Continuing our Truvetan Spotlight series, today we highlight Rachel Jiang. Rachel recently transitioned from leading the marketing team to VP of Product Management.
Rachel grew up in Toronto, Canada and studied Computer Science at the University of Waterloo. During this 5-year program, she rotated between semesters of study and semester-long internships. This real-world experience taught her quickly about the type of work she was drawn to. She wanted to have a big impact, and while she liked the problem-solving aspect of programming, it didn’t feel like her superpower. She started to gravitate toward product management and marketing roles where she could ideate to solve customer problems and collaborate across disciplines to deliver solutions.
After working at Microsoft and Facebook, she was starting to think she might like to work at a start-up, but instead continued her foray into big tech with an almost 9-year stint at Amazon. She held multiple roles building & leading teams within different business groups, including leading the Health & Wellness team for Alexa. Having worked with mobile and web, Rachel was drawn to Alexa by the new user interface of Natural Language Processing, and she was moved by the letters from academic institutions asking for Alexa to be installed in hospitals to help patient care. This stumble into healthcare became a passion, and she knew there was much work to be done to make healthcare more accessible and transparent. She wanted to go somewhere solely focused on healthcare to be able to work faster on problems that data & technology could help solve.
You recently took on a new role as VP of Product Management. How do you define success for your team?
Success for Product is tied to customer happiness. Are our customers happy? Do they love our product? These are fundamentally the most important things. In parallel to that, we have to ask if we are building a viable business. The Product Management team obsesses over how we delight our customers, but at the same time, keep pushing on whether our features are valuable enough and worth paying for.
What does saving lives with data mean to you?
Healthcare is really opaque. Having this data and making it available will allow people to make better decisions, which hopefully means saving lives. We need to make healthcare data actionable and usable for people.
What do you like about managing people?
As a manager, you scale yourself by hiring and growing a team. It can be extremely rewarding to pour your energy into recruiting top talent and then helping that talent grow and be successful. I enjoy building a team and building culture.
Have you had any mentors in your career?
I have been fortunate to have several female mentors, both formally and informally, who have supported me with great advice as I’ve gone through different life stages. One piece of advice that has really stuck with me is that the people you work with really matter. We spend so many hours working; it’s not just about the impact of the role or how you are compensated. It matters that you work with people you genuinely like.
Another one was given to me before I had children (who are now 2 and 4), which is to focus on rigorous prioritization and setting boundaries. It’s a busy time with two little kids who are not yet independent. I really value my time and I’ve learned to make the most of my working day. I try to focus on what really matters. I have little patience these days for meetings that don’t have a clear agenda. You need to feel empowered to opt out of things that are not helping you move forward so you can focus your energy.
How has the pandemic changed the way you work?
The pandemic has in some ways been a blessing for my family. My son was born in January of 2020. I compare my son’s experience with my daughter who is 4. I’ve been able to spend much more time with him at home. I haven’t had to travel. For my daughter I pumped at work for 9 months. I had a rigorous pumping schedule. I remember traveling to Boston while I was still nursing my daughter and bringing home this large container of milk that I had to keep cold.
On the flip side, it can be harder to feel as connected to coworkers. I find the intensity of virtual meetings to be much higher, more tiring. When you are in a room you can take breaks and it feels more natural. It is much more draining to be staring at a screen for meetings all day. I greatly appreciate the flexibility of being able to WFH and come in the office a few times a week.
What lesson would you give your 20-year-old self?
I think I was less understanding of coworkers with dependents being out of the office or working different hours. It’s not about the hours you work – these people are actually much more efficient at their work than you. I would also tell her to spend more time listening.