The man behind the engineering, product management, and design organization is Looker chief product officer, Nick Caldwell. In an interview with Black Enterprise, Caldwell, who was previously VP of engineering at Reddit, breaks down what he does as a CPO, how he helped develop the product to the point of acquisition, and what he recommends for black people looking to take on product roles of this magnitude.
Black Enterprise: What do you do as Chief Product Officer?
Nick Caldwell: As chief product officer at Looker, I’m responsible for leading the engineering, product management, and design organization. We’re about 150 people and growing incredibly fast. On any given day you’ll find me discussing technical choices with our architects, developing strategy with the product team, and meeting with customers to understand their challenges. It’s all about helping Looker deliver on its mission to empower people with the smarter use of data.
While the product and technology are incredible, the most important part of my job is really people. I find the greatest fulfillment in building an organization where employees can learn, grow, and achieve their full potential. Leaders must create new leaders.
How did you help to develop the product to the point of acquisition?
I believe that modern workers need data to get their jobs done, and they need to access it in a way that is intuitive and familiar. Looker is a Silicon Valley startup founded in 2012, which builds technology that allows people to rapidly gain insights from business data and use them to work smarter. Everyone from data analysts to office managers to delivery drivers can become a data-powered hero with Looker. Although it’s simple on the surface, under the hood Looker is a complex product that brings together big data, advanced analytics, machine learning, and more.
Wrangling all that complexity isn’t easy, which is why I was brought on to develop a compelling and differentiated product roadmap. Ultimately we recognized that businesses need a data platform with the openness to talk to any source and the flexibility to build data-driven applications for any need. That strategy got Google very excited. They see enormous value in empowering employees with tailored data experiences while also giving businesses complete control of the underlying data and infrastructure.
What happens after the acquisition? Do you stay on?
Absolutely, I’m just getting started! This is an exciting new chapter for Looker that presents an opportunity for us to accelerate our roadmap and broaden our ambition. Integrating our market-leading business intelligence capabilities with Google Cloud Platform will allow Looker to build data products that are simply magical. Together, we will define and deliver the next generation of business intelligence.
Do you have equity in the company? What happens to it?
Well, I can’t talk details but my Jordan collection is certainly about to get a whole lot bigger.
What are your future goals?
When I think about how my goals have changed over the course of my career, there have been three phases: money, freedom, and legacy. At first, money was the most important. I definitely didn’t grow up rich so I was simply happy to be in tech with a stable job and great pay. Eventually, I realized that my knowledge, skills, and network had enabled me to branch out and take on much bigger risks. That’s when my career really took off. I moved to Silicon Valley and worked through multiple executive-level roles. I found a new sense of fearlessness, opportunity, and freedom.
Now I think a lot about what legacy I’ll leave behind to the next generation. There are very few black tech executives in Silicon Valley (in the world actually), and black people have limited access to Silicon Valley’s massive wealth creation engine due to numerous systemic biases. I’d love to be part of changing that. There should be a thousand Nick Caldwells, not one.
Toward that end, I’m a board member of a fantastic organization, /dev/color, whose mission is to empower black software engineers to help one another grow into industry leaders. My wife (Tia Caldwell, a senior engineering manager at Slack) and I also started our own nonprofit foundation, ColorCode. Our foundation provides leadership development training to underrepresented engineers and we’ll soon expand the charter to invest heavily in diverse founders.
For black people looking to take on product roles what should they be doing/focused on?
I’m a firm believer that when it comes to increasing wealth in the black community the most important goal is promoting STEM education and improving the path to jobs in tech. These jobs are increasingly in-demand, high paying, and can be utterly transformative.
If you want to start a tech career, there has never been more opportunity. The path has traditionally been going to college for a four-year computer science degree, ideally from a brand-name school like Stanford or MIT. That’s no longer necessary—in fact, both Apple and Google have removed college degree requirements from their job listings! Instead of assuming you need a four-year degree to break into tech, I highly recommend looking into boot camps and coding academies.
Boot camps are accelerated learning programs that teach people everything they need to know to start a career in tech in under six months for the fraction of the price of a college degree. Forward-thinking employers, like Looker, are increasingly turning to boot camps to fill roles because they provide a more diverse funnel of candidates who arrive trained with specific, immediately applicable skills. Product School is a great program for aspiring product managers. Career Karma, Code 2040, and Hackbright are a few of my favorite boot camp for future engineers. Once you’re in a tech role, /dev/color is the best support network out there. So if you’re hesitating to get into tech: jump in now!
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