Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

Meet a Product Leader Behind the Self-Driving Cars Giving Rides in SF

Jackie Shannon, a director of product management at Cruise.
Jackie Shannon, a director of product management at Cruise.
| Courtesy of Cruise

Jackie Shannon didn’t consider a career in product management until she was starting her second job after college, as a finance manager at a music streaming service. While going through the company’s new hire onboarding program, she realized a more personally fulfilling path was possible. “They taught everyone how the product worked on day one—and I hung on every word,” she says.

Shannon stayed in that finance job for three years before beginning her career pivot, which included projects in product marketing at an aerospace startup in Colombia and in product management for an e-commerce app in China. She returned to the Bay Area with enough experience to earn a PM position at an established tech company. Today, she's a director of product management at Cruise, a company that builds all-electric, self-driving vehicles.

“What I love about working in product management is that it is all about the customer,” Shannon says. “Every product exists to meet someone’s needs, and my job is to ensure that our teams are solving those customers’ most impactful problems.”

Here, Shannon talks about what sparked her interest in working at Cruise, her growth as a product leader at the company, and why it’s important to bet on yourself.

How did you know Cruise would be a good fit for you?

I was looking for a place where I could work on challenging problems and be motivated to produce my best work. Cruise was an easy choice for me. I work on a vertically integrated robotics product designed to save and improve lives. I face no shortage of captivating, impactful, and complex challenges here.

You’ve been promoted several times since you joined Cruise. How has the company supported your growth, especially as you transitioned into a leadership role?

A few important things have supported my journey at Cruise—the opportunity to work on tangible and high-impact products, the skill to deliver on that work, and leaders who have continued to nominate me for opportunities while providing the feedback I needed to be ready for new challenges.

Cruise has also been a great place for me to grow as a leader. In my time here, I have built a phenomenal team from the ground up, honed my leadership style with a professional coach, led the definition of our go-to-market strategy for driverless ride hail, and have earned the opportunity to define a future autonomous vehicle we're working on.

I’m also fortunate to have a core group of women leaders that I turn to often for friendship, partnership, and advice. For example, our heads of design and UX research are both phenomenal women whom I learn from daily. Seeking out and building those relationships has contributed in a big way to my success and happiness at work.

What are you responsible for as the director of product management for the consumer experience?

My team’s goal is to connect customers with Cruise and to deliver them experiences they love and choose again and again. To succeed at that goal, we’ve always relied heavily on dogfooding, which means Cruise employees use our products before any customer. From our early days, we’ve had an app that Cruisers can use to request rides, test the product, and provide feedback. These programs have helped us ship and improve the function of our consumer experience.

To feel safe, particularly when experiencing an autonomous vehicle for the first time, people also want to feel supported. We guide our customers on what to expect and how to interact with our vehicles, including how to get support both inside and outside the car when things don’t go as planned. And we’re getting feedback that we’re on the right track: Last month a rider said their experience was “better than a professional driver because the car thought of the customer’s safety first.” That feeling—that we put your safety first—is exactly what we’re aiming for.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your job at Cruise?

There are so many people who benefit from safer rides—and I get to see and hear the difference our product makes for those people. The first time I heard that women felt safer choosing our ride hail service at night, I felt so fulfilled and was so proud of our team.

On top of that, Cruise gives people back hours and hours they currently spend driving while making transportation more useful and fun. The car is your place to be yourself, whether that means turning up the radio to sing loudly or relaxing after a long night. (As a parent, I am also big on our grocery delivery service.)

Transportation is a core need with so many opportunities for improvement. We have a lot of exciting work ahead to expand the problems we solve for all our potential customers.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I have found that people achieve their best results when they believe in themselves, are engaged by their projects, and feel like they are working toward their own personal goals.

Therefore, I spend a lot of time with my team members to better understand their values, strengths, interests, and long-term goals. With that deeper context, I can match them with compelling, business-critical opportunities that they’ll enjoy spending lots of time on. I can also help them see how their work is contributing to their personal ambitions and understand how their strengths set them up for success.

Most of the time, this investment in my team’s growth and development allows me to stay out of the details of their work to ensure they are empowered decision-makers. It also helps me identify the most impactful projects to take on myself—anything that helps the team as a whole achieve greater results more quickly and happily.

What’s a common misconception about working in the autonomous vehicle industry, and how would you respond to it?

Many still believe that autonomous vehicles are still far-off and that the work is one big R&D project. We’re way beyond this. Our services are real—real people pay to use Cruise daily for rides and deliveries, and we’re growing and improving every day to meet more of our customers’ needs.

What’s one positive change you’ve made to your workday routine since COVID?

I had my first kid in February 2020, about one month before the Bay Area really shut down. So, my pandemic routine changes and my parent routine changes are all tied together. With that in mind, I’m going to cheat and give you two.

First, I started splurging on a subscription from my favorite coffee shop in San Francisco, St. Frank’s—it’s the best. Second, I have learned my most productive hours are early in the morning, so I protect that time for individual work. It feels great to start the day with a few quiet, efficient hours (and some great coffee).

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Years ago, I had to choose between two roles: Option A was exciting and challenging and new, and option B was work I had done before so I knew I could do it well. I wanted to choose option A, but I wasn’t sure that I could do it successfully, and I didn’t want to fail. My husband told me,“You have to bet on yourself.” It was simple but powerful advice. If I wasn’t going to bet on myself, who would? I chose the option I wanted, and I am so happy I did. I didn’t fail and, more importantly, I felt motivated by the challenge. As a result, I grew quickly and even earned a promotion later that year.

This advice continues to inform how I support my team with their own professional development. I’m constantly looking for ways to help my reports bet on themselves to continue growing toward their long-term goals. I know that a team full of motivated individuals who are unafraid of a challenge will deliver great results not just for themselves, but also for our customers.

Updated 12/1/2022