Can MBA really get you an entry into the world of product management ?
So, you are a tech professional (software engineer or anyone from tech industry). You have written code, managed teams and got promoted as the number of years kept adding up in your professional life. But now, after many years of experience, you believe that you should make a transition to something better. That’s great !!
And while you are evaluating opportunities, you have noticed a career path in Product Management. You see a lot of people giving lectures in various events about how the world is changing and how product managers are carrying the torch. And the best of all, almost everyone tells you that Product manager is the CEO of the product.
Now, as soon as you hear the word CEO, your eyes light up. You see the glamorous life of being present on stage talking about products, giving opinions on how the transformation of the world is taking place and how an alien race is going to rule the world. As soon as you get back home after listening to these talks, you check the profile of the speakers on LinkedIn. And Voila !! you see many of the speakers have an MBA written in their profile.
And now, you make up your mind that your path to success is through product management. You think that the people around you are wasting time writing code and you are the one who is made to fight for the big cause. You compare your profile with their profile and found that the only difference between you and them is an MBA degree.
While all this is going on in your mind, you have forgotten to ask few things to the people who have inspired you. How did they become the product managers ? How did they even get there where they are ? What do they actually do as a product manager ? You did not think twice whether you even can be a good product manager or not ?
So, to fill the gaps, you join a part time MBA program in Product Management or related programs thinking that as soon as you’ll graduate, the world will line up at your door to hire you with super salaries and will leave their product strategies at your mercy.
This is the story you’ll get till the time you talk to the marketing and sales executives of the institutes offering part time MBA programs. The rest of the story is something you’ll never get to know. Because most of the students who have graduated in the past from these part time programs are too shy to talk about their failures. In Psychological terms, it is called Post Purchase Rationalization. It means a person justifies his act of bad purchase to save his face and satisfy his ego that his decision can never be wrong.
The real story is that after completion of Degree in part time MBA, most of the people like you are still doing the same job what they were doing earlier. That means no transition has happened for them. They appeared for interviews in many companies but most of them got rejected that they were not fit for product managers. and many of them did not even get interview calls. A lot of them tried for a year or so before giving up and started telling the world that product management is all about running agile teams and making sure that projects are getting complete on time (thus, in turn, creating wrong notion about product management).
Internally, you are still thinking, then how the hell there are so many people who are becoming product managers and why they have MBA degrees and why executive MBA has been marked on their profiles. So, let me explain how most of the people get entry into product management in most of the product companies (except the few who are glorified product owners projecting themselves as product managers)
- Fresh MBA Grads : Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and the likes of these companies including startups do hire Fresh MBA grads as product managers. Because these Fresh MBA grads are alumni of Top business schools (top 20-40 business schools of the world). they are the full time MBA grads who have beaten stiff competition to get into the B school. And they are super smart guys who have a natural knack towards building products. Not only MBAs but even engineers or Arts and Sciences graduates also make it to product management just out of college sheerly based on their aptitude, attitude, energy, knowledge and inherent capability of building products.
- Entrepreneurs : The next breed of product managers are the entrepreneurs who failed in their own ventures. They created products, launched in the markets, created companies, did partnerships, acquired customers, did all financial projections, raised fundings, wrote code for their own product and solved every problem that was possible to run the business. Eventually, their business failed due to some reason and they had to get back to jobs to earn money. These entrepreneurs are valued by every company as they have gone through the grit and pain and they understand the pains in building products. Hence, they get hired in product management roles even if they do not have degrees. Then, some of these people join executive MBA programs offered by the same Top Business schools to gain knowledge and build a great network.
- Experienced Professionals : Now, you must be thinking that this is the category you belong to. Let me clarify that this is a category of people who deceptively seem to be regular engineers with regular career path. but they are super achievers on exceptional scale and at the same time, they have a great acumen for business. Either they are great technologists , evangelists or people who have shown their mettle in the career graph in different areas where they functioned. They also joined Executive MBA programs but only for Top business schools like first two kinds. And almost 80% of general working population DO NOT fall in this category. By now, you are thinking, this does not make sense. If this does not make sense, you did not get a simple common factor in all three kinds of people. All three kinds of people did not have regular career graph. In the first case, it is an IVY league education which means less than only 0.0001% of the world’s students a.k.a the creamy layer. The second kind is the one who worked off the beaten path (took the hardest and riskiest path) to fill the gaps as they may not be creamy layer. The third kind struggled for long in their career graph and proved their mettle in their respective fields.
And the common factor in all three of them (if they did pursue MBA) is that they all pursued the MBA degree/certificate from the top tier business schools. They made wise decisions of not jumping in the degree race. They went back to education for the sake of knowledge and did not expect any career transition. In fact, none of them were looking for transition at all. And none of them, felt any kind of crisis ( the so called mid-life crisis) in their professional life.
They pursued their careers with a thought through plan. Things did not happen to them by chance. They created chances to make it happen. In all three kinds of people, they did not expect any placement services from their MBA degrees. Nor did they expect that MBA is the gateway to product management. In fact, in the third case of experienced professionals, many of them did not opt for a career in product management because they know that the significant difference in organizations can be made even without being a product manager.
Having said all that, I am not trying to discourage you from product management. I am just trying to make you aware that career in product management is not acquired through part time degrees. No one can make you a product manager or a product leader by giving a degree in that subject.
In fact, You do not even need to pursue an MBA at all if you really want to be product manager. You can do it by working in startups and mid sized companies and learn how to build products and run organizations. That’s the best product management training you can ever get. By doing this, you’ll save your hard earned money going to the bank accounts of Degree sellers. and you’ll make some great connects in the industry while working. Yes, the only pain you’ll have by doing this is that you’ll be out of your comfort zone and you’ll be working long hours to learn things. But in the end, It’s better to gain experience than to gain a degree from local institute without any value or recognition attached to it.
So, finally, what should you do ? It’s not that MBA is bad. You need to define the purpose of doing an MBA and you need to choose the top tier Business Schools with the right goals in mind.
If you do not believe in what I said, Do this simple exercise of concept validation like a true product manager.
Contact 10 great product managers (senior level guys) of different organizations (startups and large companies in different domains) and ask them if they will hire you on the sole basis of degree in product management. You’ll get your answer.