Associate Product Manager


I had the chance to interview Griffin Kao who’s an Associate Product Manager at Google. This is an extremely popular program for recent college grads and I wanted to find out more about its day to day and what one can expect going into it.

Griffin works on the Data Privacy team.

Can you tell us a bit more about what the Data Privacy team focuses on?

There are actually multiple teams at Google that focus on data privacy. The main privacy org, called the Privacy & Data Protection Office (PDPO) was formed in response to the GDPR requirement that companies have internal agents serving to maintain accountability for the rest of the company. In general, PDPO facilitates the work of thousands of global, cross-functional Googlers and Characters in support of company-wide privacy initiatives, critical processes, employee-facing tools, user-facing products, privacy infrastructure, research, and more.

I personally work on My Activity (, a team separate from PDPO, which aims to increase user trust through transparency and agency. We provide users the understanding of how and why their data is collected and stored, as well as controls for managing that data, including the ability to delete any and all data. The scope of the data we manage is all activity - things you do - across Google products, such as your Search or Chrome history.

What does an average day look like? (I realize everyday is likely different, but this question helps identify a lot of the common functions that an APM is doing)

The average day is composed of:

  1. Meetings: product managers spend a lot of time in meetings to coordinate across multiple functions (i.e. engineering vs. UX) and multiple teams (i.e. Search vs. YouTube). Meetings are also a great tool for learning and brainstorming, and it’s not uncommon that a PM might grab time with someone on their team or another team just to understand how something works or to get a question answered.
  2. Artifact work: product managers also spend a lot of time ideating on their own and writing what we call “product requirement documents” which serve as a roadmap for the feature or product the team will build. They may spend time crafting decks too if it’s required to present the project to someone not in the immediate working group like an executive or another team.
  3. Research: product managers conduct research by collecting data from various sources, like logs, articles, or people, and analyzing that data to impact the product direction.

Cool, so it seems like an APM’s day to day is standard to that of a regular PM’s. Were you given any training at the start of your APM journey? And how do your rotations work?

Yeah! At Google, an APM is basically a PM that deals with less complexity and is more focused on execution. At the beginning, there are several classes / trainings, but most of the learning happens on the job. Luckily, in the first year (and even in the second year), APMs are expected to make mistakes, giving us the psychological safety to grow by trying new things.

There are two rotations- the first one we don’t get much of a choice in, while the second one, is similar to team matching in which we talk to various teams and essentially get to choose which one we join.

What does a non-average day look like?

A non-average day as an APM (in non-COVID times) might look like an educational/business trip with other APMs to conduct a case study. We typically take several of these a year in order to bond with the rest of the APM class and broaden our perspective to make us more effective product managers.

What’s your favorite part about the job?

My favorite part of the job is the people. I work with some incredibly talented engineers, designers, researchers, and product managers — all of who are much more experienced than me. Not only do I feel like I can learn a lot from them, but it can also feel very gratifying to have my opinion and work respected by people who know a lot more than me.

In contrast, as an engineer at a company like Google, while you do get to interact with other very talented engineers, a lot of your work is more siloed, leaving less time to talk to people in different functions and less of a reason to be keyed into higher-level decisions like setting OKRs.

Do you feel like you’re entrusted with a lot of responsibility in your role? It’s obviously your first job out of college, but it does seem like Google gives its APMs a lot of autonomy.

Yeah, definitely! I own a surface with 20 million daily active users - that is also Google’s most trafficked privacy surface. It’s a lot of responsibility but in my case at least, my manager makes himself very available for me to escalate issues and run key decisions by him.

What’s your least favorite part about the job?

I’m a startup person at heart so I LOVE to move fast. At a company like Google, you inevitably have organizational complexity that makes it difficult to execute quickly. Dealing with this overhead can feel frustrating and unnecessary a lot of the time.

Was this something you factored into your job search (i.e working at a startup vs working at a bigger company like Google)? And if so, how did you try to think about pros & cons?

Yeah, this was 100% something that I factored into my decision, and when I was thinking about the pros vs. cons I tried to separate out what would be good for my personal growth from what I would enjoy (at least for my first year out of college). While dealing with organizational complexity - and loads of ambiguity - isn’t always fun for me, I view it as a necessary evil to learn the key strategic and leadership skills I might not have developed otherwise as a developer at a startup.

I noticed that you have a strong background in writing (editor at Brown Technology Review). How valuable has this been in your role so far?

Writing skills are valuable in almost any role because they translate well to general communication - both verbal and written. To illustrate this more concretely, explaining cognitive bias in a machine learning algorithm in an article leverages similar communication skills to explaining why we have to build a feature a certain way to another PM or an executive.

While dealing with organizational complexity - and loads of ambiguity - isn’t always fun for me, I view it as a necessary evil to learn the key strategic and leadership skills I might not have developed otherwise as a developer at a startup. Griffin Kao

What was your thought process behind starting your career in Product as opposed to being a software engineer? I know you’d previously interned as both.

I love engineering but I wanted to be a PM because

  1. I wanted to learn a product skillset: I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be an engineer for the rest of my life and I felt like the product skillset would be more widely applicable — whether I would start my own company, manage people at a startup, become a full-time writer, or anything else.
  2. Google’s APM program specifically appealed to me: I recognized that it was a great opportunity to cool and ambitious young people, ramp up on 2 vastly different spaces, and have fun along the way.

How helpful has your CS background been in your role so far? Do you think you could succeed in your role without it?

To be entirely honest, you don’t need a CS degree to be a successful product manager. My manager is one of the most intelligent PMs I’ve come across with a deep understanding of our team’s technical infrastructure (which probably surpasses many of our engineers’), and he studied business at Carnegie Mellon. And my previous manager, another talented PM, studied fashion at the Rhode Island School of Design.

However, a CS degree can be helpful for a new grad PM in establishing credibility with engineers and sometimes making it easier to understand implementation details.

What advice do you have for someone young (or old) looking to build a career in Product Management?

  1. Think critically about why you want to do product management and how working as a PM relates to your long and short-term goals
  2. If you decide working as a PM is what you want, take a look at the Google APM program! Otherwise, starting off as an engineer and later switching to product is always a reasonable path.
  3. Don’t stress and stay optimistic :)

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Data Scientist, Notifications Team