Before business school, I studied electrical engineering, and spent several years as an engineer. While I enjoyed the aspect of designing new things and flexing my creativity, I often looked at the projects I was working on and had questions about the decision process, how my products were being marketed, or even general corporate decisions that affected me as an employee. Particularly in my first job in aerospace, I was often given marching orders to create without much context for security reasons, which made the “why” start to grow just as enticing to solve as the “how.” This made me consider the next step, and I began to explore what an MBA meant for me even just a year out of engineering grad school.
After an industry change into medical devices, I was given more managerial roles over projects with teams, and I was able to gain more insight and involvement in our marketing decisions and product strategy. I was able to work on a software project to develop an iOS app as a psuedo product manager, which rekindled my interest in business school. I wanted a path to move into product management full-time but with a strong toolkit to hit the ground running. As a result, I started studying for my GMATs, researching programs, gathering my stories, and planning my path to b-school.
I was in a constant be-productive-at-all-times mode even prior to starting the application process, and there were a few things I was involved in as a result. Although I was a hardware engineer, I had a web entrepreneurial background during the dot-com boom (lookup the “Pokemon Abode”), and I kept my web development side-skills sharp by building websites for small businesses. I also started a passion project to create a social network for marathon runners, which didn’t quite get off the ground but kept me learning web development frameworks. I was living in San Francisco and knew I wanted to get into the software tech scene, so I kept building those skills just in case I needed a contingency plan. I also was in the first cohort of Harvard Business School’s “HBX CORe” pre-MBA online program, which was a 10-week course designed for their incoming MBAs to go over the basics of economics, accounting, and analytics. As it was new at the time, it was a common question of interest during my business school interviews.
Aside from web projects and side classes, I also volunteered at the San Francisco Chinatown YMCA as a youth mentor, where we were paired with a single at-risk youth for a year to help foster their growth and guide them through stages of life. I had been fortunate to have known strong role models and mentors growing up in the Bay Area, and I wanted to provide that kind of foundation for someone as much as I could.
I have always lamented at how mediocre I am at standardized tests, and so my path to a GMAT score of 710 was not a fun one. I started dedicated, serious studying about 4 months before my first test, and I would dedicate 2-3 hours per night after work to do the Manhattan GMAT course syllabus and practice tests. Ironically, as an engineer I found the harder part of the test to be the multitude of quant strategies, while the logicality of the verbal test made it fairly smooth for me. I would drill myself on quant questions, use diagnostics to understand my weak points, and continue to drill, drill, drill until I felt like I was dreaming of quant problems.
My first pass at the exam didn’t go well - I am a night owl, but I scheduled my test for 8AM in Oakland, about 30 minutes from my apartment by bus/train. I loaded up on coffee beforehand, got to the exam center just in time, and got jittery and stuck in my head during the exam. When you’re not in your zone, it’s easy to get tripped up or stuck, and that’s exactly what happened to me. It got to the point where I had to rush through the last few problems of quant as I was running out of time. The result was poor - let’s just say I wasn’t going to even try to apply to my target programs with that.
I developed a better strategy to look at the specific problem areas I was having issues with in quant, and did a more focused effort to improve those, utilizing my CAT reports from the Manhattan GMAT books to really understand concepts I was missing. I also realized it was more a game of pattern recognition than pure quant strength, so I tried to determine my best strategies to start each type of quant problem and intuitively know an approach just by looking at the problem type.
I scheduled the second test for 2 months later, and did it at 4PM at a test center near my office. My reasoning? I wanted to have my brain already functioning, closer to my peak time of productivity, and to feel less anxiety going in. I planned a light day at work, but one that required my attention most of the day. It went by fast, and I went to the test center I jumped right in. My mindset was better, and combined with a more targeted approach at studying, I came out with a satisfactory 710. I felt I could have done better, but I was over it - I’ll let the rest of my app shine, right?
I wrote more about my GMAT experience here
I applied to 5 programs in CA and NYC:
I also had some other schools on my Round 1 list (Stanford GSB, Wharton, CMU Tepper) but I realized I wasn’t going to build quality applications spreading myself that thin, so I ruled them out.
For the schools I ultimately applied to, I did campus visits, coffee chats, and admissions days for all of them. Each of them did some form of MBA Tour-type session in San Francisco, which made it easy to talk to admissions and current students who were interning in the Bay Area that summer.
For Anderson and Haas it was easy to go to an on-campus info session, which was helpful, and for Anderson I was able to get a handful of student contacts who actually guided me through their application process simply out of their own generosity.
For the New York schools, I planned my own “super day” where I scheduled visits to Cornell Tech in the morning, followed by CBS and Stern in the afternoon. Cornell Tech was still building awareness of their program so they gave me a 1:1 tour and chat with their main admissions director, which was a great experience. CBS was a quick info session and student chat, while Stern gave a campus tour followed by admissions and student panels.
These visits were where I got the best feel of each school. I did plenty of internet research through each schools’ sites, MBA sites, GMAT Club, etc. but it was definitely getting out there and talking to admissions, students and alumni that best informed my impressions of each program.
I was accepted into Cornell Tech with a 50% scholarship, UCLA Anderson without a scholarship, and was waitlisted for NYU Stern. Unfortunately I didn’t get interviews with CBS or Haas, but I was satisfied with the choices in front of me. Despite the shorter program length and scholarship from Cornell Tech, when I got my acceptance to Anderson I knew my heart was still in California. I particularly thought about where I wanted to end up working after business school, and didn’t see myself staying in New York. In addition, my significant other (and now future spouse) was living in LA, which made me realize my priorities fairly quick. I used my Cornell Tech offer to negotiate a scholarship from Anderson, and I submitted my deposit sometime in January, around 1-2 months after Round 1 results.
Name is part of it, but it isn’t everything. I say this as someone who went to a Top-15 school, but given where I am working now at Adobe, people have come here from a multitude of business schools in the same roles - product managers, product marketing managers, strategy and rotators - and they’re all amazing at what they do. What’s very important is if the school’s culture resonates with you. You’re going to spend 2 years with the program, with the same people in the same classes, and you want to make sure you’re in a culture and cohort that fits your style.
The first couple weeks were quite crazy. We started with a full week of summer “orientation” where we were split into our 70-people sections, did a ropes course, condensed courses, and familiarizing with our class. Then we did a shortened 5-week summer session of our first two classes, statistics and organizational behavior. During this we spend every other day doing class events (formal and informal), going out, hiking, hitting the social scene, and going to the beach. It was a nonstop primer for what the next 2 years were going to be like, without the stress of job hunting. There was also a constant pressure to meet everyone and remember everyone’s details; with a class of 360, it was just small enough to feasibly meet everyone. But just like any large social situation, pockets and cliques can form, so it did feel like you had to find your groove pretty quickly with your classmates.
Besides our summer session, first quarter was probably the only time people stressed out about grades and our classes. We hadn’t yet hit full-scale recruiting efforts and internship applications, but we were going through recruiting training. At the time, Anderson did not have grade non-disclosure (which it does now), so grades were important, especially for those going into finance and consulting. Our professors were overall pretty great. My favorite was our Marketing Management professor, Hal Hershfield. Having little exposure to marketing as an engineer, I felt he did a great job teaching us the basics of marketing, the psychology of it, and keeping the class engaged through anecdotes, examples and surprises.
In one particular class, we went over a case about Lawry’s attempting to launch a competing product to A1 Steak Sauce. We did an in-depth analysis on the case as a class, and then towards the end of the lecture he began to go on what seemed like a random tangent about his and his wife’s first date. At some point he mentioned they had a debate about steak sauce, and he came to realize that his date’s father was the President of Lawry’s. At the point, he motioned to a man observing in the back of the room and introduced his father-in-law, the former president of Lawry’s! We were surprised, and he came down and gave a 15 minute talk on his experience living through the details that case, his decision process and his learnings. It was quite a special moment and something that made me love the class and Anderson’s faculty.
Knowing that I was going into technology and product management, the first club I joined was the Anderson Tech Business Association, or AnderTech. It’s the largest student organization on campus, which shows just how big tech has grown as a strength and speciality at Anderson. It seemed like a scramble to get an early leadership role to put on my newly revised resume, and though many people wanted one, I didn’t secure one. I was told not to worry and that it really wouldn’t impact anything - which was correct. I still stayed involved in the club, helping organize tech interview prep sessions and other events, and took a leadership role my 2nd year as a result to help organize our 1st-year career day where we brought in several tech companies for roundtable discussions.
I also joined a cultural club, the Asian Management Students Association, to connect with those with a similar cultural background to me. We had several events centered around social, cultural and professional development that helped us bond together and gave a good overall experience, and I took a leadership role in the club my 2nd year as well.
The biggest initiative I got involved in at school was the Easton Technology Management Center, where I was selected as an Easton Technology Fellow to help further Anderson’s initiatives in tech education and our relationship with the tech industry. With Professor Terry Kramer leading the Easton Center, it’s got a great force behind it built on his expertise and our student initiatives to strengthen Anderson’s technology resources.
Being an outwardly social person, and having practiced it a lot while applying to business school at info sessions, I found the aspect of networking fairly easy to approach. Our school spent a lot of time helping coach us as well, since not everyone feels at home talking spontaneously to others in a professional environment. Learning about networking “circles of death” and proper etiquette to include your classmates and share opportunities were stressed fairly strongly, so I felt everyone had a good idea about how to join in-person networking circles and gracefully exit. Reaching out to others for informational calls was something our career center covered extensively as well, both with 2nd years and alumni. The amount of time and structure that our Parker Career Center put into learning the different aspects of networking showed us why they were so highly ranked - everyone was well-versed by the 2nd month of our program.
My recruiting experience was, as it is for many people, a rollercoaster. I have to always make the point that some people will just be either a) damn good or b) very lucky and snag their top choice right out of the gate. But some people will take a few weeks or months, and some may not get something they want until right before the summer hits. Our program stressed to be prepared for that. I got interviews with many of my top big-tech firms (Amazon, Google, Intel), but also some heartbreak non-invites (looking at you, Adobe!) during our first on-campus application round. Ultimately, I didn’t get what I wanted from those rounds, but the following month I was interviewing for a couple other companies and was given an offer for Juniper Networks in Sunnyvale. Being a hardware engineer, I understood the industry a bit more and saw an opportunity in the role and project they were offering to make it into my own. I eventually accepted the offer, but that wasn’t without some drama of pushing other companies to make decisions at the last minute or having to turn down interview requests after I had signed my offer. In the end, I believe it was a combination of interest in the role, prospect of the location back in the Bay, and wanting to be done with internship recruiting that made me pick Juniper.
It’s going to be rough, in one way or another. You’re competing with thousands of other MBAs trying for similar roles - if you’re in a high-demand field like banking, consulting, or (now) product management, that’s going to be even more impacted. As a result, not everyone will get their first, or second, pick. But your internship will ultimately be more of what you make of it than where you did it, in my opinion.
I always give this advice, and I am very adamant about it, but it depends on your opportunities and how you want to spend your time during business school. I think meaningful academic internships are extremely valuable, especially if you are fairly confident in what role you want to do going forward. For me, I knew I wanted to do product management, without a doubt. As a result, during my 1st and 2nd years I found academic internships in product management at local tech start-ups in LA to help build my PM skillset.
During my 1st year, I worked at a company called TeleSign, doing product strategy, feature analysis, and pricing models for a 2-factor authentication start-up. My manager was an Anderson alum and he came to campus looking for an intern, so I spent January through June working there between 15-25 hours a week with a good PM mentor. I did the same during my 2nd year at a company called ChowNow, a restaurant-ordering platform. I made the opportunity through my personal network, and they hired me on as a PM intern to help develop UX features and website migrations, working with engineering and marketing. I ended up working there for 9 months, even after graduating, right up until I started at Adobe, because I was continually learning more about how to be a better PM.
So like I said, it depends on how you want to spend your time and what opportunities you have, but it can be argued that I got more out of my part-time academic internships than I did with even my summer internship. If you can, and want to, definitely explore that avenue.
Besides that, enjoy the social aspect of b-school, and have fun because this is your last 2-year stretch of unstructured time before going back into the working world! And travel the world at every opportunity.
I was a product manager in their public cloud unit, dealing with product integrations and strategic partnerships. My role was to to do a broad landscape of the public cloud space (Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure) and to do a product feature-gap analysis with Juniper’s existing cloud networking products, and how we could partner with start-ups and other companies to fill those gaps. This involved doing internal and customer interviews to gather pain points, industry analyses to understand where our roadmap should go, and going out to an AWS conference to start partnership discussions. The end deliverable of my internship was a concrete roadmap for where Juniper’s products should expand in the next year, through a combination of partnerships, strategic start-up acquisitions, and product feature enhancements.
I’ll answer the question to include all three internships I did. The main takeaway I got, from working between two mid-size startups and an enterprise company, was that the definition of “product management” truly does change completely depending where you work.
At TeleSign and Juniper, it was more of a strategic role to understand product strategy, the broader impact of decisions, and managing external relationships with customers and partners. This helped me realize my enthusiasm to get out into the field and talk to those using our products - and how to apply Clayton Christensen’s “Jobs to be Done” theory to parlay that feedback into future product requirements. While I was at TeleSign, they were acquired by a large telecom company, so I was able to see how company goals and product KPIs transition from a growth focus to a value focus.
My internship at ChowNow offered me a closer working role with engineering, design and marketing, and was much more product feature-focused. The Product, Design and Marketing groups all sat in the same area and were constantly in discussions with each other, making for a great collaborating experience to learn in. I was able to head a project to migrate our website to a new domain, as well as perform UX feature development and build wireframes for new features as a result. This aligned more closely with what I saw was the ‘typical’ view of software product management roles, and I thoroughly enjoyed and saw value in the smaller size of the company and closeness of all the disciplines working in close proximity.
These experiences helped shape my view of what I wanted from a product management role - highly collaborative, staying product- and feature-focused, working closer with engineers, but still being able to keep a pulse on product strategy.
Remember two things: 1) 10 weeks is a short period of time, and 2) keep those bullet points in mind. You have 2-3 months to make an impact with whatever project you’re given, and you want to be able to show that when you update your resume. Particularly if you’re pivoting or switching careers, you’re going to want to show that you made big steps towards that switch and demonstrating your ability to learn more. Keep a log of what you’re working on, what you’ve done and what you want to do to make inventorying your stories easier. Since you’re an intern, you likely have a bigger safety net for errors, but you also want to take on a good challenge. Make sure that your manager has scoped out a clear role for you, and if it’s unclear, take the time to sit with them and determine what you want to get out of it, what kind of impact you want to have, and what options are available to you to achieve those goals. If you’re dead-set on returning to that company for full-time after internship, then of course work hard on building your relationships there and cementing your importance to your team so they will have no choice but to give you a return offer. But overall, remember that this is a short engagement and you want to come out with some strong bullets you can point to to represent your experience.
What would you say are the major differences between life as a first year and life as a second year?
First year was all about learning to recruit, attending every single social event that was offered, finding an internship, and doing well in my core classes. For me, that FOMO drive to do everything and be involved in everything abated quite significantly after I returned from the summer. I knew the clubs and initiatives I truly cared about, those people who I was closest with, and how I really wanted to spend my time. As a result, I still went out and did things with my class, but was more selective on the things I dedicated my time (and money!) to. I also was very focused on full-time recruiting in the beginning, as I wanted to work in different industry and role than what my summer internship had been. Fortunately, my full-time recruiting wrapped up after November and I felt that the rest of my time at Anderson was to relax a bit, take classes I was interested in, dedicate my full attention to my MBA capstone project in Kenya, learn more PM skills at ChowNow, and think about my next phases in life.
My absolute favorite elective was Technology Management with Professor Terry Kramer. It covers strategic cases from the technology industry, spanning the last decade or two, ranging from Samsung’s TV dominance, to Netflix vs Blockbuster, to Lyft and ridesharing in Austin. Prof. Kramer is very well-connected through his extensive career in telecom, start-up advisory, and as a US Ambassador. As an HBS grad, he taught every class in the case method format, and brought in high-profile speakers in the tech industry each class - the learnings from each case discussion and perspectives from industry giants made the class a constant opportunity to learn from, interact with, and dissect the world of tech.
My other favorite electives were in a whole different area - real estate investment and development. Both courses I took by Paul Habibi introduced me to the intricate and fascinating world of real estate, both residential and commercial, and sparked a desire in me to get into real-estate investment in the future. We covered everything from cash-flow modeling and investment decisions to the complex world of development. Every lesson was captivating and something I would have never been exposed to in my previous engineering life.
I went into my internship at Juniper fairly certain that I was going to re-recruit in the fall. Not for any particular reason against the company or industry, but I wanted to see the PM opportunities available once I had a good amount of experience under my belt from TeleSign and Juniper. I came back to my 2nd year expecting to go through the same process that I did for internship recruiting - some on-campus opportunities form big tech companies, but also networking out to other opportunities and looking through post-MBA job listings. I kept tabs on my resume during my summer, so I was ready come August with what I felt was a strong PM resume when some early companies like Facebook and Google started accepting applications. Other big tech firms like Cisco, Microsoft and Adobe came to Anderson in mid-October, and I interviewed with a few of them. The difference in this round of recruiting and interviews was that I felt had much stronger laurels to rest on from actual product management experience, and I had a better feeling of how to build out my stories the 2nd time around. I also knew this was now my time to be more picky on where I ended up; after all, I was spending 2 years of time and MBA tuition to go to the next step.
While I expected to continue recruiting possibly through the winter quarter, I was also really, really hoping to not have to go through the ups-and-downs that I did with internship recruiting. I was extremely fortunate enough to receive an offer from Adobe in early November. As someone who built a lot of his web development and creative credentials on Adobe products, it was far too good an opportunity to hesitate on. I didn’t need much convincing to accept my offer to Adobe - I already loved the company’s products, and the culture that my friends and alum who worked there told me about made it seem like the best place for me to start my true product management journey.
Graduation was great but bittersweet. One of my closest friends in the program was heading back to Brazil, and I knew I was going back to the working world in a more demanding role, so my 2 years of semi-chill-with-flexible-hours life was coming to an end. That said, I was excited to have no more classes and to get started on my product management career.
Our class did a crazy, 4-day long bash in Las Vegas as our end-of-year “dis-orientation” that served as the perfect cap to our experience. We rented out entire pools and hotel suites, and coordinated other events on the Strip to commemorate the end of our journey and celebrate one last time that we would all be together.
Take interesting classes, spend time with the people you love, and enjoy every moment of it. It goes by quick, and you’ll be back in the working world sooner rather than later. Travel to interesting places, make a bucket list of whatever city your school is in if you’re going elsewhere to work, and appreciate the journey that you’ve gone through to get where you are, and appreciate those that have supported you. Especially that last part - shout out to my significant other - if you have someone who’s supporting you through this path, whether emotionally, financially, physically, make sure you truly show your thankfulness for their role in your progress and success.
I worked for 6 years before b-school, so it does feel a bit like going back to that routine of commuting, working, commuting, eating. But this time I’m doing something new, something more aligned with my career interests, and I feel that I understand the intricacies of the business world far more now. I can appreciate strategic decisions, feel like a more legitimate contributor to discussions and decisions that are outside of my old world of engineering, and I definitely feel like my MBA will unlock a lot more doors in my future. But above all else, it feels good to have an income again!
While I think most of my class has abandoned the group-messaging platform that we all were mandated to use but strongly disliked, I still keep in touch with my close b-school friends through group texts, meet-ups in the Bay Area, and life events. For most, you don’t come out of the program and simply move on to the next. This close, intimate 2-year experience with your classmates creates a unique bond that makes it easy to relate to each other, be it professionally or personally. I found myself wanting to continue meeting up and talking to my b-school friends as we all embarked on beginning our new careers, and I hope that continues going forward as we all excel in our paths.
Anderson has a capstone requirement called “Applied Management Research” (AMR) where you self-select a group of 5 other students and are assigned to do a consulting project with an external client during your 2nd year. These clients range from large enterprises to start-ups and non-profits. Our group, a very tech-centric set of consultants, marketers, engineers and finance experts, were selected to work with a tech start-up in Nairobi, Kenya. Through the program we were able to build out their marketing and referral product features, traveling to Kenya twice as a group to work with the client and do field research there. We were able to see a completely different society and how they used technology, build a product specific to their use-cases, and experience the Kenyan culture and food, culminating in a 2-day safari and trip to the Kenyan coast. I’ll always remember this experience because it created one of my closest groups of friends, provided a truly unique product management opportunity, and allowed us to see a new side of the world.
I would have definitely stressed out less on the impact of small things or things I couldn’t control during my first year. It’s hard not to overthink how things like not getting coveted leadership positions, missing one networking opportunity, or getting a B+ might affect your future chances of success in recruiting. Some of those things you can’t control, or you need to prioritize something else instead, and that’s okay. You’ve worked hard enough to get here, and you’ll be able to get where you want to go in one way or another. Unnecessary stress is just as detrimental as anything else, so try to keep your head above the water.
Stay hungry. Just getting an MBA is not a golden ticket of any kind, especially in the current competitive environment of more and more MBA grads coming into the world. It’s certainly not a 2-year break from reality - it’s a whole different kind of reality. You need to soul-search enough to orient yourself in the direction you want, put in the hard work to get the opportunities you need, and know that things won’t just come to you without trying. Stay hungry (and be scrappy) - it took a lot of effort to get into business school, but it’s just the beginning.