One of the few times that age was a factor for Talha Siddiqui was when he was checking in for Welcome Week at his first real job after undergrad. Siddiqui had joined Wells Fargo as part of an early talent program in project management but, at just 19, wasn’t old enough to check into his hotel room.
“I had to tell my manager to sign for me so I could stay,” he tells Poets&Quants.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Siddiqui is the son of immigrant parents, the first in his family to go to college and the first to work in a corporate environment. He’s also almost certainly the youngest of his classmates to walk on any of his commencement stages: He graduated high school at 16, from UC-Berkeley at 19, and on June 4, at the ripe old age of 22, he will graduate from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business with his MBA.
‘PRIVILEGE THAT NOT A LOT OF IMMIGRANT CHILDREN HAVE’
“Getting an education early was a goal of mine. Teachers often told me, even in high school, not to rush through my education, to enjoy my young adulthood, and to enjoy the college experience. I felt that was a privilege that not a lot of immigrant children have. For me, it was a combination of internal ambition, the circumstances of my financial support, and not wanting to take out student loans,” he says.
“As we progress through the 21st century, I think we will be seeing fewer and fewer of these traditional high school and college experiences because of how diverse people and their experiences are. With my circumstances, my level of maturity at the time, and my desire to make money, I felt it was the right decision for me. I did not regret it, and I don’t regret it to this day.”
Poets&Quants recently interviewed Siddiqui to see how he earned his MBA from an M7 school when most peers his age are just graduating college. He also offers advice for other candidates just starting their MBA journeys. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What kind of small business do your parents own?
My parents owned a Pakistani restaurant in Los Angeles (though they have since moved to Dallas). Early on, a lot of the work I did to digitize was making sure it had a social media presence–having a Facebook page, Instagram, etc.–and then it kept growing. It reached a pinnacle point in 2015 when my parents were evicted from their small business with 60 days notice, so they really had to pack everything up and find a new source of income and restart. That, I think, was the pivotal point in my life of understanding both the immigrant experience but also business and the importance of adaptability.
We really adopted from that point on through building a community online to rally behind the business as we reopened. That was when I was in high school, and it was my first foray into building digital communities. It really helped us throughout the last few years. For example, my parents ended up being featured in the LA Times and Vice Media did a video on us. That experience really galvanized my interests in technology and business, and it really, I think, forced me to be an adult at the age of 15. That’s when I really had to learn to read the contracts to understand what was going on with the eviction. I think that was my most important memory of growing up with immigrant parents who were small business owners.
And, meanwhile, you’re taking all these accelerated classes in high school and tacking on college courses as well, correct?
Yes, as I was doing all that with my parents’ restaurant, I was enrolled in public school, and I realized that I wasn’t being challenged enough. So I took an accelerated path in high school, taking a mix of advanced placement classes and community college classes.
I officially graduated high school at the age of 16, and I ended up spending what would have been my senior year in high school taking a full load of classes at the community college. That would have been 2016-2017.
What kinds of classes were you taking in community college?
Speech and debate was a major part of my community college career, and I competed on the national speech and debate circuit. I also took a lot of political science and economics classes, some quantitative classes like stats and calculus, and I was also interning at a congressman Ted Lieu’s office. I thought public service was really where I saw myself going because of the experiences I had advocating for my parents.
Where did you get your undergraduate degree?
I transferred to UC-Berkeley and went there from 2017 to 2019, and my major was in political economy.
How old were you when you graduated from Berkeley?
What did you do then?
I joined Wells Fargo right out of undergrad as part of an early talent program in Product Management. I spent two and a half years there and rotated through different product management teams within B-to-B digital banking, everything from the API gateway team, to their commercial banking mobile app team to the user experience research and design team doing client engagements. It was a great experience. I felt like I joined the bank at a very interesting time in 2019, and they were in the middle of a digital transformation. So, I quickly had to get up to speed and learn how to really change a company and its values rapidly in the age of digital media and digital technology.
Did coworkers know how young you were?
That’s actually really funny. During the first congressional internship that I had, I was 16 at the time and turned 17, and all my co-workers were 20, I think. I was terrified of people finding out. I had a bad case of impostor syndrome. As I grew older, I interned at a city manager’s office and Kaiser Permanente in the summer of my junior year of undergrad. So, I think I became used to the workforce and my age did not become as much of an issue.
By the time I started at Wells Fargo, I had already interned at three different places and had a broad swath of professional experiences, so I felt pretty confident. But it did still lead to some awkward moments.
I had a pretty good relationship with everyone on that team, and it was a pretty diverse group of people. I was 19 at the time, but there were people as old as 28 or 29, and I think that diversity in age and experiences was very conducive to professional development and growing together. Even though I’ve left the company, I still have monthly chats with people in my cohort to stay connected.
NEXT PAGE: Advice for MBAs candidates on getting in