Figuring it all out

The last several months have been extremely stressful. In 2015, I had already taken the decision to postpone attending graduate school by at least 2 years. I was going through the grad school application process for the second time, and it sucked. Everything felt uncertain. But finally things worked out PERFECTLY.

In total, I got 6 admits and 2 partial scholarships!!

I have decided to attend a Master’s program dedicated to Product Management in the Bay Area at a school frequently regarded as #1 in the US for Computer Science.

  • The program is fantastic and offered jointly by the Business School and Engineering School.
  • The courses are perfect and will hopefully launch my career in the direction I have been hoping for – By preparing me in areas like strategy, finance and marketing with a focus on the Tech Industry – perfect for a career in Product Management
  • The institute is highly reputed in Tech, and should hopefully land me at least the opportunity to interview at any company I aim to work for.
  • It is truly going to be an exceptional learning experience. The professors are outstanding. I will be alongside great peers. The school has great resources and an amazing alumni network. But above all, I think the school stands for innovation. I hope I have an entrepreneurial mindset by the time I graduate, a skill that is crucial today.
  • I will be in the Bay Area! It has been a dream of mine, to move to the Silicon Valley. I was hoping it would happen in the next 5 years, so I couldn’t be happier that I will be moving to Mountain View this fall!
  • CALIFORNIA – I am so excited to be here. I will be close to family, in the best state in the US and in a great place to live. It’s just 5 hours away from my home in Los Angeles, but It’s still a new place and probably a refreshing change. I totally intend on exploring all the vineyards here. ­čśŤ
  • No Snow. I can’t tolerate the cold. As a girl who has grown up in SoCal and India, I┬ádon’t think I can function properly without the Sun and beaches. NorCal is definitely not as good as SoCal but hey, at least it isn’t -40 degrees the whole year.
  • Silicon Valley startups – I will be in the hub of entrepreneurship and a lot of exciting things are happening here.
  • ROI – If all goes well, I will gain a lot from doing this program. I will gain valuable skills and learn a lot, expand my career prospects, gain access to opportunities I previously did not have, and hopefully break through into product management before I am 25. It increases my earning potential too.

I am super excited and can’t wait to move! I quit my job and am planning to relax, travel and do some reading in the summer before heading to school.

Choosing between MBA and Other Specialized Management Programs

I received most of my admission decisions and I could not be happier with the choices I have at this point.

I have to make a choice between attending a Top-20 Full-Time MBA Program, a Management Program for Engineers at one of the M7 Business Schools and a Masters program based in the Silicon Valley that focuses on Product Management in a School that is widely regarded as the best in the world for Computer Science.

I never thought I would be in this dilemma and it is wonderful to have such incredible options. All of these institutions are world-renowned, have a great overall ranking and reputation and are leaders in each of these fields.

At this moment I will most likely be attending the Program most relevant to Product Management in the Silicon Valley. This puts me on a very specific career route, something that I must consider because of my age and work experience being on the lower side than most B-School candidates. In the short term, I will gain more from this program and the reputation in Tech is unparalleled. The location is excellent too, making it a choice I just cannot resist. The MBA program will be more valuable in the long run, but there also is the risk that I do not get the career boost I hope for immediately since I am younger and maybe the ROI will not be as good as this other program. The Engineering Management Program carries the prestige of the M7 Schools, has a fantastic network but lacks the location and focus on Tech.

I guess I cannot go wrong with either choice, and I am excited that I will be attending a fantastic school! It has been a long wait but it has been worth it.

Product Management – The Ultimate Goal and How I intend to get there

Working at a Tech Giant on Enterprise Cloud Products has been better than I could have imagined. I absolutely love the whole process of building successful products. It is extremely fulfilling to know that the work you put in impacts not only your organization but also thousands of individuals and enterprises across the world.

Over the past two years, I worked on nearly every aspect of product development and the opportunities I received have been fantastic. I got to work on cutting edge technology, innovate and work alongside talented people who have inspired me to work harder.

Prior to working in this role, I had interned in various positions working in Graphic design to marketing and sales in Technology product companies. I love these roles too and I realized that I would love to take on more responsibility┬áto build successful software products – Something at the intersection of Technology, Business and Design. I am passionate about building innovative products and that has brought me to this goal – The Goal of Becoming a Product Manager at a Technology company where I can lead innovation.

As a techie, I think my mind is trained┬áto seeing any problem as binary – there either is a solution or there’s not. Business, on the other hand, is trickier than that. There are too many grey areas, it’s not black and white. Making data-driven decisions under uncertainty and taking calculated risks is something I must master in order to succeed as a product manager. I lack the business knowledge I must possess if I want to take on responsibility for the whole software product. A good product manager does not just take credit for the success of the product, he/she also takes responsibility for the failure of it. It’s not only about knowing the technicalities but also about managing teams, driving innovation and being a leader within your organization.

With this in mind, I decided it would be best to augment my technical background with a formal management education. Of course, This does not guarantee the job I hope to land, but I think bridging my gaps will bring me closer to my goals. There are definitely several routes to achieving the same goal. I understand my own strengths and weaknesses by now, and I believe this is the best path for me.

It is easy to get lost with the herd mentality at B-School so I think it is crucial to know EXACTLY what you want before you enter any graduate program. The key is FOCUS. I am determined to achieve this goal, and any professional decision I take will be keeping in mind this goal, until I accomplish it.

Why I gave up a Full Tuition Scholarship to a top 50 MS CS Program two years ago

Two years ago I was admitted to a Top-50 US MS in Computer Science Program with a Full Tuition Scholarship, a Prestigious Dean’s Award and an assistant-ship with a stipend that easily could cover my living expenses. This program received over 900 applications for fewer than 20 spots, so the scholarship was a┬ápretty big deal.

I was in my final semester of computer engineering. Just like any other CS student applying for an MS in US from India, I was told by admissions consultants, seniors and well-meaning relatives that I should apply to the MS in CS program over any other specialization because they were “more prestigious”, ┬áperceived to be harder to get into and that I “had the right profile”. The perception was that if you like programming you go for CS, if you don’t you go for MIS and become an analyst. I loved programming and I did not want to become an analyst, I wanted a development role in a big company. That was essentially the goal – Landing a good job in a good company with interesting work going on and lead a secure, stable, “happy” life. So I went ahead and applied.

And then something awesome happened. I got the Dream Job I was hoping to land post MS. It was a Development job in a product development organization in a Tech Giant. The work culture seemed to be fantastic. I would finally get the chance to do the kind of work I loved and be in an incredible environment that would bring out the best in me.

And then the admits came out. I hated research, I was not interested in learning more “theory” stuff in Computer Science and I only was considering an MS to land a job, not out of any passion for the subject that would help me survive CS grad school. I loved computer science but I believed I could learn things on my own through ample resources including the internet and books. I took tough electives in advanced areas of CS in my final 2 years and I felt ready to go out and work on real-world problems in the industry. That’s when I realized that If I went for the MS, I would just be doing it for the wrong reasons and giving into peer pressure. My only goal was to land that dream job – What sense did it make to give that up once I had already achieved it?

So I declined the scholarship offer and the chance to pursue an MS in US for FREE in a word-class institution. Family members were unhappy with my choice. I was accused of being ungrateful for giving up such an opportunity, arrogant (because they believed I thought I was too good for the program – Not the case, it just wasn’t right for me based on MY interests and I don’t look down on any program for that matter.) and I heard everything from “but Sharma-ji Ki Beti went and she did just fine” to “You must have higher education”. Hardly anyone┬áunderstood my decision. and that was completely alright because I knew I would be happier at the end of the day.

 

Why I want to go to Graduate School

I started this blog originally to document my Business School Journey because I believed an MBA was the right path to achieving my dream – Product Management at a Technology Company.

I came across several specialized master’s programs which could also help me accomplish my goals, and as a result I applied to a mix of MBA and┬áspecialized masters programs and some of the choices I made were unconventional.

I think the most important thing before heading to graduate school is that you should know exactly what your goals are, what the program can do for you to help you accomplish those goals, and have a realistic view about the limitations of the program as well.

Graduate school is a huge investment in terms of money and time, but more importantly it is a life-changing decision that will determine the course of the next 30+ years of your career.

If you are in the process of making this decision of attending graduate school, there really is no right or wrong answer about which program you should attend or where you should apply. There are no right or wrong reasons, all that matters is what your personal goals are. Some of those reasons could be to get a prestigious big-name university on your resume, learn some specialized skills, work with a specific professor you admire, do research in a niche area, get graduate education to get work permit more easily in a foreign country, learning something you always wanted to learn even if the field is not something that makes you easily employable or even just a lifestyle decision to be closer to a loved one or move to a specific part of the country or world.

Regardless of what your reason is, NO PERSON can make that decision for you – It should be entirely your own. Because no one else will be able to think from your perspective of what matters most to you.

There is always going to be some one out there who will criticize your decision or tell you you should have done something differently. Or maybe you will manage to please/impress everyone around you with some impressive accomplishment. Either way, it really does not matter. Because YOU are going to be the one who has to wake up each morning and live with the consequences of your decision. YOU will be the person following that career path and you cannot blame anyone else if it does not turn out the way you wanted.

The only person you should be impressing is yourself. – This is the single most important thing I have learnt when it comes to the decision to attend graduate school.

First Top-20 B-School Admit!

I made it!! After being wait-listed after interviewing in Round 1, This has been a really long wait. I am so happy! ­čśÇ ­čÖé

As an early career candidate, I was only 22 when I applied! Considering that the average admitted applicant at this school is 28 with 5 years of work experience on average, I knew it was a long shot. So when the admissions director called me, I was on top of the world! ­čÖé

Really excited, and I still have to hear back from the other school I have been wait-listed at. Waiting for my official admissions packet, fingers crossed for some form of financial aid.

Wait-listed

In December, I got wait-listed by both schools I interviewed with. I am expecting to hear back from both in the next 2 weeks.

When I started this process, I was hoping to hear back from B-schools with an admit by December or be rejected and then just move on with other plans.

Now I am in a limbo, because I’m not admitted anywhere yet and I have no clue whether I will be in B-School next year, and I also have not been rejected.

Meanwhile, I have started working on alternatives. Waiting is difficult, but I believe in Murphy’s law so I am working on a back-up plan (or several :P). I want a big career move this year, I want to progress.

Just the process of applying to B-School is something everyone should go through once in their life. It has made me patient. It has made me more self-aware. I have become more risk-taking when it comes to career choices and I have also begun to dream big. I know about more possibilities that exist beyond the traditional career path of an engineer. I know more about applicants from different careers. Also, once you take the decision to invest 150k in your future with no guarantee whatsoever, every┬áother risk pales in comparison. No wonder B-School people seem so much fun and keep doing insane things. They’ve risked it all.

2 interviews later

It’s near the end of R1 admissions.. Most final decisions will be out next week.

Gotta stay positive and hope for the best!

My 2nd admissions interview was pretty good! The adcom member was traveling for information sessions to India, so I had an in-person interview. That was so much better than Skype, because I felt like I could connect better with my interviewer. She was really friendly and the interview was more like a conversation. I felt comfortable and confident. I also felt like I really got the chance to talk about everything I wanted the admissions committee to know about, so I’m praying it works out. ­čÖé

I didn’t hear back from 3 schools yet, but at this point an interview seems unlikely with just about 10 days to go! I am expecting to be either wait listed or rejected there.

The flip side is that the interview that went really well is the one school I really want to go to, so if it works out, I’m definitely going for it! ­čśÇ

2 Interview Invites and 2 Dings

Well, first the bad news: Dinged from MIT and from Duke without Interview ­čśŽ

Invited to interview at 2 of my schools, they are in the top 15-25. ­čśÇ

That gives me some hope, since the average work experience at both these schools is 5 years! I am pleasantly surprised that I made it to the interview stage at least, which means my stats and work experience are well in line with what is needed at a top 25 school, despite being younger and from the dreaded ‘Indian IT Engineer’ cohort which is crazy competitive.

I had one skype interview which was stressful. I was not asked standard questions. Instead I was asked difficult behavioral questions, probably used to guage my maturity and preparedness for the program, considering I’m younger. I managed to answer each answer with substantial examples, but I wasn’t happy with the interview since I was overcome by nervousness, spoke really fast and in general sounded less confident than I usually am! I was pretty surprised with the questions. Also my interview was not conversational, which made me more nervous, since my interviewer was constantly taking down notes!

The next interview is in 2 weeks. I really hope this one is better, since this is one of my top choices!

Waiting without anxiety…. and HBS Ding

Dinged from Harvard Business School. Well, that’s okay, it was expected anyway.

I postponed my application to Foster since I wanted to wait till I received other decisions.

The rest of my applications are done. I am so glad I’m done writing essays for now! I feel really calm. I’m not anxious about the results. I’m not worried. I’m just feeling really good in life at this point ­čśÇ

Because I have put together the best applications I could at that point of time. I believe there’s a major luck component involved in MBA admissions. I now leave the rest to fate/God’s plans for me/karma. And I’m going to chill out.

If I get all rejects I have a backup plan to look for jobs and return to US to be closer to family and friends. If I’m physically present in the US I might also be able to consider part-time MBA later at some point.

Till then, I will keep waiting and see where life takes me!