Meet Stephanie Curran, senior product manager at Amazon Marketplace. Stephanie, a 2014 graduate of the Full-time Berkeley MBA Program talked with us about her career for Part IV of this series.
What did you do prior to pursuing your MBA?
I was a senior equity analyst at Bloomberg LP in San Francisco.
Why did you want to work in product management?
I wanted to build a skill set that went beyond my narrow focus of the numbers and Excel spreadsheets I was using in finance to a broader role that would allow me to touch and dive deep into many aspects of a business.
Being a product manager (PM) means you are a general manager of your program, which is a small part of the much larger business. You get to work cross-functionally with software developers, designers, finance, editorial, legal, product managers in other programs and, in my case, also the retail team at Amazon. You manage the road map that determines what your program will launch and when and what resources you need to launch on time. At Amazon, we have to also think globally, as we roll out our technology in 11 different marketplaces.
My interaction with these teams has led me to learn not only about how to manage a program, but a lot about tech development, user experience and UI design, and the nuances between marketplaces along the way, which are some of my favorite parts of the job.
What are your current responsibilities as a product manager?
I am currently a senior product manager in Amazon's Marketplace Business, managing the Authoritative Identity Program. I manage a team of two, consisting of another senior PM and a business analyst, and we use technology to help understand what product a 3rd-party seller is trying to list, given the data they provide us.
My product is an interesting mix of back-end technology-driven improvements (e.g. using machine learning to enhance our models) and front-end user experience improvements to ensure 3rd-party sellers have a good experience when selling on Amazon. I manage the program's road map and work closely with our development team to determine what we launch, when, and the features it will have.
How has earning an MBA been helpful in landing a position and working in product management?
I knew I needed an MBA to make the 180 degree pivot that I did into a different role as well as into a different industry. I had worked in a very focused role as an equity analyst and needed to build a skill set and gain experience that matched the skills required.
I customized my classes as well as the projects I worked on at Haas to help me build this skill set. For example, one of the main things a PM is required to do is determine the features that your minimum viable product (MVP) will launch with. While at Berkeley-Haas I took the New Product Development class where, in one semester, we drove a product from concept to MVP. During that time we learned to prioritize features into must-haves, should-haves, and nice-to-haves. I think back through this exercise every time I begin writing a Business Requirements Document for a new product or feature we are planning.
Do you recommend an MBA to people interested in product management?
I think it depends on the person's skills and experience. For someone like me who was doing a career and industry pivot with no technical background, it was absolutely necessary.
Earning my MBA not only allowed me to begin flexing the skills I needed, but it also allowed me to gain experiences working in product-management-like roles in other companies and then through an Amazon internship—which gave me something to talk about during the interviews. It definitely helped me get a foot in the door.
For others who have technical backgrounds and come from project-management-type backgrounds or consulting, it may not be necessary.
That being said, to anyone considering an MBA, I would absolutely recommend doing the research to understand if it is necessary to get to where you want to be and, if yes, then jump in with two feet and go for it!