Inside Twilio Product is a series designed to shine the spotlight on the talented team of product people behind Twilio & Segment products. We’ll publish a series of articles that will follow each team member on their career path and journey to Segment.
Today I’m very excited to introduce you all the Brie McNally. Brie is an amazing product manager at Twilio Segment, leading our Deletions and Compliance team. Deletions and Compliance is a really complex product area to manage: it requires understanding market regulations (think GDPR) and developing a roadmap to ensure privacy & compliance across the portfolio of Twilio Segment process. Segment helps customers practice good data etiquette and enable compliance with new regulations, and Brie is at the forefront of helping tens of thousands of businesses become more privacy-centric. Her path to product management may not be what you expect: she’s treated blood cancers with stem cells as a registered nurse in New York City and researched Maternal Health & Women’s Rights in emerging economies before teaching herself to code at night and joining Segment as an engineer.
Let’s hear about her journey!
Hello Brie! Tell us about your path to Twilio Segment?
I graduated undergrad from NYU with a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing. I worked for many years in Oncology and Hematology (blood cancers) helping adult patients through stem cell and bone marrow transplants. This was a very fulfilling part of my career journey but as one can imagine, very taxing.
I decided to switch gears and got my Master's degree in Global Health Sciences from the University of California, San Francisco. During this time I switched my focus from Oncology to Maternal Health, specifically training providers on how to handle obstetric emergencies in low resource settings and researching women's reproductive rights on a global scale. After graduating I continued to work in research for some time, but it became increasingly hard to find work due to policy changes that impacted funding for global health research. During this time, I attended a global health conference where the researchers were using mobile technologies to track the spread of Malaria, as part of a larger campaign to eradicate Malaria. I felt a spark go off, realizing that even in some of the most resource-constrained areas I worked in during my Master’s, most people did have access to a cellphone and the internet. I needed to learn software engineering.
I immediately enrolled in a nighttime coding bootcamp prep course to teach myself the fundamentals of software engineering. As an avid puzzle fanatic, I fell in love with the intricacies of coding. I was accepted into App Academy's full-time 3-month coding bootcamp and studied non-stop for 3 months... averaging less than 5 hours of sleep per night.
I am still trying to determine if coding bootcamp or nursing school was more challenging. I landed my first job at Segment after initially being drawn to the company because a former App Academy instructor of mine worked there and she was a very impressive engineer. Everyone I chatted with at the company had amazing energy and enthusiasm for the product and helped to support customers. I began my career in tech as an Engineering Product Manager helping solve issues and pain points for Segment’s highest valued customers.
What is your role at Twilio Segment?
I am a Product Manager on the Deletions and Compliance team. Our team is responsible for helping Segment and our customers remain compliant with regulations aimed at protecting the rights of our users, including GDPR and CCPA. Our core product offering is supporting customer's users' Right to Be Forgotten and Right to Revoke Consent through point user deletions and suppression.
You ended up moving during the pandemic. What was that like and where are you based now?
I moved to Denver, Colorado in the summer of 2020. It had always been a pipe dream of mine and my husband's because my family is in Colorado and we love the mountains. Having the opportunity to work remotely and relocate to Colorado was definitely a silver lining during the tough times of the pandemic for me. Moving to a new city during lockdown has its challenges, it definitely isn't as easy to make new friends or explore the city freely, but luckily we had a good support network before making the move and Denver has tons of COVID safe outdoor activities
What are your favorite activities around CO?
I love all things outdoors: hiking, trail running, snowboarding, snowshoeing, paddle boarding... you name it. Denver averages 300 days of sunshine a year, which was a nice change after living in the Bay Area for many years.
I talk to a lot of folks who are looking to transition from engineering to product… tell us how that transition has gone for you?
The transition has been going really well and I absolutely love working in the product org. There were a lot of things I did before making the transition that I believe helped it go smoothly.
One of the most important things I did was taking personal time and space to understand my career passions & motivations, and strengths & weaknesses to determine if the change was right for me. As someone who switched careers multiple times already, I needed to devote time to ensure that this was right for me. This meant networking with individuals who were in my "dream role" and reading a lot of product and engineering books. I also joined Ascend's Leadership program where I had the chance to network with women from various companies and positions, which helped me to hone skills, strategies, and tools to succeed and make an impact.
During my time as an engineer on our integrations team, I was able to hone some product skills. I had the opportunity to interact with customers and partners as we fixed bugs or built out new integrations. My mentors on the team always took a "customer-first" approach when building new products. I also found myself increasingly concerned with how to fix known issues and pain points for customers. There are numerous ways to begin thinking like a PM while still in an engineering role.
When I knew I wanted to transition roles, it felt like fate that Segment had opened PM positions for internal transfers. Fate because I knew this is what I wanted and I had a deep understanding of the product and customer base from my 3 years at the company. When I began the interview process, I made sure to reverse interview the managers on the open teams to ensure I could be of value and fill the gap for what they were looking for. Now in my role, one thing that has helped me continue to be successful is consistently seeking out feedback from peers and managers to ensure I am growing in my role.
What’s one thing you’ve learned since moving into PM that surprised you?
One thing that I've found challenging that has surprised me is breaking the habit of thinking like an engineer. By this I mean that engineers are heavily focused on how to build a product, and product managers focus on what to build. In the product development lifecycle when one of my first projects moved to development and implementation, I found myself obsessing over the engineering details and how that mapped back to our requirements. Technical understanding of products and feature team builds are very important, don't get me wrong. But I did have to train myself to try to step back and let engineering be in the driver's seat and act as a consultant. It became evident to me how important clearly defined product requirements are when you pass a project baton off to engineering. To do this requires a lot of pre-emptive thinking to understand stakeholders involved, competing priorities, and most importantly edge cases for both internal and external users of a new product or feature.
Is there anything you miss about being a software engineer?
I really love problem solving and puzzles. As an engineer you are required to go really in-depth into technical problems to understand related systems, overall architecture, and how to safely implement new features or bug fixes. I loved that technical deep dive and the associated "aha" moments that happened after solving a really complex problem. Having experience as an engineer at Segment has been invaluable in my transition to Product because my past experience has made me well versed in the technical intricacies of Segment's product. Although I do sometimes miss these "technical deep-dives", I've learned that I get the same satisfaction from "product deep-dives" by interacting with our customers and understanding their pain points and product requirements which will enable us to build the best products that our customers love.
How do you think your experiences in healthcare prepared you for product management?
As a former nurse, some of the key lessons you learn are prioritization, delegation, and time management.
On the nursing board exams, they provide you a scenario and a list of multiple-choice action steps. Each multiple-choice answer is technically the correct thing to do given a scenario but you can only do one thing at a time so you have to choose the one that is the highest priority. Prioritizing issues is a key skill in product, and I find myself prioritizing tasks on a weekly, quarterly, and yearly basis.
Also working as a nurse, being understaffed was a frequent issue. Less nurses means more work and there is always a fixed amount of time in a shift, so time management became essential. At the beginning of each shift, I took 15 minutes to write a checklist of everything I needed to do to remain focused and on top of my tasks. I still do that today and have a running checklist that I write down each Monday to ensure I do not lose track of any work.
I hear your family has some “cheese-y” names. Tell us about it!
My husband's name is Jack and a year ago we welcomed a fur baby into our family. We kept searching for the right name until I had a "cheese-y" epiphany to go with Colby. Now we are a family of cheeses: Brie and Colby-Jack (they actually share the same birthday). The running joke is now our future children will need cheese names, Ella or Mozzy (short for mozzarella), Sean (sort for parmesan), or Manny (short for manchego).