Playing HNG, a PM’s Experience🤓

mark is typing…

In the earlier stages of HNG; HNG Internship, seeing the above notification in the announcement channels on slack made me anxious and panicky 😧. Why? The second task for the product management track right after the first — organizing a channel of about 12k into 40 teams within 3 days— was beyond any product manager’s imagination.

Product management second task from HNG Internship 9.0

Constraints of the second task: Incomplete information, ambiguous writing, arduously technical task, no clarifications, imminent deadline of two days (Task dropped on Oct 30th, new information about NFT images given on 31st, deadline on Nov 1st with new task information about naming and file structure being given 4hrs to deadline — 7 am while the deadline was 11 am).

Now you can understand what ‘mark is typing…’ means, shege and mental pressure!

mental-health-cool-down channel mark_meme from HNG Internship 9.0

and the “presshhure kept gettin wersser” with each next stage.

mental-health-cool-down channel meme from HNG Internship 9.0

But in all, Mark is a great mentor. I’m not saying this because I’m writing a blog post or because I’ve been through the HNG process either, but rather because he is a great mentor and being in HNG will help you get better (get better knowledge about yourself on the pressure you can or cannot handle, or better skills, work ethic, learning, coordination and self-management).

I am just sharing my views and experience in HNG. Others’ experiences might be different from mine and evoke certain unpleasing emotions but one thing is undisputed, HNG is a demanding intense internship.

Stress from Tenor

Back to the start

First of all, certain conditions made completing HNG possible — I had completed an important work project earlier in October, so I was a bit free to do HNG almost full-time💻 in November before I started combining both in December. There was also constant electricity💡 and internet connection📡 with no major life challenges faced during the period which are typical constraints🛑 to completing HNG Internship.

I’ve known about HNG since 2018 but never participated in it. I saw a notification about the 9th cohort of the program on October 4th, 2022 and saw a new track; product management had been added and I was immediately interested.

I read and listen to self-help books and podcasts regularly; they’re part of my weekly routine and they’ve impacted me to try leadership positions more recently.

One of the lead positions was being Community Development Service (CDS) President during my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 2022 and doing an excellent job; completing 6 projects within 90 days, indicated that I have a strong leaning towards result-oriented and people management.

CDS.mp4

I decided to try out Product Management since it is a management and leadership role. I registered and three weeks later on the 27th of October HNG slack invites were sent out. I joined the [HNG9] slack workspace and met chaos.

The Chaos (Stages 1 &2)

Organizing 12,000 people into 40 teams on slack is quite challenging given the sheer number alone while considering those who will join the internship late. This made it a bit challenging to get and organize a team which was the first task for Product Managers (PMs).

over 12,000 interns in the program

Pitch videos had to be made to be a team lead for a team and I made an attempt at being one 😂😂, promising heaven and earth if selected as a team lead. Thankfully, I didn’t have to deliver heaven or earth.

Team lead presentation pitch

Each of the 40 teams chose names and onboarded designers with marketers, then the next task was the stage 2 task shown at the beginning of this post, which was assigned to PMs. Initial evaluation of the task led to the reorganization of participants into 21 teams. My immense contribution to the new team's hard work on the NFT task led to our team’s great performance and promotion of leads.

Team lead @Tobiezele

Extra Pressure

Remember when I said, “HNG is demanding and intense”?

Right after putting in more than 15 hours for three days working on our team NFT task with teammates, then comes another Stage 2 task. I know what you’re thinking, “how many stage 2 tasks are they?”

Answer: Let’s just say two is two.

At each stage, you work on an individual task and a team task, the NFT task was a team task. The stage 2 individual task was the straw (The task is in no way like a straw, it took time) that broke most interns' backs.

Individual Stage 2 Task HNG Internship 9.0

The Product Managers coordinated to organize the task and countries each team of the 40 teams was going to work on so there would be no conflicts. Then pitching got underway for marketers that would work with you, the PM. Earlier in stage 2, product managers were required to pitch to both designers and marketers to join their teams.

Cold calling on a marketer

Getting marketers to work with me on the task was a walk in the park since all I had to do was pitch and convince them, and we delivered stage task 2 excellently. Yeah, we got a shout-out from a mentor 😎.

Working with Deborah & Foyin on the research, I prepared the PowerPoint deck in presenting research on e-commerce services in Chad, which was quite a difficult country to research on. Another set of 15-hour workdays was spent completing the task.

The Individual stage 2 task saw a lot of people leave the program. PMs went from about 1,000 to 210.

Do you see what I meant by breaking the interns' backs? I’ll skip talking about the complaints and long threads from fellow product managers during the program, but developers knew the stress was about to hit them soon.

Developers onboard (Stage 3)

Sunday, 6th November was the week starting stage 3. We had 8 of our product managers leave for another team given we had more than 10 product managers who passed the stage 2 task.

I worked on fixing, creating content and improving the design of a page on the Zurichat website starting the same Sunday and delivered it on Monday, coordinating marketers, designers and frontend developers to achieve the task.

on Tuesday, 8th November, 30 projects were dropped and teams were asked to choose from them. Product managers were required to make the decision on the tech product to work on. Our team chose to work on an Engineering 360 Skills Evaluator.

Developers were asked to work on the architecture of the app and the product managers met to define the features required for the minimum viable product (MVP).

The designers were required to submit the initial designs, wireframes and flow of the app, while developers were to submit the database schema, software architecture and technical documentation.

The product managers were to submit the product requirement documentation (PRD) and ensure other tracks on their team meet their deadlines.

The teammates I had were great and hard-working. They were always available and that made delivering the required tasks possible.

I designed the initial use-case and sequence diagrams and worked directly with the backend developers in designing the app flow. The team lead and assistant ensured that designers, developers and marketers were aligned. The assigned product managers to each track within the team always delivered.

HNG is a team game, not a one-person game.

Hence, working directly with backend developers in designing the app flow and architecture meant I had to work with the other tracks — product designers and marketers to explain how the application works and what was required. This called for numerous meetings and interns joked about PMs being synonymous with “let’s jump on a quick meet.

Are you now convinced that HNG is high-pressure and an intense 8 weeks?

Note that I barely had time for my other interests and activities during the internship period.

Deliver minimal core app and pressure (Stage 4)

After grading on Monday, 14th November our team was promoted to stage 4. The only day of rest in a week of suffering and mental stress. Teams were now 23, two new teams had been formed in stage 3.

Pressure 4.1

On Tuesday, the tasks dropped and extra was given besides the main team project. Product managers were to onboard everyone on Linear and assign tasks that were to be delivered that weekend.

One week to deliver a working app! The pressure was on. How possible? you might ask.

Anyways we delivered a working website but not the web app in a week. The app was too technical to be built in a week.

On Tuesday night I worked with two product managers to create a task assignment sheet which we used to create tickets on linear. We pulled an all-nighter for this.

The task for stage 4 was, for marketers to create content for the core pages of the site and app, and then designers create designs with the marketer's content and the frontend developer implements the page. Task submission was the live link. A marketer, designer and developer’s fate were tied to one live link.

The task was given on Tuesday 15th, and the deadline for design review was on Wednesday 16th, of November. Designers' cortisol levels increased from the stress of meeting up but yes they did meet up with the deadline.

Pressure 4.2

On Wednesday new tasks were assigned by Mark. Do you understand what mark is typing… means now?

I remember the team panicking that the team leader should be the first to comment on the Zurichat project. There were 23 teams and 20 projects were available, so it was a race to bid first. No team wanted to be done for, then came the plot twist 😂

There was no consequence for not getting an extra task and a different deadline was given for the new task.

Lol, just lol.😂

Pressure 4.3

On Thursday, I worked with the developers and other teammates on the technical risk documentation and next came design review feedback.

The review was harsh and demoralizing, and the whole app had to be redesigned. It was quite hard to motivate the designers, they worked hard to deliver an app design in a day, and then the review meant they had to redesign everything.

The whole team could feel the dejected atmosphere that evening.

The new design meant they had to work under intense pressure. The front-end developers couldn’t start work because they did not have any design to build a page, their deadline was Sunday.

As the front-end developer product manager I know had to put the pressure on designers directly while also starting the new Zurichat documentation task too.

Looking back on stage 4, I can say I am very proud of my team and what we were able to achieve.

The designers had to iterate their designs till part of it was approved on Friday evening and developers could start work. The team lead was amazing at keeping the developers calm, Tobi is a great lead.

I am very proud of my team and what we were able to achieve

Pressure 4.4

Then came the buckling mental pressure. Stage 4 was a huge personal win for me given that I was able to remain calm under intense pressure.

As the Developers' product manager, I was with the front-end in stage 4. All the marketers had to be promoted and they wanted a live link to the page with their content.

The designers after having successfully done all designs by Saturday now wanted the live links to the fully built page. The front-end developer had to build a fully responsive page. Designers now put pressure on me wanting to know the developer I assigned their page (Lol… sounds like revenge).

We had about 21 front-end developers build more than 40 pages, which meant each developer gets at least 2 core pages. Then some developers quit, while some couldn’t complete the task due to a constraint (electricity or another incident). Their quitting meant that a designer and a marketer would consequently fail.

The request from about 10 marketers, and 20 designers and delegating tasks to the ever-reducing number of developers and keeping track of the built pages was quite overwhelming. We left stage 4 with about 15 developers.

Some developers were able to take on more tasks for the team after delivering their assigned two pages. Ricqcodes, Pius, Mysticwillz, Louis and Buff did more than what was expected of them.

While I might have managed stage 4 tasks, designers such as AviofLagos, Jilaga, Seyi, and Designkid were outstanding and always available — they were my “go-to ”designers.

Marketers who went out of their way to be in my DM to advocate their colleagues' interests Oluwakorede and Daniel Edwin were amazing.

Product Managers who outdid themselves and always offered help, Esther, Promise, Cassy, Ayotunde, Afangbender (Uwana), Cynthia and most of all Stephanie Obiekezie.

I am proud of my team and what we were able to achieve.

The results

After the occasional jokes from mark (he has a great sense of humour) come deadline announcements.

The results of the stage were encouraging and motivated the team to carry on working. A little bit of good news is what we all need to continue in the face of extreme stress.

Team Axle, my team was in second place at the initial evaluation of stage 4. It made me wonder about the problems the other teams were facing and how they were organized. Made me want to work harder with my team.

Then the final grading of the website pages we delivered came out encouraging. (Eval360 was initially named Skript)

Note: Concessions were made by the mentors and Mark for designers and developers to be graded where the live links to the page were not available due to some circumstances.

Nuggets from 4

The program is designed to be demanding.

All track has pressure to them.

Now, you know by the design what the program seeks to replicate. If you can’t handle it, you may just stay by the sidelines and remember,

The worst is over (Stage 5)

When Mark says “The worst is over,” you know that nothing thrown at you surprises you anymore. Stage 5 started on Monday 21st November and ended on Sunday, 27th.

Next came the task for stage 5, and definitely the worst was over but not for designers.

On Tuesday, 22nd November I took a break from slack and all social media. I disconnected from the internet and enjoyed life offline. This is a good way to reset and come back to take on new tasks.

Our app scope was expanded to include extra features by Mark (Had already gotten used to mark is typing…). I coordinated and delivered the Zurichat documentation which got us promoted to the next stage while ensuring the frontend and backend developers deliver features of our web app, with PMs being graded by their linear activity.

The task delivery documentation for the week was prepared by each product manager. Daily standups were held to align and get updates from the team.

Seven points to pass (Stage 6)

The task for stage 6 was to complete and deliver features not worked on stage 5. With each of these features, some redesigns of the page were required, and new flows were to be created.

The frontend pages were to be connected to the backend endpoints, this required the product managers to assign tasks according to the skill level of the development team and individuals, which I now knew very well.

Product managers were evaluating the pages built by developers to ensure it was working. The stage ended on 4th, December.

Proceeding from stage 6 to Stage 8 wouldn’t have been possible without Alameen. He came through with the team application pages and flow when our designs were unavailable.

Product managers were still evaluated based on linear activity as in Stage 5.

Deliver more features (Stage 8)

Stage 8 task was to record a video showing our app was working and a video presentation of the Zurichat task we submitted in stage 5. Week starting December 4th and ending December 11th.

The week was improving our app structures and implementing more features, while iterating the designs of the product.

We passed the stage in high spirits. Our app was already working in Stage 8, we were resolving bugs.

In this stage given that the only two designers on our team were occupied with their individual stage tasks, I had to prototype the three different user flows for our app. My design knowledge and skill became much more valuable at this critical stage.

Deliver the MVP (Stage 9)

Stage 9 was teamwork. My teammates worked together to ensure we delivered a working app, and sure we did. To them, I say “Thank you”

The task for stage 9 was to deliver a working app and sure they did it on the week starting, December 12th.

Award Games

HNG is a fun place despite the pressure and stress. The award games, where a colleague nominated me for “most annoying intern” due to the fact we had a friendly cat-dog working relationship.

Other nominations were:

Star to My Name (Stage 10 — Finalist)

The final stage, stage 10 was achieved once our team delivered the minimum viable product. It felt nice achieving something as a product manager different from completing an online product management course which I had done on Edx.

The whole team made it happen. Deactivated teammates and current teammates all made the product delivery possible.

The finalists for HNG9 were unique given it was the first HNG Internship where a product was delivered by a team. But then not just one team delivered, but over 15!

True, HNG is hard but is it worth it? I would answer it depends on what you’re paying (sacrifices) to complete the program and the actual value you want to gain from it. But was it worth it for me? I have increased confidence to work under insane pressure and to take on more tasks. During HNG working 24 hours to achieve a result or 15 hours for weeks didn’t sound absurd anymore.

The Process

HNG is a team game, not a one-person game.

The whole team was active. I can’t list all the teammates in this post but their efforts were instrumental to the whole team. The product managers were active but more power to the track members that they managed- backend developers, frontend developers, marketing, product design and DevOps.

Any and All success is a group success, and the group is all the members at Team Axle/Skript/Eval-360

Post HNG

There is money in tech but there’s stress to it as well. Some programs like ALX seek to prepare you for that, so HNG is valuable learning that gives you the required confidence you need to accept a technological job role and grow in it.

Currently, I am working on my software development skills and agile to understand and manage product teams better. However, If you have a product or team you want me to be part of, just connect with me to discuss the specifics.

Conclusion

The program is made to be hard. You learn a lot going through the process even if you don’t become a finalist and a lot of the participants can confirm that. Meanwhile, the program takes all feedback and works to improve on them.

Now, when I see mark is typing… I just laugh over it. Nothing surprises me anymore. I just expect whatever is thrown with full knowledge that with the right attitude and team, I can tackle it.

If you love what you read or found it deeply insightful you can connect with me and share the post with someone who will derive value from it. Also please give this post 50x claps.

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