Pioneering Female Leadership in a Global Environment: Insights from a Product Manager’s Relocation Experience in a Tech Firm

The role of a product manager requires the mastery of team engagement, leadership prowess, managerial competence, and strategic insight. As the company’s size expands, so does the geographical reach of the product, providing ample opportunities to delve into user behavior. Kate Podolskaia, a senior product manager at a leading global tech company, shares her journey through various IT firms, her relocation to the UK, and her life in London.

Previously, Kate enjoyed a prosperous career at one of the CIS region’s largest IT corporations, where she oversaw multiple products within a ride-hailing service. Later, she relocated to London and became a part of the Badoo dating app team at Bumble, introducing new features to boost global user engagement. Currently, she is in charge of commerce advertising products at one of the esteemed FAANG companies.

Self-Driven Aspiring Product Manager

Kate Podolskaia, hailing from a small town, began her work journey at the tender age of 10. At 12, she relocated to a different city to attend the region’s top physics and mathematics school. Her intellectual curiosity was not satiated in her previous class, as she quickly grasped the curriculum and was not permitted to advance to a higher grade earlier. Kate convinced her parents to allow her to live independently for the sake of a superior education. “Looking back, it might seem odd, but at the time, moving to a new city without my parents to attend a school that would offer me new developmental opportunities, seemed like a logical and sensible decision,” Kate reminisces.

Upon completing her studies, Kate moved to the capital. While at university, she embarked on her professional journey as a product manager. The role of product managers is mainly focused on enhancing the user experience of a product. Their duties encompass leading the planning, development, and launch of a product or service. By studying consumer experiences and user requests, Kate needs to come up with new products and features, or simply refining and updating existing ones in order to cater to evolving consumer needs.  Communication skills are paramount in a product manager’s role – it’s crucial to articulate your idea to different individuals, framing it in a way that resonates with marketers, developers, financiers, and others, to collaboratively create a new product. Kate’s professional intuition, vision, leadership skills, curiosity, and drive to innovate are beneficial in her work. These professional skills also prove invaluable in resolving life’s challenges – tasks such as home renovations or organizing a move become significantly easier when approached with the mindset of a product manager.

“In two days, we could collaborate with developers to launch a new project, even if it meant working around the clock.”

Throughout the years Kate has had the opportunity to work in a wide variety of environments, from large manufacturing companies to startups developing apps for personalised health recommendations. In 2018, she embarked on a significant new phase in her career when she joined one of the country’s largest IT corporations. Here, she focused on enhancing the user experience of the ride-hailing service which led to $50M incremental revenue and significantly growing the customer base by integrating the service into a partner social network’s application with 150M active users. Morerover,  she launched the delivery service during the pandemic ensuring company enters this market early. This grew revenue by $10M and enabled the company to scale up to doing food delivery. Notably, during her time here she developed an urban mobility strategy that led to the launch of scooters and autonomous cars divisions. Kate established departments from the ground up to develop this area within the company, and through a new project, she transformed the market landscape in the country.

Kate remembers her tenure at this company as being one of the most vibrant periods in her career. She and her team would be able to brainstorm new projects, swiftly secure approval from management, rapidly launch them in the market, and gather user feedback to continually refine the product. Kate led five product teams comprising 60 engineers and 20 cross-functional teammates throughout her time here.

“We were truly passionate about our work. We could launch a new project with the developers in just two days and work late into the night. The management gave us the freedom to act, and we were always ready to achieve more,” she recalls.

In Kate’s life, she never perceived any barriers to scaling new heights. She was goal-oriented and undeterred by obstacles. Her next ambition was to make her mark on the international stage. The role of a product manager is versatile and applicable to almost any business, and her experience in large IT corporations in the CIS region is highly valued in the global job market. “I never doubted my abilities or questioned whether it was worth it or if I was ready for the next stage. I simply had a goal and pursued it,” she explains.

Relocating to London

Kate meticulously examined the job market, identifying potential multinational corporations she could be a part of and envisioning her future career path. Primarily, she targeted English-speaking countries – the UK and the USA. “I aspired to be part of an organization with a positive work environment and inspiring colleagues, where I could acquire new knowledge and contribute my expertise to extensive projects with broad geographic scope”.

This led Kate to Bumble in 2020, a company that was, among other ventures, developing the dating application Badoo. With this new role came a change in location – Kate relocated to London. The migration process to this country was less  complicated compared to the USA. As a product manager at Badoo, Kate enhanced the user interface, launched new interaction mechanics and developed functionality that encouraged users to share more content on their app profiles increasing global engagement.

However, Kate’s ambition didn’t stop there. Being in one of the world’s leading international business and financial hubs, she is inspired to seek further growth. “Once you’ve been part of a global corporation, it becomes easier to adapt to the demands of the next, to utilize your skills and apply the valuable experience gained previously. If you’ve already expanded beyond the local market, progression becomes smoother,” Kate elaborates. Her subsequent aim was to join one of the world’s leading tech giants. A year later, she secured a position as a product manager at one of the FAANG companies. Since 2021, Kate has been focusing on e-commerce advertising and machine learning in her role.

Understanding Corporate Culture, Building Relationships with Expats, and Embracing Freedom

The corporate culture in the multinational companies where Kate has worked, is quite different from her previous workplaces. It might involve more formal language, unique interpretations of common phrases, some bureaucratic nuances, intricate approval processes, and detailed financial project analysis. However, in the UK, the culture is less demanding, offering individuals the choice to either continue working in the evenings for enjoyment or engage in recreational activities and socialize with friends and family for a change of pace.

In the IT firms where Kate worked, the workforce was diverse, adding a vibrant touch to daily interactions. Kate noticed that expats often found it challenging to form friendships.  While local colleagues might spend time with long-standing friends from school or university, newcomers to London typically socialize with fellow expats. Unlike the locals who have grown up in the city, these expats are keen on forming new friendships and are more proactive in initiating contact.

Kate finds London to be a comfortable city to live in. Despite the absence of rapid delivery services or user-friendly fintech compared to some CIS countries, she feels safe and secure in the UK’s capital. “There’s a sense of freedom here – everyone can live as they please without judgment. Life here seems slower and quieter than in other major world capitals, and spontaneity is less encouraged. It’s common to book a restaurant a week in advance and schedule social gatherings two weeks ahead” Kate shares.

During her time in London, Kate made new friends and participated in tennis competitions. She has been passionate about this sport since her childhood and managed to maintain her interest thanks to her determination. After an incorrect diagnostic followed by surgery at the age of 12, doctors advised against practicing sports again. Kate, however, didn’t accept their verdict. She researched the issue and discovered there were no health risks. That same year, she performed in the national tennis championship.

Equality in the UK

The UK places significant emphasis on equal rights within society, which stands in contrast with past experiences.  The societal disadvantages faced by women are juxtaposed with men’s attempts to uphold chivalrous norms – opening doors, settling bills, assisting with heavy lifting. Even in the most forward-thinking tech companies in CIS region, there might be  job interviewees who express surprise upon encountering women in senior roles.

One of the cultural differences Kate noticed in the UK relates to women’s role in society. There, it seems like women are treated with equal respect to men and do not have to worry about choosing any particular attire in order to have to stand out or impress. Kate acknowledges that she hasn’t experienced gender discrimination either in the corporate environment or in society.

Kate’s next ambition is to reach a new career milestone and venture into an even larger market – the USA. “Now that I understand the structure of global companies and what I can learn and contribute through my experience, I want to test my abilities in the US,” Kate reveals. Alongside her career, family values have become important to her. To be closer to her family, she plans to relocate he parents to the UK, aiming to build a new life in a global setting.