From Amazon to the MBA
I’ve worked in one company for most of my nine-year stint in tech, which is Amazon. After I completed my Master’s in Computer Science, I was hired by Amazon as an engineer. I worked in that capacity for about six years before transitioning into a Programme Manager role.
I was working for Amazon at a time when it exploded as a company. Most of the projects I was working on had a big impact in terms of customer scale. My proudest work achievement is that I am co-inventor on three pending patents for some of the work we did in the advising space, so that’s quite exciting. We received those small puzzle pieces that the company gives out every time a patent is filed or pending. I also received an Amazon Marketplace award from the VP when I was in Seattle for my contributions to the Marketplace business.
Deciding to study an MBA
During my time in the company, I could see that tech leadership was more exciting to me than actually building the software. Even though I still love writing code, it’s like solving puzzles, there is a lot more impact on the leadership side. However. I quickly realised that the skillsets required to be successful as a leader are somewhat different. It’s good to have a technical background, it’s good to work at a product level so you understand how the technology works on the ground level. But I never had any business background so I don’t have any of the knowledge for example, on following the P&L numbers. I knew a lot of the engineering but not the financial and economic aspects of running a business.
Although there are a lot of courses out there for learning bits and pieces, I knew that it would be better for me to take a year off, throw myself knee-deep and round my business knowledge to match the technical skills I had built up. That’s one of the major reasons and the other one was, even though working for Amazon was cool and it’s one of the world’s largest companies, I felt that I had little to no visibility into any other industry. Given how MBA classes are typically structured, I knew that having the diversity around me in terms of cohort and subject matter would help broaden my vision into business.
The Imperial factor
Imperial College is one of the world’s most premier engineering and medical institutions. Even growing up, I always thought it would be great to study at Imperial because of the contributions it has made to society. Then I looked at the Business School profile when I was doing my MBA search in the UK. This was the perfect opportunity to study here because it’s based in London, which is one of the UK and the world’s best tech hubs. London provides a lot of networking opportunities and conferences, there’s something on all the time. Imperial is the best combination of a university that has strong links to technology both past and present, as well as being based in London.
Funding my MBA
I was very honoured to be offered an Advisory Board scholarship from the Business School, which funded my MBA.
Networking opportunities on the MBA
The most rewarding part of my MBA has been networking. This includes interacting with my cohort – there are 70+ strangers put together in an MBA class. Getting to know my class helped me set up my initial goals of trying to see the different backgrounds people come from and their experiences. Apart from that, once I got comfortable with the School’s cadence, I started going out more into the London tech scene and networking with people as best I can. I think just meeting new people, hearing about their experiences and seeing the bits and pieces that interest me a lot going forward after the MBA, has by far been the most rewarding.
A diverse, smart and fun cohort
In three words, I would describe my cohort as diverse – 70+ people represent 30 countries which is ridiculous, and there is a good gender balance in class. Second, they are very smart and engaging. Any time we have case discussions, there is a good dynamic of contributing to discussions with interesting viewpoints. That makes any discussions in class/case studies so interesting. The third word I would use is fun. In Copenhagen and elsewhere, it’s very easy to get a small group together and have some fun. Like going out in London or waiting in line for three hours in hopes of getting Michelin starred rice and meat.
Working in syndicate groups
Different members in my syndicate group have different backgrounds and strengths. It’s like working in a team. I have worked in quite a few team dynamics before the MBA, but doing projects with my syndicate group was mostly very focused. We had a charter and clear motivations. Group projects ended up being a good experience for all of us because we had someone who could lead the way by having expertise in a certain subject. It was a lot of fun generally because it keeps the teamwork dynamic in you at all times.
My takeaways on leadership
To distil it down, my key takeaway of the MBA is that there is no one true leadership style. Do what’s best for you, as long as you are authentic to yourself. Everybody has their thoughts and beliefs, and there are a lot of business schools that companies want to get to. But what I’ve learned through all these case studies I’ve been reading, as well as talking with other leaders and networking at Career events, is that there are so many different leaders with different leadership styles to safely conclude that as long as you’re authentic to yourself and who you are, you are good to go.
Developing my soft skills
The MBA has made me more comfortable presenting. Even generally, I take a lot of photos but I never take photos with me in them. I’ve never felt confident enough to be in front of a camera or video camera very much. But the MBA has helped me step out of my comfort zone. I made a vlog for our Copenhagen trip because I wanted to try this and step out of my comfort zone. This is something I’ve continued to do on the MBA by watching other people present and learning from Career Consultants who give feedback on specific presentations I’ve done. It’s been very useful for learning how to be clear in my speech and body language. My presenting is something that has improved from the MBA.
Business Insights in Copenhagen trip
We went to Copenhagen for the Business Insights in Europe trip and the topic was sustainability in Scandinavia. Even before coming to the MBA I had this predisposed notion that corporate social responsibility could be checkbox exercises for corporates because we don’t get a lot of visibility. But the trip was great because on day one, before the company visits, we were given a lecture by one of the Associate Deans and Head of Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). That set the context brilliantly because Professor Andreas from CBS gave a great introduction to the topic, gave data points and explained how Danish firms must have sustainability reports.
The next day we went to visit Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company and read their sustainability report, which was eye-opening. After, that we went to a utilities company that runs the electricity, heat and water for a lot of Copenhagen and saw how they on the ground practically want to take their company to be carbon neutral by 2025. Those are the kinds of things I needed to see/read in-person to understand the data behind sustainability. Now looking forward to my work post-MBA, I definitely as a future leader want to make sure that any projects I work on have some sort of positive social impact or are sustainable cyclically in the long run.
A challenging schedule
The schedule can be punishing. I thought that it can’t be so much worse than working and boy was I wrong! You have to drop a lot of things all the time. Every day is a reprioritisation exercise, it’s the first thing I do every morning. It has been great practice for executive style life, but I’ve had a lot of fear of missing out. But you’ve got to go to the things that you feel are the most rewarding. An example is that I had finals coming up but there was a networking event I really wanted to go to that Careers were running the evening before one of my exams. I had prepared what I could and instead of spending two more hours doing a bit more practice, I decided that I’d rather go to the talk. Even though it’s a challenge, it’s good in terms of cutting out a lot of wasteful activities that I used to partake in. That being said, I still take time to rest and relax as needed, you can’t go full-on all the time, but keeping up with the schedule could sometimes get challenging.
Making the most of events at the School
There are three different types of events that I go to. One is the Careers events, they are either held by the Carers team or Career Clubs. I am the head of Technology in the Technology Media and Telecoms club. All of the executive committee members have a remit to hold one or two events at least. Second, the Business School itself holds quite a few workshops. Whenever I get the chance to attend one of those, I do. The most recent one I did was the corporate acceleration symposium. It was mostly for executive-level leaders, but they had a few tickets open up. I took that chance and sat in a few amazing talks. As a follow-up from that, I added people on LinkedIn and saw if they could have a coffee chat with me and a few of them did respond positively and I met a few of the speakers. That’s the third opportunity, once you’ve been to a conference, make sure your LinkedIn game is strong, add them and ask them for a coffee chat. Something we were told from day one is that being an MBA student is the least threatening title. Everyone will talk to you and give you advice.
Utilising the Careers service and the Personal Leadership Journey
Meeting my Career Consultant regularly, preparing my CV mock, doing the behavioural strengthscope and trying to understand my strengths and emotional intelligence level, going to workshops on my personal brand, were all super useful aspects of the Personal Leadership Journey and Careers offering.