Source: The Wall Street Journal
By Lindsay Gellman,
March 2, 2016
Business schools are adding courses and programs to set students on a path to product-management jobs in tech companies
More business-school students are setting their sights on tech company product-management roles, which combine elements of marketing, design and problem-solving, students, faculty and recruiters say.
Harvard Business School, Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management are among schools rolling out new courses and programs aimed at setting students on the product-management career path. Yet students’ perceptions of the role are sometimes at odds with the reality of the job, product managers say.
Leading a product like UberEats, Uber Technologies Inc.’s food-delivery service, or Amazon Prime, home to Amazon.com Inc.’s streaming content, marries business strategy with “the thrill of building a thing,” said Tom Eisenmann, a Harvard Business School professor and faculty co-chairman of the school’s Rock Center for Entrepreneurship.
Product managers conduct market research, propose a prototype, test it, coordinate design and engineering efforts, and market the final version. Early-career product managers can typically expect to earn in the low six-figures; the national average salary for the position is $111,650, according to job site Glassdoor Inc.
B-school graduates have been gravitating to technology companies for several years, often in marketing and finance roles. Product management has special appeal because students feel the job has a tangible impact on a company, said Stacey Kole, deputy dean for the full-time M.B.A. program at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
I like the idea of constantly improving a product that has an impact on users.Meghan Servello, an M.B.A. student at Cornell TechMeghan Servello, a student in the one-year M.B.A. program that Cornell’s Johnson school offers at Cornell Tech, the university’s New York technology campus, is eager to sit at the nexus of a company’s business and technology functions. The 27-year-old, who has held product roles in online media, is now enrolled in a product-management course where she is working to build a software platform tailored to seniors with access to on-demand services like food- or ride-ordering.
“I like the idea of constantly improving a product that has an impact on users,” she said.
Kelly Winters, a 2008 Kellogg M.B.A., is a product manager for Facebook Inc.’s Compassion feature, which allows couples to see less of each other on the site after a breakup. The role requires a mastery of soft power, said Ms. Winters. “Business school likes to create general managers and leaders,” she said, but product-managers must learn to “influence people when they don’t directly report to you.”
Mr. Eisenmann’s Product Management 101 course at Harvard takes 45 students through the beginning stages of designing and building a technology product. Last fall, two to three times as many students tried to register, he said. Between 6% and 7% of last year’s class of 908 students took product-management jobs, he added.
Cornell Tech’s product-management courses for M.B.A.s boast a designer-in-residence, Leland Rechis, who has run product teams at Twitter Inc., Etsy Inc. and Kickstarter. Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business touts a track within its M.B.A. program offered in conjunction with its School of Computer Science focused on innovation and product development.
Yet M.B.A.s without technology backgrounds may struggle to parlay coursework into job offers. Though TripAdvisor Inc. has actively recruited nontechnical M.B.A.s from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management into its product-manager program, other companies are less intent on bringing in M.B.A.s.
Facebook seeks “people who’ve actually built products or have the skill set to build products,” said Ruta Singh, a recruiting director at the social network. The company hires some M.B.A.s into its 18-month product-management rotational program, she said. Those hires rotate through three different product teams over that period before they are placed on a team full-time.
Robin Chan, chief executive of San Francisco mobile-commerce startup Operator, said the company is indifferent toward the M.B.A. degree, but places a premium on candidates with technical backgrounds.
“I’m not really sold on the idea that you could hire an M.B.A. product manager” who lacks a grounding in computer science or engineering, he said.
The perception of the role as a mini-CEO job often differs greatly from reality, managers say.
“Words like ‘vision’ and ‘CEO of the product’ get thrown around” by some students, but the job comprises administrative duties, too, said Prem Ramaswami, a senior product manager at Google Inc. who graduated from Harvard Business School in 2013 and worked with Mr. Eisenmann to launch the product course.
With note-taking and scheduling responsibilities, he said, “it’s more like being the glorified admin.”