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A Penn Law alum brings “Moments” to Twitter

January 11, 2016

Twitter has around 320 million users monthly, and the person shepherding the social network’s newest feature, Moments, into the world is Madhu Muthukumar L’09. Muthukumar is Moments’ product manager, which means that he has been responsible for building and running the team that created the platform.

Traditionally, he explained, a Twitter user has to build out what he calls a “social graph” — a network created by following other accounts based on the user’s particular interests.

Sometimes, though, people either don’t want to create that graph or don’t know how do effectively do it. Moments, Muthukumar said, allows users to have access to interesting content immediately from the moment they sign on to Twitter. It instantly gives users an easily accessible portrait of what’s going on in their country.

Twitter’s search functions, coupled with curation teams around the world, allow Moments to create sketches of what’s happening on any given day. “The goal isn’t to find every single tweet, or every single trend, or reflect every single conversation on the platform,” said Muthukumar, “It’s to find little snippets and highlights that might be interesting to wide audiences.”

But it’s not just Twitter that’s using Moments to create content for its users, Muthukumar said. The company has opened up the tools to build these “moments” to over 40 partners, including BuzzFeed, The Economist, Sports Illustrated, and the Washington Post.

“The fun of this is going to be when more people can create these,” Muthukumar noted, “and almost anyone can stitch together content from all around the world to tell their story.”

Before he became involved with one of the world’s largest social networks, Muthukumar nurtured his interest in technology by taking intellectual property courses at Penn Law and by earning a certificate in business economics and public policy from the Wharton School. He spent his summers working doing bankruptcy law at law firms, and he realized that he wanted to work more closely on the business side of things. He followed that passion, and after graduation he worked for four years as a consultant for McKinsey & Company, based out of the firm’s New York and Johannesburg offices.

During that time he worked with technology and media companies, on everything from infrastructure investments to content decisions, but during his last few years at McKinsey, he focused particularly on product development.

After leaving the firm in 2013, Muthukumar took up a short residency at a startup accelerator in New York called TechStars, and after four months he was hired by Twitter in a product and operations role. Shortly after, he became the product manager for the Moments project.

Muthukumar credits the rigor of his legal education with helping him develop the skills necessary to succeed in business. The product manager is the “glue of the team,” he explained. At Twitter, he works closely with engineers and designers, as well as communications and business development staff.

“As a product manager, your job is to make a lot of decisions, but it’s more than anything to convince people of the ideas and beliefs that you have and to advocate on the side of the users — the people who ultimately, at the end of the day, will either like or not like the product.”

That kind of advocacy is very similar to the skills needed in lawyering, he said. A product manager needs to be able to conduct thorough, diligent research about the how users are engaging with the product. On top of that, he or she needs to be able to build a case with both data and intuition — to internal and external audiences — about why people should use the product.

Finally, Muthukumar noted, a good manager must keep the momentum going on a project, while at the same time constantly challenging the basic assumptions of the product every time a new iteration is rolled out.

Those very skills were the ones he learned during his time at Penn Law, he said. And he’s surprised that more people don’t realize how applicable a legal education is outside of traditional legal careers.

“The interesting connection that people fail to build between law school and non-legal jobs is that the training it gives you is surprisingly robust,” Muthukumar said.

“One of the things that I think law students themselves either don’t believe strongly enough, or don’t believe at all,” he added, “is the fact that a legal education prepares you really well for other things.”

Muthukumar noted the value of an MBA for anyone interested in working in business, but for him, the path he chose was the right one. If given the chance to do things over again, he said, “I would still get a JD every time.”