12 Lessons From 12 Months of Teaching at General Assembly


Natasha (bottom left) with her Product Management students.

Natasha (bottom, farthest left) with her Product Management students.

Like any self-respecting teenager, I had vowed to be different from my elders. My mother and her three sisters have glittering careers in education. After ten years in tech, I now practice the craft my younger version was adamant to avoid: I moonlight as an instructor at General Assembly.

This side-gig, that started as mild experiment, has become a full-blown passion. I have been at our New York campus every month since I joined the instructional team a year ago. Below is a round-up of 12 lessons I learned from 12 months of preaching product management to five classes.

1. I revamped my information diet.

I read more actively, diversely and efficiently to offer the class perspectives beyond my own.

2. I made authentic connections.

Forging authentic relationships is an obvious benefit of puzzling out work and\or life problems with people. The surprise, for me, was how quickly this phenomenon occurred.

3. I dropped jargon from my vocabulary.

A baker, a writer, an investment banker, along with experienced product managers have occupied the student seats in our classrooms. Teaching to this wildly diverse crew has cleansed my palette of industry jargon. I am now able to translate product-speak to human-speak.

4. I discovered my blindspots.

Gauging from feedback that I received, I discovered that the topics that I knew the best were the ones I taught the worst. #headscratch.

I assumed, wrongly, that the nuances of certain topics were just as obvious to my audience as they were to me. An awareness of these blind spots has reshaped how I communicate with my clients, peers and new employees. Now, when I am in my comfort zones, I drop my pearls of wisdom at a reasonable pace when in the past I hurled them — Wham! Wham! Wham!

5. I remembered my capacity for hard work.

Individuals in each class churn out eye-popping volumes of high-quality work. They have recalibrated my notion of what product managers can accomplish in 10 weeks, the duration of the program. Their outputs reminded me that occasional spurts of intense days at work are okay, can have inspiring results, and help build my stamina for the long haul.

6. I found a purpose.

It has been incredibly satisfying to play a part, tiny or otherwise, in helping people etch out new career pathways.

7. I fine-tuned my coaching voice.

This past year I have connected with nearly a hundred learners. Coaching these prospective stars of the product universe has given me ample opportunities to exercise and strengthen my product and people management muscles.

8. Learn, teach, repeat.

Teaching is another form of learning. Over the years, I have mastered aspects of product management that have intrigued me. The interests of those in the classroom, however, are wider than mine. So, to cater to them I have sharpened skills that had dulled from being ignored previously.

9. I have accepted the limits of my knowledge and interests.

I learned the limits of my knowledge pretty quickly. But accepting them became easier since I have immersed myself in the GA community because I can tap into my network for help when I need it.

10. I sorted out my digital brand and message.

Beyond personal connections, my online network has expanded to include product peers across geographical lines. I wanted to acquaint my virtual friends with who I am, and how my brain cranks. So, finally, I had good reason to spiff up my digital persona so that it matched my actual personality.

11.  I learned … am learning, to manage my time.

I had to reconfigure my schedule to create space for my new vocation. I haven’t mastered my calendar as yet. Still, on this quest to be efficient, I have tried on new routines and shed old ones. For instance, cable has been cut, book reading quotas have been set, and a get-offline-while-still-awake curfew has been set.

12. I gained clarity on what I want to do next.

The blend of guiding people through their career transitions and verbalizing my dreams (also fears) has helped generate an updated version of a roadmap for my career.

Since last August, my days have been long, but the year went by quickly. Meanwhile, I have accumulated friends, ideas, chops, and confidence.

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