Mini Work-term Report 1 (WTR)

Introduction

In the tradition of Waterloo’s WTR (Work Term Report) writing, I decided to conduct an interview with the product manager of our team during my PHRI Co-op placement.

Interview Summary

Your Visions and Strategies:

How do you develop your visionary thinking and strategic mindset for our product ROME?

Well, I guess most of these skills come from my 17 years of experience in PHRI. To be honest, when I first joined PHRI, my job was not about software development, but over the years, I gained experience in the work in the health sector. These experiences eventually lead to my familiarity with our workflow, and it helps me to develop ideas and optimize features in our software products later on.

Mindset Development:

Do you think visionary thinking and strategic mindset come more from a person’s education or work experiences?

Like I mentioned above, a lot of these mindsets come from a person’s experiences, but that’s just my opinion. A lot of people in the tech industry nowadays also enjoy switching jobs frequently and taking more risks in their own ventures, and that is good too. I also believe that education plays a huge role in this too. If you are able to get into some prestigious programs, you are able to meet the brightest minds in Canada, and that environment will push you to think strategically.

Your Vision for ROME:

What is your vision for ROME? What are some next steps to improve this product?

Our current goal is to make ROME into a product that appeals to all researchers. Right now, I would say ROME is quite “local.” What I mean by that is that originally, ROME doesn’t exist, and what we do then is we do software solutions for each study, but over time, we find that it is inefficient to develop products for each study, so we launched ROME, in the hope that it can provide a more unified experience for researchers around the world. So, I would say that our next step is to provide more unified features for our users.

Developing Product Ideas:

What are some approaches to come up with new ideas on features and architecture?

You might be surprised to hear this. Curiously enough, a lot of our product ideas actually just come from the knowledge of PHRI over the period of twenty years, like the SOP workflows. They existed even before this software product ROME. What we are doing now is bring those brilliant ideas into a web context, and that itself is innovation. So I would say I draw a lot of ideas from what I call PHRI’s legacy, and that’s the backbone of ROME.

Making Product Decisions:

What are some of the metrics you would consider on product decision-making?

That is a great question. Decision Making is a crucial aspect of product management in software engineering. When making a technical decision such as whether to bring in a new technology, such as a new framework or library, what we consider is how is this going to affect the overall architecture. Typical questions we would ask include are there enough interfaces in the API for our product to use? How is this change going to affect the performance of the database? Does this workflow make sense for a PI of a team?

Evaluating Product Performance:

After a new feature is implemented, how do you monitor and evaluate its performance? Would you mind giving some advice on production hotfixes?

We constantly get feedback from our users. Keep in mind that in the tech industry, user feedback is crucial to a product manager or even business people because tech is so intertwined with our life and one bad design would cause serious consequences in sales.

You can actually see this from the work I assigned you. A lot of them involve optimizing the workflow features and validation handling. These features bring more convenience to our users and we want to keep doing that. I would say that we are still not a tech company, so unfortunately we don’t use all the metrics and tools they use there to measure performance. What I can tell you is that a lot of the big tech companies use big data services in GCP, AWS, and Azure to monitor the performance. For example, they would record the clicks on a button to see if it is better to place the button in the center or the side.

Looks like you already have a pretty good idea of software engineering. In terms of production hotfixes, I would say don’t panic at first. You really want to bring the team together to hear what others have to say. At this time, a developer is probably more familiar with the situation, so listen to what they have to say. At this time, a decision has to be made quick. After a decision is made, you want to put your best hands at it.

Resolving Differences of Opinion:

As a leader, how do you usually resolve differences between business analysts, developers, and product managers (you)? Are there any special tricks you would use?

Another good one here. I am glad that you are already kind of familiar with a product manager’s life. What I like to do is brainstorm. I ask everyone to put their opinions on the table and write down the pros and cons they think. Then they each provide feedback on other team members ideas. We would put everything together and we would evaluate each idea and figure out what is the best. However, sometimes, these ideas end up having very similar ratings, that’s when I came in to make a decision. Being in the field for so long, I have a very good idea of what decision has to be made and what are the tradeoffs.

Continuous Learning:

What are some ways to keep learning and upgrading your skills after settling on a job?

You are hitting a good point here. I am still exploring a lot in software engineering. I often listen to Azure podcasts and other tech podcasts. It’s great to hear that you take tech as part of your life like watching tech YouTubers’ videos and read books about the tech industries. Books are still an important aspect of tech, even for some non-technical books. A lot of those books point you in the right direction instead of teaching you specific concepts. For example, there are lots of books on Amazon about the future of AI, Machine Learning, and Cloud Engineering. These books identify the trends and often tell you where we are headed.

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Former Solutions Developer @PHRI

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Zhijun (Kevin) Wang

Zhijun (Kevin) Wang

Former Solutions Developer @PHRI

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