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Life @ Elastic | Product Management with Alex Francoeur

My name is Alex Francoeur and for the past three years I’ve been fortunate enough to be one of the product managers responsible for Kibana. My work has spanned multiple facets within Kibana; iterating on dashboards and visualizations, introducing new stack management features, launching Canvas and Elastic Maps, and most recently, focusing on our upcoming alerting initiative. I want to share a bit about my road to product management and why I think Elastic is pushing this role forward in many directions.

A product-management fit

A long time ago, my wife Nicole told me that I am a great translator. Not in the sense that I can translate multiple languages (I can’t), but that I can translate business-oriented asks from less technical folks into technical requirements for engineers to build, and vice-versa. With a background in computer science, I’ve funnily enough never had a strictly coding-only job since school. That’s because I took Nicole’s advice to heart, and have since worn a variety of hats in my career, ranging from technical support to technical account management (post sales) and eventually product management.

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Without a doubt, I was born to be a product manager. This role encompasses all of my favorite functions within an organization: problem solving, design and user experience, customer interactions, product evangelism, marketing, and more. Trust me, the list goes on. While this role and these responsibilities are not exclusive to Elastic, I believe product management at Elastic is unique in the best possible ways.

Endless use cases

When I interviewed at Elastic, I was immediately amazed by the breadth and depth of use cases the Elastic Stack supported. From serving up documents in Wikipedia, to providing recommendations in Netflix and Yelp, to analyzing telemetry data from the Mars rover, the possible uses seemed endless.

After three years working here, that still stands true. The beauty of the Elastic Stack is that you can throw any size and shape of data at it, and quickly make sense of it. This is an extremely powerful concept when you look at the stack through the eyes of a product manager.

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For example, our community was naturally gravitating toward building out search applications, monitoring their infrastructure, and threat hunting using our products. And if you take a look at our website, you’ll find first class solutions supporting each one of those use cases: Search. Observe. Protect. While we continue to build out these solutions, it’s exciting to see new use cases emerge organically. If you think of that from the perspective of a product manager, there’s ample opportunity for new features, products, and solutions to be built.

Let me provide another example. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this lifecycle now a few times, most recently with Elastic Maps. From the very early days of Elasticsearch, location was an important part of our search capabilities. It drove numerous applications and use cases, from showing nearby restaurants in Yelp to calculating surge prices for Ubers in your area. As we began to interact with more customers and community members, we saw numerous custom mapping applications being built off of the geospatial capabilities in Elasticsearch. We noticed that there was not only a desire from our user base to provide more powerful mapping functionality to the Elastic Stack, but also a large opportunity ahead of us in this market. Elasticsearch tends to be a differentiator in just about every use case, and this is no different for geospatial. By doubling down on our mapping efforts in Kibana, we get to delight our existing users (geo data is a key part of many of our existing use-cases), and we have now taken the first steps into a new industry, backed by a search and analytics platform that can provide relevant results in near real time, and at scale.

Open source and the community behind it

The Elastic Stack is open code and because of this we have a wonderful resource at our disposal: our GitHub repos. Nearly every product interaction and decision, whether it’s proprietary code or open source, is publicly available to view and participate in. And our community does. If you’re an end user waiting for a feature, it’s as easy as subscribing to an issue to stay up to date.

As a product manager here, you can strike up discussions or simply react to feedback on the features in the pipeline. It is totally normal to have ongoing discussions with the engineering team, product managers, and members of the community in a GitHub issue — all participating in an honest discussion, completely free of judgement. What’s even more exciting is when you get to meet community members in person at one of our many global Elastic{ON} Tour events. Our community is truly amazing and if you’re reading this blog and an active member, thank you so much for all that you do.

Engineering + Product Management

Elastic has been an engineering driven company since the very beginning. As we grow, that still holds true. Product management actually falls within the Engineering organization. Our approach to product management is extremely collaborative. In some organizations, you may be used to writing up a large requirements document or detailed user stories, planning the sprint, grooming the backlog and having the engineering team build out what you defined. If that’s what you like and are used to, you won’t find that here at Elastic. Here, we work together with each engineering team to jointly define product roadmap.

Canvas is my favorite example of this. When I started at Elastic, a discussion was already taking place about providing our users with the ability to completely customize how their data is represented, whether that’s for an executive level dashboard or a weekly report. Being Elastic, it is common for our engineers to join customer calls and speak directly with our community. After interacting with our community, the creator of Kibana, Rashid Khan, built the first Canvas prototype on a flight home. He presented this prototype and concept to a number of individuals at Elastic and we decided that it was worth investing more time in. It filled a large gap in Kibana: being able to truly brand your data and tell a story with it. As the product manager for Canvas, I was able to spend more time talking to our community to refine the prototype before defining go to market strategy, compiling competitive research, and promoting the product. It was truly a collaborative effort to build out Canvas in every way possible, from the small tweaks in the UI to strategic planning. When everyone is working towards the same goal, the outcome can be really amazing.

By empowering our engineers to own the features they are working on, we end up building much better products. As equal thought partners, we have an extremely collaborative approach to problem solving and delivering world class features. Now what does that mean for you as a product manager? It means you have more time to focus on other aspects of your role outside of execution. Competitive research, field enablement, go to market and most importantly, product strategy. It’s a win-win for everyone, and is one of the reasons why I’m honored to be part of the product management team at Elastic. Our open, diverse, and inclusive culture has built a very trusting and supportive environment to ensure that everyone executes to the best of their ability. We are all building towards the same goal: making our solutions and the Elastic Stack better every day for our community.

Come join us

Elastic’s culture is one of a kind. Our technology is distributed and so are our people. We’ve re-written the rules around work culture and whether you’re in a leadership role or are an individual contributor, you can be extremely successful here without ever stepping in an office. And that’s the way we like it.

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Being a PM, it’s common that I work across multiple teams on a daily basis. These teams can drastically range in location, from Mountain View California to Sydney Australia. We’re in 40+ countries. Since finding balance in life is core to Our Source Code, flexibility is an important aspect of life at Elastic. But what does that mean to you as a product manager? It means that everything is asynchronous. Tools like Slack, GitHub, Google Suite, and Zoom allow you to work both in real time and at your own speed. Missed a meeting? Catch up with a Zoom recording later in the week. Forget why a decision was made? Read up on that GitHub issue to better understand the context. Putting together a presentation with a group based in various time zones? Comment, suggest, and collaborate in Google slides. While there will always be deadlines and priorities at work, nothing should be a priority over your life and your family — and everyone at Elastic understands that.

If you’re a product manager and have been eyeing Elastic from afar, I encourage you to check us out. You won’t be disappointed. Every team here consists of all-stars. You will grow by being constantly challenged, learning new skills, fine tuning existing skill sets, and building some truly amazing products.

Interested in joining a company with a Source Code to live by? We’re hiring. Check out our teams and find your fit! Want to find out more about life at Elastic? Read more on our blog!