From Product Enthusiast to CPO: Heather Gordon Friedland’s Inspiring Journey

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“You need to have confidence to just be you. You’re in the room and you’re in those conversations for a reason, and you need to take pride in that.” – Heather Gordon Friedland

By: Women In Product


In the latest installment of Path to CPO, Heather Gordon Friedland shares her dynamic journey to becoming the Chief Product Officer at Ancestry. 

We learn that taking on many roles enabled Heather to flourish as a product leader, thanks to the diverse range of work experiences it provided. She also emphasizes that her genuine enjoyment of the projects she has worked on has helped her to create exceptional products.

Those who experienced the late 90s and early 2000s tech boom can relate to Heather’s undergraduate experience. The dynamic nature of the evolving Internet landscape shaped the beginning of her product journey as she worked at a startup that Microsoft eventually acquired. During this time, her experience being one of the only non-engineers in the room informed her understanding of storytelling and connection.

Anyone with experience being the sole woman or person without a technical background in a professional setting can gain invaluable insights from Heather’s diverse range of experiences. 

Here are a few takeaways that we learned from listening to Heather’s episode:

The Importance of Psychological Safety and Team Building

Drawing from her own experiences, Heather shares that fostering an environment where team members feel free to express their ideas and opinions is crucial for building an exceptional team. It’s clear that Heather’s leadership success is a result of her ability to foster a diverse, inclusive team that thrives on collaboration and innovation.

Embracing Imposter Syndrome

Heather vulnerably offers to share her journey with imposter syndrome, highlighting the universality of the feeling we all are familiar with.

Her path to overcoming feelings of inadequacy serves as a reminder that self-confidence is critical to professional and personal growth. 

At one point in the interview, Heather asserts that: “You need to have confidence to just be you. You’re in the room and you’re in those conversations for a reason, and you need to take pride in that.”

This statement clearly indicates that fostering a sense of self-belief and confidence is an invaluable skill to nurture during your professional journey. 

Heather’s experience also acts as a reminder that even those in the C-Suite struggle with feelings of inadequacy. 

Despite experiencing those feelings, Heather never allowed them to hold her back, serving as a source of inspiration for us to persevere and pursue our professional goals. 

Nurturing Your Network

Heather shares her insights on networking in response to a question about how she was recruited to a previous CPO position. She mentions being recruited through an executive search recruiter but attributes the opportunity to her strong network. Heather emphasizes the significance of maintaining and fostering relationships with colleagues. 

She summarizes some of the key moments that helped advance her career, stating,  “Many of those opportunities and doors were open because of my network because somebody either referred me in, I knew a leader at that company was hiring for a role, or somebody had whispered in their ear and said, I heard there’s this person, Heather, she may be what you’re looking for. And those opportunities have really continued to be big door openers for me career-wise through my network.”

This anecdote serves as a testament to the power of networking, especially for women and nonbinary folks in the product industry. By actively engaging in groups and attending networking events, you can find new opportunities that you may not have been aware of otherwise.


Discussion Questions

  1. What are some team exercises that encourage group discussions about psychological safety?
  2. What critical past experiences have informed your current approach to product development? 
  3. How can wearing multiple hats at work contribute to personal and professional growth, especially in product leadership? What personal experiences do you have where diversifying your work experiences has helped you develop new skills and become a more effective leader?