On Being a Pragmatic Institute Instructor

This week, I was fortunate enough to receive a new opportunity within Pragmatic Institute, and accepted a new role as Vice President of Products.  It’s a rare occasion that the stars align and you’re able to do work you love for a company you love with a team you love – but that’s exactly how I describe working at Pragmatic.  If you haven’t experienced that feeling, I sincerely hope that you will, and I’d like to share some thoughts on the best job in the world with you in the hopes that it piques your interest, and points you down a path of achieving success, however you define the term.

In 2010, I worked for Dell, and managed a small team who was responsible for portfolio management of several acquisitions that Dell had made over the years.  Prior to Dell, I worked for Cisco, a company Cisco had acquired called NetSolve, and a startup called NetStreams, amongst others.  All of these were good experiences in their own ways, but at a certain point I realized that I had the itch for something smaller, where I could see an immediate impact.  I had an idea for a startup of my own that I was trying to pursue but had come to a point that I needed to either quit and do it full time, or abandon the idea.

Key Learning: Why kind of person are you?  Do you prefer the stability and structure of big companies, or do you prefer the chaos of smaller?  Know your preference and use it to narrow your choices.

Around the Spring of 2010, Pragmatic Institute opened a role for a new Instructor position.  While I had never considered it an option before, I found myself stepping back and asking “Why are you thinking about making a change?” “What do you really like?”  My self-realization was that I did love managing products, driving strategy, and beating the competition.  But what I liked even more was seeing the successes of my team.  I got energy from seeing people from my teams grow, seeing them nail a presentation to the executive team, and even seeing them quit and move on to bigger opportunities (although that’s always painful).  Their success was my success, and I loved it.

In a “normal” career, you might manage a few dozen products, you might touch a few hundred people directly.  But as an Instructor, I’d get to affect thousands of people.  It’s intimidating to move from a “doing” track to a “teaching” track, especially if you’ve climbed the ladder your whole career.  It wasn’t until I got into the role that I realized how good the fit could be.

Key Learning: What is your passion?  Do you love what you’ve done so far, or do you need to go in a different direction?

After going through an intensive hiring process, eventually I joined Pragmatic as an Instructor in August of 2010.  Immediately, I was paired with a mentor Instructor to learn the what and how of what we teach.

Most people come to three or four training days with Pragmatic, but it’s difficult to convey how much depth in our teaching is developed behind the scenes.  In any given class, we just scratch the surface – and the Instructors on the team all come from executive backgrounds and have loads of experience across industries and business models to fit any situation.  It feels like a Marketing MBA every time you step into the room with the Instructor team, because they are some of the smartest people in the world with regard to the application of market-driven techniques and strategies.

Key Learning: Where can you work with the smartest people?  When you work with A-players, and people smarter than yourself, it forces you to raise your game.

After completing the mentor/protege process and becoming certified to teach, I started to travel the world to deliver our training.  It’s no lie to say that teaching a marketing class can be intimidating:

  • You have to master topics ranging from pricing to competitive analysis to organizational alignment to roadmaps to business planning
  • You have to command the room and have the answers to everyone’s questions
  • You have to supply energy and keep some traditionally dry topics interesting and fun
  • You have to do all of this in front a room of smart, Type A people who are or will become executives

It’s a challenge, in a good way.  In the past six years I’ve delivered our trainings in 20+ states in the U.S., the UK, Paris, Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, and many others.  Training is a marathon; a few years ago I was on the road 47 weeks in a year teaching.  You can’t do that for something you don’t love.

Key Learning: Love and passion aren’t enough.  Do you have or can you develop the skills you need to thrive in your new role?

Today, when I step in front a room, my first step is always to observe the class.  Who are these people, and why are they here?  Some people are eager, excited, and ready to learn.  Others are here because their boss told them to be.  Others are evaluating switching roles from Engineering or Sales into Product Management or Marketing.  None of them quite know what to expect because their past experiences with other training classes have been so poor.  We have a chance to blow them all away with the best professional experience of their lifetime, and make an impact that lasts far beyond the time I’ll spend with them.

Within the first 15 minutes of class, everyone realizes that this class will be unlike any other class they’ve ever been to.  It’s not theoretical, it’s practical and actionable.  It’s enlightening and fun.  It embodies a philosophy of asking “What problem are we trying to solve for our market?” that will stick with them throughout their careers.

It’s not uncommon for students to approach me and other Instructors at the first break to say “Wow, I feel like I’ve already got my money’s worth and we’re not even through the morning session!  This is the best training I’ve ever attended!”  I often get emails from alumni of our classes years later, who tell me that I taught their class long ago, and they still use what they learned, and that they carry their tattered books around as reference manuals and clutch their Pragmatic Framework tight to their chest as a Rosetta Stone for their jobs.  That’s the feeling I got when I first attended a Pragmatic Institute class as a student.  That’s the feeling I want to give to all of my students.

What we teach impacts students throughout their careers, affecting them, their peers, the products they work on, and the businesses they work in.

I’m an Instructor.  I don’t “train people.”  I change lives, and businesses for the better.  When people ask me: “Why did you stop doing Product Management to teach people like me?”  I tell them: “I never stopped doing Product Management.  I do it every single day – only now, my product is you.”

If you made it this far, and you can envision yourself as an Instructor, I’m looking for the next great member of our team.  Head over to our careers page, read the requirements, and let’s get to work changing the lives of students around the world.

Category(s): Leadership
Paul Young

Paul Young

Paul Young oversees the strategic development of Pragmatic Institute’s portfolio of products and leads the executive team in the evaluation of new product opportunities. He also manages the instructor team. Paul began his career as a software developer and has worked in startups and large companies across B2B and B2C industries, including telecommunications and networking, IT and professional services, consumer electronics and enterprise software. He has managed P&L lines for products with hundreds of millions in revenue, and faced difficult choices about which products in the portfolio to retain and which to kill. Reach him at pyoung@pragmaticmarketing.com.


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