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  • Writer's pictureMalvika Patil

Breaking into Product Management with a Part-time MBA

Updated: Jan 31

Fresh out of undergrad, Sharoon started his career in software engineering. In 2019, he joined Microsoft as a software engineer, and enrolled in a part-time MBA program at Chicago Booth the year after. He then used that MBA to pivot into product management at Microsoft.

SWC founder Sam Weeks sat down with Sharoon to discuss his experience at Booth, why a part-time MBA was right for him, and how he managed to pivot into product management using his part-time MBA.

Watch the full interview here:

Q: Tell us about your MBA application profile?

Sharoon: For my undergrad, I went to Purdue University, a major engineering school in the US, where I studied Computer Science. Then I joined Microsoft out of college. So I had about 2.5 years of experience when I applied to Booth. And I know that sounds like it's not as much as what other applicants might have, and I'm going to talk about that a little bit more.

At the time, I was a software engineer and had earned multiple promotions already. I had about a 3.2 GPA from undergrad, so it wasn't that high. However, it was in Computer Science, and from a very tough school. My GMAT was 750, with the quant being around 50. So that high GMAT offset the slightly lower GPA as well.

Q. Why the part-time MBA?

Sharoon: Most students go for a full time MBA because they want to change one of three things:

- location

- industry

- role

I felt like I didn't want to do any of those things. I was in a great industry and didn’t want to change location. The only thing I wanted to change was my role - from software engineering to product management.

However, you don't need an MBA to transition from software engineering to product management. I thought - did I really want to go to school full time for two years only to go through the job hunting process all over again? I would also have to switch over from a work visa to a student visa and then back to a work visa, only to hope that I might get a similar job at a high paying company again.

So, I didn’t feel like the risk of leaving my job was worth it. And I was already in a very privileged position, working in a high paying role at Microsoft that most top MBA grads would only enter post graduation. So I felt like I didn’t have enough reason to go for a full time MBA. That’s why I chose a part time MBA instead.

Q. Why Booth?

Sharoon: I was targeting a few top schools for part-time MBAs in the US. That included Northwestern Kellogg, Chicago Booth, and UC Berkeley.

Three things specifically attracted me to Chicago Booth:

  1. Flexibility: At Booth, students are not required to take classes in a certain order unless they are prerequisite classes. The curriculum is very flexible and you can design it according to your goals. That really appealed to me.

  2. Diversity: I felt like if I attended Berkeley, I would mainly be surrounded by tech professionals. I wanted to branch out and expand my horizons a little bit more. So that's why I preferred more mixed-industry schools like Kellogg or Booth over Berkeley.

  3. CBF Program: Booth’s Business Fellows program is designed specifically for early career professionals. That includes high-performers who have three or fewer years of work experience, like me! It felt like Booth was very pro early career development, which aligns with my experience leading a few early career groups at Microsoft. I was fortunate to have been accepted into the CBF program.

Q. How did Chicago Booth’s focus on data affect your MBA?

Sharoon: Coming from a tech background, I already had a very data driven mindset. I’m sure that this made me a good fit to the Booth Admissions Committee. But I didn't feel like I needed to go to Booth to learn more of that, as I had that skill set already.

Obviously, Booth gave me a lot more skills beyond the data drivenness that they really focus on. It also helped me apply this data-driven mindset to other areas, like marketing, finance, etc.

Q. How was the Booth application process?

Sharoon: The application for the Chicago Booth part time MBA is similar to other schools: thinking about my goals, writing essays about these (and trying to be vulnerable!), submitting the application, and going through two interview rounds. These were on-campus interviews, which gave me an opportunity to become more familiar with the school.

I heard back pretty soon after applying. I wouldn’t say there is anything that particularly surprised me about the application. The main thing I’d recommend is that applicants have clarity on why they are pursuing a part-time MBA and not a full-time or Executive MBA.

To learn more about executive MBAs and how these compare to part time MBAs, check out our article here.

Q. Cost of a part-time MBA vs. a full-time MBA

Sharoon: Finances are a big part of the decision when choosing between a full-time or part-time MBA. The tuition fee for both is the same. For Booth, that’s approximately US$160,000, which is a significant amount.

The plus about doing a part-time MBA was that I still had a steady income coming in from my day job. I was also lucky enough to get a US$20,000 scholarship from Booth. My employer, Microsoft, also has an amazing program that pays you approximately US$10,000 per calendar year if you go to grad school. So based on that, since my course was spread out over 4 calendar years, I was able to get $40,000 from Microsoft. So my out-of-pocket cost was only $100,000, which I felt was justified for a top business school like Booth. And since it was spread out, I didn’t have to pay for everything in one shot.

Q. How did you balance the part-time MBA with a job?

Sharoon: With the Booth program being so flexible, I was free to start in any quarter when I joined. (This may have changed now, I can’t remember.) But for me, I started in mid-June and took classes in the summer after my first year as well.

Because it was a part time MBA program, I did not have to get a summer internship. I was still working. So I continued my classes during the summer, and it worked out really well. Most students would typically start in the fall quarter. And since part time MBA is slightly longer than a full-year MBA program, at about 2.5 years, they finish half a year later or two quarters after your regular full time student. Some students actually space it out a little more, like I did.

So, for example, my work was sometimes so stressful that I needed to take a quarter off from Booth. So in those quarters, I took a couple of summers off. On an average, you take two classes, whereas in some quarters I just took one class. I think that worked out well to help me balance work and school. Being based in Seattle, I was flying into Chicago every weekend. My CEO, Satya Nadela, did the same program in the 90s, so I feel like I didn't have any excuses!

Q. How does the part-time MBA differ from a full-time MBA?

Sharoon: The classes for both a full-time and part-time MBA are exactly the same. The professors and curriculum are also the same. The professors at Booth are actually required to teach part time courses. If you are in Chicago, you can take full time classes as well; I took a couple classes with full time students because they had some open seats. I think that was a big advantage in terms of classes and recruiting opportunities.

Q. Building a network using a part-time MBA

Sharoon: I was on a different timeline as my peers given the flexible entry and summers off. It actually worked out better for me because I felt like I could network with many different people and make more connections.

There might be an argument to say that I did not form connections as deep as one would during a full-time program. However, I disagree with that a little. Let’s say I have 100 students in my first class. I’ll still have 50 of them in my second class, and then 50 others.

It didn’t feel like I was losing connections with people, as I still saw them outside class or in other student groups and activities. I felt like I just had a more expanded network because I was networking with everyone - people who were senior to me, junior to me, and everyone else. I did enjoy that quite a bit.

Q. Pivoting to Product Management with a part-time MBA

Sharoon: The part-time MBA really helped me make the transition from software development to product management. While I initially thought that pursuing an MBA wasn’t entirely necessary for me, there was a mindset shift once I started my program.

Next, the good part about going to business school part-time was that whatever I was learning, I could apply the next day in my job! I was taking a class on Saturday, and I was at work applying those concepts on Monday.

Additionally, some of the classes I took early on helped me think from a business perspective, giving me insights into how a product manager would think and make decisions, as opposed to how an engineer would think. I think that definitely pushed me further along my journey of making the switch. I felt like I was more confident and capable of making that transition.

And since I pivoted to my product management role during my MBA, I was still taking classes while working in my new role. So I could alter my classes based on what I felt like I needed. For example, if we were launching a new product, then I could take an entrepreneurial selling class, which was focused on selling a new product.

Q. How to make a career pivot with a part-time MBA

Sharoon: A part-time MBA program is less structured than a full-time MBA. In a full time MBA, students do a summer internship in their target industry and then try to convert it to a full-time role.

However, there are still lots of opportunities with a part-time MBA. Several of my classmates shifted industries and roles, and a lot of them were specifically aiming for investment banking or consulting at MBB. They've all done really well. Some people took the summer off and networked with and applied for internships with the top companies that came to campus. So, while it’s true that for full-time MBA students it’s easier to network with those companies, there are still opportunities for part-time MBA students also.

For example, when I was still exploring my options, I had opportunities to meet with the MBB firms as a part-time student. There were also many student clubs supporting me in my journey as I explored my career options.

When it comes to school clubs, the part-time and full-time MBAs have different clubs. Many of the part-time events would be organized on a Saturday, for example. There would be a lot of weekend students flying in on Saturdays for their classes, so many of the club events would take place on campus on those days. There would also be some remote events during the week for those who weren’t in Chicago. Some events were for a combined group of part-time and full-time MBA students. So it’s less structured, yes, but there are still plenty of opportunities to network and meet people if you’re planning a career pivot.

Q. How will you use your part-time MBA in the long term?

Sharoon: There’s a lot of long term strategic thinking that business school equips you with. Like, how do you think about problems from a much bigger lens than just your own local maxima?

That mindset definitely helped me think from a macro business perspective. As I grow in my career and take on more of those responsibilities, I feel myself using the learnings from my MBA to think more broadly about the challenges facing my industry.

The MBA also gives you an amazing network. All the people I’ve gotten to know are at incredible companies and in high-impact roles, and they have their own networks. Even internally at Microsoft, I’ve met many Booth alumni. The Booth alumni community is very strong, and I can always reach out to an alum and they’d be willing to help out!

More generally, it was also being in the company of so many bright, motivated people while working which gave me the confidence to know that I could excel in any kind of high pressure environment.

Q. How challenging is tech recruitment right now?

Sharoon: I think that tech recruiting has slowed down over the last year. However, I think the industry is starting to open back up now. You can definitely see more and more roles opening up on LinkedIn or more personally, Microsoft's Job Board Careers Portal.

So, I’d say that there isn’t a hiring freeze anymore. It’s probably more like a hiring ‘thaw’! I expect it to get even better in the coming months, specifically with all the investments the industry is making in generative AI. I believe that tech employers went a bit overboard with hiring during COVID, which had repercussions later, but eventually things will level back out again.


Want to use your part-time MBA to pivot into a new role? Book a free 20 minute chat with one of our expert MBA admissions consultants.


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