Becoming a Tech Product Manager…Without an MBA
Experience is sometimes the best way to truly learn what it takes to succeed.
In an article for Forbes, Rob Versaw, co-founder and head of product at Green SE3D AR and head product adviser at Blockbox, argues that a traditional MBA is not necessary to become a product manager in tech.
“Many MBAs decide that they want to be a product manager,” Versaw writes. “While there is nothing wrong with going through a transformational experience, there are faster and more cost-effective routes to get into and succeed in tech.”
An MBA That’s Focused Too Heavily on Exam Scores
Versaw starts by deconstructing the issues that he finds with the MBA. For one, he says, MBAs are too often evaluated based on their ability to succeed on multiple choice exams, such as the GMAT.
“When I have asked education professionals why multiple choice tests are so popular, I have heard anything from the ease of grading to their representation of the real world,” Versaw writes.
A study done by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto found that the GMAT rarely correlates with employability.
What does? Here are the six most significant factors in order of importance according to Rotman:
- Citizenship from a region of the world
- Years of work experience
- Admissions interview scores for candidates
- Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) test
- Undergraduate grade point average
- GMAT score
So why exactly is the GMAT so important to business schools? Leigh Gauthier, acting director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at Rotman, ties it to being easy to use. “When you look at thousands of files, you have to sort on something. So it has become a sorting mechanism that some find helpful.”
For business schools, recruiting a high GMAT score class means moving up in the national ranks too.
“U.S. News has changed incentives so perversely that the market is blindly chasing GMATs without even knowing why it is doing so,” Kevin Frey, managing director of Rotman’s full-time MBA program, says. “It’s unfortunate. But if schools want to spend all their scholarship and effort recruiting a high GMAT class, we are going to cheer them on because based on our hard numbers, the GMAT does not predict the team that wins the employment game down the road.”
Learn by Doing
Versaw argues that there are much more efficient and cost-effective ways of getting into and succeeding in tech.
He cites his own experience as one that can motivate students to learn by doing. Since starting his own company, Versaw has developed real product management skills such as product ownership, communications, and now – pitching to VCs.
“There are any number of articles out there on how to recruit for or find product management roles,” Versaw says. “The important characteristics of product management boil down to communication, analytical horsepower, leadership and collaboration.”
One way to jump straight in and gain experience, Versaw says, is to volunteer or intern. For him, that was having a side job of running the Arizona MileSplit webpage.
“Granted, I worked 35 or more hours a week in what amounted to a pro bono situation, but the experience set me up to land a full-time product management role at Vivint, one of America’s most innovative companies,” Versaw writes. “I would not have been able to land this role without learning customer empathy at MileSplit.”
Take Advantage of Online Resources
Today, students can benefit greatly from online learning – especially for technical skills. Through platforms like Coursera, students can partake in courses from software product management to java programming – all at an affordable cost.
“Some of the best engineers I know do not hold a bachelor’s degree,” Versaw writes. “Not having a formal education is not equivalent to being unlearned.”