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Meet the… product owner

Appear's Annette Hopland on why the media tech industry is a trifecta of amazing people, innovative technology, and an always-evolving industry, and what advice she'd offer someone looking for a similar role

Annette Hopland, product owner, Appear 
Talk us through an average day in your role 

I spend much of my day communicating across all areas of the Appear organisation, liaising between sales, R&D, our management team, and customers to ensure our products are optimised to address the challenges our customers face. I have four dedicated teams that I’m in continual communication with to refine and improve our products, so much of an average day would be spent collaborating with them. We’ll prioritise which customer problems we’re going to solve first, what feature requests have come through, and then assess the amount of work that needs to be done.

As well as managing internal conversations about our product roadmap and development, I also spend time speaking directly with customers to understand their pain points and desires, so that we can relay that into our product strategy. Appear works predominantly with Tier One operators, broadcasters, and production facilities to provide contribution, OTT, and distribution services, so our weekly customer conversations can range from highly technical discussions, requests for new features or evolving existing product functions, and general discussions about obstacles faced by media companies today. 

How did you get started in the media industry?

I’ve always had a fascination with the mechanics of media – ever since I was young, I was curious about how TV, cinema, live events, and even the radio worked. It’s why I decided to study Electronics and Telecommunications at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. While studying, I volunteered as a sound engineer at my student society which is where I really got my first introduction and basic knowledge of working with media technology. 

Being based in Norway, which has a rich heritage in the media technology industry, I landed my first job with Tandberg Television as an engineer building and testing broadcast equipment. I then joined Appear in 2005 in a product development role. I was the 13th employee to join the company – so 13 wasn’t unlucky for me! – and that number has grown considerably to around 165. I remember how excited I was to start the role – the knowledge we had in Norway was so inspiring and I believed we could make some great products. 

What training did you have before you got started in the media industry? 

I learned a tremendous amount about media technology while volunteering at the student society. It was my first experience of being part of a group of people all working together to solve challenges and create workflows for live events – and having a huge amount of fun doing it. We used to have bands from around the world come to our university to perform – including some major global names – and as a volunteering audio technician I would work with a group of other volunteers to help put on the show. This was both a huge life skill for me, but also a dip in the water of my eventual role in product development and management. 

What do you enjoy about working in the industry? 

I love the trifecta of amazing people, innovative technology, and an always-evolving industry. Because the media industry is always changing, no two days are ever the same and there’s always passionate debates and discussions to be had with colleagues and customers. The culture of continuous learning and improvement also means that we are constantly tweaking how we work and communicate. Added to the fact that Appear is always taking our products to new markets, new segments, and new countries, means that work is never boring! 

Another unique part of my role that I enjoy is the relationship product owners build with both the management team and sales. We’re involved in both the long-term strategy planning with the management team and the short-term fixes, solutions, and feature velocity that helps the sales team. It makes the work varied and more involving. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to explore a similar role? 

Most of our hires are fresh from university, and the best advice I can offer to them is to talk with as many people with similar roles as possible. Take every opportunity you can get to educate yourself on the role you’re going for and build a network of contacts. When those opportunities arise, just go for it! 

If you like to talk to interesting people and make exciting things happen, product ownership is a very fun role to be in. But you must also bring a lot of passion and curiosity to the role – ultimately that’s what will make you dedicated to the role and make the most out of it. You must also be prepared for a lot of learning. Being quite technical in nature, you must prepare to spend the first few months getting your head around a lot of technical terms, buzz words and new skills – no matter how much of a technology whizz you think you might be!