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Interview with Nabi Awada, Head of Product at ZenHub

1. What’s your background and how did you choose your career path?

My story is a little unconventional; I completed an aptitude test facilitated by IBM in my senior year of high school and scored quite high, and as a result, I was invited to an internal IBM education and co-op course in Ontario where I worked on the fabrication and testing of PCBs (printed circuit boards).

I also participated in the product ownership training sessions offered by IBM and progressed into product ownership, which allowed me to work on some exciting projects like PCBs and testing systems for the US military. It was only after IBM, Honeywell & Alcatel that I made the shift towards software product management.

I did end up going to university and graduating with a double major in Business & Philosophy, but honestly, I had found my career path the moment I worked on my first PCB. I loved working on products, and there was a palpable sense of achievement every time we hit a deadline or delivered a product to the market.

Over the years, I had the great privilege of helping an organisation IPO, and three companies go from idea to VC-backed as well as a few notable implosions.

I could not imagine doing anything other than product management. Product Management distills all my interests into a single role; design, marketing, delivery, customer psychology, and organisational success.

2. What are the biggest challenges you face?

The main challenge I face is a mixture of market timing and having a clairvoyant view of what will make the most impact for our users. Most of this can be remedied with user research while some are based on instinct. There is no magical algorithm that can give me all the answers I want, all I can hope for are signals that inform my decisions, and if I am wrong, the market will let me know.

The closer I am to the customer, the more likely I am to plan for the right features.

3. What’s your workday like? Can you tell us about any life hacks you use to manage your time?

My days consist of meetings, answering Slack messages, completing tasks in ZenHub, working on new features, reviewing our roadmap, and finally, coffee syncs with internal users of ZenHub.

As for life hacks; if it weren’t for my Apple watch, I would probably be late for my meetings. I also use an app called Franz, so all my work-related web apps exist in one UI to reduce context switching and finally, I have just been invited to Superhuman, so I’m testing it to see if it makes my life easier – so far so good.

4. What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?

I would say my adaptability and relentless pursuit of knowledge.

If I find I have a gap, I find any resources I can to fill that gap or at least develop a foundational understanding of the subject matter so I can contribute to the team.

This usually involves me pouring time into research in the forms of reaching out to subject matter experts, reading documentation, taking an online course on or if the subject is testable, I test the product/solution until I understand the nuances of the product.

5. Share an internet resource or tool that you can’t live without.

I am a heavy consumer of audio-based information, so I can’t live without my Audible subscription or my podcast app. An archive of data can be found in the following podcasts:

  • How I Built This
  • Equity
  • Business Wars
  • Inside Intercom
  • Masters of Scale

There are plenty more, but the list above should be more than sufficient for most.

6. If you could recommend one book to someone working at startups, what would it be and why?

I think Robert Greene’s book ‘The 48 Laws of Power’ is a great read when you put it into the context of Startups since a lot of these learnings can be applied to business.

The book primarily deals with social and wartime strategy, but as you read the book, you’ll notice that most of these ‘laws’ have a direct application to all aspects of business dealings from vendor management, to dealing with changing market dynamics, and even investor relations.

7. What excites you the most about working at ZenHub?

At ZenHub, we have a chance to impact how products are delivered, how teams are incentivised, and how organisations grow – all of this is possible because of some remarkable people at HQ, what is there not to be excited about?

8. Where can we go to learn more about you?

The best place is on Twitter @nabiawada or via my personal site

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