#GirlsWhoProduct: Alicia Dixon

By Katsiaryna Drozhzha on April 18, 2018.

Our next girl who products is Alicia Dixon. Alicia has over a decade of experience building consumer and enterprise technology solutions, which evolved into a specialization in mobile apps. She enjoys focusing on new product development, product strategy, and market research. Alicia has held positions at leading companies including Hilton, UPS & Dell. She is a proud alumnus of Howard University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree. In addition, she holds an MBA from Baruch College, CUNY and an MS in Marketing from the University of Alabama. She loves travel, especially to beach locations, and she has a goal to visit all 50 states (just 8 left).

You have worked with such top companies as DELL, Blackboard, Hilton. How did you get into Product Management in the first place?

At the time I joined DELL I was doing marketing and brand management. During that period DELL was going through a lot of growth and change, so there were frequent reorganizations. I got reorganized for the first time as a project manager. Then I got shifted again into what was called a business development manager position, which was actually a product management role. My next work after DELL was working at a subsidiary of UPS that sold enterprise software in the transportation and logistics space. I have to say that back then product management was not a well known occupation, so it wasn’t nearly as hard to get into the product scene as it is now. I think that now product has exploded and it’s a lot harder to get that first product role. When I started in product management, the general philosophy was: ‘‘Well, we need to do this thing called Product Management, it’s not clear exactly what that is but we’ll figure it out.’’

Presenting at Industry Summit in Cleveland, Ohio

My recommendation for people who are looking to move into a product position is to try looking for it at where you are right now. Let’s say that you are performing a project manager role, or a marketing role, or even development or legal or finance — try to see if you could transition into product in the company that you’re already working for. You may not be able to move directly into it as your official job but try to find a Product Manager at your company who needs help. Ask them to let you help with something that they don’t have time to focus on and get experience by delivering on that as a side project. Make sure you actually get some hands-on experience before applying for a Product Management position. I personally don’t know anyone who was hired into the position without any experience building a product.

How do you get into product Management without prior experience? Is it necessary to have a university degree in software engineering?

I think it greatly depends on the company that you want to work for. I would just say that you have to check company’s profile first and the profiles of the product managers who work there. If all of the product managers at that company have a developer background, probably it’s not the place for you. Look for places where the Product Managers have backgrounds from different places and/or companies that are looking for diversity in their product management, companies that get input from different points of views and disciplines. Start networking with those people. Talk to people who are doing that job to discover what was their path to the product. Most people who are doing product management studied some other discipline in school and many of them started their careers in fields other than tech.

Attending a corporate event at the AT&T Stadium.

Do you think that women have some natural talents that makes them more competent in the role of PM than men?

My initial reaction is to say ‘yes’, that women in general have more empathy, and empathy is definitely a top skill that you need in product management. But I also hate to stereotype and say that this is something that women have versus something that men have. The ability to sit back, listen, hear what the other person is asking for and approach a problem — that’s a big part of what the product job is. Product management is more about whether or not you can synthesize information and propose a solution to a widely-held problem than it is about whether or not you align with a certain gendered social norm.

Have you ever sacrificed work over family?

My story of sacrifice is a little different than what most people would expect to hear, because I am a single woman and I don’t have any children. However, I would say that I have given some things up to further my career. For example, I have been working at Hilton for 3 years. When I accepted this job, I relocated to Dallas, Texas. It was a great opportunity and I was really excited to work for Hilton, so I was willing to be away from my friends and family. After about a year and a half into the role I realized that I was missing out on spending time with my loved ones. So I talked to my manager and asked him to relocate me to the company’s headquarters in Virginia, not far from the place where I grew up. At a certain point I just realised that my parents were aging, I had young nephews and I wanted to be close to them — that was my priority. So I made the decision to move closer to my family and and my attitude towards the company was: ‘‘I am going back there and if you still value me, you need to help me find a way to work it out.’’ Otherwise I would have found another option could give me that freedom.

Cruising on the San Francisco bay.

How do you think we can encourage women to apply for the job and stay competent in the field?

I am actively involved in the Women in Product Slack group that I have found to be a great resource for sharing information and job opportunities. I would definitely recommend it. Separately, there is the Facebook community that was created by the non-profit Women in Product organization. I am not a member of that community but I have heard that it is another terrific resource. They also organize an annual conference that I attended for the past two years. I highly recommend that event as well.

At a baseball game with Rohini Pandhi, Mike Belsito, Andy Sparks and some Indians fans.

What is a necessary ingredient for successful transitioning into a product role?

There are a lot blogs, books and resources out there. Product can mean different things at different companies, so make sure to fully understand what that particular job is, so you can walk in and deliver something on your first day. Whether it is working for a company or creating your own product or even doing it on a volunteer basis — there are always opportunities where you can get product experience. Try to understand the market problem, target the right people and figure out what messages you want to get through them. There’s product everywhere.

Where do you usually screen out the best candidates for product positions?

I don’t see companies using external headhunters to recruit much anymore. What I see is a lot of internal recruiters who are relying on their networks. And their network contacts are referring potential candidates. Candidates who don’t have product experience may not necessarily get a Product Manager role straight ahead. If there is a company that you really want to work for you might have to start out as an analyst or assisting a product manager. Then when there is a promotion opportunity you take on the responsibility for fully owning a product.

Teased by the Hilton team that she won’t be forgotten when she transfers to the main office.

Have you ever faced with gender discrimination at work?

I have been in the situation where I was passed over for an opportunity at work, but I am not really sure if the reason is because I am a woman. I have been doing a product for over a decade and my attitude was always ‘I want to do what I enjoy and I want to keep learning’. So unfortunately I was not specifically focused on getting promoted. As a result I’ve seen other people getting promoted faster and easier than I did. Again, not sure if that happened because I am a minority and a woman or if it is because I didn’t outright ask to be promoted.

What advice would you give to women who want to become product managers?

I encourage people to embrace the fact that product is all about continuous learning. Don’t think you have to get it right all the time because you are not going to. Accept that product management is all about learning and iterating, and not about knowing 100% of everything. Just focus on delivering the best product you can instead of worrying about the job.

Get connected with Alicia on Linkedin , see what she has to say on Twitter.

About #GirlsWhoProduct

#GirlsWhoProduct is a series of interviews with women that have been able to beat the ‘product’ ceiling and get into the profession. Our mission is to inspire, connect and empower more women to get into product roles and help them consider ‘product’ as a venue of personal and professional growth.

About Productized Masterclasses

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