Sidebench Talent Spotlight: Maxine Baghdadi
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I was born in Germany, my family is half Lebanese but I grew up in Dubai. They have been there for over 25 years now, before the city was really mapped by the rest of the world. While many see it for its largest mall and tallest tower, I really see Dubai as a place of community. It’s one that brings together people from all over the world, with completely different backgrounds and different cultures. Being a third culture kid is not uncommon there and that is what gives Dubai its charm.
Outside of work, what are you irrationally passionate about?
Tennis and Music. I’m not talented in either but the two have really shaped the relationships that I have with others and some of the values that I live by.
I started off watching tennis as a way to connect with my aunt when I was younger. She took me to the tennis courts in her neighbourhood and I would watch as she and her many friends played. I slowly realized that the sport was one that required discipline but sportsmanship. It was fun but it was challenging. It created art in a space of regulation. It brought people together and that’s what I love about it until today.
Music was a shared love between me, my mom and my sister. We’d listen in the car every morning and argue over whose turn it was to play music because “Oh you would love this song!” It was a way that we connect through sound, through lyrics, through art. I still have songs that I consider to be “ours’’ because those were the songs that really brought us together. Today, I’ve carried on that passion for music into a passion for playlists for others. It sounds odd to have that as a passion but I use playlists as a way to connect with my friends, my coworkers, and family.
It’s rather common that PMs have uncommon paths into the discipline. Walk us through the process that you went through to get into Product.
During my freshman year summer, I interned at an agency as an Analytics intern. I loved the work I was doing and was certain that was the field I was going to move into. While at the agency, I had the opportunity to shadow every team and I soon came across the product team. I loved it and from there invested a lot of time learning more about the discipline. I started reading the classics (Ken Norton’s blog, Marty Cagan’s “Inspire”, etc) but thought that I was not yet qualified for the role and required experience before moving into it. Two years later, during my recruiting process for my marketing internship, my recruiter actually asked if I would be interested in switching from the marketing to product internship. Every role of mine since then has been in product!
We talk a lot about our jobs being the opportunity to imagine the future and then make it real. What vision do you have for the future and want to make real?
While I cannot pinpoint one specific thing, my vision merges creativity and technology. How do we build creative solutions that use advanced technology to make the world a better place? The question is difficult but it’s one that when applied to every area can significantly change, empower and elevate those around us and help create a sustainable world for us to continue to live in. I hope to continue asking myself this question in all areas of my life and hope to work with others so that the solutions we build really do make a difference.
Not everything we do works and that’s okay. We learn from those things. What is the least successful product or project you’ve contributed to and what did you learn? (No need to mention real names if it’s an issue)
One of the least successful projects I ever completed was at college during my freshman year. There was a reading analysis assignment for my writing seminar that had very vague instructions. I wasn’t quite sure what to do and I avoided asking questions as I was still getting acclimated to the academic culture and environment. I really took it on myself to figure out what the professor was looking for. At the end, I saw that wrongly focused my analysis and that was largely due to a misunderstanding of the prompt. From there on out, I really prioritized making it to professors’ office hours and asking as many questions as I could before any assignment.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?” (Borrowed from Tim Ferris’ “Tribe of Mentors”)
Writing my senior thesis at college came with a lot of failures before I was able to find success.
For my thesis, I was analyzing the relationship between the legal origins of every country and their respective effectiveness of pandemic policy on COVID-19 Outcomes. Based on the literature that I had read, legal origins significantly impacted the results of numerous policies. I knew it was possible that my thesis would find no significance in the relationship. However, I wanted to make sure that I included the right variables and had a significant R2 (the statistical measure that represents the proportion of variance of a dependent variable explained by the independent variables in the model). So even if I didn’t find a statistically significant relationship, I wanted to ensure that I included enough variables to calculate a significant R2 .
Building the actual statistical model and finding the right variables to include for this required a lot of trial and error and I almost gave up on the subject entirely. I ran about 60 statistically insignificant models with a low R2. I was unable to understand why I wasn’t achieving that high R2. My reader encouraged me to keep going and to reach out to scholars in the field. After numerous more failed models, I was able to find one with significance. My failure to find that model led me to reaching out to other scholars and it was only then that I was able to build a successful model. I’ve really taken that experience as a way to remind myself to always work with others — it is the greatest way of finding success.
What’s been the most exciting part about joining Sidebench so far?
Meeting the team! It is so exciting to engage with brilliant individuals who are so passionate about what they do, so curious to push their roles beyond their written responsibilities and so open to learning with and from others. It’s clear that each person brings a different perspective to the table and leads with a different sense of purpose. That’s what makes the team unique and, ultimately, very successful.
We love to find people that ADD to our culture vs fit into our existing culture. What are some cultural aspects that you’ve experienced that you hope to bring with you?
I would love to create a culture that really encourages community service. I know that many often want to engage in some form of community service but find themselves so busy that it’s hard to prioritize doing so. If we create a channel and invite people to really discuss more of what they want to do, it could really encourage them to do so and create opportunities for people to come together to do it. There’s no strict definition to what that entails nor would I hope to force anyone into it but I’d love for there to be a community that pursues that.
Describe your super power or describe what unique skill/perspective you bring to the team here.
Having worked in numerous different roles (teaching, analytics, research, and product), I really think I’m able to ask questions from different lenses that help broaden the understanding of any project we’re working on. It’s one thing to narrow in to every project from a product perspective, but if you loop in the questions I used to use in my other roles, I really think we’ll be able to expand our thinking and approach to all client work.
Also, I’m really good at getting songs stuck in people’s heads.
What skill, practice, behavior, hobby or habits are you currently working on?
I love learning more languages and think it’s a really great way to connect with more people from different countries and different cultures. I’ve just enrolled myself at the Goethe School in Chicago to learn German and am hoping to continue that for a while to gain more fluency.