Meet Nina Castillo, an Associate Product Management (APM) Intern at HubSpot who has spent her internships learning about the world of Product Management for her personal growth, while also having an impact on improving processes for HubSpot's end users. Learn more about Nina's role and journey to becoming a co-op at HubSpot...
Can you tell us a little about your background and journey to HubSpot?
Prior to joining HubSpot as an Associate Product Management (APM) co-op, my background included little to no experience in Product Management. I’m currently a 4th year student at Northeastern University, studying Industrial Engineering. My previous co-op was as a Process Improvement Engineer at a primary healthcare facility, working closely with the Operations and Business Transformation department to make various processes more efficient.
My interests shifted from the healthcare industry to the tech industry after I joined a product development club my junior year. I grew interested in Product Management (PM), but I was pretty intimidated by this field as I wasn’t sure how to align my experiences with the responsibilities of a Product Manager. After some time, I started to see some similarities. I started to see the ‘processes’ that I worked on at the healthcare center as the ‘product’ I’d be working on at a tech company. Both of these roles were similar in the way that it was my job to listen to and identify customer pain points and then work with a team to solve them. Additionally, I initially questioned how what I was learning in Industrial Engineering could be applied to PM, but a huge theme of Industrial Engineering is identifying the root cause of a problem – a.k.a. a Product Manager’s favorite question of asking “Why…Why…Why?” when thinking through problems. Seeing these similarities really helped me bring the confidence to apply to the APM program.
My journey to HubSpot was simple - I saw the position open on our school’s job portal, learned more about the company and the culture, then applied, interviewed, and loved the vibes. Everyone I talked to was clearly so passionate about their work and the customers, and this is exactly what I wanted for my next co-op. I was genuinely inspired by the idea of getting to work with such intelligent, passionate, and supportive people. The interview experience itself was also so organized, and my recruiter did an amazing job at making me feel comfortable and supported. Thus, I joined HubSpot as an Associate Product Manager co-op on the Lists Application team about 6 months ago in July and have learned SO much!
Describe a typical day in your role.
Here’s a breakdown of what a typical day looks like for me:
- 30% learning: being a co-op means there’s a TON to learn – what the product is, who our target users are, how to write a concise Product Requirement Doc (PRD), what kinds of questions to ask during customer interviews, the hundreds of PM frameworks, etc.
- 40% doing: here is where I actually get to apply what I’ve learned – writing PRDs, scoping projects, conducting interviews, etc. This is also where asking for and taking action on feedback definitely came in handy.
- 20% collaborating: meetings! 1:1s, team planning and stand-ups, cross-team collaboration, you name it. As an APM co-op, it’s been so fun to collaborate and get exposed to so many different roles, from UX researchers to Go-To-Marketing to product analysts.
- 10% coffee chats, smoothie breaks, ping pong with other co-ops: being a flex employee was super fun, both at home and in the office. I loved getting to interact with other fellow co-ops, people on my team, and overall just taking some time out of the day to get to know people around me (plus, quick screen breaks here and there are always great).
What technical challenges are you currently working on?
One technical challenge we’re currently working on is slow list processing. We process so many lists and evaluate millions of contacts every second, and doing this fast and reliably for our customers is extremely important. Slow lists has been one of the most heard lists-related pain points over the past three years.
While a lot of engineering effort has been made (and is ongoing) to make lists process faster, my role in this challenge was first to really understand the technical and customer complexities when it comes to making things fast; the concept of ‘fast’ is quite subjective, and our team didn’t have much quantitative data on the speed of things until recently. My role was to analyze customer feedback and our new quantitative data, and to understand the overall user experience when waiting for a list. With all this analysis, I’ve been working with the team to balance technical and customer value in order to make recommendations of how we might move forward to make lists appear faster by offering a better waiting experience as a list processes.
How are you solving for the customer?
We are solving for the customer by aiming towards a more connected Lists experience – that is giving customers confidence in the entire end-to-end process of Creating, Engaging, and Understanding with their most important audiences. Today this experience is a bit disconnected in the way that the Lists application just feels like a quick pitstop to get their jobs done. We want the Lists application to empower our customers to be confident in what their next marketing move should be.
As an APM co-op, one way that I’ve helped create a more connected experience is by talking to customers about their current frustrations around understanding how to engage their most important audiences. After these conversations, we began to work on a feature that allows customers to take their most important audiences and split them into smaller groups in order to test different communications so they get better insights into how to best engage that audience.
What does the team structure and mentorship look like for APM co-ops?
The team structure typically follows a triad model with a Product Manager, Tech Lead, and a Product Designer, and then a few engineers (usually either focused on just backend or frontend, but some teams are full-stack!). That’s the smaller team that you’d be working with most closely day-to-day, but these teams are organized into larger product groups that allow for cross-team collaboration and fun events. For example, I’m on the Lists Application team which is in the Framework Data Group (FDG), and all of the PMs across FDG meet weekly to chat with each other – it’s a great opportunity to learn from each other and share ideas.
As for mentorship for APM co-ops, we all get assigned a mentor – usually another APM working at HubSpot and likely someone in or close to your product group. Each mentorship is unique, but for me, I met with mine monthly to chat through professional development topics, challenges, wins, etc. We also talk asynchronously pretty often whenever I have random questions or want some extra feedback on something – all in all, mentorship at HubSpot is definitely there and they do a great job in making sure you feel comfortable and supported!
What excites you the most about the APM co-op program?
There are a few things that really excite me about the APM co-op program. First off, just simply the existence of this Product Management internship/co-op program is so great for anyone interested in breaking into product management. It’s awesome to see how much HubSpot has invested in this program and it’s exciting to get the opportunity to be a part of it.
The next big thing that excites me about this program is the autonomy truly given to us as co-ops. Just a little over a month into my co-op, I was already leading customer interviews. And now, with just a few weeks left, I’ve led the rollouts of so many big features and updates our team has been working on over the past few months. Clicking that "Ungate to All Customers” button for a new update has probably been one of the scariest, but most exciting moments of my co-op. Lastly, all the support from the entire PM community here throughout my co-op has been so helpful in learning and growing. Having an amazing manager always giving such helpful feedback, a great mentor to celebrate my wins and talk through any challenges, and coffee chats with multiple PMs across the organization has been such an integral part in my growth throughout this co-op. Additionally, the APM co-ops recently had the opportunity to have a very special APM Co-op Science Fair where we all presented what we worked on and what we learned throughout our co-op to the PM community – it was such a nice feeling to see us all come together and learn about each other’s experiences and to see all the support from our fellow PMs.
In your own words, what makes working in tech at HubSpot unique?
To me, what makes HubSpot so unique is the common goal and genuine passion for solving for the customer. One of our product values, #CustomerFirst, has truly shown itself throughout my co-op and it’s so exciting to be surrounded by this common passion, yet with so many diverse perspectives and ideas of how to actually Solve For the Customer! As a co-op, being given the opportunity to talk directly with customers myself to learn and iterate with them in mind has been such a unique experience.
Outside of work, what do you like to do in your free time?
In my free time, one of my favorite things to do is go on long walks around Boston with no destination in mind! I’ll usually walk around for a bit, grab a latté, and sit in the Boston Commons or by the Charles River for a few hours and people-watch, listen to music, and maybe doodle a bit in a sketchbook. I also love going to concerts! My favorite concert thus far has been Harry Styles last summer - it was life-changing.
Nina (center) with fellow co-ops during orientation at the Cambridge office.