Career Path and Passion for Photography: An Interview with Olena Obilets, Product Manager of Spark

Olena has a successful career of leading product teams for 10 years, while also being a talented amateur photographer and avid traveler. In this blog post, she uncovers some of her productivity tips, talks about challenges in PM’s work, and shares how she captures the beauty of life through her camera lenses. 

Can you share with us your career path and background?

17 years ago, I embarked on a journey that would ultimately shape my career in IT. Starting out in technical support at a website hosting company, I gained a strong technical foundation and learned the importance of empathy and effective communication while assisting customers — skills that would serve me well throughout my career.

Eventually, I transitioned to sales, where I learned the importance of understanding both the product and the customer and actively listening to their needs and concerns. At that time, product management roles were something new and had been emerging in Ukrainian companies. When I came across a job posting for a product management position, I recognized that my background and skill set made me an ideal candidate for this field.

Over the next year, I was able to realize my dream of becoming a Product Manager when I was hired by a large online dating company with several in-house brands where I grew to lead multiple product teams. Following that role, I later became a Head of Operations for a teenage social network, and then — Head of Product in a website builder company.

And now, at Readdle, I am thrilled to work as a Product Manager of Spark, a cross-platform email client for individuals and teams. Being a Spark user for years, it's an honor to be a part of the team and shape the future of email, communication, and productivity, leading to the release of the new Spark.

What motivates and inspires you to pursue your goals?

I’m inspired by knowing that I create meaningful and impactful products which help millions of people worldwide, and improve their everyday lives and workflows. I’m also happy to be working with professionals dedicated to what they do. A quality result drives me — when I realize that we’ve heard our customers and helped them solve their problems or tasks in the most simple and intuitive way, and that they are happy to use our product and recommend it to everyone — that’s the best reward for me.

Aside from my career, I adore traveling, hiking, photography, exploring new cultures, and nature, and having new experiences — all these recharge my batteries and give me many insights, and fresh ideas for life and work. My favorite foreign countries are Japan, Iceland, and New Zealand.

Could you elaborate more on your passion for photography? What does it mean to you?

Photography is one of my most fulfilling hobbies. Although I am not a professional photographer, I enjoy taking pictures using my iPhone and film cameras. Through my lenses, I get to capture the world from my unique perspective and share my vision and stories with others.

Photography has taught me to be more curious and creative. It has helped me appreciate the little things in life and see beauty in the ordinary. It’s also a great outlet for self-expression and experimentation, allowing me to try out different techniques and styles. In particular, I am drawn to the technical aspects of photography, such as understanding exposure and composition. As for film photography, the anticipation of not knowing exactly how the photos will turn out, and the excitement of discovering the final results is like unwrapping a present, as the film works differently in different conditions.

Sharing my images with others gives me a sense of connection and purpose. Knowing that my photos have the ability to inspire or evoke positive emotions in someone else is an incredibly rewarding experience. Photography has given me a creative outlet, taught me to appreciate the beauty in the world and be attentive to details, and has connected me with people in meaningful ways.

Have you learned any important lessons or developed certain personal qualities throughout your career journey?

One of the most important lessons I have learned is the value of adaptability — the tech industry is constantly evolving, and it's essential to be able to adapt to new trends, technologies, and business models. I have also learned the importance of communication, both within my team and with stakeholders — clear communication is critical to ensuring everyone is aligned and working towards the same goals.

In terms of personal qualities, I think I’ve developed a flexible growth mindset, which has helped me to take on new challenges, learn from my mistakes, and continuously improve. 

Have you encountered any challenges on your career path, and if so, how did you overcome them?

Throughout my career, I have faced a variety of challenges that have required me to be adaptable and resilient. One of the notable challenges I have encountered was accepting a growth opportunity that required me to move to another country where I had no friends or family. This was a challenge as I had to set up and run the day-to-day operations of a newly purchased company, while also building relationships with the existing team who were initially skeptical of any changes and the new leadership.

In addition to this, I have also navigated complex projects with high levels of uncertainty, managed tight deadlines, adapted to drastic changes in the industry, and joined Readdle during the COVID-19 lockdown when the team had just started to work completely remotely.

From February 2022, when the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine started, I and our Ukrainian part of the team faced numerous challenges, but we supported each other, managed to stay focused and continue operations without significant disruptions, and we continue delivering high-quality products during this difficult time.

To overcome the challenges, I prioritized clear communication with my team to ensure we were all aligned and working towards the same goals. I also focused on being proactive and anticipating potential issues before they arose, which allowed me to minimize the negative impact. Ultimately, I have learned that every experience, whether positive or negative, provides an opportunity for growth and development. Reflecting on my past experiences, I understand that by pushing myself to take on these challenges, I have discovered new growth opportunities, and have been constantly improving my skills and approach. I'm grateful for the challenges I've encountered in my career as they've helped me develop as a professional and as a person. I've learned that empathy, teamwork, adaptability, and going out of the comfort zone are critical to overcoming challenges, growth and achieving results.

How do you stay productive and manage your time effectively, and do you have any tips to share?

I'm often told that I'm an extremely organized person. In reality, my personal productivity tips are quite simple:

  1. Consider making a to-do list for all tasks you need to complete throughout a day/week/month/year and prioritize them based on importance. You can use whatever method you prefer, whether it's a designated productivity app, a simple list in your notes app, or a paper notebook. I have separate lists for work-related and personal matters.
  2. Automate repetitive tasks to save mental capacity and time for next time. This could include setting up monthly payments for gas, electricity, and parking, creating email templates for regular messages to the team, or setting up reminders for repetitive tasks.
  3. Try multichannel multitasking. By pairing a complex task that requires intense concentration with a lower-level task that uses a different sensory input, you can accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously. For example, you can listen to a podcast while running or make calls while walking. In the workplace, pairing a complex task with a smaller routine task can be helpful.
  4. Block off time in your calendar for important tasks or activities where you can think without distractions, calls, and switching contexts.
  5. Identify your biggest distractions and try to minimize them to improve focus. If needed, switch off notifications, close all messengers, play a "deep focus" playlist, or use noise-canceling headphones — whatever works best for you.
  6. Set boundaries between work and personal life to avoid burnout. For example, set up focus modes on your iPhone for work-related and personal apps to avoid getting notifications from work email accounts over the weekend.
  7. Find out what recharges your batteries, have regular quality rest, and switch activities to what makes you feel better and gives your brain and body the rest they need. For me, this includes photography, traveling, hiking, gardening, trying new experiences, and learning something new (I’m learning French at the moment and it helps me reset my mind).
  8. Lastly, get enough sleep.

For me, productivity isn't just about completing tasks; it's about working smarter and more effectively while being mindful of my mental state and other aspects of my life. To find the right productivity system for you, be intentional about what works best for you. There's no one-size-fits-all recipe or magic app. When you're full of energy and are surrounded by an inspiring team, you can do your best work. Productivity is a journey, not a destination. Embrace the process, work smarter, and never give up on your dreams.

The Readdle Team The Readdle Team

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