Meet Ezinne Udezue, Chief Product Officer at WP Engine

Ezinne Udezue

Ezinne Udezue is the Chief Product Officer at WP Engine.

In this piece, Ezinne talks to us about her career in technology, the challenges she has faced along the way and shares her biggest achievement.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am the Chief Product Officer at WP Engine leading product strategy and management across our WordPress technology brands and developer solutions. I’ve spent 24 years working in technology overseeing innovation, growth, and platform teams at Procore, Bazaarvoice, Time Inc, Discovery, and T-Mobile USA/Deutsche Telekom. Before joining WP Engine this year, I served as VP of Product at Procore Technologies where I was also the GM for the Owners Market Team, leading investments in scaling the company’s core software platform and ecosystem and growing our business unit focused on the Owner persona in construction.

On a personal level, I am an American, an Immigrant, originally from Nigeria; but I’ve now lived in the US for longer than I ever lived in Nigeria. I am a wife to another geek and product leader, a mother of two teens who think they are adults and serve my community as a startup mentor and board member to a couple of nonprofits.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have always been very deliberate in sketching out my career. Doesn’t always end the way I want but I believe in having a strong idea of what you want or are considering. I also believe in checking in with ones true self and ensuring that your desire from a year ago is still relevant. Early in my career I was very close to selecting a different career path entirely. I had planned to earn a doctorate in engineering but upon reflection realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. In the middle of that reflection, I discovered my love for product management and have never looked back.

Before deciding on taking the CPO role at WP Engine as my new path, I had weighed a few different options – CEO, VC or CPO. I was considering working as a CEO at a small startup, which I thought I’d enjoy having been a General Manager twice in my past. I also considered being a Venture Capitalist with one of the VCs in Menlo Park; based on my experience running an Angel fund currently.  The other option was to continue growing as a product manager and leader as a CPO.

I spoke to a few different people in a number of different roles to help inform my decision. I reached out to several VCs to understand what the life of a VC is like. I also looked for VCs who had been product leaders in the past. I also chose to speak to several CEOs that had come up through the product path for their perspective as well as Startup CEOs or founders who were now in Product to understand what they liked or disliked about the CEO or Product roles. After all the conversations I realized that my passion was deeply in product and shaping product strategy, scaling teams and coaching product managers was what gives me the most joy and fulfilment – so I wanted to spend more in that space and chose that path instead.

At WP Engine, Heather Brunner, our CEO and my manager, has a wonderful reputation as the CEO. So, in this role, I get to work on some really meaty product problems, shape a product led culture with a really amazing product team and partners – with the extra benefit of shadowing Heather and learning what it takes to lead at scale and like she does for whatever the next chapter of my career is.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Unfortunately, yes. As a person of colour, especially a female person of colour in the technology space—you’re never sure why you are facing the challenges you face—is it because of lack of faith in you as a person regardless of skin, colour, or gender; or is it because of a perception of gender or race. It’s definitely been challenging but I’ve had to do my best to step back separate it and try to understand what the source of the challenges are.

I feel really lucky that my foundational years were in Nigeria where I didn’t have to think of race or gender. What I’ve come to understand is that for some people, I will never be enough. And that’s okay, I can’t and won’t change those people. I’m just going to do my best work and move forward.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I feel really fortunate to have been the VP of product for a platform company that went public in 2021. While the job itself may not have seemed incredible to many, as a woman standing in that very technical role with the ability to influence and inspire many others, I hold this as a great achievement.  I have a handful of patents and have launched some killer products and features that millions have used with my work at T-Mobile, Discovery and Time Inc. However, …. the distance that I’ve run and it’s ability to inspire others to keep going and to run their distance is something that I took for granted for a very long time, but no longer do.

I used to think just do the work, heads down, and move on. But the more I put my head up and tell the story of my journey, the more I realise its ability to impact others. The impact I have on particularly underrepresented founders, women of colour, people of colour, people in the LGBTQ community really means a lot to me. I see how much my story to keep going, to be okay to push through and in some cases be “the first of many” inspires people and that is my biggest career achievement.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I truly believe that it’s been the people I’ve surrounded myself with. Being born and raised in a place where you were free to do and be anything with no questions asked, and no predetermined plans of becoming X or Y later in life allowed me to choose my own path. I also have to say that my husband has been a major supporter for me, he appreciates my drive and fire. He reminds me that there are heads of state younger than me who weren’t born into anything different than I was. Whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed, he’ll gently remind me that everyday people do great things, or achieve greatness and that I am able to do the same.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Be hungry, be resilient, and be humble. Be hungry to go for what you want and believe in yourself. Be resilient in knowing that you won’t always get the role or meet the goal but that you have to try again and again. Be humble, accept when you may not know the answers and ask questions, as this only makes you better.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Unfortunately, there are barriers and biases still existing for a number of reasons. I think people aren’t used to certain people taking up the space that they’re accustomed to others taking. We don’t see many women CTO’s or software leads and this can lead to certain biases and prejudices that even women can hold. I think there’s still a lot to be done to help eradicate these barriers that women are facing, and we need to address them head on. I think talking and naming them is really important.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Setting goals to have women in key roles and following through especially beyond recruiting to the offer stage is vital. Also, creating advocacy programs is something that I’ve seen work effectively. Advocacy programs do 3 things, it identifies that the company knows there’s a gap they want to close, mobilizes and equips would-be allies to drive and work towards the progress that the organization seeks and lastly it creates a bench of women on the ready and trusted those who would be in power to make decisions on career progression.  I also think having well-functioning ERGs is critical for ensuring organisations tackle these problems and support underrepresented/marginalized staff, whether they’re women, LGBTQ people, or those from different races. ERGs allow for the creation of awareness of bias, they often help with organization with the vocabulary to discuss hard things, the tools to address them AND they often create safe space for women or other groups to recharge and use that energy to challenge and support their entire organisation to be better. Simply having an ERG is not enough, the ERG needs to be recognized and supported by the executive leadership team to impact real change. By identifying bias and challenges, you can start to open a conversation, and when there is conversation, you can then begin to make progress.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

If I had a magic wand, I would create something called a ‘period of 100% grace’. This is how it would work—a woman would assume a new role that she and others may think is too big for her and she would get a period of 100% grace to learn on the job. We know that even the most senior people learn on the job – they’re googling stuff, talking to mentors, learning and figuring it all out. I just don’t think enough people give enough women the chance to take on roles that they haven’t seen women take on. Or they simply “aren’t sure” – whatever their reason (or bias) is.

I think that if I could uphold the grace period, women would be able to see themselves in those larger roles that they desire – performing well and hiring managers would be pleasantly surprised at the outcome breaking down some of the bias or predispositions to hire others like them.  Not sure how realistic it is – but it’s not realistic, but that’s what my magic wand would do.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’m a member of Chief a platform for female executives. I enjoy it because it’s really given me a network of people to talk to and ask questions. I love the Grace Hopper organization, I’m registered as a member and love all the information that they send, it reminds you you’re not alone in this journey. Finally, I believe in radical candor and encourage all leaders to read and practice Radical Candor. For Women in Product – the Women in Product community has been a great resource for me and has helped me build a strong network of work friends.