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Number cruncher to product mastermind: meet Maria

Learn about our product manager, Maria, and what she’s got in store for the community in this article

Last month, it was a privilege to introduce you all to Lana, our incredibly talented Product Designer. We were lucky enough to talk to Lana about many things, but one of the things that I remember most clearly from that interview was Lana talking about how her training in architecture prepared her for designing the interface here at Unbabel.

Well, if Lana’s the brilliant architect for our house, then our Product Manager Maria Pires is the homeowner, project manager and head of construction all rolled into one. I spoke to her last week to get the lowdown on our product, the future, and what she’s excited about as we go into the second half of 2022.

As we begin, I ask Maria how she’s feeling. “Nervous!”, comes the response. She has no reason to be, I think; we’ve known each other for a long time and doing her job for even five minutes would turn me into a bundle of nerves. A product manager is a title that might not mean a lot outside of the tech industry, but it’s one of the hardest and most well-respected positions that takes a special set of qualities.

Maria’s certainly been collecting experiences for a while; she’s been at Unbabel a long time — in fact it’s been five years today, 14th July! Maria started out in finance, before slowly working her way towards community, first as a data analyst and then finally becoming our much-loved product manager in 2020. “I think this experience with number crunching really helped to craft my data senses — it helps you dissect problems so you can work towards a solution.”

So, what is it that Maria does? “Well, you’ve got to wear a lot of hats!” Maria tells me. “You need to know plenty about different areas without ever being the expert in the room. In a nutshell, a product manager is responsible for making sure the product, in this case the Unbabel platform, is moving to support the business. To do this, you have to lead a team of developers, designers, and specialists in various areas to try and rally them behind a vision and a goal. One of the reasons I ended up in community was because it’s a real challenge, creating an ecosystem for editors where they’re able to work, achieve, and grow — and I find it fascinating.”

But what really makes a person thrive as a product manager? “Curiosity is key,” Maria tells me. “You have to have this drive to investigate, to ask questions, and to be mindful that you’re going to be wrong 90% of the time. The curiosity isn’t just about discovering the problems, it’s working with your team to find solutions — that’s the trait that drives product managers. This actually affects the way you see the world — for example, when I’m taking the metro I’m constantly thinking about design flaws or how the experience for me, the user, could be improved.”

It occurs to me during our conversation that while I know how we process user feedback, it may not be so obvious to everyone reading. So I ask Maria an impromptu question: do you really take editor feedback into account? “Yes, absolutely. First of all, when we’re launching new features, we always test them with editors to make sure not just that they work, but to understand their feelings towards them. We have a whole process around collecting feedback from editors via the community managers, which is our main source of suggestions for improvements. A lot of the time it’s not related to what we’re working on, so we might not be able to take it on right away, but rest assured that it is looked into, we keep it close to us, and we document everything so we can come back to it later.”

So, now for the juicy details: what are the product team working on that our community can really start to get excited about? “Well, first of all we’re about to shake up how glossaries work. We know that this is a big pain point for lots of editors, and you can expect some big improvements very soon. The second thing that we’re expecting to work on in the near future is the task of formatting content. As we integrate Lingo24 into the Unbabel platform, there’s more and more different types of work to be done and this will mean more income streams for our community.”


As you’ll know by now, we always ask every interviewee to recommend a song, a book, and a film — and what they’d like to say to our community.

Song: Dreams by Fleetwood Mac

YouTube | Spotify | For the most curious: about this song

“It’s a bit of an older song, but it’s beautiful and dreamy like its name, and it’s got an interesting backstory as well.”

Book: Siddharta by Hermann Hesse

“This is a book my oldest cousin gave to me when I was a teenager, and in it he wrote I should read it at different stages of my life, saying each time I read it my understanding of it would grow and deeper. It’s a search for self-realisation, and I’d give our community the same advice as my cousin gave me.”

Film: Cinema Paradiso, dir. Giuseppe Tornatore

“It was really difficult to pick one but one that I really love is the Italian classic Cinema Paradiso. It’s an homage to cinema itself: it follows the story of a man remembering his childhood in a small town in Italy where cinema is a big thing. It’s a really beautifully told story about friendship and growing up — very moving with a great soundtrack.”

And finally, if you could say anything to the community, what would it be?

“Thank you for hanging in there, for contributing, voicing your opinions, it’s heartwarming and gratifying to see that people are so engaged with the product and want to see the product improving. Every time I speak with users it makes me more motivated to do my job, so thank you to everyone.”

Number cruncher to product mastermind: meet Maria was originally published in Unbabel Community on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.