The very long list of things altered, adapted, or completely overhauled by the coronavirus pandemic includes the stuff MBA admits do before they even start their studies. Important preparations such as attending pre-MBA events — like Poets&Quants‘ Pre-MBA Networking Festival, which successfully went virtual for the first time this year — and pre-MBA work — like summer internships for first-years-to-be — were thrown into turmoil by the global health crisis. Some people and companies adapted better than others.
The turmoil certainly affected Sravya Vishnubhatla, a Microsoft product manager who has been accepted to the Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA Class of 2022. Yet unconventional as her pre-MBA internship already was — she worked as a marketing intern for a small startup, an experience well outside her realm of expertise — it could have been outright derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic. But it wasn’t — quite the opposite.
“I definitely walked into the experience with some anxiety and some doubt,” says Sravya, a Pittsburgh native who got her undergrad degree in computer science from MIT. She also has a master’s in strategic management from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. “But once I was in the internship, literally all of those doubts completely disappeared. I would say not even one week — less than a week — after joining the team, I felt so good about it.”
‘A BLESSING IN DISGUISE’
Sravya worked this summer for Paintru, a 2019 startup that creates artwork based on customer photos. But even though Paintru is based in Cleveland, Ohio, she spent the summer in Seattle, where she has lived since going to work for Microsoft in 2017. Despite some initial on-boarding awkwardness — she was, after all, working for people she had never met in person — the highly accomplished winner of sundry awards and fellowships had a great overall experience. “The company is one of those tech-forward-yet-consumer-facing products that is very much down my alley,” she says. “And it was a really good fit for me.”
What went right for Sravya that went wrong for so many others this summer? Coronavirus forced a kind of discipline in choosing her path — and allowed her to stay in her current job simultaneously with working for Paintru.
“I think Covid was sort of a blessing in disguise for at least this aspect of my life: because there are so many opportunities in a pre-Covid world that I, or many people like me, wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of,” Sravya tells Poets&Quants. “Being virtual and being able to work with a company that’s based literally anywhere in the world is definitely unique to this time of life, right? And having that opportunity has allowed me to try out those skills that I have never done before — and to get that experience that I’ve never had.”
One year earlier, and Sravya would probably have had to quit her job and move across the country for a pre-MBA internship.
“If it was any other normal year, I maybe would’ve had to quit my job earlier than I would have planned to,” she says. “I would’ve had to maybe move or find somewhere to live for just two or three months. It’s a lot of complexity that does preclude a lot of students from pursuing these kinds of opportunities.
“Having a pre-MBA internship was always top of mind for me, I’m very much kind of those go-getter type of people. I want to do as much as possible, really stretch myself thin. This is very much me, for better or for worse. It’s interesting because whenever you Google ‘great MBA internships’ and you read all these blog posts and these articles, there are opinions both ways — there are a lot of people who say that maybe it isn’t the best move to do a pre-MBA internship, you know? And there are people who say that it was a great experience. So just because of that, honestly I was not sure.”
PART OF THE JOURNEY
Even after getting her engineering degree from MIT and her master’s degree from Indiana Kelley, Sravya knew she would pursue an MBA. How did working in marketing for a small startup help prepare her for the rigors of an elite MBA program like Stanford’s?
“I always knew that that was probably the next step for me in my professional journey, but I definitely did not know why until I really actually had to sit down and start writing my applications,” she says. “And even then I think that the story has really crystallized more and more over the months of applying, getting accepted, and now actually knowing I’m going — it’s a journey. But prior to that, it was just one of those things where I knew, but I didn’t know why.
“I have always been a very bubbly personality. I love people. I love doing lots of different things. I’m definitely a person of varied interests, ever since I was young. I didn’t pick one thing and go really deep into it. My brother does that, but I picked a lot of things and I loved all of them, and I excelled in all of them and wanted to keep all of them. And I’ve continued that through the years, even until today — I don’t just do my job, and I didn’t just go to college. I still had outside interests that I pursued and I continued. And I think that even though I went to MIT and studied engineering, I always knew that my personality would lend itself to more of like a leadership track and more of an external-facing role.
“And so while working in engineering as a Microsoft product manager, my role — though it is very cross-disciplinary — has been internal to the company. I work with engineering, I work with designers to help design a feature or a product that we ask our engineers to build. But all of the external variables and analysis and all of that is marketing and brands, right? They look at what’s happening outside of the four walls of the company and they figure out how that is going to affect what we at Microsoft are doing or pursuing. And I’ve been able to see that in action actually working for Paintru. And I think that’s very much the type of role that I see myself getting into down the line in the future.
“And so, yeah — getting an MBA is very much a part of the journey into getting into one of those brand manager or marketing or strategy-related roles.”