been empowered and who have achieved incredible things through ongoing learning.

     

    My mind was blown. There you go: English Majors can do technology-product management and they can do it like superstars!

    Fast forward to 2016, Jennifer Pugh is the Product Manager for one of the company's biggest initiatives for the year, doing something she loves every day. She told me, “I feel incredibly lucky to have had many inspiring mentors along the way and I'm excited about my future and the future of TakeLessons.”

    About Author: Lolita is a wife and a millennial who loves food, travel and tech. She is a sales tech intrapreneur by trade and a social entrepreneur by nature. Lolita produces, speaks, and writes, at times. She lives in sunny San Diego with her husband.