Category: Student Blogs

Simon in Seattle: 5 Product Management Lessons From My Summer at Amazon

The following blog post was written by Mike Alcazaren, MBA Class of 2019

This summer I interned as a senior product manager on the Amazon Devices team. My summer project was to launch a new product feature for Amazon Dash Buttons. I had the opportunity to fully own the product launch, which included the financial modeling, marketing research, operations, and customer experience.

Love the office pups!

Love the office pups!

This experience was a ton of fun. I learned a lot and got a taste of what it’s like to be a product manager. After taking some time to reflect on my summer, I came up with five pieces of advice for those planning to intern at Amazon and/or interested in a career in product management.

Amazon’s culture is defined through the 14 Leadership Principles, so I’ve mapped each piece of advice to a leadership principle.

1. Find Comfort in Ambiguity. (Take Ownership)
No one has solved your specific project before. You’ll be given a lot of responsibility and you’ll need to learn fast. You own the success of your project and will need to ask the right questions to get the information you need. I spoke with 84 different people at Amazon to be sure I thoroughly understood the problem I was given.

2. Be Scrappy. (Bias for Action/Frugality)
Always ask yourself:

  • “What’s the value of the information I need to gather?” (Thanks, Professor Lovett!)
  • “Can I make a decision with less?”
  • “What data do I actually need?”
Cookies were a huge hit during user research.

Cookies were a huge hit during user research.

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and design a prototype. A design-focused mindset is crucial for any product manager. I performed a 54-person user research test with prototypes that used old devices and paper to simulate an unboxing experience for the customer. I didn’t have budget to go externally, but was able to negotiate for budget for gift cards and cookies to entice employees to participate.

3. Write Early, Write Often. (Deliver Results)
Amazon uses a narrative-based approach to presentation, where your idea is fully captured within a six-page document and–surprise!–it shouldn’t be an unfinished document at your midpoint review. A product manager’s document is typically called a “Press Release and Frequently Asked Questions,” or PRFAQ. The approach to writing this document is called “working backwards,” meaning you start with the customer and work backwards to solve the customer challenge. (Check out this Medium article for more information on working backwards and PRFAQs.) You should aim to have your PRFAQ as close to final as possible at the halfway point.

It can be difficult to get your document in front of people for review. Find a support team that can give you feedback, such as alumni, fellow interns, or friends. One of my goals this summer was to write as concisely as possible. My mantra became, “Clarity of Writing = Clarity of Thought.” Remember to review, review, review!

4. Be Coach-able. (Earn Trust)
When you get feedback, listen. Most people want you to be better and improve. But don’t wait to get this feedback—seek input from people earlier, rather than later.

Photo of Mike with his Amazon colleagues.

Smart Home Intern Team 2018!

5. Have Fun! (Learn & Be Curious)
Take time to enjoy Seattle and the Pacific Northwest! Make sure to meet your fellow interns and enjoy a few happy hours. Your team has a ton of experience that you can leverage to finish your project.

Without the analytical skillset I acquired during my first year at Simon, I wouldn’t have been able to solve this ambiguous project, which ultimately resulted in an offer to join Amazon full-time as a senior product manager.

Thank you to those who supported me this summer: the Simon Admissions Office, Simon’s Career Management Center, my Simon Class of 2019 classmates–particularly those who would meet on their own time to talk all things product management–and my family and friends. I wouldn’t have had a successful internship without your help!

Worn out pair of shoes

These poor guys barely made it to the finish line.

My Summer in Seattle by the Numbers
Loving data the way that I do, I can’t resist adding in some fun data points from this summer:
233: Restaurants and sites visited in the Pacific Northwest
84: Amazonians I spoke with to complete my summer project
54: Amazonians that completed my user research
1,198,321 & 511: Steps and miles walked (respectively) during my internship
1: Totally worn-through pair of shoes

NYC Career Day Reflections — Raazgi Haidri MBA Class of 2020

The following blog post was written by Raazgi Haidri, MBA Class of 2020

There is something about boarding a bus at Times Square with suits on hangers!

Recently, 104 of us from Simon’s MBA Class of 2020 traveled from Rochester to New York City for the MBA Career Day. For many of us, this was our first time in NYC, and for most us it would be the first of many, as New York City is known for its finance, real estate, technology, and health care industries.

raazgi.haidriDuring Career Day, the Career Management Center hosted panel discussions with alumni and allies of the school who shared their insights into various MBA roles in different industries. We learned about diverse career experiences in consulting, marketing, product management, pricing, finance, and entrepreneurship roles. Panels also shared valuable advice about recruiting and interviewing for different jobs.

One of the main themes that stood out for me during discussions and Q&A sessions was the concept of “career exploration.” Our class is a vibrant mix of candidates from a variety of backgrounds such as finance, travel, consulting, education, non-profits, media, the military, and more. I realized that exploring various career options before embarking on a pointed career search was great advice, and the career panels were a valuable tool in doing exactly that. I particularly enjoyed learning more about the advantages and challenges of collaborative roles like product management and consulting. During Career Day, our class was also able to make meaningful connections with panelists and alumni. We are honored that they shared their stories and insights with us.

Armed with deeper knowledge of roles and industries, a better network, and great memories of NYC, we begin fall term this week. There surely is something special about walking the streets of Manhattan in business suits—see you again, NYC!

How I Chose My MBA “Village”

The following blog post was written by Gavin Hall, a rising second-year MBA student interning at Cognizant as a summer associate for CDB Digital Strategy. He is an MLT Professional Development Fellow and is president of Simon Consulting Club and managing director of Simon Vision Consultants. This post originally appeared on the MLT Blog.

Gavin_diversity conference“It takes a village to raise a child.” That is a traditional proverb about how one’s community aids in their development and readiness for success. While the sentiment pertains to children, it has proved to hold true throughout my early career. I like to think that the community around me created a nurturing environment that guided me to the place I am now.

Thus, the main criteria I used to assess MBA programs during the application process was the culture of the community and my fit into it. It was important to me not only because you engage with your classmates six to seven days a week for up to 10–12 hours some days, but these individuals will be forever connected to you through the name of the institution on your résumé, for better or worse. I wanted to ensure that I surrounded myself with people I could forge meaningful, lasting, and diverse relationships with in an environment that allowed me to be the best version of myself.

Gavin_habitat for humanity_cropFor this reason, Simon Business School at the University of Rochester was my first choice, and it has been the most rewarding experience I could have imagined. The diversity at Simon is unmatched: the School is among the top 10 US MBAs for diversity and top 15 US MBAs for women. However, numbers are nothing without context. Business school teaches us to become leaders in the management ranks, which will become increasingly diverse, and Simon has cultivated an environment to experience that paradigm shift now.

The majority of the incoming members of the Simon Graduate Business Council are underrepresented minorities or international students (including the president, who originates from Ethiopia), and half are women. In addition, Simon’s Consortium fellows hold numerous leadership positions throughout the school. This is vital because we are in the conversations that matter and ignite change students want to see in faculty, staff, and alumni. Simon is not a place where you are Student No. 9,156; your voice is heard. And for an African American kid from Brooklyn, the opportunity to engage with people from all walks of life in graduate school has been invaluable.

The minute I stepped on campus in Rochester, something about the program at Simon felt comfortable, like this is where I should be. This was the village that was going to raise me to the next level.

If you’re an MLT Fellow attending Summer Seminar this weekend, Andrew Brayda, senior associate director of admissions, would love to speak with you! He’ll be offering application tips during the “Demystifying the Application Process” panels tomorrow, and you can also find him at Simon’s table during the fair from 9-10 a.m. on Sunday.

Eight Inspiring Soundbites from the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference

The following blog post was written by Wallace Gundy, MBA Class of 2020 and Simon Forté Fellow

Every now and then, I need a good old-fashioned dose of girl power! But attending the annual Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference with 14 other Simon Forté Fellows was that and a whole lot more. All of the nerves went away, and the anxious inner-monologue of “Can I really do this? Can I really get my MBA?” was drowned out by great conversation, connection making, laughter, and a pretty incredible #FortéPowerUp Spotify playlist. Being surrounded by 700+ women in my shoes, and embarking on this journey together, made for three incredible days and the perfect kickstart to my two years of business school.

Simon ladies #PowerUp!

Simon women #PowerUp!

The facts are the facts. Only five percent of current Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women hold just over 20% of board seats in the Fortune 1000 companies. There is a gender wage gap of 20 percent, with women earning only 80 cents for every dollar men earn.

But after hearing from so many talented and successful women leaders in business, I am not only optimistic, I am certain that our generation will make a huge difference. We are smart, we are capable, we are empathetic, and we are ready to #PowerUp. Below are just a few of the comments I took away from the conference that I will carry with me over these next two years and beyond.

“Risk taking is a muscle you need to exercise.”
Julie Sweet, Chief Executive Officer – North America, Accenture
The unknown is tough and risks are scary. But they are so worth it. Julie also shared that she has a placard in her office that reads, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.” Keep dreaming.

“One hand reaching up, one hand reaching back.”
Melissa Arnoldi, President, AT&T Technology & Operations
We are going to need to reach for help from others. But guess what? Women are going to be needing to reach for our help too.

“Find the thing that even senior people want to come to you for.”
Lori Heinel, Executive Vice President & Deputy Global Chief Investment Officer, State Street Global Advisors
Be an expert in something that is invaluable. Even if it’s small, if it’s the thing only you can do, you will be invaluable, too.

“Be a group of women that will create more firsts than this world knows what to do with.”
Noemie Tilghman, Principal Strategy & Operations, Deloitte
We are ready, Noemie!

Several Simon Forté fellows posed with a banner of Lydia Perez Poole '06S (MBA).

Several Simon Forté Fellows posed with a banner of Lydia Perez Poole, a 2006 Simon MBA graduate.

“Focus on what matters, but keep an open mind. Whenever things get hard, go back and think about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Take some chances. You might be surprised by how much you might learn.”
Lydia Perez Poole, Simon MBA ’06, Shopper Insights & Analytics Leader, Procter & Gamble
It’s a big world out there and you never know what opportunities you might encounter. Stay focused but not confined. Otherwise, you could miss out on something great.

“It’s not a career ladder, it’s a career jungle gym.”
Jennifer Bosl, Regional Operations Director, DaVita Kidney Care
If there is one thing I’ve already learned, it’s that careers aren’t linear. That’s part of why I am at Simon! Embrace the non-linear path! You never know where it could lead you.

“Come in every day and earn your chair.”
Kelly Greenauer, Data Quality Manager, M&T Bank
Make every day matter. Give it your all. Leave your job each day better than you found it that morning.

“Exercise your agency. Make your school a place where women can thrive as much as men do. When women around you succeed, celebrate their victories. Cheer loudly for them. Support them.”
Jessica Raasch, 2018 Edie Hunt Inspiration Award Winner
As a recent MBA graduate, Jessica was in our shoes just two years ago. Her words were the perfect conclusion to the conference.

I think I can speak for all of the Simon Forté Fellows when I say we will exercise our agency. We will support and celebrate one another. And we will all make Simon an even better place for women to grow as the next generation of leaders. Together.