Guiding the creation of the L16 from soup to nuts.
No product can realize its full potential without a product manager. Often called the “CEO of the product”, a PM guides its creation and all the aspects that come with it. At Light, Boris Ajdin is the man that keeps everyone on the same page, guiding the team building the L16 and nailing down the tasks that need to happen to build this revolutionary camera.
We grabbed a few minutes to speak with Boris about how he plays an integral role at Light, how he got started as a product manager and what he spends his time doing outside of the office.
Spotlight: Tell me about your role at Light.
Boris: I joined Light a bit more than 2 years ago. I’m an engineering Product Manager, and, in a nutshell, I own the product definition from the engineering perspective. Essentially, that means I maintain a document with a list of all functions of the product the user will be exposed to when using it. Gathering those requirements is a collaborative effort, and between engineering, marketing and UX teams we perform both internal and external investigations to figure out what makes sense to do.
One of my main tasks is to help prioritize the work required to make the L16 Camera a compelling product – deciding what needs to come next, both from the user and the engineering perspective, and what is to come later. There is also the question of what should be done in the long term. There are many possible directions we can take, and I do my best to help the executive team see options we may have and choose the best path possible. That’s where most of my time is invested at the moment.
Prior to this, I was working more on the project and program management side of things. I was making sure deadlines were met, running engineering design and problem-solving meetings, and interfacing with our original device manufacturer (ODM) partner FIH (a division of Foxconn), based in Taiwan. Last year I had an opportunity to spend five months in Taiwan with our Taiwan R&D team and with FIH, since it was much easier to handle all the items in person than to regularly be on the phone or email late at night.
Spotlight: What were you doing with FIH in Taiwan?
Boris: FIH is our ODM partner and integrator. As such they are a vital piece of our success, and I was working with their engineers and Light hardware teams on finalizing our hardware design. I was also helping manage prototype builds of the L16 Camera– on a high level, we needed to coordinate resources, material availability and actual build plans. It was a successful endeavor, since we managed to build functional prototype devices for software and UX teams to use.
I also worked on bringing all the teams together and ensuring good communication is in place – having teams separated by the Pacific Ocean and speaking different languages does present a significant organizational challenge, one that is only solved by opening up and maintaining good communication channels.
I do miss Taiwan, as it was a great experience. Sure, it was very hard work, but I got to meet some wonderful people, and enjoy a very different culture to the one I am used to. I just wish I had more time to really explore the country and the region.
Spotlight: Now that you’re back in California, what does your day-to-day look like?
Boris: In order to ensure the whole organization is aligned around the same goals, tasks and priorities, there is a fair number of meetings I am running or attending. Whenever a meeting is organized where product functionality is discussed, I am there. If I am not in meetings, I try to answer all the questions I get via email, IMs, or in person. At the end of the day, I try to help people understand what is expected of them, as well as what is the product supposed to be. If I can do that, then I’ve done the internal part of my job right. And if users like what we build, then I’ve done the external part of my job right as well.
Spotlight: What made you want to become a product manager?
Boris: I was a research scientist in the computational imaging field, which is a large part of what we do here at Light (it should help understand why I really like my work at Light). I liked engineering, which often requires very deep dives into hard problems, but I also noticed that I am also able to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, which is one of the key skills a PM needs. As a PM you should also be able to put all of the other teams’ hats on when required (engineering, marketing, UX, etc.) and understand each of their needs and responsibilities. I am reasonably well good at that, so it kind of stuck with me.
There’s this beauty about being a PM: you don’t necessarily have your own team, but over time you do earn the trust and respect from your colleagues who will ask you a ton of questions about what to do and why or how. Some call it “leadership without authority.” And while it may be overwhelming at times, especially in a complicated project such as the L16 camera, it all becomes worth it when you know you’ve helped a colleague solve their problem, and when you see the company inching closer towards the final goal – releasing the camera to market.
One secret perk of product managing is that one gains exposure to many teams. This allowed me to be amongst a few people who had the privilege of working with pretty much everyone in the company. That gives me a broad overview of where we stand, but it also adds a duty to share points of view of others and to champion the best ideas that will result in a better overall product.
Spotlight: What’s your favorite aspect of the Light culture?
Boris: The people. There’s a sense of camaraderie – as clichéd as it is to say it, it really feels like a family. That’s what I like the most.
It’s also that there is no other technology in the imaging space right now that is as innovative and as challenging as what we’re doing. If you want to be on the forefront of innovation in imaging, Light is the place to be. And we can all sense it, and want to have this camera for ourselves. That gives us the drive necessary to bring such a complex product to the consumers.
Spotlight: With the time that you’ve spent here, what have you learned about yourself?
Boris: That it’s really about the people. I’d never work in an office where I don’t feel comfortable around my colleagues. It’s not just my colleagues I work directly with either, it also comes top-down. You don’t always think your CEO influences your day-to-day, but they do. They help establish the culture, the tone, they set expectations, everything. The culture your colleagues create is important – there’s no replacement for it. Without it, I don’t think I can thrive in a work environment.
Spotlight: If you’re not working, where would I most likely find you?
Boris: Right now, I’m trying to improve my fitness, so likely in a pool, in a gym or hiking. Since summer, not winter, is coming, I’m hoping to make it to the beach as well. And being a foodie, which admittedly clashes with the fitness thing, I like to eat good food outside. Fortunately, the Bay Area has a lot to offer in the restaurant department.
Spotlight: Do you have any favorite local hikes?
Boris: I do! Hunter’s Point – I was there just this past weekend. All of the streams are active because of the rain so it’s no longer barren and dry. It’s much nicer, and it’s a challenging hike, too; the full loop is a solid three hours of exercise. From the peak, you can also see pretty much the entire Bay Area, which looks magnificent. Stevens Creek Reservoir is also nearby, which was just great, all full of water. I highly recommend this hike to everyone.
Spotlight: Do you have any unique health or wellness routines that you swear by?
Boris: I am working on making time for swimming. Although, that is a solitary activity and I am trying to be social when I am not at work, so I will have to balance the clashing requirements. It is a healthy activity, I like the water, and it is very tiring (in a good way). I was always a ball sport person, playing indoor sports like basketball, volleyball, and table tennis. I should probably go back to playing basketball as well.
Spotlight: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you? Think island like Castaway.
Boris: I’ve definitely thought about this before. I’d want my music collection, so my phone – and a solar charger to charge the thing. They are kind of attached to each other, so let’s count them as one item. Beyond that, there are a few dear people I’d like to have some memorabilia from, though that might make one go crazy – maybe it’s better not to think about it? – but let’s say I would carry something to remember them by.
The last one is hard. Is it allowed to say I want a ship, or is it considered cheating? If it is allowed, I’d bring a ship, so I could go ahead and just rescue myself. I wouldn’t want to be stuck on a desert island for too long. I’d enjoy it for a bit, for some me time, to relax and maybe make some difficult life decisions when needed. Then again, who would like to get stranded like that?!