Becoming a Facebook product manager

14 July 2016 / Published in Tech & Innovation

Leili Baghaei Rad is an accomplished product manager, based in San Francisco, who got her start here in New Zealand where she won a scholarship from ASB Bright Sparks in 2003.

Leili credits her high school accounting teacher Ms Finlay and physics teacher Mr Batchelor for encouraging her interest in technology and innovation. She says, “Mr Batchelor started an electronics workshop where we would use kits to build small things such as burglar alarm systems, and he would stay late to help us out in any way he could.”

Growing up in Christchurch, Leili attended Riccarton High School and completed a Bachelor of Engineering at University of Canterbury.

Leili says “Once I got involved in physics at school, I gained enough confidence to start participating in different competitions such as Bright Sparks.” She entered the Bright Sparks competition during high school and won the 2003 scholarship to help fund her tertiary studies.

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree she was awarded the Rebecca Lynch Memorial Scholarship which gave her the opportunity to study at the University of Idaho.

At the University of Idaho she completed a Master of Science, before being awarded the J.R. Templin scholarship and completing a PhD at Stanford University.

She comments that growing up she didn’t have a lot of female role models in science. “I didn't really have a hero; there aren't many role models for girls in technical fields. This is an interesting dilemma which I hope one day will go away.”

But as her career has progressed, she has found role models in some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

When speaking with ASB Bright Sparks, she shared that her role models were Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.

Amazingly Leili has followed in the footsteps of these women – working for Google, Yahoo! and now Facebook.

She’s currently a product manager for Search at Facebook. Of the role she says, “As a product manager you are responsible for the features that should be built in your product, future vision and release timeline. You are like the captain of the ship, you have to get input from everyone in the team and decide how to steer the ship successfully.”

On her advice for young girls wanting to enter the innovation space she says, “Girls have been historically shy about going towards maths and physics. I have seen many women who are great in technology. I think the male stereotype for engineering, technology and science is wrong. Give it a shot for yourself and decide whether you like it or not.”


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