Software product management as an internship: Learning about the real world at Wikimedia Deutschland
German summary: Glorian Yapinus aus Indonesien hat gerade sechs Monate Praktikum in der Software-Entwicklung bei Wikimedia Deutschland hinter sich. Hauptsächlich arbeitete er mit Lydia Pintscher zusammen, der Produktmanagerin von Wikidata. Seine Motivation war es, Produktmanagement mit praktischen Erfahrungen in einem realen Projekt zu lernen. Wir haben ihn zum Ende seines Praktikums zu seinen Erfahrungen befragt. Das Interview fand auf Englisch statt, der Sprache, die Glorian auch in der täglichen Arbeit bei Wikimedia Deutschland benutzte.
Glorian Yapinus just spent 6 months at Wikimedia Deutschland as an intern in the software development department. Working together with Lydia Pintscher, the product manager of Wikidata, he was driven by his wish to work on a real world project. This is his story.
Hi, Glorian. Tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from, what do you study?
I come from Indonesia, a beautiful island country located in Southeast Asia. I love building things. As time went by, I discovered that apart from loving to build things, I am also drawn to technology. This is the reason why I did my Bachelor study in Information Technology (IT). Back then, I wished that through this study, I could learn how to develop cool games and applications.
However, it turned out, I got hooked on a subject called software product management. Software product management is an area in IT which encompasses most aspects in software development ranging from researching user requirements to translating those requirements into new software.
Because I wanted to develop my knowledge and skills in software product management, I decided to come to Germany in order to pursue a Master degree in Software Engineering and Management at Heilbronn University. In this Master study, I learned about a different facet of IT which I did not learn during my Bachelor study, that is, how to manage software projects. Arguably, project management is an integral part of software product management and a must skill for software product managers.
At some point during the study, I realized I have to get my hands wet on software product management. In other words, I was looking for a practical experience in software product management, in order to complement what I have learned in the university. Afterwards, I found the product management intern vacancy in Wikimedia Deutschland. I tried to go for this opportunity and I got the internship. That was how I wound up here.
You worked in product management together with Lydia. How did that go?
I often had the opportunity to work on tasks alone, almost from the beginning. This trust into my abilities as an intern is remarkable and I’m grateful that Lydia gave me that chance.
Typically, Lydia gave me a task and after a week or two, she would evaluate my work with me and some people from UX or community communication. This evaluation session provided feedback which I could use to iterate on my work. After I revised my work based on the given feedback, I would arrange another evaluation session with Lydia to evaluate the revised work. This process continued until Lydia felt the task was done.
The tasks that I worked on during my time at Wikimedia Deutschland were centered around designing the workflow and user interface of new features. This included researching user requirements (e.g. conducting user interview), translating those requirements into feature workflow (i.e. how the feature works), and sketching a mockup of that feature.
I also got a taste of monitoring the development of a new feature until releasing it to the community. For instance, I helped Lydia to monitor the development of the Citoid Wikidata gadget by following up to the developer about the development progress of this feature. We decided to go with incremental development. This means we released the initial version of the Citoid gadget which only has some of its functionality to get community feedback, prior to developing the gadget with all of its functionalities.
I would say working directly with someone like Lydia is a rare opportunity. She has done a lot of remarkable things on Wikidata and open source community in general. So, it was very great to be able to learn from her.
One project that you followed from the start was the Squee feature. Can you explain what it was?
Squee is a notification feature which utilizes the data from Wikidata. It enables people to subscribe to a topic (i.e. an article in Wikipedia) and get a notification whenever there is an update on this topic.
For instance, you subscribe to your favorite band Wikipedia article. When the band releases a new album, Wikidata editors add this new album data to the band item in Wikidata. Afterwards, you will get a notification that says your favorite band released a new album. So, essentially, Squee sends notifications based on the change in Wikidata items.
Squee is still under development. I was in charge of researching user needs, developing the workflow (i.e. how does it actually work), and sketching mockups of this feature. Additionally, I specified potential stakeholders, target users, a launch plan, and benefits of this feature. All of these could be used for convincing people to develop Squee. We have prepared all the things needed to develop the feature, so that they can go straight to development.
What did you learn during the design of the Squee feature? How did the process go?
I think this was my first real world experience in designing a product. So, it was really exciting!
Initially, when I worked on this task, I went straight to sketching mockups alongside specifying how the feature works. However, when Lydia saw it, she asked me to go back to square one. She taught me that I have to start from the perspective of the user, trying to understand the needs of the user and why the user wants the feature before developing it. After that, I conducted user interview and iterated based on the insights I got from the interviews.
Looking back, this was an important lesson for me because at that time. I realized how important user empathy is for product managers.
What comes next for you?
Once this internship finished, I will switch my focus to work on my Master thesis. The thesis topic is about implementing machine learning for improving the quality of Wikidata items. I believe it is going to help resolving one major challenge in Wikidata, that is, data quality.
I will still come to Wikimedia Deutschland office from time to time to consult with Lydia and the team.
Do you think you’ll be in touch with Free Knowledge or Open Source in the future?
I am definitely considering to become a volunteer in the Wikimedia Movement. In particular, my thesis is related to Wikidata. So, there might be an opportunity to continue what I have done in my thesis as a volunteer.
Nonetheless, I just want to focus to finish my thesis now and see what will happen after this.