This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Ridge Carpenter, a 36-year-old Amazon Halo product manager from Seattle, Washington, about how he turned his passion for fitness into a career. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Fitness has been an important outlet for me to deal with uncertainty throughout my career.
In 2008, I received my BFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I was nervous about what came next, so for a while I freelanced in illustration and worked as an entry-level model for print and runway. At the same time, I became a certified personal trainer in New York.
Working out was one of the productive things I enjoyed. I had an interest in training methodology, which came from a similar space that had drawn me to medical and anatomical illustration. By 2015, I’d moved back to Seattle, where I grew up, and shifted entirely to training.
I worked in a sports-medicine and athletic-performance facility, where I taught group and individual fitness classes. I also worked with patients, on the clinical side, as a strength and movement coach — adjunct to the rehab process. In 2017, I added more general-population training and worked with individuals and groups at a larger commercial gym. I wanted to know the “right way” to train (Spoiler: There are multiple right ways).
Eventually, a colleague and mentor referred me for a job as a fitness consultant at Amazon — which led me to my job today as a product manager at Amazon Halo.
My colleague couldn’t tell me much about the role, but I knew it dealt with my passion for fitness
I went through three interviews with my hiring manager and had to complete a sample task, where I was asked to talk through how I’d solve a given problem and label sample data, before being offered the role. I think beginner’s mind, which is loving to learn, and being ready to say “yes” to something new helped me get the job.
It wasn’t until my first day on the job that I found out I’d actually be working on Halo, Amazon’s fitness tracker that hadn’t launched yet. (At the time, Halo was confidential.) In 2018, I had a two-month contract to work 30 hours a week. That contract was extended to 11 months, but at the 10-month mark I was offered the opportunity to interview for a full-time role.
My title within the Halo organization was “fitness expert,” although more broadly, I was referred to as an “industry specialist.” Anyone with a fitness question would come to us fitness experts, from UX designers wondering about wording or information display to product managers who had questions about how a trainer would approach a given problem. We were knowledge resources, in short, even before showing up on camera.
I had zero promises of a full-time role when I started. In fact, I started with the presumption that I’d work as a contractor for a year or two at most. The opportunity to interview for a full-time role was a surprise, though it did come as a result of my willingness to lean all the way into my role and truly create the job I wanted. My full-time tenure started in April 2019.
Every day I’m working on something different
At the very beginning, I spent most of my time studying data for machine-learning algorithms. My days were often spent labeling data to estimate body fat percentages and teaching others how to do the same.
This was something completely new for me. I learned so many new skills, and I’m still learning. Product management has taught me to think differently and ask the right questions.
Now, as a product manager, I make sure the product team knows what to build based on our overall mission and strategy. I make sure we have a solid conviction on why we’re building it (and for whom) before collaborating with engineers, designers, and other teams. After launch, we look at the product’s performance and make further decisions to ensure we’re still offering the best product for our customers.
Previously, I was involved with processes that were a little farther on the development side, that customers didn’t directly interact with. The more I moved into new responsibilities, the more proximity I had to the customer’s experience.
One day, I’ll be working with a data scientist on logic for translating someone’s overhead-squat video into a series of scores, and how to ensure those scores are consistent and actionable in our app. The next day, I might be reviewing in-app text about that overhead-squat assessment with a UX designer to make sure it meets the bar for accuracy about how things actually work while still making sense to all reading levels.
I’m also heavily involved in the enhancement of newer features — like the Halo Movement Assessment, a personalized exercise program to help improve mobility, stability, and posture over time. I really enjoy being able to plan out a system like that in cooperation with researchers, applied scientists, and data analysts who can help strengthen and refine the fitness-end architecture.
I also get to spend one to 2 days a month outside the office shooting fitness content
During my days out of the office, I generally film a few classes and a dozen or so pieces of short-form video content that’s available for Halo app members.
I still love teaching, so it’s awesome to be able to wear both hats. I don’t currently have any personal-training clients (I stopped seeing my last few clients in the early days of the pandemic), though I’ve thought of bringing back a few — it’s fun to work with people directly and celebrate the wins as they come.
I occasionally put on my trainer hat while I’m working through a product challenge, testing users in a simulated training, or giving other collaborators a taste of the process. I sometimes get a chance to work as both a trainer and a product lead, doing live training and speaking sessions for the Halo team and external clients.
You should like something about your job if you want it to be sustainable in the long-term
If it’s all about getting through the day to get to the fun part of living, your job won’t satisfy you for long. I love that my job involves concepts and practices I’m excited about in a vibrant community of people who are excited about the same things.
The more you get from both work and life, the easier it should be to commit to balance. Do the work during the workday, so you can truly unplug outside of it.
Brandon Peters, a sleep expert who consults with Halo, recommends that we keep wakeful activities out of our bed to make sure we can sleep easily — in other words, carry the wakefulness “bucket” away from your bed and the sleep “bucket” to it by making sure your habits match the setting. Take a thorough cool-down after working out, a wind-down before bed, or spend time during your waking hours organizing your next day.
It’s the same way with work. I try to organize the following day before logging off at the end of work hours — this lets me unplug completely and removes loose ends I might otherwise be tempted to start focusing on. This reinforces the rhythm of coming in and out of wakefulness, where a lot of us blur the borders by working at bedtime or leaping straight into the day before we’re awake.
One piece of career advice I return to a lot is from a great coach. He said, ‘Show up, make a difference.’
In my work as a trainer, I always took this advice as guidance to do all I could to help my clients succeed, learn, and improve. With regard to Halo, that advice reminded me that I wasn’t there to fill a seat or to simply add my approval to every idea — I had a responsibility to contribute what I knew in order to make a product I’d be proud of.
I used to find it easier to escape notice and minimize my impression to avoid making a bad one. But committing to showing up means defining how you want to impact the world around you.
At work, this means committing to decisions, maybe taking risks, but ultimately contributing something genuine. Outside of work, it means being a genuine presence to your loved ones, whomever they are, and bringing something of yourself to their lives that’ll enrich them.