Meet Vasilena Mincheva! She is a Product Manager at team Zephr at Questers and is very passionate about her work (for real – read on and you’ll see). We talked about her career path and development, her current team and more:
You’ve recently became a Product Manager at Zephr team at Questers. Tell us how you got here? What was your previous educational and professional experience?
Indeed. However, I've been in the Project management world for approximately 8 years. I got my first role as a PM for Microsoft by pro-actively applying after the hiring period was closed. Back then, I was a Subject Matter Expert, and I knew a lot about the problems my company was facing working with Microsoft as a partner. Despite the fact that my role as Project Manager had huge coordination and administrative aspects , we improved our collaboration due to my passion to solve problems.
Over the years, I had two more workplaces where I was more involved in “The Why” rather than “The How” phase of a project, and I’ve started thinking about moving to a Product role as a next career step. I’ve dedicated several years to self-learning predominantly online. Also, I have a bachelors degree in IT analysis and business strategies from VUZF Sofia (University of finance, insurance, business, entrepreneurship and innovation).
I joined Zephr roughly a year ago as a Delivery manager for a newly formed squad. I worked closely with everyone, but mostly the Product Manager - Taran Gulati, which inspired me even more. He would often involve me in the product activities – such as research, internal design discussions, experimentation, etc.
My experience so far has been to make things happen, including managing stakeholders and removing impediments. But this same experience is absolutely essential to Product Managers, as well.
So, I had an interest to move into a Product role for several years and shared that internally with my Zephr colleagues and direct manager – one of the founders and CPO of Zephr – Chris Scott, and he gave me an opportunity to join a new company endeavour.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The job definition means different things to different companies, but the role of a Product manager is a challenge in itself.
The Product Manager role stems back to the 1930s when an executive at Procter and Gamble - Neil McElroy, created a new role he wanted to hire for. One that would try to channel the needs of the customers and follow a product from conception through development, to launch, and beyond. The goal was to have a cross-functional leader coordinating between R&D, Sales, Marketing, Manufacturing, and Operations.
Although I just transitioned to the role, it appears challenging to be such an expert juggler at all times and learn to wear many hats - ensuring alignment cross functionally. It is also crucial to communicate clearly and efficiently across different stakeholders.
On the back of that, everything moves fast. It’s easy to get caught up in a solution-based thinking as you’re trying to get work done because it initially feels faster. However, learning to prioritize by value and support outcome-led thinking is an important differentiation that takes time and practice to be built as part of your product mindset.
What excites you about your work?
One of the most exciting things about being a Product Manager is that you are just like an architect who helps build roads and buildings. I help create digital products from the start. It allows me to explore and learn new things, as famously quoted by Martin Eriksson that “product management is the intersection between the functions of business, technology and user experience”.
So to become proficient in my role, I have to learn new technologies, domains, the nuances of UX principles and various mental models. There’s never a dull moment, and I am always on my toes looking to obtain new skills.
Sometimes I feel like a true detective trying to understand the real reasons for someone doing something, which also excites me.
I believe one of my core strengths is empathy and the product world only enforces it.
What do you consider your biggest achievement?
For me, there is no such thing as the biggest achievement. As the great Van Gogh once said “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together”. So, it’s the small steps, small efforts I truly focus on, repeated day in and day out.
Tell us more about Zephr and what it’s like to work in it.
Zephr is that special place I’ve been looking for. Your voice matters. You can influence any part of a process or a project if you have a strong case. You are supported to drive and lead on your own.
I have never seen such an amazing leadership team that empowers every single one of us. They definitely lead by example. They are amazingly flexible and try to self-improve in every step of the way.
Although I work remotely and my team is located in the UK, it feels like we have been friends for a long time. They are open, transparent and always willing to speak up and provide their unique perspective.
I have been supported by literally everyone - no matter their role or background. Zephr gave me an opportunity to transition to a product role, which I will be forever grateful for.
How do you think more women could be attracted to the tech sector?
Tech is the industry of the future with endless opportunities to develop and grow. Despite plenty of focus on the issue, women remain outnumbered in technology and hard to retain.
Women have paved the way for technology. Dating back from the 1700s when the French mathematician, Nicole-Reine Lepautre, predicted the return of Halley’s Comet by calculating the timing of a solar eclipse, to the 21st Century when the advancement of technology is giving more women training opportunities and inspiring young girls to learn about tech.
We can provide exposure to the next generation to experience what it’s like to work in tech. Younger generations are no strangers to tech; we can ignite a passion for the industry by allowing them to catch a glimpse of how technology innovations they see every day are developed and brought to market or, better yet, let them participate in the process.
Tech companies can collaborate with schools and non-government organizations to target girls, including those from underprivileged groups, and encourage them to explore the world of tech and pursue an education in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
An inclusive culture also contributes to the retention and upward movement of women. Companies need to have policies and practices in place that encourage employees, regardless of gender, to have open conversations with their supervisors about their needs, concerns and aspirations, and have programmes that address these needs. Also, drive leadership development programmes that empower women to create bold career visions, think strategically and reach their career goals.
Diversity in teams results in greater success across all-important metrics within a business. Diversity and inclusion are some of the key values for Zephr.