Interviews / Product Managers

Balancing the Grind with Oleh Zaychenko, Senior Product Manager at Splice

Oleh Zaychenko is a Senior Product Manager at Splice, a New York-based platform for music production offering access to millions of the best royalty-free samples, loops, and presets

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m a freshly-minted Senior Product Manager at Splice, where I’m overseeing our content ingestion and other internal platforms. It’s my job to make sure the decisions we make are future-proofed and bridge the needs of our users with our business goals. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you – I just started!

Product Managers almost always have to break into the job, and as an industry, I think we could all be a little more honest about that. My professional career began with a misstep.

After graduating from Macalester College, I moved to New York to pursue a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology, which I quickly realized was not for me. I’d been playing and recording music since 2006, and when my grad school plans were falling apart, I turned back to music.

At first I interned at Let ‘Em In Music in Gowanus, and then I got a part-time temp job at The Orchard – a music and video distributor. Over the course of the 4 years there, I moved up and around from Client Services to International Client Services to Operations.

That’s when I realized that all of the issues our customers were experiencing ultimately backed up to product decisions we’d made at some point in the past.

I took a Product Management course at General Assembly, shadowed a few friendly Product Managers, and eventually transformed Operations itself into a product.

My experience at The Orchard springboarded me into a full-time Product Manager position at Shutterstock, where I managed several teams and became a domain expert in digital asset ingestion, transformation, review, and publishing. I also chaired the Product Book Club, which meant every month I’d read a new book about Product Management, for fun!

In the meantime, I had created my own tiny music label, launched several of my friends’ releases, and continued recording music.

So, when I got the chance to return to the music industry at Splice, I took it. I couldn’t be happier right now. Splice allowed me to merge two previously disparate parts of my identity, finally bringing my journey full-circle.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Product Management is a lovable but weird job! You need to ensure the success of your product without having direct control over it. They say we lead by influence, which is kind of like being Princess Diana – you have no real power, but if you do a good job, people will listen to you. RIP.

This means every day is very different. Typically though, my days consist of getting a download from my team on what they’re working on that day, meeting with my stakeholders to ensure they’re aware of upcoming changes, and meeting with company leadership to ensure they’re aware of the same thing. I have to be able to switch between micro and macro focus on a dime.

If there is ever a production issue, I need to be able to help the team quickly decide how to handle it and ensure we communicate with everyone impacted. Communication can mean the difference between a hiccup and an outage.

And then, of course, I’m constantly planning an iteration, a quarter, and a year ahead. I do this slowly, and it doesn’t happen every day, but without thinking ahead, my team will hit a dead end.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Absolutely. Splice has always been accommodating to a distributed workforce, which prepared us well for the pandemic. Luckily, Product Management is a very remote-able job. We use a variety of messaging and documentation tools that sync with each other and let us focus at the same time.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

The beauty of my job is that I get to sit on my couch and message people all day for a living – I got pretty far from my Ukrainian coalminer grandparents. But that blurry line can also be challenging.

The concept of work-life balance in a world where you can’t leave your job because your job is on your phone is tricky. I am not unique in having this problem – even folks who do much more physical work can’t just stop thinking about their day when they clock out.

Luckily, both Shutterstock and Splice have been supportive of us not answering emails and chats after hours. Not all companies are like that. But working from home throws a wrinkle into what “after hours” mean.

So, I make sure to use a separate laptop for work, and when the time comes, I close it. I’d lie if I said I’ve never replied to a chat after hours, but it really doesn’t happen very often. I guess I work with some considerate people!

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5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

I am a big proponent of the Getting Things Done methodology. I read David Allen’s book during my time in Product Book Club, and ever since then haven’t been able to shake it.

The way I use it to be productive is the moment I think of a “to do” item, I immediately get it out of my head and onto a piece of paper or into a GTD-friendly program (I use Things, but there are a number of great free ones too).

This alone is already immensely valuable for my mental health. But if you want to take it to the next level, you should convert that “to do” item into an action item and put a due date on it. Never leave any items overdue. That’s it – now you’re a success!

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

If I didn’t have any podcasts to recommend you, would I really be living in Brooklyn?

I love Song Exploder99% InvisibleREWORKThis Is Product Management, and Reply All.

As far as books, I highly recommend Radical Candor, Product Management in Practice, and Winners Take All.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I spend at least 5 minutes in mindful silence every morning. I use Headspace for falling asleep and waking up. The problem is, sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, I’m inclined to skip it, which creates further turmoil. I guess the answer is to just never turn Headspace off.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I’d love to learn about David Lynch’s work-life balance. Could you get him to do this?

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

One day, we will get to a place and time when we won’t necessarily need to work in order to live – be it through labor automation, universal basic income, or maybe something surprisingly nice and not at all dystopian. Imagine that.

Now think about what kind of person you’d be in this new world. What do you want to be doing all day? Now come back into the present. What one tiny step can you take today to bring yourself closer to that person?

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.