Career Change from Software IT to Product Management after MBA

For Software / IT engineers, a Product Management career after an MBA would be a good track to consider. If you’ve read our earlier posts on Product Manager Job Description and Product Management Syllabus in MBA, you may have seen the overlaps already.

In order to connect the dots better, we invited Vibhav Agarwal a former IT professional who successfully used his MBA in India to manage a career change into Product Management.


 

From an IT / Software career to Product Management after MBA

by Vibhav Agarwal

Product Management career after SoftwareAs I sat in my small apartment in Tokyo, filling out the ISB application, I was wondering whether having worked in IT for the last 4 years (2 of which were spent in grueling Japanese work environment!) was enough to set me apart.

Working on Enterprise Products from the start of my career, I think I had the advantage along with my good GMAT score (750+), but is that enough?

I read and re-read my essays to ensure that I am bringing out my aspiration of getting into Product management or Marketing after the MBA.
 

Product Manager vs Product Marketing

At the time of writing my MBA essays, if you ask me truly, I didn’t particularly believe in or knew what I was writing.

But today I do. I can say that essentially Product Management and Product Marketing are 2 sides of the same coin.

In simple terms a Product Manager prioritizes of next set of features to be built into the product and manages their development, quality and fit for the product.

The key skills required for a good Product manager today are Customer Empathy, UX thinking and managing rapidly changing requirement sets from customers and markets. A good Product Manager needs to be hands-on with Technology as much as he needs to obsess about customers.

Product Marketing Manager on the other hand, looks at how to position and sell the product in the market vis-à-vis competition. The key skills required for a good Product Marketer are customer empathy, great communication skills and strategic bent of mind. A good Product Marketing manager should be able to tell the prospect how this product will not only solve his current business problem, but also deliver sustained value.
 

How an MBA can help you get a Product Management career

An MBA degree from a good business school can really jump-start one’s career in Product Management and Marketing. There is of course the factor of credibility and academic qualifications which one automatically gets, but then there are a number of others.

The MBA program is designed to force every student to set his priorities right early on. Whether it’s the choice of wide variety of courses across Marketing, Finance and Strategy or the set of activities you want to participate in.

As I chose my courses and activities, my clarity of thought allowed me to focus on Marketing and Strategy courses and some interesting ones like ‘Technology and Business innovation’. But most importantly, MBA teaches ‘Structured Thinking’.
 

Life as a Product Management professional in India

As a Product Marketer, when I negotiate budgets with my top management for my products, the ability to present clear thinking on the future revenue, market impact, competitive positioning and brand value is paramount.

My Product Manager counterpart needs to do the same to show the marginal cost of getting a UX designer for his team vs. other teams or to show why his App needs to be ported to Windows 8.1 first.

The frameworks and 2 x 2 matrices which are cornerstone of almost all core courses in ISB themselves may not render to every situation Product people face in the marketplace, but sure enough aid in gaining clarity of thought among the menagerie of ideas floating around.

Today, as the Indian Startup market is exploding and finally the mindset focus is shifting from IT services to IT products, I think it’s the most exciting time for Product folks.

Whether its big companies like Amazon, Flipkart and Google or smaller startups, the opportunities are just awesome.

I choose to work in Info Edge (Naukri.com) after my MBA. As the company set a scorching pace in revenue and customer growth in the beginning of the broadband era in the country, I was tasked with designing or buying a product to managing the revenue and customers.

The end to end experience of identifying the key business requirements from the CXO level to the feet on the ground, understanding the nuances of online classified business model to devising the corporate strategy for disciplining the growth as the company went public was truly a rewarding one.

Having an MBA from an esteemed institution not only allowed me easy audience for my ideas but also ensured that I was able to provide the audience with a 360 degree view of the product which we were implementing.

As I have moved from Info Edge to my current organization, I realized the importance of my experience across IT and Product helps me in donning different hats while talking to prospects, understanding their perspective and empathizing with them.

Having grown from handling a single product to a whole product portfolio in my current role, I think MBA has helped me jump many queues.

My competency to communicate across a wide variety of audiences ranging from set of CXOs at business conferences to Gartner Analyst to my CXOs at business reviews and to present a cohesive set of ideas and their impact forcefully is one of the most important results of having had an MBA education.

While Porter’s five forces and Kotler’s 4Ps do not find any presence in my presentations and arguments, there is a definite influence and balance they have lent to my thinking on Product Marketing strategy.

Going back to that Tokyo Apartment and my essays, I realize that being in IT for the first few years and having had the experience of handling customer (a demanding Japanese customer at that!) prepared me well for my Product Marketing career as well as my MBA.
 

Tips to move from Software / IT to Product Management after MBA

Here are my top 4 takeaways those MBA aspirants from IT and software roles who want to make a career in Product Management and Product Marketing:
 

1. Understand the Big Picture

Today IT is well entrenched in Business strategy and the trend of Digitalization truly changing the way business is done. Think of impact of E-commerce or Smartphones.

As an IT person, you need to understand the impact your project or product is having on the organizational business strategy and bring that out in your essays as well as interviews with prospective employers.

Believe me! It’s not that hard, if you know the facts and think about the big picture.
 

2. Show customer empathy

Consumerization is one of the biggest buzzwords in the product marketing vocabulary today.

In the interview and essays, you need to provide examples where you have understood the customer and consumer requirements (yes those two are different!) and how you have acted on them within the product.

It’s a great way to provide business context to your work experience.
 

3. Focus on Business outcomes

We generally get caught up in the immediate and micro outcomes closer to our own work.

But as a good Product guy, you should be able to focus and bring out the business outcomes of his work.

Managing to bring it out in an emphatic manner will definitely give you an edge in your MBA Application as well as interviews.
 

4. Showcasing great people connect

Too many times, IT folks are only focusing on their work experience and outcomes, but MBA is also about ability to communicate and make an impact.

Showcasing the competency of influencing people within your teams and outside your work is a big differentiator for getting into MBA and as well as Product role.

It’s a hard task, but one that will truly make a difference to your application.
 


Vibhav has helped many MBA applicants (including those with low GMAT scores and low GPA) get into several prestigious business schools across the world. Here are some of those MBA success stories:
Second MBA from CEIBS (China) vs ISB (India) vs SDA Bocconi (Italy) vs CUHK (Hong Kong)
EDHEC MBA with 40% scholarship despite low 650 GMAT score
ISB PGPpro Review: Why I selected a Part-time, Weekend Executive MBA

Learn more about:
Technology industry in India and abroad.
Career options in Information Technology


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MG (Manish Gupta)
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Linkedin, Facebook or Email: mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

10 Comments

  1. Deepa says:

    Hi,

    I have completed my BE in electronics and communication. And have 7 years of experience in testing field. Now I am thinking to do MBA in textile. How feasible it will be if i change to textile.

    Thanks,
    Deepa

    • Vibhav says:

      Hi Deepa,
      MBA in Textile Management is a specialized field. In my opinion, if you are contemplating the same, your previous engg. and testing experience would need to be distilled very carefully to illustrate the key qualities required to excel in Textile Management. This will include focusing on softer aspects of the experience, teamwork etc. But just to understand, I would like to know more about the reason you would to change into a completely diverse field after 9 years of experience.

  2. Anony says:

    Hi,

    I am vacillating between options about my career path here and need some perspective. I am 8.5 years experienced IT professional and wants to pursue MBA from abroad but I am not sure how logical it is. My options are:

    1) I can prepare for the examination and get into a good business school. But, the fees is too high and it would take me 4 years to repay the loan. So basically, it would be like no income for next 5 years.

    2) I can get my H1B visa filed and work in USA. And then go for PMP certification which will help me get the managerial roles. This is the cheapest option but I am not sure if it is a good idea for long term.

    3) I can get into any random business school. As you know there are many schools which does not even ask for scores and offer the degree. Plus, there are very cheap in terms of cost. But in this case, the degree would be just a tag and I would be stuck in technical job.

    4) Or just go for a world tour with the savings ( I know it sounds too dreamy and impractical but just considering it too.) I hope it would shine on resume as good as MBA.

    Your opinion matters to me. Please suggest.

  3. Vibhav says:

    Dear Anony,
    The short answer to your question is that all four options are feasible and awesome in themselves. In my opinion, the question that can help you choose the option is to think about how do you see yourself 7 years from now. A clear answer to that question will help you prioritize the need for an MBA and the kind of school you will need to do it from. The cost factor is a short term thing and should not be a hindrance in your decision making process. MBA has clear long term benefits from a career and personality perspective and the cost and loan elements should not deter you to getting those.

  4. Ro1 says:

    Dear Vibhav,

    I am Btech graduate having 4 years of Experience in Manufacturing industry- No growth economically and , which includes extensive travelling.

    I want to switch to Software development in IT industry or Mechanical Product design,- I am still in confusion as

    IT give- Good enumeration in short Span

    Mechanical product design – gives Less pay than IT, but its safe.

    Can it be possible to Switch over, through courses for the same? and Which career I should choose?
    Kindly Guide.

  5. Amit Rao says:

    Hi Vibhav,

    I am one of those who are confused about their career after spending 10 years in the IT field. I Worked in IT Support Wintel Platform for the past 10 years and realized I am on wrong path. I questioned myself many times and realized the reason I am looking to switch is little work life balance.

    If I talk about my current role. I am into IT System Administration (Virtualization) Support from past 10 Years. I am earning good money but the biggest challenge is Shifts. Due to job type and support model (24×7) I have to work in odd shifts which is personally affecting my personal and social life. Honestly I wants to get out of this and wants to switch my career from IT Support to Some Software development/Support especially to get rid of odd shifts.

    I have done 3 Years Engineering Diploma in Computer Science & Engineering and Arts Graduate (Part Time).

    Can you suggest me the best possible option for me to get rid of odd shifts ? and what all I need to do to achieve this ?

    Regards,
    Amit Rao

  6. Kisalay says:

    Hi Vibhav,

    Thanks for the article . Being an IT professional like you were, I can relate to what you have articulated.
    I am B.E in mechanical and have 7+ years experience in IT sector . I am working as project lead in one of the MNCs . I want to get into 1 year MBA and move into Presales . Being a typical IIM ( Indian IT Male ) , I understand that my profile is very generic and its difficult to get into to Top colleges. Can you please give me an advice on what would really give my profile/application a boost so as to get into top colleges/

    Regards,
    Kisalay

  7. Varun B says:

    Hi Manish,

    I have 5.5+ years experience working in the indian IT industry and I am currently employed with a big four MNC as a senior technology consultant. My professional experience includes delivering large-scale end to end SAP implementation and support projects. I have also had the opportunity and experience of working onsite at a large MNC client location(India) for a period of over 3 years. I have been involved with team building, recruitment activities and also have an experience with leading a team of up to 5 individuals. My primary experience is with Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Healthcare Insurance Payer and Retail clients.
    I plan to diversify my profile by venturing in to pre-sales and other client engagement activities, hence, the MBA. With one month of dedicated preparation, recently I gave my gmat and scored a 640 (q46, v33). I was scoring in the early 600s in the mocks and was quite satisfied to see an improved score only to know it’s never enough in India. I am very much interested in the pgpm course at sp jain. Their brochure mentions an average gmat score of 680.

    I am not confident whether another shot at gmat would be any better for me. Hence I wanted to know if my profile is strong enough to be considered for pgpm. If not, I still have time before the admissions begin in July. So would like to know if I could do something to improve my profile.

    My acads are average / consistent with 82% in SSC, 86% in HSC, 71% in BE ( 76% in the final year ).

    Kindly advice.

  8. Atul Manup says:

    Hi,
    I have completed my B.Pharm and then did MBA from Goa Institute of Management in 2013. I have 3 years of work experiance in FMCG company as a Brand Manager.

    I want to shift to USA/Canada. In order to support this endeavor i am planning to do second MBA from reputed B schools in these countries. Kindly suggest me that is this decision of doing second MBA correct ?
    I have also shortlisted Master of International Business from Queens University, Smith School of Business, Canada.. Kindly throw some light for this program ?

  9. Chandramauleshwar says:

    Hi i did engineering in ece branch and have 2 urs work exp in softwate testing but i was promoted to Assistant Manager in Indiamart(b2b) company and i was looking to go for Mba is it ideal for me or should i stick to technical and then go for mba?

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