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How a Single Cold Email Set My Product Management Career in Motion
Engineering → Business Consulting → Product Management
During my junior year of college, I found myself at an unexpected crossroads. The previous summer, I had interned at Riverbed Technology as a QA/software engineer and received a return offer to go there again the following summer. However, I wasn't as enthusiastic about continuing a career in engineering. I enjoyed working on software but was spending more time thinking about business models and user experience. In contrast, my experiences with Illinois Business Consulting (IBC) during the school year had sparked a newfound passion for business consulting. This led me to apply to numerous consulting companies across the US, but I was met with rejection after rejection. I was truly confused about how to make the most of my last summer internship.
In search of advice, some friends and family members suggested trying product management. I didn't know much about the role, but after extensive research, it seemed like the ideal fit for someone who liked both engineering and business consulting. The only problem was that I didn't know how to secure a product management internship—and it was already January!
A Serendipitous Encounter
As I sifted through my collection of business cards and emails, I recalled a chance encounter with Arjun (AJ) Arora, a product manager from Yahoo!. We had met at a career fair where he talked about his work on the mobile app called Sportacular. At the time, our conversation had been brief, and we hadn't spoken since.
Hoping that AJ might attend the spring career fair, I approached the Yahoo! booth, only to be informed by the recruiter, Denise, that he wasn't present. Desperate, I decided to email AJ on a whim. My heart sank when I received a "delivery to the recipient failed permanently" notification due to a silly typo. I promptly corrected the mistake and, to my relief, AJ replied four days later. Although he had switched teams, he expressed interest in trying to get me an internship.
Persistence Pays Off.. Maybe?
Over the next few weeks, I followed up with AJ regularly, hoping for progress. In an interesting turn of events, I visited my brother during spring break, who happened to be living nearby Yahoo!'s office. I seized the opportunity and asked AJ if I could visit him at the office. He gladly obliged, facilitating a tour and sharing insights about the company. However, there was still no news about an internship for me. As April approached, I had accepted the possibility of returning to Riverbed. I tentatively set up a call with my to-be manager to discuss what projects I would be working on that summer. I had mentally prepared myself to learn how to become a better software engineer.
On April 8th, everything changed. Tracy Boyd, one of AJ's coworkers, contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in joining her team. With bated breath, I scheduled a phone interview, which surprisingly extended from 30 minutes to a full hour. Following the conversation, I thanked Tracy and inquired about the next steps in the hiring process.
Little did I know that the call itself was the sole interview step. Tracy had already recommended me to Marisela Peiffer, the head of the PM internship program. I was going to be the first undergraduate intern in the program, which had always been exclusive to MBA candidates. Marisela was shocked that I didn't go through a formal interview process and was not an MBA student. After three levels of approval and nearly unbelievable last-minute timing, the official Yahoo! offer letter arrived on April 27th.
I was elated to receive an offer for an internship position and quickly accepted it. A few weeks later, I began my internship with great excitement and anticipation. During my time there, I learned what product management really entails and solidified my passion for pursuing it as a career. I was fortunate enough to work with a team of experienced product managers who taught me the ins and outs of the product development process, including conducting market research, creating product roadmaps, and collaborating with cross-functional teams. Additionally, I assisted with the launch of a new product, gaining hands-on experience in product launch planning and execution. The internship also gave me the chance to explore the Bay Area, where I quickly fell in love with the region's natural beauty and people. This experience was a turning point in my career, and I doubt I would be a product manager in the Bay Area today if it weren’t for this internship.
Paying it forward
Remember, a simple email can have a profound impact on your career and the lives of those around you. Don't hesitate to reach out to someone you admire and respect, and be persistent until you hear a no. My own experience with AJ and Tracy's generosity has inspired me to pay it forward by creating opportunities and helping others find their own. So, go ahead and send that email, make that connection, and see where it takes you. Who knows what opportunities may come your way? It only takes one message to change your life.