Micro-Interview: Emil Tabakov, Sr. Product Manager


Emil Tabakov is a Senior Product Manager at Coursera – a company that brings flexible, affordable, job-relevant online learning to individuals and organizations worldwide.

In under 500 words, Emo shares: 

  • How he became a PM without prior experience…
  • How he starts his mornings for maximum productivity…
  • Some of his sources of learning…

And more…  


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“How did you get into product management?”

I spent more than 10 years in various software engineering roles – from individual contributor to senior manager of multiple teams. At some point, I was looking for a way to increase my impact on the company and broaden my skill set. At this very moment, my team was looking for a Product Manager and I decided to grab the chance and take ownership of the whole product. The “business side” of things has always been the dark side for me, so it all made sense.

“How do you start your mornings at work?”

I follow a mix of Getting Things Done and Bullet Journaling. I start my day by setting 3 main priorities and then breaking those down into actionable tasks. My daily priorities are driven by the weekly/monthly/Q goals that I have set previously plus urgent matters that need to be taken care of.

“What do you know about product management now that you wish you’d known when you first started?”

I wish I knew that product management is a discipline that can be learned and practiced like any other discipline out there. There isn’t black magic or specific talents that are must-haves. You might like the role or not; it can bring you enjoyment or not, but at the end of the day it’s learnable. I had a lot of self-doubts in the beginning about whether I’m capable of being a Product Manager. Now I think it’s much more about whether one wants to be a Product Manager.

“What did your biggest product failure teach you?”

Always strive for quantifiable business impact, which is observable and acknowledged by the whole organization. Too often, I have been working on ideas and products that “just make sense” and are adding “additional value” to the company but don’t have proven validated impact. The success of those products sooner or later will be questioned and at any point in time I should have the answer to the question “How does your product support our company goals?”

“What’s the #1 thing that has helped you shorten your product management learning curve?”

Back when I was starting, there weren’t many learning resources available to me. Nowadays, we have established authorities like Product School or local Telerik Academy that can really help aspiring PMs go through the learning curve faster. What helped me the most was every time I’m offered a task that I don’t know how to do – I take it. If it made me feel nervous or uncomfortable – even better. There are many things I can read about but practicing is when the rubber meets the road. Some books that helped me get started:

“How do you stay updated on the best practices in product management?”

Reading books and listening to podcasts would be the obvious answer. A more unusual answer would be – I always watch what my peers are doing. I have the privilege to work with great professionals and the biggest opportunity for me is observing what works and what doesn’t work in practice. A few resources I’d recommend: