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 (A day in the life of a product manager) 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
As 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.