Corporate to Startup: How One GA Student Made the Leap

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Meet Jesse Owens II, a spring 2013 Product Management graduate, and currently a Product Manager at Imagine Easy Solutions.

1. What were you doing before you came to GA?

During my six years at JP Morgan, I served in a number of roles in the Asset Management and Investment Bank lines of business, from Server-Side Java Developer, Production Support Analyst, to Technical Business Analyst.

2. What made you choose to leave JP Morgan and look for something else?

What inspired my transition out of JP Morgan was finding an opportunity to help grow professionally and technically in a startup atmosphere. JP Morgan is an established company in the financial services industry. My experience at JP Morgan was rewarding, and I felt there was an opportunity for me to be a key contributor in building products that solve problems on a global level with great user experiences. Education is also a passion of mine, so things aligned well to get me where I am now.

3. What brought you to GA?

GA is a well-respected organization and fosters a great community of tech professionals.  Networking is an important aspect in your professional life and GA provides opportunities to meet very bright and talented people at its events.

4. What do you think the best thing that you got out of your course?

Learning how to build a product based on customer needs while supporting decisions around product data. Whether its new features to an existing product or building a MVP, you build a product with user personas in mind. I learned how to build products that customers will love and supporting it with qualitative and quantitative metrics.

5. Where are you now?

I’m currently working at Imagine Easy Solutions as the Product Manager.

6. How did you find your job?

I got the job through General Assembly. I was in an incubator program called Incubate NYC. I was working on an idea and one of the founders of the program invited all the students to GA to hear a talk from different entrepreneurs across different industries, and that’s how I met Neal, the Imagine Easy Solutions co-founder. I was completely engaged in the conversation and I just had to follow up with him. Things took off from there. It just really supports what GA stands for: Providing access to a community. Meeting Neal was unexpected, but I am really grateful that it happened.

7. What’s been the most exciting project you’ve worked on?

My most exciting project, well, I can’t really say one — there have been a couple. When I first joined the group, we were in the process of rolling out Research Ready, an information literacy product that teaches the core research skills for K-12 and colleges. Being a part of that process and making sure the UX was what we needed while I was seeing new features get built was very exciting.

Working on the EasyBib website redesign to improve the user experience across all devices has been exciting as well. EasyBib is a tool that has been around since 2001 that streamlines the research process for creating citations and bibliographies in a seamless way. We’ve made the website more responsive and engaging for not only our students, but also for institutions as well. With the design changes we intend to implement,  we’ll  achieve a more responsive and engaging product not only our students, but also for institutions as well.

8. Any challenges that you didn’t expect?

There will always be challenges when you take on a new role. I think the biggest thing is understanding team dynamics and being accommodating for those different dynamics. For instance, we have a great dev team in Berlin, but we can’t see them physically, so that can be a big barrier communications-wise. Given some of these barriers, we’ve created processes that allows us to work effectively and achieve greater transparency across our products. What was very important to becoming acclimated to the team was learning the culture so can I can identify ways to add value and establish a presence across the team.

9. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself or product management?

Working with different groups within the company and being able to communicate the visions of our products has allowed me to grow immensely. Also, making sure there is transparency and that we are all working towards the company goals. The vision of our products is communicated from our co-founders and its our job as a team to bring that vision to market. It’s very eye-opening and rewarding to realize how you can work with different groups to accomplish a common goal and to know you made an impact.

10. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I see myself taking more of a leadership role in Product Development and eventually teaching product management. Being able to inspire up-and-coming product professionals who are looking to make a transition out of their current roles or to pursue a career in product management. Ultimately, I’d like to do something around mentoring and essentially teaching the world of software and product development to young kids.

If money didn’t mean anything, I would just teach and mentor because I wouldn’t be here without mentorship. I would be remiss if I didn’t give back some of the blessings I’ve received over the years.

11. Who is your favorite teacher?

There’s a couple. My computer science Professor Olariou at Norfolk State University (NSU). The cool thing about her is that she was so patient with me, and this was when I was just getting into coding as a computer science major. I lived in her office after school, and she really helped me appreciate how to write code and really got me started in this industry with her patience.

Zenora Spellman and Valencia Ingram were two women that made a profound impact during my years at NSU. They spearheaded the STARS (Science and Technology Academicians on the Road to Success) program which grant students the opportunity to apply their classroom learning and tackle real world problems through research and development in the sciences. They helped foster a great environment for the students and pushed each one to conduct the best research possible to become experts in their chosen research area of focus.

Dr. Cotter was my professional writing professor as well at NSU. He was really instrumental on making sure you present yourself in a way and make the best impressions, because you only have one opportunity to make a first impression, as we all know. He taught a lot of life lessons as well.

My parents are phenomenal. I wasn’t necessarily the easiest child to raise, but they had a way of instilling discipline and humility, even with my successes and failures. Still married to this day, 32 years, and they definitely serve a great example for me.

12. What’s your guilty pleasure?

Music. I enjoy researching new music, whether it’s indie-rock, hip-hop, funk, jazz. Music keeps me alive. It’s something that I lean on quite often to get through the day. If there is anything I need to reflect on, music helps me do that. You can learn a lot about people through music, and it’s always interesting to hear what people’s taste in music is. You could meet a total stranger, and somehow connect with them. Not just the music itself, but how we talk about it. It’s a healthy addiction.

Learn More About Product Management at GA