Tag Archives: MBA

“I Went For An MBA Because I Hate Coding”

binary-codeAsk any software engineer turned MBA student why he is in business school in India, and you will probably hear about his dislike of software development in his earlier role. This is especially true when the student is in his 20’s and studying in a 2-year, full-time MBA program. He has seen what the IT services industry has to offer, and is looking for something more.

So here’s a surprise for all young MBAs out there looking for jobs in the tech. industry. The best paying jobs, which occasionally include product management roles, require a significant amount of technical knowledge and close interaction with software developers. And this includes knowledge of software development, domain knowledge and familiarity with software engineering processes and technologies.

This knowledge is not important for doing code reviews or software QA, but for truly understanding the efforts required to build a product feature. It is also useful in rapid prototyping of features, building or validating UX designs, reviewing system architecture and so on. If a top-notch software engineer is rated a 9 or 10 in his knowledge of Java and SQL, you should reach at least a 5 (on a scale of 1 to 10) in those technologies. Otherwise you risk being shut out of design discussions and your UX and design contributions may be ignored.

You can become a product manager in India without software development expertise, only if you have significant post-MBA experience and strong domain knowledge. Otherwise, treat your programming books with respect and they will help you earn the programmer’s respect.

7 Tips for Fresh MBAs working as Offshore Product Managers

[Caution: long post]

Today, most business schools prefer candidates with some work experience, which is also useful during lateral placements. Hence you see an increasing number of candidates with exposure to IT services or software engineering joining these schools and completing their MBA. Post-MBA, it is inevitable that some of them will head towards product management during campus placements or shortly afterwards. This post is about the 7 things to focus on in your first year on the job, apart from working on PRDs or MRDs.

1. Build a rapport with program managers

In most offshore R&D centers, program managers play a key role in organizing projects, resources and schedules. Hence they know the resource costs and availability for any ongoing or upcoming project. And since engineering dominates decision-making in ODCs (offshore development centers), the program managers help to balance the engineering dominance.

2. Get customer exposure on a sales call

An enterprise sale is a complex process, involving dozens of people from different departments, and it typically has a long completion cycle. You must gain a first hand exposure to how this works, as this is the main source of revenue for the firm and for your product line. However, it can be difficult to gain a sales person’s attention, as he is always looking outwards for opportunities. As an incentive to sales folks to get them to talk to you, arrange a product demo or a feature presentation. If the demo is interesting enough, they will make sure that you get in front of the customer.

3. Gain the trust of engineering and service delivery managers

I have written previously about key stakeholders for offshore product managers. If you cannot get these people to trust you, you will never be able to drive product decisions, even with your supervisor’s help. And you cannot keep going to him all the time. One good technique to gain the engineering trust is the show them that you can deliver on the product requirements and are not simply there because of your MBA. Essentially, you need to prove yourself with every engineering resource, right from the VP to the intern.

4. Train yourself

If you are just coming out of b-school, with a few years of pre-MBA IT experience, you have NO relevant skills whatsoever. The people in the ODC do not care that you can prepare kick-ass powerpoint. Neither are they interested in the font, color or direction of arrows in you block diagram. You must focus on gaining survival skills, which today include, UI design using HTML, CSS and Javascript, UML and MS Visio usage, basic analytics, and programming skills in at least C++, Java or PHP. There is a lot more to gaining skills in multiple dimensions, and I will cover this in a future post.

Do not bother to go for a formal product management training yet. Without relevant experience, it will have very little value and you will forget most of it very soon.

5. Prepare for a change to your role/product within 12 months

In today’s connected, global economy, it is almost guaranteed that your first role will last no more than 12 months. The change could be due to external forces or internal restructuring (ODCs are very prone to this), but it will definitely happen. In the worst case, you might feel stagnating in your role, and you will yourself ask for or start looking out for a change. The best way to survive this is to shine in front of senior management, build a rapport with the US teams and network with HR and other support staff.

6. Connect with Solution Sales, Analytics, Customer Service Teams

This is probably the most important task that you can perform outside of self-training. To understand how the product is built, you need to sit with engineering teams. To understand how the product is sold, you need to work with sales teams. And if you really want to understand how the product is used, you need to work with solution sales, analytics and operations and customer service teams, who cover all real use cases that the product was designed for. And remember, you need to proactively seek them out and learn from them. As a fresher, it is expected that you will be learning all the time.

7. Network outside the firm

There are a lot of opportunities for networking in Bangalore, Hyderabad and all the other major tech. centers in India. You must go to these get-togethers (a few of them are listed in the resources section of the blog). It can be a lonely job, working as a product manager, with no outbound teams near you. Connecting with other people in similar situations is a good way to understand the challenges of an offshore product management role, and the different ways in which people are coping.

Summing Up

A product management role, even offshore, can be incredibly rewarding, but only if you take care of your first few years on the job. It is not for everyone, and you should make sure that you are still interested in it at the end of your first year. Else, as an MBA, it will be easy to find something else.

5 Reasons Why Product Managers Should Get An MBA

Product Manager with an MBALong story short, you should definitely do an MBA if you wish to grow your career in the field of product management in India. Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. The Network: If you get into a good, full-time MBA program at any of the top 10 colleges in India, you will become part of a ready network of alumni. Pretty much every large tech. firm in India has one or more IIM/ISB alumni working in a senior role today.
  2. The Knowledge and Skills: I have previously written about the challenges of becoming a one-dimensional product manager. Obtaining first-class training on marketing, strategy, finance and organizational design will have a huge impact on your ability to contribute effectively in many more dimensions. Additionally, strategy formulation, project management, statistical analysis, linear programming and soft skills such as negotiations, effective presentations  etc. are not necessarily learnt in IITs/NITs or on the job. Doing a full-time MBA forces you to practice these skills.
  3. The Job Interview: End of the day, everyone wants to be a part of a top notch product management team at a top organization such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, IBM or others. An MBA from a top college will make it easier to get your resume shortlisted, when you are starting your career. It will also open doors when you want to change jobs and you have the relevant work experience.
  4. The Safety Net during Recession: Ignoring the contempt about GOMBAs (Grossly Overpaid MBAs) and their lack of skills, the MBA is the preferred degree when you are laid off, in a recession or likely to face salary cuts. They have the most mobility within the organization and across companies and roles if facing involuntary movement from product management.
  5. The Confidence: Let’s face it, wearing the hat of a product manager every day while dealing with every department in the company can be daunting for most of us. Gaining admission to a top MBA program and surviving it will give you the edge when you are dealing with anyone in the workplace.

If you are not able to get into a top MBA program, it does not matter. There are still plenty of organizations where you can hone your skills and gain practical experience while looking for career growth opportunities.

A part-time MBA can also be useful, but I would be extremely cautious while evaluating the B-school, the maturity of the program and the subjects and quality of course work it offers. Do not join the program just because it’s cheap or because it allows you to work while you study.

Finally, if you graduated from an IIT, NIT or another top college, you can probably continue in your career without an MBA. But even then, you should consider a part-time MBA or a Masters in Technology for the skills and advanced knowledge they provide.

ABCs of Variable Pay – How Product Managers are underpaid in India

Indian_Rupee_symbolIn many companies in India today, variable pay is an important technique to reduce cash payouts (OpEx) during slowdown. It typically varies from 10-25% of your total compensation with 20% being the new norm today. The variable part depends on the company’s performance and occasionally, is also used as a performance management tool.
So why is this a big issue?

A. Accountability

In many offshore R&D centers, it is seen that the engineers do not have any variable pay, while Product Managers do. While engineers have no say over the product performance (and the firm’s performance), in R&D centers, the PMs do not have any control either. Hence, a 20% variable pay for an offshore Product Manager is definitely unfair to him. Additionally, sometimes the PMs quarterly payout is tied to the product release date, whereas in reality, the release is dependent on a host of issues, which can only be monitored by program managers. So docking performance pay for PMs when other managers get their full payout is not a good practice.

B. Benchmarking

A few IT services and startup (e-commerce) firms are notorious for using variable pay to pad up the CTC offered to prospective employees. It is only after joining that they find out that the notional variable pay on their offer letter is the high water mark, and typical payout is only about 50-75% of that. This automatically reduces the total compensation in comparison to other firms.

C. CTC or “Cost to Con”

In India, if a firm offers a large amount of stock options or has 20-25% variable pay, then it is very suspect behavior. It is likely that your tenure in the firm will be short and you will see neither variable pay nor stocks. Sadly, this is actually arranged by the senior management, in partnership with HR, to control costs. So the PM does not really get to see the full benefits of his efforts, while the firm claims to offer competitive compensation. The fact that they regularly churn product managers and have very few long timers is a clear indicator of this.

So how do you protect yourself from these? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Do your research

Sites such as Glassdoor offer insights into salaries and contain employee reviews. Keep adding your own experiences and review the content there before accepting a job offer.

2. Let firms compete for your talent

A Computer Science engineer from IIT Bombay told me last year that he had 7 offers to choose from before selecting a new job. While a PM’s bargaining power is limited, it always helps to shop around. And while an offshore PM role is lucrative, the growth options are severely limited.

3. Ignore the salary!

A PM in the Indian market can easily get noticed and get promoted/poached. I know a few people who started in product management (post MBA) at 5-6 lakhs and within 4-5 years reached 20 lakhs CTC per annum. They only extra effort they incurred was to promote themselves on social networks and learn the skills needed to rise up.

One Dimensional Product Management

If you began your career in software engineering before transitioning to product management, you are likely to fall into the trap of “one dimensional product management”.

What are the symptoms?
Well, the classic “one dimensional” product manager will have a strong rapport with the engineering team and weak relations with the other stakeholders. If he is an extrovert, he will be able to connect with the others but will fail to see the big picture. Finally, he will always answer every problem or requirement with a feature spec. whether its necessary or not.

This is a common problem in India, in offshore PM roles. If the newbie PM has worked in engineering teams for more than ~5 years, he will realize that his education and expertise is limited to solving engineering problems and defining business problems in the engineering space. He can then either go on the defensive, and attack people who question his expertise, or increase his skills. He can go for the “part time” MBA, which is a mushrooming industry in India (especially in Bangalore) to gain more perspective. Unfortunately, these courses do not really provide him the tools to solve cross-dimensional problems (pricing, solution design etc) or really understand the best way to resolve customer needs. Additionally, the pressure to provide work to the engineering team makes it an “easy out” to simply add features to the roadmap, throwing away all notions of Minimum Viable Product and promoting Feature Bloat.

So what’s the best case solution?
In the best case, the engineering-cum product manager must go out of his comfort zone and go for a full time MBA. Post MBA, he must move into customer facing roles for a couple of years, and then move back to product management. (He must not directly jump back into offshore PM roles, see my post on career killer). In the end, he will have lesser ability to work as an engineer (which is no longer relevant to him or his organization), but will have far more tools in his toolkit to be a very successful multi-dimensional product manager.