#4 – Wenjia Zhu, Product Manager at BloomReach

Wenjia Zhu, Product Manager at BloomReach

Wenjia Zhu, Product Manager at BloomReachWenjia Zhu is a Product Manager at BloomReach, a big-data analytics company serving online retailers.

Selected Topics: Self-doubt, MIT engineering degrees, quarter-life crises, becoming a Product Manager, and 401(k)s.

About Wenjia: Prior to becoming a Product Manager at BloomReach, Wenjia Zhu was a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, and a private equity investor at H.I.G. Capital. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Biological Engineering from MIT, grew up in Montreal and Washington, D.C., and one day hopes to preserve open space in Hawaii. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her dog Clifford, rock climbing and cooking. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Books She Recommends

(WITtalks will receive a small commission if you purchase a book using the affiliate links on this page. Thanks!)

The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated, by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack

Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi


Note: The text below reflects constructive editing of the published audio for clarity and flow.

Erin: Today we talk to Wenjia Zhu, a Product Manager at BloomReach, a big data analytics company serving online retailers. Don’t miss this episode if you want to learn about navigating self-doubt, what it’s like to be educated at MIT, surviving the quarter-life crisis, becoming a Product Manager, and why you should have a 401(k).

Erin: Welcome to another episode of the WITTalks podcast. I’m Erin, your producer and co-host.

Tammy: I’m Tammy, your co-host. And I’m super excited about this one. Can I do this introduction?

Erin: Sure.

Tammy: Okay, so we’re super excited because we have Wenjia Zhu today. She’s a colleague of mine, and she’s with us to have some of the conversations that we have at work all the time, to actually have them on the podcast now.

Erin: Because when I hear them second-hand, they’re pretty funny.

Tammy: Thank you. So Wenjia, welcome.

Wenjia: Thank you.

Tammy: So we are actually at our workplace. We’re at BloomReach, where Wenjia and I both work on a software analytics product called Compass. We’re in one of the conference rooms at BloomReach called Shaker of Salt. Wenjia started about six months after I did, I think. When you started, did you actually get the quiz about what the conference room —

Wenjia: Yeah. So Rahul interviewed me and he told me each room’s theme was something to be found.

Tammy: Yes. So our conference rooms are like Shaker of Salt…

Wenjia: Waldo…

Tammy: Keys…

Erin: Platform 9 and 3/4!

Wenjia: Yeah. Platform 9 and 3/4. I love that one, that’s my favorite.

[1:50] Tammy: So we’re back in Shaker of Salt. Yeah, so let’s talk a little bit about what you do here. I know what you do here, but let’s talk for our listeners. What do you do here?

Wenjia: So I’m a Product Manager at BloomReach. I’m a Product Manager for Compass, which, like Tammy said, is our software analytics product. I’m in charge of doing the strategy, the roadmap of what we do next with Compass, designing the next feature, making sure it gets pushed out, and then handling any requests from customers. I listen to what they want. So a little bit of everything.

Tammy: Yeah, I’ve actually read a description of a Product Manager by a guy who wrote a book about being a Product Manager at Facebook. And he talks about how the Product Manager job is essentially to do every job except for coding, just about.

Wenjia: Yes.

Tammy: Related to the product. Do you think that’s fair? Do you think that’s too much to say?

Wenjia: I think that’s fair. I think you definitely have to dabble in a lot of different functions. You have to think about marketing, you have to think about business analytics, you have to think about customer success if you are B2B. And you have to be knowledgable enough in each of them to have enough context to know what’s going on. Each of those functions should feed into the product design and development, and how to leverage each of those functions to push and build a product out.

[3:10] Tammy: So how did you get here? Give us a little bit of context, kind of your growing up context, a bit about your story, just kind of some key moments that help us understand how you got here.

Wenjia: Great question. So I kind of grew up all over the place. I was actually born in China, I was there only until I was three, and my family and I left. We moved to Montreal in Canada. My dad was doing a PhD at McGill. So I spent four years in Montreal, learned French, became Canadian, and then we followed my dad to St. Louis in the U.S. where he was doing his post-doc. And then we eventually made our way to Maryland, the D.C. area.

[3:47] Tammy: And so how old were you when your family moved to the U.S.?

Wenjia: I was seven years old when we moved to the U.S.

Tammy: So did you become a U.S. citizen as well?

Wenjia: I am now, but it took me a while to get there. So you have to first get your Green Card. And frankly, I’ve had my Green Card for a long time and I was kind of lazy about getting the citizenship because being Canadian felt almost the same, except that you couldn’t vote. I felt like it was easier to travel internationally to say I was Canadian when the U.S. was getting not-so-awesome reviews abroad.

Tammy: It’s a nice way to put it. We weren’t getting awesome reviews abroad.

Wenjia: I would say I was motivated to get my U.S. citizenship when I found out three years ago that my Canadian passport was expiring, and my Green Card was expiring, and it was very expensive to replace the Green Card. So I said, it is time to get citizenship.

[4:29] Tammy: Do you still have a Canadian passport?

Wenjia: I do, I just haven’t bothered to renew it because Canadian passports are actually only valid for five years at a time, so it’s pretty annoying. And they have these very strict photo dimension requirements. You have to go to a special place to—you’re Canadian as well, so you know this.

Erin: Yeah. Yeah, I had to do that last year to get my passport.

Wenjia: There you go.

Erin: So are you a Dual Citizen?

Wenjia: I am a Dual Citizen.

Erin: Oh, cool.

Tammy: Alright. So your family ends up moving to the U.S., but it’s interesting because you’re only in Montreal for a handful of years, but you come out Canadian and speaking French.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: So it seems like you kind of were on a bit of an accelerated path.

Wenjia: Yeah, Montreal is a very interesting place because the people who live there actually primarily speak French as their first language. So if you’re out in a shop or you’re working at a restaurant, you need to be able to speak French primarily. And you also need to be able to speak English, but colloquially, people speak French to each other. In fact, the French identity, the Québécois identity is so strong that there was this whole movement to become independent from Canada.

Tammy: Yeah, I remember that, yeah.

Wenjia: So actually public —

Tammy: Just, like, reading about it.

Wenjia: Right. So public schools actually in Montreal, for me they were in French as the primary language. So you kind of had to speak French.

Tammy: So you’re native in several languages it sounds like.

Wenjia: Primarily I would say English and Chinese. Chinese because of my family, English because I grew up primarily still in the U.S. and I actually learned English before French because I went to an English daycare. So it was—in terms of order of language, it was Chinese, English, French, and then just mostly English in my education.

Tammy: Got it. Ok.

Erin: So when you were seven, you moved to St. Louis.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Erin: And so, did you then spend the rest of your childhood in St. Louis or did you move?

Wenjia: No, we were literally there for nine months.

Erin: Oh, wow.

Wenjia: It was just—my dad was doing a post-doc and then his whole lab moved to George Washington University.

Erin: Oh, right.

Wenjia: In D.C., so then we all packed up and moved to D.C.

[6:22] Tammy: So as a kid, doing that kind of moving… I moved a lot as a kid as well. How did you find your ability to connect with other kids, sort of resettle yourself, get yourself started again? Did that come naturally to you? Was that difficult for you? What was that like for you?

Wenjia: It actually was kind of fun. I didn’t mind that at all. I think if you move a lot below a certain age, it’s not too disruptive. It’s not too hard to make new friends, to be accepted socially. I think the move from Canada to the U.S. was the most shocking to get over culturally just because of how kids got along socially.

I think the school I went to in Montreal maybe was a little bit rougher, so certain things were more acceptable to say or to play. And then I found the Midwest to be fairly conservative in terms of how you’re supposed to behave on the playground.

But frankly, we—my dad was like a grad student and my mom wasn’t able to work then, so I was just excited moving to the U.S., that we lived in a one bedroom, which means we had more than one room because we had a studio in Canada. So I was just thrilled to have multiple rooms and a house to run around in. So it was mostly excitement for that move.

Tammy: Yeah. That’s very interesting that for you, the big part of it was moving from a studio and kind of keeping in mind your dad was a PhD student.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: So it sounds like times may have been a little bit tight.

Wenjia: They were tight, but the funny thing is when money is tight, when you’re young, it doesn’t really matter to you. You don’t really have a good perception of what that means and what you could have and what you can’t have as long as you have the loving family, you have a fun childhood and you’re stimulated intellectually and have good friends. You never really feel poor.

Tammy: This is more about having space.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: Now I have more space to hide all my business.

Wenjia: I just loved having—I mean I don’t feel this way right now, ironically, but when I was younger, I loved the idea of living in a house because it had stairs. And I thought stairs were awesome. You could slide downstairs.

Tammy: That’s true.

Wenjia: You could run up and down stairs like it was the most awesome thing. So my biggest excitement of moving to a house was to be able to have stairs. And ironically, now I actually don’t want to buy a house with stairs because then you could leave something upstairs and forget about it.

Tammy: But you get extra steps in, which is good for fitness.

Wenjia: That is true, it’s good for fitness, yes.

Tammy: Alright, alright. I think we are at a point now where you’re about to go into high school.

Wenjia: Yes.

[8:32] Tammy: Did you have ideas about who you thought you were going to be or what you thought you were going to do?

Wenjia: So that’s a funny question. I don’t really think I ever had a great idea about what exactly I wanted to do. I just wanted it to be awesome. So I guess —

Tammy: What does that even mean? I don’t know what I want to do, it just needs to be awesome.

Wenjia: So I guess —

Tammy: So what ends up happening is like, ok, so I could be an actress or I could deal arms or I could be a product manager.

Wenjia: Basically. I mean I think what happens is growing up, especially in a more academically competitive environment, you have a lot of pressure to succeed. And the metric you’re aiming for is success, which is very very generalized. And a lot of more traditional families would say success equals being a doctor or success equals being a lawyer. But if you didn’t want to restrict yourself to those fields, then success means just doing really well.

Erin: In whatever you choose to do?

Wenjia: In whatever you choose to do. So for me, it meant leading something, having a big team, having people under you, wearing nice clothes, working in a pretty office. And it’s all these ideas you actually get from movies and books of what success means.

[9:39] Tammy: Well I’m also curious too because you said growing up in an academically competitive environment. Was that because of your parents or was that because of your high school? Where did that come from?

Wenjia: Both, really. So my parents were always very, very focused on education. I mean, they both have lots of degrees and my grandparents have lots of degrees. I have the least number of degrees in my family. I just have one degree.

Tammy: That’s awesome, you’re the most undereducated person in your family at this point.

Wenjia: Oh yeah, totally. My dad has an MD, PhD. My mom is an MD. My grandfather on my mom’s side was the Dean of a major technical college growing up, and my grandmother was an Electrical EngineEring professor. So I’m, like, pretty —

Tammy: You’re like a massive underachiever!

Wenjia: I am totally an underachiever.

Tammy: Yeah.

Wenjia: I think about that once in a while about whether or not I should get another degree.

Tammy: Well, which is—I mean you have to put this in perspective if you understand Wenjia’s background. She is as far from an underachiever as you could possibly get. But, you know, in the context of your family, you’re an underachiever, which is interesting.

Wenjia: Oh, totally. From an academic perspective, I am definitely an underachiever.

Tammy: Wow, very interesting.

Wenjia: I am not nearly as book smart as my parents or my grandparents or my brother, actually. My brother is going to be a doctor one day.

Tammy: Yeah, you just went to MIT, so I don’t know. I think you really need to step back and have a look at yourself, Wenjia.

Wenjia: I think so too.

[10:55] Tammy: Alright, so why MIT? I think we almost kind of know the answer to that already, but —

Wenjia: It wasn’t a particularly complicated reason because my metric, again, was to just do well and succeed. I wanted primarily to go to a brand name Ivy-League level college. That was something that everyone in my family and everyone in my high school program—I went to a pretty competitive magnet science math program. Everyone was aiming for that level of criteria. So MIT made sense more because the program I was in was focused on math and science. MIT was math and science. I loved my program in high school. I had a great time there, so I thought, [MIT would be] an extension of my high school experience.

[11:36] Tammy: Did you get to that math and science program naturally in high school, or was that facilitated by your parents who said, “You will go into a math and science program.”? How did that happen?

Wenjia: Though it’s a little bit of both, what’s interesting is actually these types of magnet programs are basically advanced/gifted and talented programs where kids get to take a more rigorous course load that are focused on a specific area. It could be in liberal arts, it could be in math and science and technology, and it varies across the board. So funny story is that they offer these programs starting in elementary school, actually, so you can get started really early. And to get in, you have to apply. Almost like applying for college. You have to write an essay, you have to have recommendations, you have to take a test and score.

Tammy: Wow.

Wenjia: It’s kind of stressful.

Tammy: And you’re how old at this point?

Wenjia: I started in middle school, so I was 11 when I started.

Tammy: Wow.

Wenjia: It’s not the favorite part of my childhood, I’ll be honest. That was not really fun to go through that. I know people who started even earlier. They started in 3rd grade. That’s how early you can start.

Tammy: I don’t understand how a third grader wraps their head around trying to find recommendations and writing applications.

Wenjia: I mean, a lot of it is parent-motivated, to be honest.

Tammy: Yeah, of course, yeah.

Wenjia: But you personally need to know to establish good relationships with your teachers at a young age.

Tammy: Yeah, at a young age.

Wenjia: And keep that in mind. So actually, in middle school, my parents always wanted me to get in math and science because they came from that background. But in middle school, I did not get in the math and science program. I got in the liberal arts program.

Tammy: Wenjia!

Wenjia: So that was like a whole “thing”.

Tammy: Oh, I bet.

Wenjia: “You did not make math and science.” It was very disappointing, but I got into liberal arts middle school. But I loved the liberal arts middle school. I had a really rich education in history media production. We did things like you guys are doing now, learning how to edit video. We had trips to New York to learn about the history of New York from an art and literature perspective. We did a ton of theater in middle school. So that was fantastic.

So for me, at that time, I thought, “I want to continue this in high school and college. I want to pursue a liberal arts major. Maybe be a journalist or writer or do theater, something like that.” But the funny thing is, when I was applying for high school, it was similar. You have liberal arts and you have math and science. I did not get into liberal arts school. I got into the math and science school. So I personally was really, really disappointed.

Tammy: And your parents were like, “Oh thank God!”.

Wenjia: Yeah. Well I was disappointed because I was like, “Isn’t this what I’m supposed to be good at because this is what I’ve been spending the last three years trying to be good at?” I wasn’t really focused on math and science, I had barely any science education then because my school wasn’t focused there. So I had a lot of self-doubt and insecurity about not getting [into a school for something] that I was supposed to be good at.

Tammy: Hmm, interesting.

Wenjia: Whereas my parents were like, this is great, you should go to this math and science program. I actually did not want to go. It was actually a bit of a struggle. I just wanted to go to my normal high school. They had an Advanced Placement program that I got into and I was like, “Why not? I don’t identify with math and science people, they’re all nerds and geeks”, and I was very intimidated.

Tammy: As I mentioned earlier, Wenjia and I work very closely together because she builds the product that I train people to use. And working so closely with you, it would never occur to me that you had a moment where you felt unsuccessful or incapable or had self-doubt. These things would actually never occur to me.

Wenjia: Oh, really?

[14:51] Tammy: As I encounter you. So yeah, so I’m just really sort of surprised and I wonder how did you handle that at such a young age?

Wenjia: I would say I had a lot of self-doubt throughout most of my childhood, adolescence, and college life. And it’s only really recently that I felt more comfortable in my own capabilities and limitations and who I am and what I want. So that’s a probably more recent development in the last couple years.

But I would say, because of the competitive environment I was in, I was never quite sure if I was actually good at something or not. The high expectations that you had just for yourself, and from your peers and parents—it was hard to really see outside of that bubble. And for me personally, every time I did well on something, I almost didn’t want to jinx it by taking a moment to be proud of myself. I would say, “I’m very thankful this happened, this was kind of like a fluke, I shouldn’t get too —”

Tammy: Too excited about it.

Wenjia: Too excited about it. I shouldn’t be less vigilant. I need to keep studying, keep getting better.

Erin: In a sense, it sounds like you felt like you couldn’t back down or relax.

Wenjia: Exactly. I couldn’t relax, yeah. And I couldn’t take it for granted. It wasn’t until later in college that I felt more confident in my ability to solve a problem or resolve something in a stressful situation even if I didn’t necessarily prepare hours and hours for it.

Erin: Ah, interesting.

[16:18] Tammy: Well, what do you think finally changed for you?

Wenjia: MIT actually helped change that for me a lot because of the way the MIT education works, especially in engineering. The way we were tested wasn’t something that you could necessarily be good at just because you spent more time studying or preparing. You had to be almost—very meta—about how you were learning.

Like, you learn something, you understand, but you only understand Level One and you have to be able to know you only understood it at the first level. And recognize that, and understand what you need to do to take it to the second or third level because on that exam, they’re going to ask you things that you never talked about in class, you never did in your homework, you probably didn’t even see. So in order to solve that problem or at least have a chance of getting somewhere close, you can’t just rely on the basic level of learning that you did.

Tammy: You kind of have to push your thinking out.

Wenjia: Exactly.

Erin: And it sounds like you also have to extrapolate on what you’ve learned and apply that to scenarios that you haven’t seen yet, just like you would in the real world.

Wenjia: Right. Exactly.

Erin: Taking things you already know and morphing them to fit some situation.

Wenjia: Yeah. And I think the other thing that MIT helped with is that in a lot of the engineering tests the scores were really low and the tests were really difficult. So if you actually —

[17:32] Tammy: Actually, I’m sorry. You should say what kind of engineering you were in in MIT.

Wenjia: I was a Chemical Biological Engineering major.

Tammy: Ok. Any particular reason why you were doing that?

Wenjia: I was not super well informed. I liked math, I liked biology, so I thought the sum of that would be bioengineering. But MIT’s bioengineering department was very new at that point, so I was advised to do chemical engineering with a biology focus as a better proxy [for my abilities]. And I also heard that chemical engineers have great job security and can make a good salary when they graduate. That was why, and I was like, “Great, I’ll do it!”

Tammy: Ok, got it.

Wenjia: And also because people said it was hard. And I thought, “Great. I need to prove that I can do it because [people think it’s] hard.”

Tammy: Yeah, and then take it on.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: Ok, so you were talking about the engineering, kind of the approach to engineering learning.

Erin: On the tests.

Wenjia: Yes. So the other thing about MIT that made it interesting is that I think in high school, for the most part, if you know the material you can answer almost all the questions. You can get above 90%, right? At MIT, it’s really hard to score even above an 80 on a test, especially in engineering and certain classes.

Erin: Wow.

Tammy: For anyone?

Wenjia: For anyone. So you’re used to seeing an average of 50 or 60 on a test.

Erin: Wow.

Wenjia: So in some ways, that makes things—for some people, that makes it really stressful because you think, “No matter what I do, I never feel like I get it.” For me, it was a huge relief because I was though, “We’re all in the same boat. No matter what, it’s really hard. It’s just about relatively speaking how well we do and how much we can get through.” So that actually took a lot of pressure off for me.

Erin: That would have been really difficult for me if I were in your shoes because I assume you got really good grades in high school and were doing a lot of other activities. I did not get very good grades in high school, but I can imagine that if you were consistently getting A’s on your tests and in your classes and then you’re thrown into this environment where you’re, essentially, you’re getting F’s.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Erin: They round—I’m sure they curve it or round it.

Wenjia: They curve it, yeah.

Erin: But I can imagine that that would have been really difficult.

Wenjia: Oh yeah, the first time it was almost traumatizing because you’re opening up a test and you’re flipping the pages and you’re like, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, and then you’re like, oh that’s it? That’s the whole test?!”

Tammy: Wow.

Wenjia: And then you feel the sense of panic, like “I can’t do anything.”

Tammy: So it sounds like part of what they do is test your ability with the content, but also test your ability to handle challenge.

Wenjia: Yes, handle challenge and ambiguous situations and what you make of it. In many ways, it was not necessarily about getting the right answer exactly, but about your methodology to get there.

Tammy: Yeah.

Wenjia: So even if you couldn’t finish it, as long as you had the right assumptions and you had the right steps, you could get a lot of credit for the answer, versus having an answer that was completely wrong, you would get nothing for it. And that type of testing and evaluation is not… controversial… but it’s a little bit debatable. Not everyone sees it the same way. I certainly know people who really did not like it. They thought that it wasn’t testing you on what you learned or what you practiced in class, not as practical. Some people loved it, that’s something that they excelled in.

Tammy: I find it an interesting way to test engineers and to push people into math and science because it does sound like it’s not just about getting to a right answer, but also pushing the critical thinking, which seems incredibly important, no matter what your degree is.

So I think there’s a notion that when you go get a liberal arts degree like I did, I have a couple of liberal arts degrees, and it really was about critical thinking. I spent a lot of time doing a lot reading, a lot of writing, and a lot of thinking. But it sounds like the way that you all got at that in an engineering program was really the expectations for how you test. And that the test was about testing your thinking and not just your knowing.

Wenjia: Oh, exactly. In fact, most of our exams in engineering were completely open-book, open-computer. You could bring whatever you wanted to that test. You could bring all your textbooks if you wanted to. But the point was, that wasn’t going to help you if you didn’t familiarize yourself with the material already and have the tools to solve the problem.

Tammy: So you’re in this environment where a D grade is the new A.

Wenjia: Yeah, basically.

[21: 37] Tammy: So how does that then redefine your inner dialogue about success and how does it influence your next professional steps?

Wenjia: I would say that college was the first time that I started thinking about how to define success. Everything was pretty straightforward in high school. You knew where you stood on an exam or how you were doing relative to your peers because you had a very small pool. In college, you have people doing different majors, choosing different sets of extracurriculars.

So it was a little bit harder to measure, but I would say that I still was heavily influenced by what I thought was successful from my peer’s perspective. In college, especially colleges like MIT, where I think we’re maybe even more hyper-focused on that than other schools, and we’re a lot more homogeneous in how we are as people and what we choose to study. The majority of students at MIT study engineering. So you don’t have as much of that student body diversity as you would probably get at a different college.

So I would say that my perception of success and how I measure myself didn’t really change until I started working and I met all sorts of people of different ages and different backgrounds, different countries. I think that’s what really helped open it up for me.

Tammy: Sounds like the key point to keep in mind is that it’s really important to broaden your perspective.

Wenjia: Oh, totally.

Tammy: With different kinds of people.

Wenjia: Yeah. I mean I would say in MIT, even in MIT, you have—MIT is a bubble and within that bubble you have —

Tammy: Sub-bubbles.

Wenjia: Sub-bubbles, right?

Erin: “Sub-bubs.”

Wenjia: And when I was there, in my —

Tammy: We’ve got to fist-bump on “sub-bub”.

Wenjia: In my little sub-bubble, being successful was working at Goldman Sachs or at McKinsey, even if you were an engineering student. Back then, it was either you were going to work for a big petrol company, a big biotech company like Merck, or you work for a major consulting or finance company. That was what was sexy.

]23:32] Erin: And did you end up at any of those places?

Wenjia: Good question. So I was thoroughly influenced by that because you see people doing internships, because you had internships during the summer. And you see sophomores getting internships at finance banks and making a ton of money. And you look at the work they’re doing and you’re thinking, “This is so much easier than my engineEring work!” Yet, you’re seeing so much immediate financial benefit, you’ll dress all snappy at work, you’re not stuck in lab and you work in these tall buildings with glass windows.

Tammy: The best views.

Wenjia: The best views.

Tammy: Always the best views.

Wenjia: That feels like success to me, right? So that’s what I started aiming for as well, and it was actually very common for a lot of engineering students of all disciplines to go eventually into finance or consulting instead of something that was relevant to their major because of this immediate perception and feeling of success and satisfaction.

[24:29] Erin: I want to ask a follow-on question to that. So I’ve been interested in finance for a really long time and at some point, I’ve heard this phrase, “brain drain”. Have you heard of this in relation to finance?

Wenjia: Yeah.

Erin: How the finance industry essentially sucks all of the talent out of universities who have very analytical, quantitative-oriented minds. And it sounds, from what you’re telling us, that that is absolutely the case.

Wenjia: Oh, totally. And I —

Tammy: Did you experience that first-hand?

Wenjia: Totally. And I would say—so personally, I ended up working at McKinsey, so I was definitely part of that wave. And I actually knew I wanted to do consulting sophomore year in college. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. And I was just very gung-ho about it. I went to a ton of networking events, I became the managing director of our school’s science engineering consulting club, just to network with all the recruiters across all the major companies. I was all out. If there was some event somewhere in New York or something, I would be there. That’s how much I wanted it.

[25:28] Erin: Ok, so as a sophomore, you’ve identified consulting as the job you really want to get after college. And you go to all these networking events. What happens when you graduate? Have you—in your senior year, did you already lock something down? What was that process like for you?

Wenjia: Yeah, it was pretty common for people to have an offer from their junior year into a summer internship. That was your goal.

Erin: Wow.

Tammy: And did you meet that goal?

Wenjia: Yeah. I think you would feel like you failed if you didn’t meet that goal. That was pretty expected that you can fool around freshman year and sophomore year and do whatever you want. I went to France and did an internship my sophomore year. But junior year, internship should translate into a potential full-time job for you.

Erin: Man, I wish someone had told me that.

Tammy: But do you really know? I mean, think about this. Essentially, Wenjia is saying that she was on a track and there was no —

Wenjia: Oh, you were on a track, yeah. You had to know. There was a formula. You kind of need to know “you need to do this to get there”. I mean, I took advantage of it, too, when I could. I actually—sophomore year summer, I could have worked at this law firm that did IP law and technology law. And that sounded really cool because it was a brand new law firm. But I chose to go to France instead and travel in Europe and do research, but more for the purpose of going to Paris.

Tammy: Maybe that’s a little bit of that liberal arts heart in you coming out. It was still in there beating.

Wenjia: And I’m very glad—I was so glad I did that. That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But definitely junior year summer you are supposed to look for something that gives you an offer. Not so that you have to work there, but so that you have a backup. Because then you did your recruiting the fall of senior year. And you were supposed to lock it in before—most places you would lock it in before January.

Tammy: Wow.

Erin: Wow. That’s such a different life and such a different experience than what I had at a liberal arts school—small liberal arts school.

[27:11] Tammy: Yeah, absolutely. There’s no set path at all. So talk a little bit, Wenjia, about your prep for—because you’ve told me some really great stories about your prep for McKinsey. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Wenjia: So to prep for consulting, you have to do what is called a case interview. And it’s basically them presenting you a situation or problem. Usually it’s pretty common sense. You have to ask questions and basically live talk and solve the problem with your interviewer. It’s actually hard to do because you’re thinking and talking out loud, and you need to be doing it coherently and not panic if you’re doing something wrong.

So as part of the prep, you are supposed to do what we call a lot of “case practice”. So you can get a lot of old BCG and McKinsey cases, and you can buy casebooks. And basically, every day you and your buddy or friend or whoever you want to grab, you basically give each other cases. I had my brother give me cases and he was, keep in mind, he is 9 years younger than me. So he was—I was 20, so he was 12. So he gave me cases. You really want as much practice as possible.

Tammy: “Everyone’s going to give me cases! My 12-year-old brother, everyone’s going to give me cases.”

Wenjia: Yeah, basically. So I basically did that everyday. You never know what the case will be in your interview. But it’s definitely a very interesting experience, and I’m very thankful for it because I think every job you get moving forward—even if it’s not a consulting job—if you’re just doing product or business operations or strategy, it’s in a similar format where people present you with a situation and they want you to talk through it. So that was incredibly valuable to have that ingrained in you. But I definitely had some memorable cases. One was—I was interviewing for BCG.

[28:49] Tammy: Can you say what that is real quick? BCG?

Wenjia: BCG is the Boston Consulting Group. It’s one of the major management consulting groups in the U.S. There are different types of consulting firms. Some are very specific, some are around a technology, like if you do biotech consulting or financial services consulting or tax consulting. And it’s very, very specific.

And then you have firms like McKinsey and BCG or Bain that are much more generalist. We call those management consultants. So we do projects that touch an entire organization, and we do a lot of what we call change management, which Tammy is all too familiar with.

It’s not just about helping them do analysis, but it’s also changing the way people think and the way people do their job. It expands across all functions, all industries. And that’s why I wanted to work for one of those companies, because I wanted that exposure.

Because I was going for these very generalist consulting companies, the questions could be about anything, basically. It could be about retail, it could be about CPG [Consumer Packaged Goods], it could be about tech. And I remember for BCG, I had a question about cloud storage back then. And I had never heard about what the cloud was until that interview, which was pretty challenging because she was presenting me this case about, “Imagine Amazon has all this extra storage and they want to use that to provide cloud storage services”, which is actually a real thing right now.

It’s a very real thing, but back then I had no idea, so I just told myself—I actually thought the cloud was literally up there (and I’m pointing up right now). And then when she kept saying, “You have this much cloud and you’re moving this to the cloud”, I just kept imagining there was something in the sky and you were just throwing stuff up there. Ok, cool. And magically, I got through the case. I don’t know how—I had no idea what it was and I didn’t want to ask because it would look probably really stupid.

[30:36] Tammy: So how did you actually manage to talk about the cloud if you didn’t know where or what the cloud was?

Wenjia: So with that I’d have to credit to my engineering education. [You learn that] it helps sometimes for complex concepts to not try to understand everything but put it in a bucket and say, “This is a system and this system works with this other system in this way.” And you just have to know what goes in and what goes out. And you don’t necessarily know everything that happens inside the system. If you’re able to make that compartmentalization, it can help you.

Tammy: Got it.

Wenjia: In a situation.

Tammy: So your first introduction to the high level technical conversation is about the cloud, and it’s just up in the sky somewhere.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: And you’re good with that?

Wenjia: And the thing is, at the end of the day in most situations, unless you are a technologist, what people want you to do is not necessarily explain to them technology or have a conversation about how things work. They want to understand how to make money or how to make things more efficient. And almost every problem can boil down to that and if you stay calm and you just remember it, that’s what they’re looking for, then you can solve most of these case problems because they’re pretty high level.

[31:39] Tammy: It also sounds like you could also do a lot of product management work. And I see sort of a very—as you’re describing this process of doing management consulting, even interviewing for management consulting roles, it sounds like the same kind of thinking applies to your product management work. Do you see connections there and do you want to talk about that?

Wenjia: Oh, absolutely. Because in product management, the balance that’s really hard to straddle is how much of the code for a feature or for a product do you want to even try to understand? I think the balance is that you want to understand enough to be able to talk to engineers about it intelligently. And in some ways, also to earn their respect because they need to trust you.

But in reality, to do your job, especially as a product leader, it’s more about how you think about the product vision and where it goes [than being a purely] business question. And then from a development perspective you need to understand how the different pieces connect and what the dependencies are. What are the trade-offs and consequences if you choose to do A versus B in your system or in your architecture?

[32:43] Erin: How do you sleep at night? Those are a lot of questions, and all of the questions are tied together in some way. It’s like a domino effect.

Wenjia: I would say I feel like I had a nice ramp-up here with Compass at BloomReach. When I started, I only had to worry about one small feature at a time, so I just needed to know how that small feature worked. And I didn’t have to worry about anything else.

I also consciously told myself, “Right now you’re just going to be worried about getting this right. There’s so much that you could be keeping track of that you would just fail to keep track of all of it.” So my strategy was always to just own one piece at a time and get comfortable there and not try to do too much. It’s definitely easier said than done.

Tammy: Or not try to do everything all at once.

Wenjia: Exactly, not doing everything all at once. So my first feature was to put little tool tips on a couple metrics. So my primary goal was to just understand what these metrics were and write a definition for them, understand where they would be applied, and that was it. And that’s pretty straightforward. I wasn’t worried about all the other different components that were going on. The emails that we get on a daily basis from customers and the sales team, I didn’t answer any of them. And now, of course, I can’t do that anymore.

Tammy: Well you especially can’t do it because I sit right next to you. And I’m like, “Wenjia. Wenjia. Wenjia. And Wenjia, you have to answer me!”. Wenjia will have her earphones on and I will G-chat Wenjia: “Hey Wenjia, I’m talking to you. You have to turn around and answer me.”

[34:08] Erin: So how do you go from being a consultant at McKinsey to being a product manager? Was there any step in between or what gave you the idea?

Wenjia: So —

[34:16] Tammy: Actually, that’s one thing I’m really curious about, is how do you get the idea that you want to go from a big management consulting firm to a small startup? And is that a transition that you have seen other folks making? Is that a common transition or is that an unusual transition?

Wenjia: I would say it’s a very common transition for people who came from technical backgrounds, so math or science or engineering, to then go to finance or consulting for the reasons that we’ve spoken about earlier, to then realize that those success metrics were not really valid or making them happy in life, and then to go through a period of being very lost or having what we call a “quarter-life crisis”.

Erin: It’s a thing.

Wenjia: It’s a thing.

Tammy: Erin’s looking at me because she had a quarter-life crisis and I was like, “You can not possibly be having a crisis.”

Erin: My quarter-life crisis has lasted for the past five years.

Wenjia: Almost everyone I know from my circle who went down that path had a quarter-life crisis.

Tammy: Really?

Wenjia: Like I said, we did tech or science or math, we went into consulting or finance, realized that we were completely disillusioned and we did not want to be part of the rat race. [We realized it] was not meaningful… And then decided to go on a self-finding period and then to end up in some place in tech. And the most common places for people with our backgrounds, because then we’ve done business and we’ve done tech, is to do product—or actually be an engineer again.

[35:36] Tammy: Oh, ok got it. And so one of the questions I have for you then is how did you decide it was product for you as opposed to engineering?

Wenjia: Yeah, I thought about that a lot as well. So actually after McKinsey, I didn’t do product after McKinsey. I actually went even deeper into the rat race. I went into private equity.

Tammy: Right, because you want to make sure you don’t ratchet up the pressure or anything.

Wenjia: Yeah, exactly. I had a very —

Tammy: I mean, that’s even more intense than consulting.

Wenjia: Actually by workload it was less intense, but in terms of flexibility, it was worse.

Tammy: And outcome expectations.

Wenjia: Outcome expectations.

Tammy: I mean, you’re dealing with—now you’re dealing with people’s money directly.

Wenjia: Yeah, yeah. And it creates a different kind of culture and atmosphere, for sure, when you have money tied to it. I would say I went into consulting because I wanted to be very generalized. I wanted to—I liked the idea of seeing a bit of every type of company out there and actually being able to be at the same table as very senior people within a corporation. I liked having a seat at the table and being able to present and do work and contribute to big changes that had big impact. That’s what attracts most people to consulting because when you go to a lab and you do research or even as an engineer, it can take a long time before the work you do has a meaningful outcome for the company. So I think the consulting path is very exciting for that reason.

Tammy: In that regard, yeah.

Wenjia: And product is actually quite similar, if you think about it.

Tammy: I was about to say that. I can see another connection, too, because you definitely have an immediate impact not just on the product and not just on the end users, but on this company, BloomReach, and the company that our end users are at.

Wenjia: Exactly.

Tammy: So you have this ripple effect.

Wenjia: Right. And you’re not doing one thing every single day. Like you said, you have to touch a lot of different other company arms and functions. You do marketing, you do customer success. So you’ll never get bored doing one thing. And I always —

Tammy: As a product manager you won’t.

Wenjia: As a product manager. And I never wanted to just spend my life doing one type of work. I like to be challenged and stimulated with different kinds of questions and talking to different kinds of people. But the leap from finance to product was not a straightforward one. I basically —

[37:38] Tammy: Yeah, how did you even discover product management?

Wenjia: I mean, I went to finance simply because I didn’t want to travel anymore, because flying stresses me out. And finance I thought would be similar to consulting.

Tammy: And, I’m sorry, as a McKinsey consultant, you’re traveling like 70% of the time, right?

Wenjia: Yeah. You travel Monday through Thursdays. That’s the general model. You’re onsite with the client Monday through Thursdays, and then you work wherever you want on Friday and then most of the time you have your weekends to yourself. But when you’re onsite, that is all you do. You don’t plan anything during the week. You do all your doctor appointments, errands, and everything on that Friday or the weekend.

Tammy: Yeah.

Wenjia: So I just wanted to not travel. So I had a very low bar. I thought, “As long as I don’t have to travel, life will be good.”

Tammy: It sounds like you had your quarter-life crisis in stages. The first stage is, “I just have to get off airplanes.”

Wenjia: Well that’s actually not so much a quarter-life crisis because a lot of people at a college plan to do McKinsey for basically a year and a half to two years.

Tammy: Oh, ok.

Wenjia: And then do something else. So it was more like—it was still part of—you’re still part of the “program”.

Tammy: Ok, got it.

Wenjia: Right, you had just “finished your program”. Now after your program, what do you do next? And I think I picked finance because, again, I was told it was really hard to get into private equity. And that it was perceived as something really prestigious.

Erin: So tool tip for you, Tammy, if you ever need something from Wenjia, just tell her it’s going to be really hard and no one else can do it.

Tammy: Yes, that’s exactly—no, I’m totally getting this now. I’m totally getting this. I’ll say, “Oh Wenjia, we got this customer. You’re not going to ever be able to make them happy, but you could try. Here are the three things you have to build for them.”

Wenjia: Well, it’s not just about hard. It was that the hard part was enticing because it gave me a chance to prove to the world, or to my bubble, that I did something really hard and [I wanted to] get credit for that. It was also because of what I thought other people thought about what I was doing. That was really important to me. In my mind, if other people thought that “this” was the best thing to do, then “this” was successful.

Erin: So at that point, your definition of success was completely removed from yourself?

Wenjia: Oh yeah. It had been that way, really, through high school and college.

Tammy: Yeah, it’s external. It’s about what other people think, and what other people do.

Wenjia: Exactly, yeah.

[39:39] Erin: And looking back on it now, do you think that that is a sustainable way to define success?

Wenjia: Oh no, definitely not. And actually, I’m glad that I went into finance because it was such a poor fit for me and because the specific firm I picked was such a poor fit for me, it knocked me out of that mentality and forced me to really think about what it is that I actually want myself to do. [I had to think about] how that intersects with what I’m good at not what other people thought was good for me. And I think going into finance and not liking it made me realize I do not want to be part of this program or rat race or system anymore. I want to just try something else. That’s why I left.

[43:18] Tammy: And so how did you discover product management, then?

Wenjia: When I was in finance, I did go to a panel, a product management panel, with a couple folks from startups and a couple folks from LinkedIn. And when they talked about what they did as product, it appealed to me for the reasons we’ve discussed in that you had a lot of ownership, there’s a lot of intersection between tech and business, and you work with a lot of different people. And then I went there and I thought it was cool.

Tammy: So actually, I think that those are three things to really sit on. If you were to sum up what it means to be a product manager, it sounds like having a lot of ownership, that intersection between technology and business, and the third one was working with a lot of different kinds of people.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: Across a lot of different kinds of business functions.

Wenjia: Yeah, and the idea of leading by influence versus leading because you’re someone’s boss—I think product managers are not actually the boss of very many people. It’s not about people management, yet you have to influence and motivate and inspire people to go with your mission.

Tammy: Having started at Bloomreach just a little bit before you did, I remember when you were being interviewed. And people were talking about your resume and your profile, and everyone kept saying, she’s really, really smart. And that’s something that gets said about a lot of people, but I think what people meant by that was you really knew how to understand something very, very quickly and make really cogent, powerful argument for it. And I think that’s one of the things that got people so excited about you coming on as a product manager.

It’s always helpful to have these conversations with you because I feel like you’ve kind of distilled things down so clearly that when I talk to you, I actually then come to a better understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish, better understanding of the product as well. So it sounds like your consulting background, even though it led you into a quarter-life crisis, really helped with that.

Wenjia: Oh yeah, definitely. I think in consulting you have to work under a lot more time pressure and team-boss pressure. That’s what you’re supposed to do, and that’s definitely been helpful here as well.

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[43:03] Tammy: You know, you come from this management consulting environment where you sat in a room with a lot of big players. A lot of important voices. And you didn’t necessarily have authority there. You had maybe more influence, but not so much authority. So do you think that that plays into this part of your character where you’re really good at making these arguments? You talked about that a little bit, but not so much about understanding how to make the argument, but more about the force within yourself to make the argument. Especially because I imagine you were probably a junior person in that room. Did being a woman have any part of that dynamic?

Wenjia: Ok, that’s a great question. So let’s start with being a woman. Since high school, because my high school is math and science, I’m actually quite used to being one of the few women in a room or in a group. So for me, being the only woman in a meeting never really psychologically had an impact on me from a professional perspective, but as I’ve worked more, I’m starting to realize more and more limitations or just things that you do subconsciously as a woman because of all these other biases that you have growing up that disadvantage you.

Tammy: Can you give a couple examples?

Wenjia: For example, there was a study done [“The Confidence Gap” in The Atlantic, May 2014 issue] about how men tend to expound on traits or skills that they have, even though they’re only 50% confident about them, and women will tend to be very modest and humble about their ability to do those things. And I definitely fall into that latter category. That’s one example. Men tend to—and this is based on the study—speak up more and are willing to assert a strong opinion even though they’re not really quite sure and women tend to feel like they have to have all the facts before they have a voice.

Erin: And a degree of certainty.

Wenjia: And a degree of certainty. And I think that definitely plays a role, and I see that in myself a lot today, quite a bit.

[44:48] Tammy: Do you find yourself pushing yourself through that or pushing against that, or do you find that it’s just too much ingrained to change it right now?

Wenjia: Absolutely, I do find myself pushing there. Even with my mentors that I have at work, like Sharad, who I report to, would encourage me to feel free to speak up more and defend my opinion strongly even if there is strong pushback. It might seem counterintuitive when he’s the person that you’re disagreeing with, but it’s true, it is really important to do.

And in terms of being able to do that at BloomReach better than before, I think there are a couple of factors that play into that. I think one is there are certain parts at McKinsey that were just so stressful. I felt like I was so stressed doing certain things, like when I was creating a model and maybe there was a mistake and the CEO was in the room, and that mistake in your model could mean a big difference in results. Having gone through that, everything else feels like it’s fine, it’s not a big deal.

Tammy: You can cope with it.

Wenjia: Yeah. It’s almost like you’ve been pushed to your limit. I was pushed to my limits in college, I pushed my limits in finance, in consulting. I feel like, “You know what, I went there and I survived.” Even though I didn’t like something, I still survived. It’s OK, you can start from the beginning. I quit my job, I I did what I wanted to do, and I still figured it out. So I feel more comfortable pushing myself in professional settings.

Tammy: Got it.

Wenjia: The other reason why it happens better in my current role is that in Tammy’s role, for example, she has to do it. So I’m almost the kind of person who I don’t naturally—I won’t raise my hand and volunteer to be the leader of a group if another person already stood up and did so. I don’t really like to compete for that. It’s not very exciting for me. But if there was no leader in the group and things were falling apart, or if I was put into that role and told, “You have to do this”, I end up doing better than trying to do it voluntarily. And I think being a product manager kind of forces you to do that because people are waiting for you to make these decisions, so you’ve got to decide.

Tammy: Yeah. You’re the advocate for the product.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: Right? So you have to step up for the part.

Wenjia: You have to step up for it. And I think the third reason is just being in a good culture. Being in a place where people encourage you to voice your thoughts. I’ve been in places where that wasn’t encouraged as much and that plays a huge role as well.

Tammy: Yeah, I can definitely sense that too, just in the conversations and even the debates that we have. One of the things that, for me, always seems key is that I just trust that we are all working toward the same goal.

Wenjia: Right.

Tammy: Even when you and I are having some sort of disagreement, we’re trying to work it out. We’re not working against each other. We’re trying to figure it out together even though we’re coming at it from different points of view.

Wenjia: Right. And I think if you have a good team that you work with, you’re not so worried about politics about like, oh if I disagree with this person, is it going to create some tensions and come back to me in the future and blah, blah, blah. You’re thinking more about getting the best outcome. And that’s ideally the environment that you want to work in. You’re definitely in situations in other places where it’s not so much about getting to the best answer, but keeping the best relationship.

Erin: That definitely can get in the way.

Wenjia: Yeah.

[47:37] Erin: So as you were describing your roles at McKinsey and then in private equity and then now as a product manager, to me, they seem pretty distinct from each other. And so I’m wondering if you’ve ever considered—why was it that you were able to jump in such a big way from one thing to another?

Wenjia: Great question. It’s a pretty big jump, and it’s not always easy to make that kind of transition. Not just because I wasn’t a product manager, but also because I had never worked in tech, either. So there are a couple of disadvantages.

Tammy: And you didn’t know what the cloud was!

Wenjia: And I didn’t know what the cloud was, or the Internet. That’s a different story.

Tammy: Oh, can you please tell the Internet story?

Wenjia: So I can remember I was preparing for my final round for McKinsey’s Silicon Valley office, the power office. And I realized that if I was interviewing for the Silicon Valley office, which is very technology focused, I should probably know something about tech. But I actually knew nothing about tech from the perspective of, you know, software and the Internet. And I was going over these cases I suddenly realized I didn’t really know what the Internet was.

Tammy: Wenjia, how is that possible that you went to MIT, and you don’t know what the Internet is?

Wenjia: Like I said—

Tammy: What does that even mean?

Wenjia: It’s one of those things where you can understand how something works and be very capable of using it, but not really understand what it is and how it was actually built and how it functions. But you as a user can be very proficient.

Tammy: That’s pretty awesome.

Wenjia: At using it.

Tammy: I think to curdle the iron, the point of that is it sounds like you really don’t mind admitting when you really don’t know something fundamental.

Wenjia: You have to know when to admit it and when to keep it to yourself.

Tammy: That’s true.

Wenjia: There are certain meetings or certain positions where, even if you don’t understand something, it’s probably not the best time to ask. But you absolutely need to admit to yourself when you don’t know something, and you need to know when you shouldn’t try to ride that wave of, “Yeah I don’t really know it and I’m just going to fake it until I make it.”

Tammy: Yeah, exactly. Go figure it out.

Wenjia: You still have to go figure it out. And the best way to figure it out is to say, “You know what? I have no idea how this works.” But you just have to make sure you ask that question to the right person.

Tammy: Yeah, exactly.

Wenjia: You just have to be a little strategic about it.

Tammy: Which brings us again back to product management.

[49:37] Erin: Well, and the question, which I don’t think we fully answered yet, which was what do you think it was that enabled you to make these big leaps between these different—

Wenjia: I think having an engineering background helped a lot. I think even though my degree was not in software engineering, it was in chemical engineering, and at least that gave credibility to my quantitative background. And it shows that I’m able to learn things and figure out how things work together. Engineering’s all about applied learning whether or not it’s software or chemistry.

I think the second thing that helped a lot is having that management consulting and finance background. Because you do have to manage projects and teams, and you have to do a lot of prioritization in terms of whose work you are going to do first: your own or your client’s?

And then you also do a lot of people management, actually, in consulting. People management is [somewhat similar to] product, where your client does not work for you, yet they need to do what you ask them to do. So there are definitely a lot of parallels, and I think the people who I interviewed with who saw those parallels appreciated me as a potential candidate.

Something else that honestly helped me a lot was just having a strong network through McKinsey and through MIT. Everyone has to start a product role from somewhere. Traditionally, you start from a software engineering background or back in the day, maybe from an MBA. And these days, people either want you to already be super technical, or they want you to have been a product manager before. But you know, you need to start somewhere. So it’s all about finding that person who empathizes and understands what you went through… to give you that chance.

Tammy: Give you that chance, yeah.

Wenjia: I was able to find that here at BloomReach.

[51:19] Tammy: How do you feel you’ve learned to be a product manager?

Wenjia: Basically by doing, and by making mistakes. I learn a lot by doing because I think there are certain things that you need to read and have knowledge on, and you need to study. And then there are certain things that you only learn by doing. I think a lot of real-life jobs you just learn through experience. And I basically learned by building smaller features, then bigger features, and learning what went well and what didn’t go so well. Talking to other product managers at BloomReach, outside of BloomReach, comparing notes on what we do day-to-day when we talk to engineers. For example, “I’m having this challenge on my team. Do you ever have this too, or is it just specific to me?”

Something funny with product management is that because it’s so different from place to place, it’s hard to calibrate it. I always ask myself, “Am I doing a good job? Am I actually a good product manager? Am I just doing OK in my world?” But if I were to leave here and go work for a different company, it just—it wouldn’t work.

Tammy: I think I just want to sum up here that first of all, coming into product management, you do need to network and find someone who’s willing to give you that chance to be a new product manager. And secondly, leverage the community of product managers that exists already to help you understand. And thirdly, it sounds like you should pay attention to the product management experience you are having so that you can learn the lessons you’re experiencing as you do your job.

Wenjia: Yes, absolutely.

Tammy: Is that fair?

Wenjia: Yes.

[52:49] Erin: So, I wanted to take us down the direction of pedigree and perception. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about having gone to MIT now that we have a captive MIT grad, especially one who has worked at McKinsey, which is very well-known. Someone might look at your resume and think, “Oh, of course, well, she’s got it made”, or “It’s going to be really easy for her”, etc. etc. Do you find that has been true in some ways? Has it opened doors or has it had other challenges that people don’t necessarily know about?

Wenjia: I would say that I don’t think anyone really ever has it made, unless if you come from a ton of wealth and a very well-connected family. I think you always have to work for it even with “a good pedigree and background”. I think what helps in having a brand-name school or company on your resume is that it gives you a sense of a safety net. And I think the biggest difference it makes is that you could afford to not be super focused for a year or so, or not do anything for a year or so, and it would still be ok in continuity and finding a next job. And I think it gives you that sense of safety and ability to explore if you wanted to.

The funny thing, ironically, is that most people who come from this background don’t take advantage of that, and they don’t do it because they’re scared about doing it. So I would say the disadvantage of this is that you feel like you’ve always done things a certain way and you have to continue doing things a certain way, otherwise you’re stepping off the right path and then if you step off the path, like, who knows? You’ll fall, you’ll get lost, and then all this work you did to build this [pedigree] will be gone.

Tammy: It sounds like the very advantage that pedigree gives you, in terms of your degree and where you work, is the very thing that you don’t actually depend on.

Wenjia: Oh, absolutely.

Tammy: Because having gone down that path, you’re just too afraid.

Wenjia: Absolutely. In fact, when I left McKinsey, I remember I was talking to one of the managers that I worked with a lot and we were talking about how I was moving to finance. He told me, “With your background, you should just take a year off. It’d be totally fine if you did nothing for a year.” And I was like, “Whatever, I’m going to go do finance!”

Tammy: You couldn’t… you still didn’t believe it.

Wenjia: And actually, it wasn’t until I was in finance where it really hit me: What was the point of working so hard in elementary school, middle school, high school, college? It wasn’t so that I could keep doing more, it was so that I could maybe have a little bit more leeway or have the ability to explore, or maybe just even relax a little bit. And at some point, you have to take advantage of that.

[55:16] Erin: Do you think just from what you’ve observed with your classmates and your colleagues that this idea of pedigree plays out differently for women than it does for men?

Wenjia: I would say that for women, the pedigree gives them a little more confidence in their worth and their ability to apply for certain positions. Whereas probably for men—just based on people I know—feel more empowered to go for certain positions or do certain things, even without that background. Personally, for me, that’s how I feel about it. I think if I didn’t go to these schools, I may not feel like I can or deserve or should get certain positions.

Tammy: So it kind of gives you some internal credibility.

Wenjia: Yeah, exactly. Although that being said, I’ve seen a lot of people come from lots of different backgrounds and still end up really successful. Since then, I’ve learned that it’s not really about winning in college or winning at your first job or even winning at your second, third, or fourth job. It’s just about winning in what you’re doing today, because the wheel of fortune of your life can change at any point. And you may be doing really well one moment, but you may be dealt a bad card next time around.

So it’s more about your attitude towards things and persistence. I think the people who’ve had the right attitude, the right persistence and who are capable will always do well and be successful.

Tammy: I’m curious how this role fits your personality and how it also challenges your personality.

Wenjia: I think it fits my personality really well because I feel like I have a lot of ownership. I you feel like I can see immediately how the decisions I make will translate into the product in a very visible way. It’s never boring. I’m always doing different things on a day-to-day basis and I’m talking to different people and working on different things.

What’s challenging for me is that I’m used to, at least in school, studying to be very good or very smart at one thing. And I haven’t yet figured out in product what the thing is that I really “spike” at or really excel in. There’s always so much to do, so I’m always worried that I should be spending more time reading about this or learning about that or thinking more about strategy or just high-level product vision. But instead, I also need to make sure that things ship on time and that I answer all of these other questions that my team asks of me.

Tammy: But you actually have to be both strategic and tactical.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: And that’s simultaneously part of your role?

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: And it sounds like you’re not quite sure whether—“Do I spike at the strategic stuff, or am I better at the tactical stuff, or”—

Wenjia: Yeah. And I think first and foremost, you need to spike at the tactical stuff for sure, because if you can’t ship features on time or do that well, then you can’t be a good PM. So you need to nail that first. The challenge is doing that, and then still somehow transitioning into that strategic role.

Tammy: The big picture thinker.

Wenjia: The big picture thinker. And finding out if you actually like it or if you’re good at it.

Tammy: Yeah.

Wenjia: Ironically, at my previous job, we were doing more strategic stuff. I never actually did tactical. So it was all about just thinking and analysis and what to do next and telling people, “Here, this is what you should do next”, but never actually doing it.

Tammy: Yeah, “You go do that. Good luck with that.”

Wenjia: Yeah. But in terms of spiking, I mean spiking at a particular skill set. When I first joined, Rahul, the product manager who hired me, said, “You need to figure out what you spike at as a product manager. Is it being really, really good with data? Is it being very strong in UI and UX? Or is it being very—“

[58:45] Tammy: Can you actually say what UI and UX are for any listeners who might not know?

Wenjia: UI and UX is basically around the visual manifestation of particular features like how a button looks, what a particular layout is.

Tammy: So the “User Interface”.

Wenjia: User Interface. And then UX is User Experience, which is how the customer interacts with it. So you could have something that looks really ugly in terms of UX but has a brilliant user interface and connects and flows really well, and vice versa.

[59:09] Tammy: And that’s something that a product manager has to think about?

Wenjia: You have to think about it. It’s funny because the thing about being a product manager is that you don’t ever have to fully do any single role. You don’t ever have to really design an entire feature. You’re also not expected to code, and I’m not expected to be great at marketing or with the other marketing materials. So it’s hard to know, sometimes, how much of each you should be good at, or how much you should know without getting so far into one that you completely drop the ball on the other.

Tammy: On the other, yeah.

Wenjia: But the advice that I was referring to earlier was that you should have one [talent] that you are known for, like you’re very good at —

[59:42] Tammy: Why is that? Why do you think you need to have one that you’re known for? Because what I hear from you is that to be really successful… at product management means being able to find a really good balance between all of these things.

Wenjia: Yeah. I think you’re absolutely right that finding good balance between all these things is the basic requirement to be successful, but I think if you really want to excel, you need to be known for something. You know, like how all companies and all great leaders are usually known for something that they’re really good at. And I’ve never been really good at identifying one thing that I really want to be good at or excel in or that I know I like.

Tammy: Is that maybe because you’re good at many things?

Wenjia: No, I don’t think so.

Tammy: You don’t think so? Because that’s my experience of you.

Wenjia: No.

Tammy: You don’t think so? You don’t think because it’s maybe that you don’t actually spike at just ONE thing?

Wenjia: No, I don’t think so because I think just from a human limitation, you can’t spike at everything.

Tammy: I didn’t say everything, but I said a lot of things, though. Right?

Wenjia: But you do need to—this could be—I could be wrong with this, but generally, when you hear advice from other people, it’s usually about when you apply for something, you need to have something that you’re known for. I at least made a leap in terms of trying to be good at multiple, various things through consulting, which is basically nothing, to actually trying to specialize in a functional area, which is product. But then, now within your functional area, you should be known for something as well.

Tammy: Ok.

Wenjia: Because there are lots of different types of products in PM. There are things that are very UI-heavy that are consumer-facing. And there are things that are more about B2B products where it’s a whole other ecosystem that you have to be good at. Or working on data products, where you have to be very, very data-savvy and technical.

[1:01:20] Tammy: Yeah. Well, maybe then if you step back from what you’re good at, are there aspects of your job that you find you like more than other aspects?

Wenjia: Yeah. I really like the team aspect of it. I like feeling the identity of being part of a group that’s building a product, and we all have this—like you said—this mutual objective to win together. And we’re all really excited when we get new users, when we see more engagement, when we win new customers. That’s very exciting. And I love that people aspect. I also like the challenge of when there is a new feature, and it’s in that early stage where you don’t really know what it is yet, you just know the idea of what it is. And you haven’t yet figured out what it looks like or what fits into it. That part’s fun, and it also —

Tammy: It’s the discovery phase.

Wenjia: That discovery—it’s not even discovery. I would say discovery is figuring out the “what” you want to build, and this is more in the design of “how” do I take that idea and make it something tangible.

Tammy: Oh ok. Got it, got it, got it.

Wenjia: That part’s pretty exciting. Once you have that tangible thing and as you build it, there’s sometimes annoying but challenging questions that come up that you didn’t even think about as you were building it. In a given situation, how do you actually want to handle it? You’re like, “Oh, I didn’t even think about that.”

Tammy: Yeah, exactly.

Wenjia: And you have to figure that out. And that’s why —

Tammy: And you go through that almost every Friday at 2:30. So every time we have these demo meetings of product features that the team’s building, and Wenjia has to answer to all these people. So she debuts an aspect of the product, and she’s says, “This is really amazing.” And then eight people sit around the room and take the whole thing apart.

Erin: Well, it’s almost like getting bugs in your code, except you’re getting bugs in your product.

Tammy: Yeah, exactly. Or bugs in your ideas.

Wenjia: It’s also fun because you get that a lot when you interview customers to get feedback. You see them use things in a way that you didn’t expect, and you think, “Oh, that’s very interesting, I never thought about that. How do I—is that—well first of all, is that a one-time thing, or do you think that’s widespread? And if it’s actually widespread, then is it important enough to incorporate, and how? Do we do it now or do we do it later?” So that sounds kind of fun.

The part that I like least—I think this is similar with coding or writing SQL—is that you do probably most of the work in the first 50% of the journey, and the last 50% is just about tying up all the loose ends. And that can feel pretty tedious because it’s in the demo itself. The thing looks the same, but there’s all these little things that you did to make it work. And some of it is just super, super tactical and it just feels like you’re checking off a to-do list. Yet, it’s really important.

Tammy: It has to be done. Yeah, it has to be done.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: Alright, last thing I’ll say and then we can move to the big dreams. One of my favorite stories of working with Wenjia is this: I was about to have a training and there was something that was not working with the product that needed to be fixed before the training, and Wenjia had said that she would fix this thing before my training, which was at 10 o’clock in the morning or something like that.

I checked at 9:30 and the thing was not fixed. And I was thinking, “Oh my goodness, is the thing going to be fixed? I don’t know if it’s going to be fixed. I’ll just work around it.” But training started, and lo and behold, the thing was fixed. And it turns out Wenjia was driving to work and got stuck in traffic, pulled over on the side of the freeway, fired up her MiFi, opened up her laptop, and fixed the thing on the side of the road. Do you remember this?

Wenjia: Yeah, I remember that, yeah.

Tammy: You fixed the thing on the side of the road so that it would be live for the end user. That kind of dedication to making sure that the product is really working for the end user is the hallmark of a really great product manager—caring so much about that end user experience that you’ll go through whatever it takes to make that product work. And whatever it is that you spike at, if you keep that, then I think you’ve really got something as a project manager.

Wenjia: Oh, thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.

Tammy: Yeah.

Erin: And thanks to you, Wenjia, I’ve learned a new phrase: “things you spike at.” I really spike at quilting. I’m really good at making quilts.

Wenjia: But that’s actually really important. I, for the longest time, I didn’t even have a concept of what I spiked at personally. It wasn’t just professional, I was so ingrained in doing what I thought I needed to do that I never thought about what I really, really like and what I’m good at.

[1:05:07] Tammy: And I think this is actually a great segue into, well then, what do you dream about for yourself? So do you have big dreams? And they could be goals, but they also could just be things that you envision for yourself.

Wenjia: So my dream—this sounds kind of ridiculous and this may not be something I dream about five years from now—right now I dream that I can earn enough wealth so that I would be able to buy a really large amount of land in Hawaii. The purpose of it will be to preserve the environment and native, local traditions. Just protect that in Hawaii. I love Hawaii. I never grew up there, didn’t spend time there growing up, but I’ve gone there.

Tammy: You had three weddings there, I remember.

Wenjia: Yeah, beyond the three weddings there.

Tammy: I’m always teasing Wenjia because Wenjia got married—a private ceremony—when you and your husband just got married in Hawaii. And then you had a wedding that involved the families, and then you had a honeymoon. So I’m always teasing Wenjia that she got married, like, five times.

Wenjia: My husband and I love, love Hawaii. We’re the people who check “We’ve visited 10+ times” on the entry form when we go there.

Tammy: Wow.

Erin: Nice.

Wenjia: And we try to go two times a year. We went once last year and I felt deprived.

Tammy: So have you been to all the islands?

Wenjia: I’ve been to all the islands.

Tammy: Ok. Do you have an island that you prefer, that’s your favorite?

Wenjia: I think I like Kawaii best. I’ve only been there once, but it’s just very peaceful. I felt very peaceful there, very zen. You can see a rainbow almost every day.

Erin: Wow.

Wenjia: It’s kind of awesome.

Tammy: You want to live someplace you can see a rainbow everyday.

Wenjia: Yeah. And there’s a lot of nature on Kawaii. It’s probably less touched by commercialism. I think going to Hawaii a lot makes me realize how much land people who are very wealthy from the mainland or from the U.S. have been able to take and make “private”, even though it’s public land, and they prevent access to beaches or trails. And I think it’s very unfortunate that this beautiful place is being cut up and owned by people who are very rich, who never actually go there. And the people who live there don’t get to really enjoy it and they’re just being increasingly marginalized. So I feel I would love to be able to—if I could—have the opportunity to protect some of that.

Erin: So you’d like to be a tropical preservationist?

Wenjia: Yeah, exactly.

Erin: Imagine that on your LinkedIn profile!

Tammy: Yeah, and if we give that—if you give it a name, then it becomes official.

Wenjia: That’s true.

Erin: “I daydream about being a tropical preservationist.”

Tammy: There you go.

Wenjia: There you go.

Tammy: Now you’re good.

Wenjia: And I love to travel. I love exploring new places and loved going to Europe and just visiting new countries and meeting new people. That gives me a lot of —actually, self-confidence—and a lot of joy in discovering stories from places across the world. You realize your world is actually very small. And it helps you put things in perspective.

Tammy: I like the notion that travel gives you self-confidence.

Wenjia: Oh, it does.

[1:07:42] Tammy: Can you talk a little bit about that?

Wenjia: It gives you self-confidence because you’re forced to have to handle a lot of new situations where language is not something you understand, culture is not something you understand, and still be able to figure out how to do basic things. And something simple here [in the U.S.] like getting a phone or buying contacts might seem like no big deal and you don’t really appreciate it, but [in a foreign country] you’re like, “Wow, I figured out how to buy contacts!”

Tammy: Yup.

Wenjia: You do a lot of improvisation and problem-solving on the spot just to do simple things like eat or find a Metro station.

Tammy: Yeah.

Wenjia: And I think even figuring out the transportation system… knowing how to get around Barcelona when you don’t know any Spanish. You feel great doing that, then you feel like like you know how to handle these situations.

Tammy: Totally, totally agreeing with you.

[1:08:30] Erin: Has there been any really impactful piece of advise or a mentorship that you’ve received throughout your career that you’d like to share?

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: We talked a little bit about some of it here, but also sort of in other roles too.

Wenjia: So I would say at McKinsey, very, very early on, one of the biggest pieces of advice that I was given by a mentor was just understanding which battles to pick, especially if you find yourself in a frustrating situation and things are not going the way you’d like them to go. Understanding what points you really want to disagree with and argue about and which you should just let go. And understanding that balance between getting the right answer, which is maybe something you’re very honed into, versus actually achieving the goal of the team. I think that is really important, not just for your own personal sanity, but your professional sanity as well.

I also learned in consulting that sometimes you just have to get on the train. Even if you don’t like where it’s going, you just have to ride it out. And that’s really important in life and especially in consulting. You may have sworn not to travel and now you have to travel, and you can whine about it and make a big deal about it and I certainly did privately to myself and to friends, but you’re still going to have to do it, so you might as well just tell yourself, “Take a deep breath and go with the flow. It’s going to be bad, but it’s not forever.”

Tammy: It’s not the end of the world.

Erin: That’s how I feel when I exercise.

Wenjia: That’s very true, too.

Erin: It’s kind of bad, but it’s not forever.

Wenjia: Because that’s very important because I still like very much to be in control, to feel like I have control, but I think learning to let go and recognize you don’t have control, that can be the best thing you do for yourself.

[1:10:18] Erin: Would Wenjia product manager have any advice for Wenjia recent college grad? Or Wenjia recent high school grad?

Tammy: Or Wenjia in eighth grade?

Wenjia: I think I would have definitely encouraged my younger self to take more risks and to try new things and to try things just to explore, not for an agenda or for a purpose. I would have encouraged myself to travel even more, to take every chance I could to travel when I had the time to do it. I kind of wished I had pushed myself to be a little bit more creative, I guess, because it’s hard to be creative if you’re always scouting whether or not you’re doing the best thing or making the best decision, and just letting go and seeing where things take you.

Erin: When you say creative, do you mean artistic? Or what sort of creative expression are you talking about?

Wenjia: More on the artistic side, because I think if you allow yourself more artistic creativity or inventiveness or being able to dream about things, you’re more likely to come up with great ideas in the long run. I think that’s something you have to start doing really early on, and you have to be encouraged about doing it early.

Over a long period of time, you’re conditioned to think more analytically and trained to find the right answer. It’s very hard to revert back to the creative side. And now, if I have to do something creative, I feel a little bit stressed doing it. When I start doing it and I get into the zone, it’s very enjoyable, but before I get there, it’s actually more daunting than solving a problem where I know there is an answer. So it’s just hard to get there.

Tammy: Yeah, because your brain is not used to you working like that.

Wenjia: Exactly, yeah.

[1:11:59] Erin: Wenjia, do you think there is a difference between being creative and being imaginative?

Wenjia: I think they’re pretty similar. I think being creative or imaginative is all about thinking beyond the obvious, thinking beyond what’s in front of you or thinking outside the box. And I think most kids are born being very imaginative, but then you’re slowly conditioned over time, either through your family or through your school, to start being more structured and logical. And depending how strong that was imbued in you growing up or how much you try to make yourself do that, it becomes harder and harder to be imaginative.

I probably did a lot of that in school, because I actually took classes that were all about being creative. I took a creative writing class and I loved it, and I loved doing that kind of exercise. But as you get older and your studies and your work become more and more narrow, you almost don’t ever do that anymore.

[1:12:59] Erin: Well said. Well said. Have you read any books or blogs or magazines recently that are worthy of sharing?

Wenjia: Yeah, there are a couple. So recently at work, at BloomReach, we had these women’s lunches once a month and we usually talk about a topic like time management or finding the right partner, and this time it was about personal finance. And as part of a session, we were each given a little book called “The Index Card”. It just gave you a couple bullet point tips like, “Here are things you should keep in mind about managing your own money.” So I’ve been reading that and I usually never read nonfiction books or self-help books, but this is one of the few that I’m actually planning on reading.

Tammy: Have you already found some tips in the book that you feel have been really useful?

Wenjia: The book is great because it distills personal money management into a lot of simple points. It can be very complicated when you read about personal finance online or get advice from different people. I think the book says a lot of really important things about the importance of just having discipline. One thing about the book that I thought was really important is that most people don’t do anything with their money because they don’t understand what to do with it, and they’re scared to do anything with it so they end up doing nothing. And that ends up being worse than doing something. And so if you’re someone who is doing nothing, which is me, go and do something. Go and do something. Go and learn and do something with your money.

Erin: And there’s so many resources online for learning what to do with your money, how to do it. I once worked at a place with a boss who was incredibly risk-averse. She had taken almost no risk her entire life. I’m not exaggerating. And I once overheard her talking with a colleague who asked her if she was contributing to the company’s 401(k) plan or something.
And my boss said something to the effect of, “Oh God no, all my money is very safe in my bank.” And the colleague said, “Are you kidding me? It’s earning like half a percent of interest!”

Wenjia: Right. Exactly.

Erin: And I just could not believe that for decades she had had her money sitting at a bank when it could have been earning 5-10% in a mutual fund.

Wenjia: Oh, yeah. I mean I never contributed to my 401(k) until BloomReach. McKinsey had a 401(k) that was actually a very generous matching 401(k), and I did not do anything.

Erin: Actually, if I could interject just a second because I have studied this a lot both in school and on my own, some of the best returns you’ll ever get are from doing an employer match at your 401(k).

Wenjia: Oh, absolutely.

Erin: Because essentially, you’re getting a 100% return.

Wenjia: Oh, yeah.

Erin: On that money. They’re matching dollar for dollar.

Tammy: Yeah, I come from people who don’t have any money, have never had any money, and I didn’t ever expect to have any money. When I got some of my first early jobs… I remember there was one job I had. I had no idea about 401(k)s, I had never learned anything like this, and I had a colleague who told me about 401(k)s, similar to the story you just mentioned, Erin. And he said, “Look, it’s going to be beneficial for you. Just take a chance on it.”

Wenjia: Oh, absolutely. And I think what happens is that when it’s your first job, you have so many things you’re trying to do well at.

Erin: And paying off student debt.

Wenjia: Right. And you’re being paid for the first time, and now you’re being asked, “Do you want to take less of your paycheck now?”

Tammy: Exactly.

Wenjia: So it’s like, “Why would I want less money now? I’m making money now!”

Tammy: Exactly.

Wenjia: So it’s actually wasn’t until BloomReach where I realized, “Oh I’m going to max out my 401(k).”

Erin: Good for you. That really warms my heart.

Wenjia: That book is great. “Max out your 401(k)” was one of the tips and they said the exact same thing as you: “When your employer matches whatever you give, that’s basically like free money. You should always do it.”

Erin: Always do it.

Tammy: Yeah.

Wenjia: Generally speaking though, I like reading fiction books. I’ve always favored reading fiction over non-fiction.

[1:16:41] Erin: What are some of your favorite novels?

Tammy: And there’s that creative spirit, too.

Wenjia: I’ve always loved reading novels. I was the kid who got in trouble in class for reading.

Erin: What a terrible thing to get in trouble for.

Tammy: Exactly. If there’s anything you’re going to get in trouble for… How dare you read while you’re at school!

Wenjia: That always came up in parent-teacher conversations. Teachers would say, “Wenjia still reads under her desks during class when she’s not supposed to.”

Tammy: Wow.

Erin: I would be very proud if I had a child that did that.

Wenjia: I wasn’t reading good stuff. I was reading The Babysitters’ Club or mystery novels.

Erin: I read those! I read those from cover to cover.

Wenjia: R. L. Stein, Goosebumps. Whatever was on the bookshelf of the classroom.

Erin: It doesn’t matter [what you are reading] though. I really don’t think it mattered for me, anyway. I remember there was one summer where I must have read 30 or 40 Babysitter Club books. They were all at my daycare place. I could have been reading better things, but that summer trained me to read really fast.

Wenjia: Yes, it trains you to read really fast.

Erin: Yeah. And that served me well later on in life.

Wenjia: That’s true. I do read pretty fast, and I will credit that to all the sneaky reading that I used to do under my desk. Something that I’m reading right now that’s fiction is Outlander.

Erin: I’ve heard of that.

Wenjia: I started reading Outlander because I came across the show on Amazon Prime and I thought it was a really, really good story. I discovered there was a book so I said, “I should read the book.” It’s about this woman who lives in the 1940s, and she’s a doctor and she travels back in time to the 18th century in Scotland. and about her kind of story there. I really like it because it’s a very rich story, in terms of history, and she’s a very strong character. There’s just a lot of good, enriching content.

Erin: Alright.

Tammy: So I think we’re at our most important set of questions: the just for fun questions. So do you want to go first?

Erin: I would love to go first, because I’m really excited about this one.

Tammy: Ok.

[1:18:30] Erin: French fries or onion rings?

Wenjia: French fries.

Erin: And why?

Wenjia: I actually like onion rings when they are like in the chip—when they are like onion ring chips. I like those.

Tammy: What’s an onion ring chip?

Erin: Like Funions?

Wenjia: Like Funions.

Tammy: Oh, oh my God! I love them!

Wenjia: I love Funions. So good. So bad for you, but so good. Especially the spicy ones.

Tammy: I eat them. I allow myself—once a year I get to eat Funions. So I really try to push it to later in the year because if I eat them now, then I don’t get to eat them for the rest of the year.

Wenjia: Do you eat the spicy ones or the regular ones?

Tammy: No, no, no. Just the regular ones. No, I cannot handle the spicy ones.

Wenjia: Oh, it’s not that spicy. I love the spicy Funions.

Tammy: Oh, I can’t handle it.

Wenjia: I’m more generous than you. I allow myself like once a month.

Tammy: Once a month?!

Wenjia: Yeah.

Erin: Now you know what to put on her desk to surprise her.

Wenjia: But I do a small bag, though.

Tammy: Yeah.

Wenjia: I also really like the —

Tammy: And you like the spicy ones?

Wenjia: I like everything spicy.

Tammy: OK. Alright.

Wenjia: Yeah. But in terms of actual french fries or onion rings, I think I find onion rings to be—I just didn’t like the taste of the batter and onion. I like the french fries because they’re really nice and crispy. You just have that craving once in awhile.

[1:19:29] Tammy: What’s your favorite place in the Bay Area to get fries?

Wenjia: My favorite place? I’m honestly not that picky.

Tammy: Ok. You’ll just eat any french fry that tastes good?

Wenjia: Yeah. I like the ones that tend to be thinner and crispier. I’m not a big fan of the wedges.

Tammy: Ok, fair enough, fair enough. Alright.

Erin: Would you like to do the second one?

[1:19:44] Tammy: Sure. So having lived in both cities myself, I’m very interested in your answer to… Boston or the San Francisco Bay Area?

Wenjia: Oh, definitely the Bay Area.

Tammy: Really? Why is that?

Wenjia: Having moved to the Bay Area, I realized I didn’t really like Boston.

Tammy: No, really?

Wenjia: It might not be a fair assessment because I was only in Boston as a student. So I had limited time or money to really take advantage and explore Boston. But frankly, from just a weather perspective, the Bay Area being warmer and the fact that it doesn’t snow and the fact that it has more sun—it has a huge difference on your mood.

Erin: And it’s not humid in the summer.

Wenjia: That, too. Although I actually like humidity, so that’s a downside for me.

Tammy: Yeah, yeah. The weather is a big factor.

Wenjia: Weather, sunlight, I think, is a big factor. I didn’t realize that until I moved here and realized I feel lighter here. And the biggest difference was because I felt like Boston was always dark.

Tammy: Ah, ok. So my answer to this question, even though I’m settled here and I consider myself a Bay Area girl, my choice would be Boston. And Boston’s actually my favorite city in the U.S.

Wenjia: Wow.

Tammy: And what I like about the weather is there’s this sense of movement in your life with the weather. And here in the Bay Area, there’s a rainy season and then there’s a non-rainy season, and it’s generally 63 degrees.

Wenjia: Yeah. Yeah.

Tammy: But in Boston, it’s freaking cold in the winter, and if you survive the winter, you have done something. You know, people just are—there’s a hearty character there.

Wenjia: Yes.

Tammy: You just sort of tough things out. I mean, we just kind of start crying a lot here in the Bay Area.

Wenjia: Oh, yeah.

Tammy: “Oh, it rained, and I felt sad.”

[1:21:18] Erin: Let’s wrap this up. So our last question for you, Wenjia: Would you rather have more money or more time?

Tammy: For where you are right now in your life.

Wenjia: For where I am right now?

Tammy: Right now.

Wenjia: More time.

Tammy: More time?

Wenjia: Yeah. I mean, it’s a hard question. You either have money but you don’t have time, or you have a lot of time but you don’t have money to spend it. But I mean right now I think there’s just always—there’s always a lot that you could be doing. Like I have a lot of hobbies I like to do. I have a lot of academic interests I like to be doing.

[1:21:43] Tammy: What are a couple of your hobbies?

Wenjia: I love cooking, reading, I love rock climbing and just doing different fitness classes. I’ve wanted to learn a little bit more coding or take more classes on Coursera, but it’s hard to do all of that and then still actually be really “in” on your job.

Tammy: Get things done.

Wenjia: Yeah. And especially when you work in more of a startup, entrepreneurial environment like BloomReach, where things are constantly changing and your role’s constantly changing. I feel like if you really want to do well and grow, there’s a minimal amount of investment that you have to put in. It’s not a 9 to 5 where you can check in and then just be completely checked out.

Tammy: That’s a very good point.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: Especially—and I think that’s one thing we didn’t really talk at all about—working at a startup versus working at a large company. But I think you’ve kind of hit that nail right on the head: Because we do work in a company that’s smaller you can end up wearing more hats than you probably would elsewhere.

Wenjia: Right.

Tammy: And you have to invest more of yourself than you probably would at a company that’s a lot bigger.

Wenjia: Exactly. I think BloomReach actually has pretty good work-life balance. I think people are pretty respectful here about not bothering you during your personal time, and you being able to take personal time when you want to. That being said, I think each individual also knows that they’re not doing this so that they clock in at a certain hour and then clock out. That’s not why they come to the office every day. We come to the office or we work from home because we’re trying to get something done.

Tammy: Yeah, we’re trying to get things done.

Wenjia: Yeah.

Tammy: Yeah. Well, Wenjia, thanks so much for giving us this much of your time.

Erin: Thank you, Wenjia.

Wenjia: Yeah, no problem. This was fun!

Erin: Well, this has been another episode of the WITTalks podcast. I’m Erin, saying goodbye for now.

Tammy: And I’m Tammy, saying goodbye for now.

Erin: You can find Wenjia Zhu on LinkedIn. Her name is spelled W-E-N-J-I-A, and her last name is spelled Z-H-U.

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