Alumni Product Panel
Last Tuesday, WashU alums Grace Egbo, Facebook Software Engineer, Jordana Gilbert, Facebook Product Manager, and Mark Gjelsten, Blackrock Product Marketing Manager gathered to speak about their careers in product.
The question of what a product manager does is an interesting one as it varies at each company. As a product manager, Jordana said that her role is to act as the strategic direction center for her team. She gets to ask the big exciting questions — “What do we want to focus on? What is our mission? What projects will we work on?” She also coordinates a team of software engineers, data scientists, and product marketing managers.
As a product marketing manager, Mark’s role is similar but there are some differences. One is that he must figure out how to appropriately resource his team. As projects come up, he must talk to software engineers and tell them what he is looking for. They’ll tell him if it is possible, and what they’d need to achieve it. PMM is a more client-facing role. He gets to know the clients and understand which parts of the product matter the most to them. Through that, he can prioritize what things need to be done.
Our moderators then asked the panelists how they figured out that this was what they wanted to do.
Grace knew that she wanted to do something related to computers from a young age. After picking up a book on making websites, she discovered a love for computer science. It took her a while to figure out that CS was what she wanted to pursue. The ability to not only create a new product but also a whole business really inspired her to dive into tech in college. Her first-year internship was also an important experience in choosing her career path. She successfully applied to Facebook University as a freshman while taking WashU’s famous, CSE131 course. The internship was her first introduction to working in a corporate environment. She thrived and loved the culture there, and returned each summer during her undergraduate experience. The moment that led Grace to decide that Facebook was the place for her was when she crashed Facebook. Instead of firing her on the spot, her boss said ”Ok, let’s work together to get the site up and running!”
Jordana, on the other hand, does not come from a technical background. She doesn’t know how to code and was a Marketing and Spanish major at WashU. Her route to Facebook was a little longer. After graduating, Jordana began working at a consulting firm. She reached a point where an MBA made sense and decided to go to business school. When searching for an internship between her first and second years, she decided that she wanted to do something different and applied to Facebook’s project management MBA internship. It was a great fit, and she ended up interviewing for a product management role.
In his junior year at WashU, Mike wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He decided that he would take the most exciting opportunity that came his way. To try and figure out his options, he called a lot of his friends who had graduated and asked them if they liked their job. One of them worked at BlackRock, and the work sounded interesting enough to apply for an internship there despite not considering himself a finance person. He got the internship, had a great time, and got a return offer. He thought it through, felt that it met the threshold he wanted for his first job, and took it on. He advised us not to stress too much about the job and internship process!
Since the panelists were all WashU alums, the next question was which WashU Resources were the most helpful to them.
Grace and Mark both agreed that the Career Center was excellent. They were both really helpful for the technical parts of the job search — resume review, and preparing for behavioral & technical interviews — and the softer parts — introductions to interesting alum. Olin also has a great grant that allows students to take on unpaid internships.
Jordana has an interesting background for a person in tech, as she is non-technical. When asked if an MBA was necessary for her to make the leap to tech, she said no. While an MBA is not required for the jump, it is valuable if you want to make a big career pivot.
Before saying goodbye, our panelists left us with one final piece of advice.
In the six years since she graduated, Jordana said she has not seen a single person have the same job that they started with. Beyond that, she did not have any particularly exciting internships. It is ok if you don’t have your dream job at 22. There is a lot more time and growth, so don’t stress too much.
Mark encouraged students to take classes that interest them, to do things for fun, and invest time in things you care about. He said that on average you will learn and grow more from those experiences than those you feel obligated to do.
Grace said never to count yourself out of the recruiting game. It is easy to feel like you are not qualified or a “good” enough candidate, but if you feel passionate, just go for it. What is the worst that could happen?
This was the final BizTech event for the semester and we look forward to sharing all the exciting events we have planned for next semester. If you would like to stay involved and be updated on our events, please join as a member on WUGO. Follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook to stay up to date!
This article was written by Shreya Patel.