CMU_WomenTech Network

    The "Breaking Into Product Management: Ask Me Anything" session, hosted virtually by Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, was a resounding success. Aspiring product managers from various backgrounds gathered to gain invaluable insights from current students and alumni of the Master of Science in Product Management (MSPM) program. The event provided a unique opportunity to learn about the journey into product management, the experiences within the MSPM program, and tips on navigating the application process. 

    Brad Eiben, the Executive Director of the MSPM program moderated the session. Joining him were Brielle Irving, a current MSPM student with a decade of HR Technology experience; Elise Guerrier, a healthcare product manager and MSPM alumna; and Qianqian Yu, a business analyst intern at PayPal and current MSPM student with a background in architecture and urban planning

    [0:57] Personal Stories:

    The panelists delved into their personal journeys, highlighting the diverse paths that led them to product management and how the MSPM program at Carnegie Mellon equipped them with the skills and knowledge necessary for success.  

    Elise Guerrier started by sharing that she found herself accidentally in tech after working as a teacher, eventually discovering her passion for the tech industry. Transitioning from support roles to customer success, Elise sought to improve her skills and discovered Carnegie Mellon University's MSPM program. After graduating, she secured a position in healthcare tech and has been thriving there ever since. She loves the job because every day is different, and being a Product Manager (PM) allows her to bring together people from different departments to collaborate. 

    Qianqian Yu detailed her unique academic journey, starting with a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Design and a first Master's degree in Architecture Design from Sweden. Currently pursuing her second Master's at CMU, she is also interning at PayPal. Qianqian realized she didn’t want to remain a designer for her entire career, which led her to transition into product management. 

    Brielle Irving shared her story, highlighting the balance she maintains as a mother while advancing her career. She spent half of her career in large global staffing organizations and startup tech, where she observed the impactful work of PMs. Initially starting out by filling positions, Brielle gradually transitioned into the technical side, working closely with and hiring PMs. This experience solidified her desire to pursue product management as her career path, leading her to enroll in the MSPM program. 

    [22:30] On Imposter Syndrome:

    When asked about experiencing imposter syndrome, the panelists shared their personal struggles and coping mechanisms.  

    Brielle admitted that even after her in-person interview, she doubted her worthiness of being admitted to the PM program. She felt she wasn't good enough and questioned why a recruiter would look at her resume. A friend advised her that a recruiter cannot reject you if you don't apply, encouraging her to take the leap despite her fears. 

    Elise shared that her family never expected her to experience imposter syndrome due to her go-getter mentality. While she didn’t encounter it during her studies, it hit hard during her summer internship. Surrounded by highly experienced colleagues, she feared failing and being seen as someone who didn't belong. Her colleagues advised her to "fail fast to get back up," a phrase that resonated deeply and helped her persevere. 

    Qianqian, as an international student, faced cultural adjustments. She realized that her contributions were valued, and people genuinely cared about her input. Support from the career center was instrumental in helping her secure a good internship, reinforcing her confidence and sense of belonging. 

    [31:43] What it means to be a Product Manager:

    Consequently, Brad shared that he’s extremely proud that half of the students in the program are female, highlighting the program’s commitment to diversity. 

    The panel then discussed what it means to be a Product Manager (PM). Elise shared a funny story about her dad thinking she helped keep store shelves stocked. She explained that being a PM is often described as being the "CEO without the power" because it requires influencing and working effectively with others without direct authority. She emphasized the importance of a special communication class in the program that taught strategies for persuading people, which has been invaluable in her position. Elise also noted that the design classes at CMU helped her stand out at work. 

    Qianqian described a PM as sitting at the intersection of business, tech, and management, setting the direction for projects and teams. She stressed the need to switch languages when communicating with different team members to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

    Brielle, inspired by Elise and Qianqian's definitions, mentioned a book she’s reading, "Data Science for Business" by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett. She explained that the book describes PMs as both process-driven and creative individuals who combine the analytical and imaginative sides of their brains. 

    [39:08] Why a Master's Degree in Product Management:

     When asked what differentiates the MSPM program from online courses or self-teaching through books, Qianqian highlighted that the program combines business school and computer science, offering a mix of business and technical courses. This blend, along with in-person interactions, teaches aspiring PMs how to communicate with various profiles. Elise valued the access to experts in the field, the 1:1 contact, and networking opportunities that are incomparable to just reading a book. 

    Regarding job placement, Brielle acknowledged that it is possible to be successful in a PM career without formal education because until recently such programs didn’t exist, but having the MSPM degree significantly reduces the time it takes to secure a job. Qianqian appreciated the career center's help in securing her internship at PayPal and noted the program's one-year duration as a good advantage. Elise emphasized the importance of connections, sharing that she got her current position through a professor’s recommendation.

    [48:35] Advice to aspiring PMs

    For aspiring PMs, the panelists shared the following advice: 

    Brielle: "You can’t over-engineer things. Don’t obsess over whether it’s right or not, knowing that you can easily iterate. Think about how you can improve, celebrate each phase, and then focus on the next goal and win."

    Elise: "Get comfortable being uncomfortable. You have to settle into the discomfort of everything changing. You’re not always going to have all the answers." 

    Qianqian: "Think less and go faster. Once you know what you’re going to do, don’t hesitate. Don’t think about other people’s opinions."

    In conclusion, Brad shared that applications for the January 2025 intake are now open, with a deadline of June 17th. Carnegie Mellon is graciously offering an application fee waiver for attendees of this session. Use code WomenTech25 to get your application fee deducted. Explore more details about the MSPM program here:

    For admissions questions, please reach out to: [email protected].

    Watch the Full Recording here 👇