When I started working as a product manager, I was incredibly intimidated by data scientists. I was never a “math person,” and these folks were writing up complex equations on whiteboards and making nerdy in-jokes that I desperately wanted to understand. I spent the first year or so of my career as a product manager tiptoeing deferentially around the data scientists in my orbit, never really understanding what they did and assuming that they had no interest in explaining it to me. After all, these were, like, actual geniuses. Why would they want to waste their time taking me to data science preschool?
After a year or so, it became clear to me that this approach was making it much more difficult for me to do my job. Even though they weren’t on my immediate team, our data scientists had a lot to offer, and I didn’t even know what to ask for. So, in a moment of caffeine-fueled anxious desperation, I emailed somebody on the data science team to see if he would be willing to chat. It was a short email, that went something like this:
Hey! Hope your week is off to a great start. I’m really curious to learn a little bit more about what you’re working on—are you free to grab a quick coffee this week? Maybe Thursday morning?
I hit “send” and logged out of my inbox in an attempt to distract myself from creeping anxiety and embarrassment. Had I just done something totally weird?
Within a few hours, I got a straightforward response ...