A Common Story of a Female Product Manager: Part 2

Follow Sheela’s story

Ashwini Sriram
5 min readApr 1, 2022

You can read Part 1 here.

Life at Brotonics had turned tumultuous for Sheela. It had gotten that way so gradually that she barely noticed. She no longer felt like the smart, accomplished, experienced product expert that she was.

Whenever she started writing documents, her engineering manager, Merv (he/him)’s voice popped into her head: “What IS a ‘product’ anyway?”, or “What do you mean by ‘customer’?”, and she immediately stopped writing since it was exhausting to ponder the definition of words. She’d often see suggestions like these from Merv on the doc

Add: “,”

and would seethe. She’d hit ‘Accept Suggestion’ since she didn’t want to seem petty about rejecting a comma.

Gatekeeper of the English language, Merv considered himself.

During her 1:1s with Mike (one of her bosses), she decided to broach the topic of collaboration with Merv.

Mike said to her, “This is a safe space, Sheela. You know you can share anything with me, right?”

“Well..actually, I tried to review the TPS doc with Merv the other day, and it went nowhere because he kept asking me to define basic terms.”, Sheela ventured.

“Oh, you mean the Dungeons and Dragons doc? Bill and I renamed it to make it less boring.”, Mike said with a grin.

“Yeah, I mean the Dungeons and Dragons doc.”, Sheela said through gritted teeth, and quickly smiled because she didn’t want to seem too annoyed.

“You know Sheela, as product managers, we need to keep our engineers happy. When Bill and I managed this product, we worked really well with Merv and didn’t have any problems collaborating.”

That’s because you are all buddies. You even call yourselves the Three Amigos.


“Okay. I will write a more detailed doc and come back to you if that doesn’t work.”

“Good! As a product manager, you are the CEO of your product. You need to influence without authority.”

I know. I have been a product manager longer than you have, and have read every book on product management there is. So don’t give me that off-the-shelf crap.

“Thanks, Mike”, she said out loud.

“You bet! Just Slack me if you have any questions or concerns.”

Well, I just brought a ‘concern’ to you, and you did nothing about it, Sheela thought, as she sipped her $8 chai tea latte several weeks later.

Sheela was excited about the quarterly review. Despite all odds, she was able to revive her product and increase adoption. She was also keen to pitch a new idea to the Chief.

A Pied Piper Customer Council! Since the main reason her product (Pied Piper) floundered, was an absolute lack of customer focus, she wanted to include key customers in the roadmap planning and product design phases. The customer council would meet quarterly, and in exchange for a peek at the new features she was developing, they’d give her honest feedback and share use cases she might have overlooked. At the quarterly review, the Chief was impressed with both the product adoption numbers and her proposal, and immediately approved the budget for the Pied Piper Customer Council.

Sheela was delighted and got straight to work. She reached out to key customers to recruit them into the council, prepared roadmap presentations, and was all set to lead the first ever Pied Piper Customer Council meeting.

She was so invested in the upcoming Council meeting that it hurt particularly badly when she saw Mike’s email about the new hire just three weeks shy of the meeting:

John, Senior Director, Pied Piper Customer Council

Photo by Stephanie Cook on Unsplash

Hey team! I’m excited to welcome John Smith (he/him) to our team.
He will be spinning up a new team called the Pied Piper Customer Council: a brand-new way for Brotonians to keep in touch with our customers.

A chance for us to finally practice customer empathy!

John brings over half a decade of experience successfully completing LEGO kits.

Since building LEGO towers requires a lot of patience (not to mention an unusually high level of pain tolerance *IYKYK*), we are certain that he will be a complete natural at building and leading the Council.

Please join me in welcoming John to Brotonic.

— Mike”

Bill (reply all): “Welcome to the team, John! Question: tabs or spaces? ;)”

Khrizx (pronounced Kris) (reply all): “Hey man! Welcome to the team. Star Wars 75313 AT-AT all the way.\m/ ;)

Merv (reply all): “Hey John! Did you run the SF Ultra? I am an Ironman myself! We should run together sometime?

“The Pied Piper council was my idea.”, said Sheela at her next 1:1 with Mike.

“Look, Bill and I discussed, and decided that it would be best for you to prioritize future iterations of Pied Piper. You can collaborate with John on the Council — I am sure he is open to it.
As a product manager, you shouldn’t care who does the work. Just make sure that you give John your input. Don’t be territorial, Sheela.”, Mike said.

“Besides, John has way more experience than you, and you can learn from him!”, he added, biting into his string cheese.

Her phone buzzed briefly.

Her friend, Ram, had shared an article titled:

“Men are Judged based on their Potential, and Women, on their Past Performance”

Sheela archived the entire chat and blocked her friend.

The next day, Sheela met John.

“Hey John! Welcome to Brotonic.”, said Sheela with a smile.

“Hey Shay-la, am I saying your name right? Shay-la?”, said John, with an Eastern twang.

“It’s just Sheela.”, she said evenly.

“Oh! Nice to meet you, Sheela! Mike said you have done some work around the Pied Piper Customer Council — could you share your docs? I don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”, said John.

“Sure. I’ll send you my work.”

John immediately scheduled a 🍻 Happy Hour with Bill, Mike, Khrizx, Merv, and Sheela. They had just wrapped up a team meeting which Sheela endured, and although she was raring to go home, skipping the happy hour seemed like a faux pas. She was a fighter. She was determined to fit in, climb up the ladder, and see for herself what all the fuss was about.

One of her mentors once told her,

“You are either a victim, or a player. You must choose.”

She could not let herself be the victim.

She was clearly a player.

After all, she’d moved 8440 miles away from home, leaving her family and friends behind, to follow her passion and build a life for herself.

She marched over to the bar with the rest of the team.

Continued here



Ashwini Sriram

Technology leader from Chennai living and writing in San Francisco.