Industry Spotlight for MBA: Tech

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This combination of 2018-2020 photos shows, from left, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Less than a week before Election Day, the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google are set to face a grilling by Republican senators who accuse the tech giants of anti-conservative bias. Democrats are trying to expand the discussion to include other issues such as the companies’ heavy impact on local news. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, LM Otero, Jens Meyer)

A Quick Introduction

Tech has become a super popular industry for MBAs to go into, and the most popular tech companies (not surprisingly) are names that you recognize as a consumer – Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and the like. Generally speaking, folks tend to gravitate towards software companies, SaaS companies, and social media, and not so much towards hardware.

The most common roles for MBA grads are Product Manager (PM) and Product Marketing Manager (PMM) roles, which is what we’re going to focus on in this section. Keep in mind that there are other roles in tech that are popular as well, such as:

  • Strategy & Operations or Business Operations, especially for ex-consultants
  • Corporate Development or Business Development, especially for folks coming from finance

If you’re interested in tech, do your research and see what the best-fit job is for you – it doesn’t have to be as a PM or PMM!

PM: Role Description, Draws, and Drawbacks

First, a quick note: Every company has its own take on what the scope and responsibilities of the PM role are, so make sure to talk to the companies you’re interested in to learn about whether their PM role fits what you’re looking for.

At a high level, PMs identify and understand customers’ needs and pain points and work with designers and engineers to figure out how to address them. The PM figures out what the team’s working on for target customers, and are accountable for the process and results as the designers and engineers work out how to deliver. PMs write feature requirements, develop the customer experience with designers, and research and scope out the technical pieces with engineers to bring the feature to life. The life of a PM requires ruthless and transparent prioritization of what to tackle first and why, as well as managing cross-functional partners.

The bigger the company you work for, the narrower your scope will be as a PM. For example, at a startup, you might own the customer experience for a part of the marketing funnel (like onboarding and training to use the product). But at a bigger company like Facebook, you might own just a feature or element of a product – for example, video upload and sharing on the newsfeed. Regardless, you’ll most likely be one of the multiple PMs working on a given product.

Your goals as a PM will also vary depending on the lifecycle/maturity of the product you own. If you’re working on a new product, you’ll be guiding how the features come together; for a product that has already been launched, you’ll be optimizing the customer experience and coming up with new experiences to grow the product.

So, what are we loving about the PM role?

  • You have a ton of ownership and influence over the customer experience; it’s

the closest you can be to shaping a product without actually writing code

  • It’s a good balance of strategy and execution – shaping the direction of the product based on customer needs and working closely with the team actually building it
  • The job feels very tangible; it’s fulfilling to see things come to life so quickly because you’re working in sprints with your software developers
  • You learn a ton and get to work your creative problem-solving skills, because you need to get into the weeds of how the technology works to deliver the customer experience and support your designers and engineers as they develop features

And what are some potential PM-related dealbreakers?

  • You need a thick skin as a PM; if things go well, the credit goes to your team of designers and engineers (yay team!), and if things go poorly, it’s on you because of your direction
  • If you’re not someone who likes to get deep into the details, this role might not be a good fit – you have to balance a high-level strategic view with understanding the tech
  • PMs are tasked with making trade-offs and ruthlessly prioritizing; this means that it’s impossible to make all of your stakeholders happy, which can be frustrating

Looking ahead, the career path for PM can be to continue getting promoted to more and more senior Product Management roles. As you climb the ladder, your scope will increase over time until you oversee an entire product or even a portfolio of products, with a team of PMs underneath you. Alternatively, you could make a horizontal move into more of a General Manager role, where you would be accountable for the product’s strategy and results in a more holistic way (including interfacing with marketing, which we’ll talk about next!).

 

PMM: Role Description, Draws, and Drawbacks

Another quick disclaimer: As with the PM role, the scope and responsibilities of PMMs vary by company. Make sure to do your research!

PMMs are traditionally responsible for the overall marketing strategy for their feature or product – they identify which customers are most important to focus on, work with the PM to identify top pain points and improve the customer experience, then guide the creation and release of marketing materials across various channels. At some companies, PMMs are responsible for a specific channel or form of communication, like user trainings and articles.

On a more tactical level, PMMs identify which customer segments create the biggest business opportunity (with solvable pain points), develop a story about the features the product team is working on, and shape that story with the team managing each marketing channel, to reach customers and increase adoption.

Here are reasons why a PMM role might appeal to you:

  • Your job is to represent the voice of the customer and understand what they care the most about; you also describe the product and features in a way that makes sense to customers, so if you like communication and customers, this might be the role for you!
  • At some companies, marketing holds responsibility for the P&L, which makes PMMs mini-CMOs for their business – you make sure you can hit your numbers but also get a balance of creative work and communications
  • You may get the opportunity to market partnerships to customers, which can give you some fun variety, the opportunity to be creative in a different way, and the chance to market to a different customer segment about the product

And what are some potential drawbacks?

  • For smaller companies or newer products, your job will lean towards customer acquisition, which can be more of a grind and more operational than roles focused on other parts of the customer lifecycle, where you can be more strategic and innovative
  • If marketing owns the P&L, it can be a grind to optimize marketing spend, especially if there are macro factors affecting your results that are out of your control
  • Companies can’t flood all their marketing channels with messaging for all products, so it can be challenging to prioritize which products are emphasized on which channels

Top Schools for Tech

The conventional wisdom is that schools near tech companies (so, in the Bay Area and Seattle) are generally the best for going into tech – think Stanford, Berkeley Haas, and Washington Foster. Berkeley Haas and MIT Sloan also have reputations for being good for start-up recruiting, but as you can see below, many top schools place a healthy number of MBAs into tech, which is great news!

FIGURES 11.1 & 11.2: SCHOOLS SENDING THE MOST STUDENTS INTO TECH

Top Employers in Tech

Here’s a quick overview of top employers in tech (remember, there’s a strong bias towards software for folks coming from MBA programs):

  • “FAANG” – Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google
    • FAANG is considered the top tier of tech employers, both in and out of business school. And except for Netflix, these companies recruit a ton of MBAs!
    • Each company has a reputation for what roles they generally hire for; for example, Facebook recruits a lot of PMMs, Apple tends to recruit more for typical corporate functions like operations, and Amazon recruits a ton for a variety of roles, including product and category managers
    • Be sure to get to know the companies you’re interested to find out what roles they typically hire for and what types of backgrounds they’re looking for
  • Other major tech companies – Microsoft, Adobe, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Intuit,
    • Like the FAANG companies, these companies will focus recruiting on slightly different roles; be sure to network and do informational interviews with current students to understand what opportunities exist!
  • Non-FAANG former start-ups – Venmo, Slack, Snap, Uber, Lyft,

These companies don’t recruit a ton of MBAs but may do more and more MBA hiring over time, as they continue to grow and scale

 

  • Start-ups – There are always fresh start-ups willing to hire MBAs for internships or full-time positions; just keep in mind that these are generally off-campus searches that have a different timeline and will require you to network

Take a look at which tech companies hire MBAs from the most campuses:

 

TABLE 11.1: TOP TECH HIRERS (CLASS OF 2020)

Firm Name

# of Top 30 Schools

Firm hired from

% of Top Tech Schools

Firm hired from

Google

26

68.8%

Amazon 26 62.5%
Microsoft 22 62.5%
Apple 19 56.3%
Adobe 18 56.3%
Cisco 15 56.3%
Facebook 15 37.5%
Dell 13 37.5%
IBM 12 31.3%
VMWare 11 31.3%
Salesforce 9 25.0%
DiDi 8 18.8%
Hewlett-Packard (HP) 8 18.8%
DoorDash 7 25.0%
Western Digital 7 12.5%
Intel 7 12.5%
Tencent 7 6.3%
TikTok 7 6.3%
Snap Inc 6 12.5%
Fiserv 6 12.5%
LinkedIn 6 12.5%

Autodesk

6

12.5%

PayPal 6 6.3%
SAP 5 25.0%
Twitter 5 6.3%
Intuit 4 12.5%
Uber 4 6.3%

Samsung Global Strategy Group

4

Nvidia 4

 

Note: Top Schools include Foster, Haas, Scheller, Anderson, McCombs, Tepper, Stanford, Kellogg, Marshall, Fuqua, HBS, Wharton, Columbia, Ross, Sloan, Booth

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