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Gabriel Vigodi: What it Takes to Become a Successful Product Manager

“Juggling multiple tasks and seeing the bigger picture“ - That’s how best we can summarise our interview with Gabriel Vigodi, a Product Manager at Sankore 2.0.

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“Juggling multiple tasks and seeing the bigger picture“ - That’s how best we can summarise our interview with Gabriel Vigodi, a Product Manager at Sankore 2.0.

When you hear the term “product manager,” what comes to mind? Of course, the role will look different depending on the field you’re talking about, which in this case is the tech industry. Now, I’m sure you’re picturing a techie who sits behind a laptop and makes sure the code doesn’t have bugs. But that is just one of the many aspects that the role of a product manager in tech has to offer. Let’s see what insights Gabriel had to share about the same.

Tell us a bit about what you do at Sankore 2.0.

I do a bit of everything, but my main focus is setting up systems used to process grants when they come in, from the point of application to funding and beyond that. This includes automating all these processes to ensure we can deliver on what is expected and communicate that back to NEAR.

What inspired you to pursue a career in tech, and how did you get started in the field to become a Product Manager at Sankore 2.0?

I’ve always had computers around since I was a kid, so I think I had to end up somewhere in I.T. As for becoming a Product Manager, I couldn’t have predicted that when I started out. I knew I would become a programmer more geared towards software engineering or something generally within my skill set (which is wide), so it sort of just worked. It was a perfect fit, and so far, so good. 

What do you love most about being a product manager?

Every day there’s something new to solve. I’m more like a firefighter than a product manager, so for me, that’s exciting. You’re always on your toes, and there are very few boring days, which is something I like a lot. 

When you first learned you would start working at Sankore 2.0, what were your first thoughts? And have they lived up to your expectations?

I think the first thought that came to mind was, “Yeah, I’m in the deep end and I have no idea what I’m doing.” It was my first real job straight out of campus, so it’s like you really don’t know what you’re doing. You have the skill set in theory but you’ve never actually worked. My other thought was, “Am I going to be able to cope?” and other similar things. So my default setting was to be useful and I would figure out everything else.

The way I learned about the role was very random, so I had no expectations as such. But as time went on, I had to adapt. Based on how and where I got in about a year ago to now, we’ve been on an interesting trajectory, and it exceeded my expectations. 

How has your work experience guided you to improve your craft and become a better product manager?

Because of the number of things you have to juggle, you have to be better at prioritizing your tasks and managing your time. This works for me since I like scheduling everything. Order is very important. Once you have everything lined up, it’s easy to adjust to things as they come because at least you have your structure. This makes it hard to be swayed by everyone’s demands, so it really helps. 

On that note, what would you say is the wow factor that makes a good product manager a great one?

You need to be able to see the bigger picture beyond the tasks put in front of you. You have to do that dance between the bigger picture in terms of the business, the people you’re solving problems for, and what they’re trying to achieve, and then down to the smaller tasks. You have to see the interconnection and the full story all the way to the end because if you can’t visualize it, then everything you’re doing is pointless. This allows you to know where all the pieces of the puzzle are going to sit as you work on them. 

What’s a particularly impactful project or accomplishment you’ve worked on during your career in product management, and what did you learn from the experience?

The biggest thing I’ve done is automating of the internal grant processing system for NEAR Kenya and linking all the tools we use. That was a huge accomplishment for me. I picked up a lot in terms of how KPIs work and balancing costs so you get more bang for your buck. You have to get creative when solving problems on a limited budget. It’s a nice dance between business problems and technical ones. 

Initially, it was a bit intimidating having to shoulder the execution of the plan, but once things fell into place, it was rewarding because you’re getting back what you put in.   
What’s your take on the Web3 renaissance and what excites you the most about the potential advancements in tech right now?

The hype has been real. There’s a lot that’s going to change in terms of how systems are built and transparency at all levels, whether it’s governments or the private sector. 

Even though this won’t eradicate all the vices, I think it will do a  good job of reducing the impact because I think that’s what we actually feel more than whatever is causing it. If we can have better systems which then enforce better behaviours, then it sort of becomes like a culture shift so that it’s not such a miracle to find people who have integrity. I think that’s quite a significant issue nowadays. 

How do you see technology shaping and impacting various industries and society as a whole in the future?

To put it simply, it makes things easier. If we can incorporate technology into most of our daily programs, you’ll find that it helps you do things better and saves a lot of time. It will definitely improve the quality of life and services being rendered since a lot of services suffer because there’s too much being stored in our heads when we have machines that can do it. 

With that said, then would you say tech might take over the labour force at some point in the future?

Not really. I think it can only make us deliver services better. Think of small tasks like scheduling, setting up meetings, or summarizing notes; if you had a way to automate them, it would make you a better employee. 

It becomes a meritocracy whereby if you’re good at what you do, technology enhances your offering. It shouldn’t be something we look at in terms of, “Oh, it’s going to take our jobs.” I know there’s all this scepticism around AI, but we can use it to support and make ourselves better. People who adapt faster are going to benefit; that’s just nature. 

There’s a lot of stereotyping about tech bros, like knowing all the latest gadgets or always having an app in development and the notorious hoodie/glasses/backpack look. Which ones would you say are true or false?

(Laughs) Well, for the glasses, we can’t dodge that one because you’re always in front of a screen. The one about gadgets is also true because you find yourself more inclined towards gadgets and tools, be it software or hardware, depending on your speed. Mine is software. If you came and showed me a good tool, you could get me easily. 

When it comes to dressing, for the most part, I try to dress differently; I don’t like the whole hoodie look, so I try to go against that as much as possible just to make sure I’m perceived differently out there (laughs).

What would you say to anyone who is interested in working at Sankore 2.0 in the near future?

Keep an open mind, play to your strengths, and be useful regardless of whichever level or job you’re at; everything else will fall into place. 

There’s a way you can find something to do that you didn’t know fell within your skill set maybe because you never got to explore it. So you might be faced with a challenge and think, “Maybe I can actually handle this,” then surprise - you find the thing you want to do. 

If you could switch jobs with anyone for a day, who would it be and why?

I don’t think I would. I like myself too much and what I do. (laughs)


Read also: Kevin Imani, NEAR Kenya Regional Hub Lead, on Their US$ 50,000 Grants for High-Quality Web3 Projects  

Written by

Sandra Musonge

Sandra Musonge is a part-time writer at Fuzu with over five years of experience under her belt, helping numerous B2B and B2C clients with their content needs. She writes to inspire and not just to inform. Her educational background in Biochemistry has given her a broad base from which to approach many topics. You can find her enjoying nature or trying out new recipes when she isn't writing.

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