Two things that a small tech startup and a trillion-dollar company have in common are ideas and someone to flawlessly execute on them. I asked Microsoft’s product management leader and expert Kshitij Saxena (who also goes by KJ) to share with us how he has navigated through the competitive world of product development, exactly how the tech savvy magician turns ideas into reality and how people wanting to learn these skills could succeed. Find out more below:
KJ, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into product development and technology?
“As far back in childhood as I remember, I was deeply in love with cars. Everything about cars fascinated me and I would spend hours devouring all the car magazines I could get my hands on when I was a kid. The most interesting part of a car for me was the engine and I was completely smitten by how an engine works. Slowly I realized I was passionate not just about cars but in fact loved building things that followed a set of rules and either solved some problem or those that felt “cool”. Both mechanical contraptions and computer programs fell in this category which I loved.
KJ goes on to explain how his love for building cars lead him to other interest like software technology/automation and he never expected his childhood interest would one day be the substructure our globe relies on.
“The love for cars and building physically tangible things was far more at that age. It was only later in college and early days of my career that I realized how software was helping build the most complex products and transforming the world digitally in ways that were cheap, scalable, and fast. This prompted me to take my passion for building things from the real world to the digital world.”
Kj’s natural born skills for technology lead him to graduate with his master’s in industrial and operational engineering from The University of Michigan and graduate in the top 10 percentile from Pune University (one of India’s premier universities). Shortly thereafter, doors began to open allowing him to showcase his talents with some of today’s well-known companies like Microsoft; where he worked on iconic multibillion-dollar products such as the Xbox, Surface pro, HoloLens and enterprise systems integration of Nokia devices with Microsoft following Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia devices.
You are accomplishing great things! What projects are you working on now?
I run product teams for a portfolio of enterprise mobile products at Microsoft. Most prevalent of those being the Edge mobile browser for enterprises. It is one of the most exciting products that I helped build from the ground up. It is an extremely challenging market and the competition is fierce where we are the underdogs, yet the product is growing rapidly with millions of paid users in less than a year. The other exciting product that I am working on is the Surface Duo. I can’t talk too much about it yet, but it is a dual-screen device that fits in your pocket based on the Android OS “
Honestly, I can’t seem to keep up with all the latest technology please share with me what’s the latest thing happening in your field?
The most fascinating thing about being in the tech industry is that it changes so rapidly and things that would be considered science fiction today become realities of the near and medium future. We are already seeing a huge shift with the cloud enabling cheaper, flexible, and scalable computing and storage technology along with mobile devices being more and more dependent on cloud services. Additionally, AI and virtual reality are starting to gain traction for certain specific use cases
Where do you see the industry going 10 years from now? What does the future look like for our tech-based world?
“I think that in the next 10 years we will see –
1.Cheap screens that would be ubiquitous in our lives hooked up to a high bandwidth connection that will rely completely on computing being done in the cloud and will let you access all your stuff on these screens wherever you go
2. Artificial intelligence will see a broader application, as well as the capability of AI, will get to a point where it is comparable to human intelligence and has trickled down to augmenting and practically taking over multiple activities that we do throughout the day. Imagine software being the primary mode of analyzing X Rays and various diagnostic scans and doctors having to intervene in case of exceptions.
3. Augmented reality devices will become mainstream to such an extent that your digital experiences would become as rich real-life experiences. Imagine you put on a device in your house and the space around you transforms to your office with you being able to interact with people in 3D.”
My next question came effortlessly, and his answer was very humble and modest. I asked, have you considered going into business for yourself?
“ I have always wanted to be involved in startups and ultimately start my own company in that strives to solve a problem through technology. However, what excites me much more is to build a product that solves a genuine problem or a pain point. For me, an opportunity that makes a real positive difference in people’s lives is more important than a business opportunity for the sake of building my own business. I worked on the Nokia devices post-acquisition strategy at Microsoft because having grown up in India, Nokia was synonymous with mobile phones and I really wanted to do my part in helping Nokia phones innovate and thrive in the smartphone era. The lessons I learnt while working on it were probably the most valuable lessons I learnt in business. They taught me how important culture is, for innovation to thrive and grow.”
KJ also shared that in his spare time he encourages and mentors’ entrepreneurs with their startup companies
“ I love helping founders working on enterprise software products and am a mentor at the Alchemist accelerator based in Silicon Valley which was rated amongst the top 5 startup incubators in the world. Working with entrepreneurs who are trying to solve challenging enterprise problems and advising them is a way I give back to the industry that has taught me so much and helped me build products that enable others.”
Do you have any advice for those wanting to transition into product management/development?
I have met quite a few people who are either in college or early in their careers and want to transition to a product management career in the tech industry but do not have clarity on what path to take in this pursuit. The most important thing to understand for people who want to become product managers in tech is that there is no specific degree program that positions you to be a tech product manager so there is no point looking for the ideal degree that guarantees you transition into product management. Therefore, it is important to focus on developing the right skills through on the job experiences along with formal or informal education. Core skills that one should focus on developing are problem-solving, user experience, data analytics, project management, and understanding fundamentals of the technology being used to build the product, and ideally expertise in the domain that you would be building the product for.
KJ followed his passion which opened doors for him to influence and inspire others. When asked about his biggest influencers he named Chamath Pahatipiliya (early employee at Facebook), Jason Calacanis (Investor in over 7 unicorns including Uber), Sachin Rekhi (Founder of Notejoy), Naval Ravikant (Angel investor in multiple unicorns).
“The one common thing I see in all these people’s thoughts is that they are authentic and don’t hold back on their opinions even if they aren’t the most popular school of thought.”
Thank you KJ for sharing your experiences along with such a motivating story, I can’t wait to see your name on more projects in the future. To know more about what he is working on visit his profile: www.linkedin.com/in/kshitijsaxena