Name: Julian Herbert
Hometown: Port Allen, Louisiana
Current Title: Senior Product Manager (Tech) at Amazon Web Services
Industry: High Tech
Prior Professional Experience: Prior Professional Experience 1.5 years at Amazon.com (Marketplace), 2 years at Deloitte Consulting and 3.5 years at Texas Instruments.
Education: B.S. Computer Science at Southern University, Masters of Business Administration at University of Michigan, Ross School of Business
What is the most important professional lesson you've learned to date?
The most important lesson I learned in my career is to focus on my strengths much more than trying to tackle everyone of my weaknesses. By relying on my core strengths and finding opportunities to maximize them, I have been able to accelerate promotions and secure highly coveted roles and assignments. This does require deep knowledge of your weaknesses and understanding which you can and want to improve, while acknowledging the others may just be your personal traits that may not change.
What has been your biggest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
One of my biggest professional failures to date was when I recognized I was put in a position to fail but did not voice my concerns. The scope of our team’s work was too great and the deadlines too short in order to meet our goal. I assumed our manager would voice this concern to leadership for us, but that never happened. As an African American, I hesitated to sound the alarm and tried to take on more work, sometimes working 16-18 hours a day. However, even with this additional work, we were behind in our deliverables and the project leadership blamed our team until we identified the problem. This was a pretty big failure in my leadership and it caused me to be passed on for high profile opportunities immediately following that project.
What issues have you dealt with being a woman/person of color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?
As the above example shows, the thought that you have to work twice as hard and never voice your concerns can have negative consequences. Because of my calm demeanor and perceived pragmatism, I am often given very difficult assignments and expected to deliver results where others have failed. Until recently, I accepted each of these projects out of a sense of loyalty and to show off my work ethic. However, I have learned through experiences and from mentors, to be more strategic and vocal about my concerns. This allows me to avoid situations where I sacrifice my work-life balance on something that was destined to fail. When taking on one of these projects now, I negotiate ahead of time what I will need whether that be resources or extended timelines, etc. in order to deliver results.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
I am always learning and looking for new ways to expand my skills. I watch tutorials and classes online to stay updated on technology. I also utilize social media, specifically Twitter and LinkedIn, to follow new companies, technologies and players in my industry. My mentors have also helped me navigate potential role changes and projects to ensure I am always challenged and thinking about the direction of my career. I set goals for each role and re-evaluate my likes and dislikes each year as an introspective way to know if I am ready for a change.
Do you have a mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
Yes, I have a few mentors that I utilize for different circumstances. Most of my mentors from my early career came from internships and were leaders at their respective organizations. These mentors have a baseline of understanding of my personality and characteristics over a long period of time and I connect with them for advice on big decisions (i.e., negotiations/major career moves).
When I started my current role, I utilized my manager to identify mentors that she thought would be a good personality fit and who were already rising in the organization. I have a tactical mentor that is one level above me in my role, to understand how to navigate promotions and the next level. The benefit of having this internal mentorship network allows me to capture diverse perspectives on key career decisions to understand what it means for my role and more broadly throughout the organization.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college?
I would say utilize the “newness” factor to seek out additional work, potentially projects that may be struggling or assignments that have been on the back burner. Providing a new perspective or idea may just help to push those projects to resolution and help you build your reputation within the organization. Identify an early leadership opportunity, specifically within an employee resource group to flex your leadership muscles and expand your network outside of your day-to-day interactions. Understand what your natural strengths are and your areas for improvement. Connect with your mentors and colleagues to see if those areas for improvement are blockers or just “nice to have.” Seek out mentors that have similar personality traits but also overcame the same blockers you need to overcome. Learn as much about your company’s customers and how your outputs impact those customers, this will help you tie your outputs directly to customer value which you can portray on your resume.
Why did you decide to go back to graduate school and what are you hoping it will enable you to do next?
Prior to attending business school, I was a business analyst on an ecommerce team, which meant I gathered requirements and translated them for engineers to develop the product. While I enjoyed the execution phase, I wanted to be more involved in the strategic vision of what we decided to build for customers. I started researching what types of roles interested me and I found that I wanted to stay in the high tech arena working with engineers, but I wanted to own and grow a business. An MBA seemed like the natural fit, especially after being admitted in the Management Leadership for Tomorrow MBA Prep program. Additionally, the network gained from attending a top tier MBA program would help me in career pivots in the future which has turned out to be true.