Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence
Can you describe the work you are doing now?
I work as an Associate Product Manager at Google, which is an entry-level position in the tech industry. This role entails a wide range of responsibilities, but at its core, it involves making decisions and ensuring that those decisions are put into action.
As a Product Manager, my work is to be a sponge and glue different pieces of information together. I collaborate with software engineers, user experience (UX) designers, business stakeholders, and other teams to bring a product vision to life and decide on the direction for that product. Take Google Maps, for instance. It has a plethora of features that could be implemented, and a diverse range of users, from an elderly grandparent trying to find a park to read a book, to an active Gen Z looking for a new place to hang out with their friends. With so many different user groups and varying needs, how can we make the best decision on what features to include or changes to make for the product? This is where the Product Manager comes in. We conduct market research and work with software engineers and UX designers to determine what features make sense and what specifications they should have taking into account limited resources.
What part of your Minerva experience most significantly informed your current perspective on the world?
Certainly, the global rotation. As I traveled around the world, I kept wondering where I should settle down, what aspects of culture I liked, and what communities I enjoyed the most. But soon I realized that these things are incomparable. There is no common currency or metric that would allow for easy comparison of cities or experiences. This insight applies not only to traveling but to anything in life. You cannot compare your friends, your emotions, your friendships, or your jobs. Ultimately, nothing is better or worse—it is just different, and you have to accept it.
By living in different countries, I found that different places bring different perspectives. In South Korea, people have a totally different approach to diet than in the UK. In India, I had an internship as a Product Manager, and they approached work in a totally different way than they did in San Francisco. These perspectives were often contradictory. Instead of just following what an external source is saying, it is always best to think for yourself, because there will always be multiple often contradictory perspectives in the world.
As I traveled around the world and interacted with people, I developed a deep sense of empathy. My Minerva class had over 50 countries represented, and this diversity has helped me understand their different viewpoints. As a Product Manager, being an original thinker with empathy towards your users, team members, and the world is something that will bring you an incredible advantage. And for that, I am grateful for my global rotation experience.
Is there a particular project that stands out from your Minerva journey?
First, Professor Terrana is an amazing mentor who played a crucial role in my journey into programming. I had no coding experience until taking a course the summer before starting Minerva. After completing that course successfully, Professor Terrana reached out and offered me a position as a peer tutor for our first-year extra coding course. With her encouragement, I worked on improving and managing the extra coding class for the next freshmen generation. I loved working with her and my colleagues on this project for three years. There were so many different projects, but one that stood out to me was when we were revising coding notebooks during my semester in Korea. It was inspiring to think about how we could make programming education accessible and fun for Minerva students from all over the world and with all sorts of backgrounds. Professor Terrana truly is an angel who has a gift for engaging and inspiring students.
Another fun project was also during my South Korea semester and was part of Professor Diamond’s class. Students had to write a decision memo and I decided to help a nearby bakery that was struggling with marketing themselves using a large window they had available. They did not know what kind of ads to display outside. To solve this problem, I suggested an A/B test experiment where they would have an ad version A out on certain days and version B on other days. I outlined the design of the experiment, making sure to minimize confounding variables as much as possible. It was a great project because I got to interact directly with a company and apply concepts I learned in class to solve a real-world problem that a nearby bakery I loved was facing.
What are some learnings from your Minerva classes that you find yourself applying to your work?
This is a tough question since Minerva has given me so many valuable lessons that I apply in my daily life. One of the most fundamental ones is the awareness of biases and logical fallacies. These concepts were not something I was taught in school, but now I find myself actively identifying and trying to mitigate biases in my everyday life. As a Product Manager, it is crucial to be vigilant of biases within your team and be able to recognize and address your own subconscious biases. The lessons I learned about biases and logical fallacies in the Empirical Analyses class have been incredibly useful for me in my role, as my job involves a lot of conversations and discussions with team members. Being able to quickly identify logical fallacies and biases allows for more productive discussions and arguments, ultimately bringing more to the table.
Course-wise, Computational Methods for Bayesian Statistics is one of the most impactful learnings I gained from my academic journey. While I may not be coding Bayesian stats directly, learning about it has helped me in understanding how the world operates. For instance, I can now evaluate my beliefs and assess what kind of prior information I have that informs them. I can also consider how different pieces of evidence may influence my beliefs. The Minerva Bayesian statistics course provided a unique framework for thinking critically about the world, and it has helped me better understand the drivers and motivations of users in my product management role.
Another class that has been instrumental in my work as a Product Manager is Finding Patterns in Data with Machine Learning. As a Product Manager responsible for machine learning features, the knowledge I gained from this class has proven to be invaluable. Additionally, the Knowledge: Information-Based Decisions course taught by Professor Diamond has been a fantastic resource for understanding the basics of how products can impact the market. Learning about competitive controls, matching, and designing unbiased experiments has been especially helpful in conducting A/B tests to evaluate the effectiveness of the features I build.
Finally, coding classes like Software Engineering: Building Powerful Applications have also been very useful for me as a Product Manager. While I may not be doing the coding myself, understanding the basics of client-server interactions and design architecture has been vital in communicating effectively with our engineering teams. All of these classes have provided me with the necessary foundation to succeed in my role as a Product Manager and have been instrumental in shaping my understanding of the world.
How did relationships with your Minerva professors help you to get into this program?
It is important to note that there was still a lot of cultural prejudice against females in Computer Science or STEM fields in my home country of Ukraine. Therefore, having female professors who were knowledgeable, smart, empowering, and supportive was crucial. Professors Terrana and Ribeiro were extremely supportive and showed me how to tackle difficult Computer Science problems. Their intelligence and passion for their work were evident, and they were truly inspiring. Additionally, Professors Diamond and Scheffler were outstanding educators who had a unique perspective on the world and a passion for teaching. Their ability to inspire students to learn was invaluable. These relationships with my professors were extremely precious.
If you were inspired by Svitlana's story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, apply to join Minerva today.