Swetha Tupelly is about to celebrate her first year as a product manager at ServiceMax, a SaaS division of GE Digital. The new position is a big leap from her previous role as a technical lead and engineer at Qualcomm.
She worked at the San Diego semiconductor firm for eight years building connectivity in consumer devices. The key tool to making that leap: A Berkeley MBA in the Evening & Weekend Program.
Raised in Hyderabad, India, Swetha received her bachelor’s degree in electronics and communications engineering from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University and her master’s in electrical engineering from Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Her technical training enabled her to move from independent designer to integration lead to managing entire projects. But she was always interested seeing the bigger picture, she says, “and how a product would affect the end user.”
“I wanted to be more outwardly focused, to define how the product is designed according to the market,” she remembers. “I was still at the back end of things, not making the big calls.” She began to investigate the role of product manager, with its combination of leadership, business acumen, and technical expertise and to explore different paths toward a product management role.
Can an MBA help you switch industries as well as positions?
Why business school? “Many people said I didn’t need an MBA,” Swetha says, “but in the end I decided it would be very helpful. It would be a way of differentiating myself, opening some doors, and competing with those who had more PM experience.” She also wanted to move from the semiconductor industry to software, where she felt the opportunities would be greater. She researched business schools’ recruiting resources, career services, and professional support to see if they would make such a transition possible.
Once she decided to pursue an MBA, however, there were a few obstacles. She evaluated full-time programs, but that option would mean postponing the family she and her husband wanted to start. “I also didn’t want to begin school and then have a baby right after taking a new job,” she says. “After I had my daughter, it became clear that a part-time MBA program would be a better fit.” Swetha already knew she wanted to attend a branded school like Berkeley-Haas, but she lived in Southern California. By then she also had an 18-month-old baby. She negotiated with her employer to transfer both her and her husband – who also worked for Qualcomm – to the San Jose office.
Swetha's pick: the most helpful MBA course for a career switch to product management
The Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA curriculum taught Swetha about skills and functions she had been previously unaware of, including sales channel strategies, business model innovations, effective negotiations, and more. “A lot of industry professionals came and spoke, offering so many new perspectives that we could apply to different industries,” she says. She found her marketing analytics course especially helpful: it offered new insights on how to build a business case for analytics, how to think about data, and technical knowledge – from machine-learning algorithms to enterprise software.
Now a product manager at a firm providing field service software for big businesses, Swetha is exactly where she’d hoped she’d be. “The past few years have been filled with hard work, difficult decisions, and a fair amount of stress”, she concedes, but she says it’s all been worth it to achieve her goal. “You need to step back and really examine your priorities,” she advises. “Berkeley’s part-time MBA allowed me to make it all work.”