Meet the person behind the role.
My name is Michael McAfee and I’m a product manager on Upwork’s SEO team. I’ve only been at Upwork for a few weeks so far, but I’ve already been impressed by everyone’s commitment to the mission of creating economic opportunities so people can better their lives. This is a truly global company and the impact that we can help create is huge.
Take us on a journey.
My first job was as a file clerk at a non-profit housing organization across the street from my high school in Houston, Texas. I organized papers, handed out mail and listened to a lot of music on my second-generation iPod. When I went to college at the University of Texas in Austin, I immediately volunteered as a DJ at KVRX-FM, the student-run radio station. I’d grown up listening to Rice Radio in Houston and thought that there was nothing cooler than getting to play new, obscure music on the radio every week. Aside from volunteering as a DJ, I joined the station staff as a programming director in my sophomore year and eventually became the station manager in my senior year. I learned a lot about managing people, staying true to a mission (“None of the Hits, All of the Time”) and running an organization with over 100 volunteers. I was honored to be one of many station managers in KVRX’s history and still think fondly of my time there. I also worked as a barista at UT’s Starbucks in the student union for a few years and gained invaluable experience while making lifelong friends. There is no professional bond among employees stronger than the one forged day-in, day-out of busy food service.
I ended up in tech almost by accident. I majored in public relations at the University of Texas, thought that I’d get a job at a PR agency after graduation, got that job and realized that I didn’t like the work at all! A friend of mine referred me to a small e-commerce startup she worked for in Austin called RetailMeNot and I joined the SEO team in 2012. I learned a lot, watched “Silicon Valley” with a sense of discomfort about how on-the-nose it was, and moved onto Indeed in 2016. I joined a truly global team and brand with domains in over 60 countries. It was here that I really learned how to be a product manager and run experiments seen by millions of users.
I was working at RetailMeNot in a strictly SEO role when my team moved from the marketing department to product. Suddenly I got to see a world full of user-focused tests, brainstorming and hands-on work with a lot of different stakeholders. Frankly, PMs looked like they had a lot of fun! I made it my goal to become a PM some day. It took a few more years of changing jobs, pestering bosses and working informally with PMs, but I became a formal PM at Indeed in 2018.
Digging into your role.
I’ve always been one to roll with the punches and embrace unexpected challenges. Coming out of college, I was certain that I was going to work in an advertising or PR agency and find the career fulfilling. My first job was at Edelman and I quickly realized that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. It was only thanks to people I knew who worked in tech, and a fantastic manager (and mentor) who believed in taking chances on non-traditional backgrounds when hiring, that I was able to get my foot in the door.
Don’t be afraid to take more risks, especially in your early- and mid-20s. It feels like a lot matters then, and it does, but that’s also when you’ve got the most leeway to make change, take a risk and discover what you really want to do.
Advice for the future SEO product manager?
Always advocate for your work and make sure that others understand how it impacts them. SEO is a weird space; a lot of other departments can affect your performance without even knowing it. Make sure to be a champion for the cause and show others that what they do matters to all users on the site.
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