About Irfan

The Elevator Pitch

With a technical background and a focus on design and my users, I help companies create, develop and iterate on meaningful products as a Product Manager + Designer. I’m always interested in learning how people use technology, and how we can create a better product today, rather than tomorrow.

The (Short) Bio

I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and I made sure I enjoyed the perks of being in Africa: amazing food and the wildlife. When I was 12, my family and I left Kenya for the suburbs of Toronto, where my interest in technology started to blossom, even leading me to be CompTIA A+ certified and a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) before I was 15 just so I could stop working at a coffee shop and start working with computers (and getting paid for it!).

While working as both a PC tech and as an electronics/PC salesperson, I quickly saw time and time again how much my customers struggled with technology: they just couldn’t understand how software or computers worked and they would often characterize themselves as incompetent. Although I made my living from peoples’ “incompetence”, I hated that fact and vowed to go into Engineering so that I could make a positive difference in people’s lives and hopefully elevate them in some way.

By sheer luck and advice, I ended up enrolling in Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo. Although I didn’t realize it for the first couple of years, as it was one of the hardest Engineering programs at Waterloo, it was certainly the best decision I made for my education. From day one, they taught us about user-centered design, pushing us not to think of solutions, but to think of problems, validate them and then build something, and of course iterate (sounds like the Lean Startup movement no?). While most of my core curriculum centered around fundamental Engineering courses (Calculus, Linear Algebra, and lots of Physics courses), I used to my electives to learn about people and how they behave with classes in Anthropology, Psychology, Cognitive Ergonomics, and Cognitive Science.

Since UW required 6 mandatory co-op terms, I was able to beef up my technical game outside of what I learned in my few computer science classes. I started out as a helpdesk technician for Magna’s Polycon Industries where not only was I responsible for keeping everybody’s computers working, but I was also responsible for making sure the factory floor kept ticking — a very stressful and high impact position since millions of dollars could be lost for any downtime! My second co-op position was a bit more laid back at Xandros, doing QA for their mail server, Scalix. While QAing, I quickly learned the importance of good testing plans and ensuring that the developers did their own testing – since 80% of bugs could have been caught by them if they tested their code (something I’m still adamant about today!). At my third co-op job, I was a Professional Services Consultant for NexJ Systems, where I learned how to work with and manage clients. For my remaining 3 co-op jobs, I was a developer for NexJ Systems, Apple and Ratesupermaket.ca. All three positions gave me a good understanding of how good software is built, and how developers think and like to work.

With all these diverse courses on the human mind and technical co-op experiences, when it was time to graduate I was a bit unsure of how to tie everything together. There had to be something out there I could do that would leverage everything I’ve learned and done, and allow me to build better products so that people could fall in love with technology instead of being scared of it.

Thankfully, there was: Product Management…and life has been good.

Product Management has allowed me to leverage both my design, psychology and technical knowledge to help build products that make sense: they do something for their users and help businesses make money— a win-win!.

Being a good Product Manager is not easy. I’ve had some successes, but I’ve had as many, or even more, failures. But that’s the great thing about being a Product Manager, it’s very similar to being an entrepreneur (I really think some Product Managers, depending on the type and what they do, are intrapreneurs), you get to learn and grow very fast because every day you have a new problem to solve.

When I’m not a Product Manager, I’m a hobbyist DJ (I rock SL1200s), an explore r(over 25 countries visited), always exploring new business concepts, and I’m always on the hunt for great food!