WWCode Podcast #24 — Tami Tillman, Director, Product for Supply Chain at Macy’s

Written by WWCode HQ

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Grecia Castaldi, Program Manager of the Digital Communities at Women Who Code, interviews Tami Tillman, Director of Product for Supply Chain at Macy’s Technology. They discuss Tami’s career journey, her views on management and leadership, and the company culture at Macy’s.

Grecia Castaldi, Program Manager of the Digital Communities at Women Who Code, interviews Tami Tillman, Director of Product for Supply Chain at Macy’s Technology. They discuss Tami’s career journey, her views on management and leadership, the company culture at Macy’s, and what she believes every woman can do to become invaluable to companies, co-workers, and clients.

Tell us about your career journey and how you came to work in tech.

I put myself through college so it took a while to get through it. My dream job was to design toys for Fisher-Price. I’ve ended up designing systems for Macy’s, and ironically, it’s not super different. While I was in college, I was recruited to work during back to school in the stores for Macy’s. I worked in the stores. I was a salesperson and a stock person. I’ve done a lot of test and learns through my career to support operations. I’ve been a buyer. I’ve worked with the merchant community and supported 85 other buyers. They moved me across the country. I did Macy’s Home for business operations.

I moved over to tech in 2006, and it has been a blessing. I came over as what would be called the Product Manager today for our Furniture and Mattress businesses. That evolved into supporting all of logistics, and then into a culture shift in supporting tech for what it means to be product-driven. That’s taken several iterations and leader changes over time. I have come back full circle, did a stint in marketing, and have come back again to support the supply chain. I have been told in my career that you have to pick a path. You can only be operations or you can only be tech, or you can only be business, you can’t jump the fence. I’m here to tell you, you can do whatever you put your mind to. You have to make your acquaintances and leverage your partnerships along the way, but don’t let it stop you. You can do whatever you wanna do.

What does it take to be a product manager, what technical skills do you need to be a product manager?

It depends on the type of product manager you are. There are different types of product managers. There are business-facing product managers that are a little bit more strategic,in terms of what is the business value of driving a specific idea forward. There is a technical product manager that is still strategic and partners very close, there’s a lot of overlap, with what capabilities do you need? The biggest difference on a technical product manager side is you need to be more aligned with your company and your system health, but also with the industry standard for patterns.

Some of my best product managers were engineers who had an interest in the business and driving change, so they jumped over to product management. Those are also going to be my strongest technical product managers because the best product managers can truly do both. They can do strategy, understand business, and they know what it takes to make the business grow and breathe. They know on the back side what they have today and what we need to grow into from a system stability and health perspective. They marry the two and that helps for strength, the priorities for what gets delivered and funded, and that makes a very powerful product person.

What training do you recommend?

You can get certified in product, and that is helpful because you learn the ceremonies. I have brought on some product people who didn’t come with certified product backgrounds. I certainly did not come, originally, with a certified product background. If you understand business, know how to listen to people, understand how to work a room, prioritise people and get them to follow you, and if you’re good at storytelling that you can back it up with data, that you can then work against to measure the value of what you’re doing and prove that it’s moving the needle, you will learn the rest as you go. Product is a culture and a mindset. You can get certified at any point to help get you in the door. But, if you have the right skill set, you can certainly grow into it as well.

Many of our Women Who Code members are looking to grow into leadership positions. We need advice from senior women like you about the best way to lead a team and to create a good environment.

When you’re leading a team specifically, be conscious that not everybody works the same way. When I was much younger, I had very high standards, and my default expectation was that everybody should work the way I do. That’s not true. Everybody marches to a different drummer. As a manager and a people leader, you have to find what makes each individual tick. You have to listen to the people and what they need. Some people want praise, some people need guidance, some people are afraid to tell you they don’t know something, and you have to tease that out. Then you have to be willing to give them the space to fail forward. As a leader, I feel like a huge part of what I do is create the air cover to give them room to grow. That has made a lot of success for my folks over the past year, for sure.

I think the other important thing to recognize is, you don’t have to lead people to be a leader. You can be an influencer. You can lead the charge on topics that are pertinent. You can add value and drive and lead in many, many ways in any company without being that VP or that Director who leads people. I have done all of those roles and they are all satisfying for very different reasons and all equally important.

What is it like to work at Macy’s? What do you like the most about the company culture?

The company culture has gone through many iterations in my tenure because I’ve been around a while. The thing that I think is the most exciting is where the company has grown and evolved into the diversity, equity and inclusion arena. We actively, thoughtfully, and intentionally lean into those topics to make it part of what happens every day. When we talk about diversity, it’s not just us, it’s our CEO, it’s all of our leaders, it’s our people. It’s creating the space for open dialogue. It’s making sure when you’re looking to hire new roles that you’re looking across different skill sets and different opportunities. It’s bringing people along with you. The people who need training or need that extra opportunity to grow with the company, creating that path and that opportunity for them to do that. We are carving those opportunities out. The company as a whole has rallied around diversity, equity, and inclusion topics. They are truly becoming part of our daily habits. That makes Macy’s a great place to be right now.

Do you have a pro-tip for women in tech?

Don’t be intimidated, number one. Number two, don’t over assert yourself. Believe in yourself when you’re in a room full of people that they think are smarter than you. When you’re in tech, everybody in the room thinks they’re the smartest guy. Don’t be the smartest guy in the room, be the guy who listens and is strategic and put things together. Look for the place where people are talking in circles and help land the plane. As women, we listen to our friends, our kids, our families, and we balance a lot in our brains all the time. Bring that to work with you. Listen to the crazy that happens when you’re in those good conversations. You will help land direction and guidance and your input will become invaluable. If you create that as you’re growing up in your career, people will naturally tap you because you’re easy to work with, you deliver and you contribute. Those are the key things that I think make you successful.

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