Meet Jenny Colebourn: the product manager inspiring the next generation of women in tech

Find out what it takes to be a product manager at AR/VR tech company Mesmerise

Jenny has been recognised by the likes of Digital Her as a role model for inspiring the next generation of women in tech and has turned her lifelong passion for tech and gaming into creating effective VR/AR solutions.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up with computing, gaming and technology from a young age. Despite feeling a sense of belonging in the world of computers, I felt discouraged from joining the industry through my teens. I pursued film, game design and coding as part time hobbies and decided to embark on a career in retail. After a few years at John Lewis, my Dad encouraged me to apply for a dev internship at a brand new tech start-up, specialising in VR/AR solutions, called Mesmerise. I decided to apply and hopped between different roles there, covering account management, design, production and eventually into my current role as a product manager. 

How would you describe your role at Mesmerise? 
As a product manager, I work with the vision team to define the product that we’re building and why we should be building the things that we build, then I translate abstract concepts into tangible pieces of work for the wider team to deliver. I work with the teams to communicate exactly what we’re after and guide them to do the best they can in delivering the features. My role is very diverse – the core of the role doesn’t change – but how it works and looks from day to day changes with the wind. My main responsibilities are problem-solving, challenging the thinking of others, communicating between teams, representing our users and driving innovation within the teams.

How did you become a product manager? 
I joined Mesmerise and tried to absorb and build as many skills as I could in a role that changed every day based on the project we were working on. I learned how the mind of a developer works from studying C#, and from my passion for game design, I was able to contribute to UX and UI decisions. I worked closely with our clients and users to understand how the technology is received when it’s out into the wild and built my ability to empathise. Having all of these skills made me a trusted and innovative producer – which when combined with a strong understanding of working methodology (in my case, agile) made me a great candidate to become a product owner, and eventually a product manager.

What career advice would you give your younger self? 

People aren’t going to ask you to get experience or learn a new skill, that’s something that you have to do yourself. I remember being worried about my career and trying to figure out what I wanted to do – I’ve since learnt that your career is an accumulation of your experiences, and the more you experience and learn, the closer you will get to understand what you want to do and how you can get there.

Tell us a little bit about Sustainable City. How did it come about? 
Sustainable City is one of the most wonderful projects I’ve worked on – it was a solution for a client that we had called Morningstar. They created a tool that shows how sustainable a company is, and how much a company is likely to impact the environment and society, and how well its run. Morningstar was struggling to get their customers engaged with the tool and there were some misconceptions about sustainable investments resulting in less money, which they wanted to squash! We built an experience that let players look after a town, make investments and watch them unfold – all in virtual reality. Good investments would result in healthy and happy civilians, lush forests and lots of income, whereas less sustainable investments would result in poorly built factories, smog, ill animals, water pollution and even toxic leaks into the river!

What future projects are you looking forward to? 

I’m excited by our product that’s currently in development. It's called Gatherings. Designed for enterprises, It’s a virtual reality application that brings you into the same virtual space as your peers and colleagues. You pop on your headset, enter a virtual meeting space and can share presentations and connect with your peers. We’re excited as we’re hosting our first event on the platform in a couple of months, with over 500 attendees expected to join.

How do your passions and interests combine with your work?

Having love and dedication to technology is important when working in the industry – but actually, my love for film and psychology helps me to create great experiences for our users. Film and art, in general, are so emotive and powerful, that when combined with a 360-degree simulation can come together to make quite moving experiences. Psychology and understanding how the human brain works is a really helpful tool when it comes to empathising with our users and understanding why some people would prefer one feature over another.

Words: Grace Goslin

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