My Background

What made you decide to study business at Cornell?

I actually wasn’t sure I wanted to go into business. When I was in high school, I was torn between business and pre-law. I decided to attend Cornell because I felt it had strong program for both. I ultimately majored in Applied Economics and Management as I would get a business education, however the program was versatile enough to allow me to pursue my other interests.

Did you always know you wanted to work in tech? Or did you consider other fields before landing on that? What made you decide on tech?

I’ve been a tech nerd from a young age. However, early on, I had pretty much wrote tech off as an option professionally because I didn’t know opportunities existed in that industry out of college for people who couldn’t code.

At Cornell and many other top schools, you are almost conditioned to think of success after graduation as being defined as a job in investment banking or (to a slightly lesser extent) management consulting. When I was a freshmen, I looked up to seniors signing offers with Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. However, as I got older, the more my interest began to sway towards tech.

I would chat with upperclassmen who had interned in investment banking and the lack of passion in their voice was so apparent to me. Don’t get me wrong, some of the people I spoke with were genuinely passionate about finance—however, they wanted to be working in private equity or at a hedge fund. Unfortunately, those sort of roles are typically only available after you have worked in investment banking for a couple years. The positions at the top investment banks out of undergrad pay very well, however the work can be far from meaningful and the hours are grueling (from what I’ve heard from friends in the industry: 80 hours on a very good week, 120 on a very bad week, and 90-100 on average).

I didn’t like the idea of investing two years into a job just as a stepping stone towards a job I actually wanted so I wrote off investment banking relatively early on. Thus, I began chatting with upperclassmen and alums working in consulting. My conversations with consultants went better. For the most part, people seemed to like their work. Sure, the hours were long and travel took a toll on you after a while, however the general consensus was it was worth it for all you learn through the variety of problems you get to help solve as a consultant. I was also told that consulting is a great way to eventually break into product and strategy side roles in the tech industry regardless of if you had a computer science education. Thus, consulting is definitely something I heavily considered and probably is what I would have done if I didn’t do tech out of undergrad.

At what point did you start applying to tech jobs?

I’ve been applying to jobs in tech since freshmen year. However, I wasn’t able to get a role at a real tech company until after my sophomore year. I leveraged my experience from the previous summer where I worked for a marketing firm where a tech company was a client as a foot in the door to help me break into tech. Then, following my sophomore year, I was able to get a marketing internship at IBM which I was then able to use to help me get a product management internship at Microsoft. Up until my junior year, I was still applying for both tech and consulting roles and honestly it came down to getting a strong offer from Microsoft before I had a big three consulting offer in hand which led to by being in tech. With internships, you don’t usually get that long of a window to respond before the offer expires so I took the Microsoft offer as I really liked the people I had met while interviewing there.

When did you realize you wanted to become a Product Manager?

So the internship offer I accepted at Microsoft was actually a rather open ended offer for a “marketing internship.” The role of Product Manager at Microsoft actually falls in the marketing org and I was just extremely lucky to have been assigned to a product management project for the summer. Microsoft tries hard to match you with projects they think you will be interested in and excited by based on what they learned about you during the interviews. As a result of me pitching a lot of product side strategies instead of traditional marketing strategies during my interviews, I was given a PM project.

Over the course of that summer, I started to realize that my best “marketing” ideas were usually product side growth hacks rather than traditional marketing. To be completely honest, I didn’t know what a Product Manager was or did until I interned at Microsoft. However, my project deliverable at Microsoft was essentially actionable product recommendations. As a part of this, I got to chat one-on-one with gaming CEOs and VPs to craft a product strategy for a new initiative at Xbox. I ended up absolutely loving my time at Microsoft as this was my first real experience as a Product Manager. After that, I knew I wanted to be a product manager.

If you loved Microsoft so much, why did you go to Facebook?

The main reason I decided to go to Facebook fulltime rather than Microsoft was that at Microsoft, there is another adjacent PM role known as Program Manager. Program Managers are usually much more technical and do a lot of project management and work with the engineers day in and day out.

There are two key things that go into being a PM: strategy and execution. At Microsoft, those two things are split across different orgs of the company with product managers coming up with the strategy and program managers driving execution. However, with driving execution, program managers are the ones who actually get the final say in what goes into the product roadmap; so even if I had all the data and research in the world, I as a product manager would still have to convince program managers who are lateral to me to actually work my recommendations into the product roadmap. I wanted to be able to own both the strategy and execution of products I worked on and I felt I could better do that given how the product manager role is structured at Facebook.

Being a Product Manager at Facebook

Why did you choose Facebook over your offers at Google and Microsoft?

One thing that drew me to Facebook over both Google and Microsoft is that the culture is much more hacky and entrepreneurial. The people I spoke with at Google and Microsoft loved it there and almost always said they definitely see themselves still working there five years from now. People at Facebook also loved it there, but were usually very honest about not seeing themselves working at a big company five years down the road. Facebookers tended to be excited and hungry to learn best practices to then start their own companies. As someone who wants to be an entrepreneur in the future myself, I wanted to be surrounded by like-minded peers who could very well become my cofounders some day.

How do you like being a Product Manager at Facebook?

I love it. It’s an amazing feeling getting to help shape products that literally billions of people use. Plus, you get to work with some of the most brilliant people in the world and get delicious free food. If you ever visit the Facebook’s Menlo Park campus, I highly recommend going to Fromage (gourmet grilled cheese place on the roof of Building 20).

What’s a day in the life like as a PM?

Essentially, what I do as a PM is work to create a product vision for whatever we are trying to accomplish. Usually, we look to what people are doing on our platform organically and then ask ourselves how we can make it better/easier to do. So a lot of my job is strategizing and coming up with a vision. Then, I get feedback from my team and try to get buy-in from everyone around the core vision and goal. After we are aligned on goals and high level strategy, we start thinking actual product solutions.

As the PM, I get work with designers to think through what the flow of whatever we are trying to build should look like. Then I work with engineers to actually build it and work with data scientists to understand how the product is doing, marketing managers to effectively communicate the product, and product lawyers to avoid going to jail 😛

Tl;dr: Lots of meetings. If you listed my desk on Airbnb, I probably wouldn’t notice for a while because I’m rarely there

What do you work on?

I am currently doing a rotational program at Facebook (learn more at www.fbrpms.com). My first rotation was launching a new posting format called lists on the Newsfeed team.

My current rotation is working on the Payments team (think Messenger consumer payments, not ads payments). I can’t really go into much detail as to what my project is as it’s not public information yet.

Can you refer me to Facebook?

No, sorry, I am only allowed to refer people I have personally worked with in the past.

My Advice for Breaking into Tech

How did you hone your resume / applications to be as competitive as possible?

I tried to highlight relevant experiences I had. During my fulltime job hunt, I was fortunate to have previous internship experience at other technology companies such as Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon. However, to obtain those internships starting out, I tried to highlight previous experiences and projects that showed I had the necessary skillsets to be successful in tech (eg. being scrappy, resourceful, opportunistic, etc). This included things like a side business in high school where I applied various filters on eBay to find phone cases in auctions ending soon with zero bids and a starting price of $0.01 and free shipping. I would then resell items that I got delivered to my door for a mere penny for $5-10.

Did you do any networking to get to where you are now?

I did network. Essentially, I would reach out cold to people who currently had a job I wanted via LinkedIn. People are actually more receptive to a 15 minute chat with a stranger than you might think. The key to getting people to be willing to chat with you is really personalizing the message to why you want to talk that particular person rather than why you want to chat with someone with their job. For instance, if you mention that you and your perspective conversation partner both went to the same school, majored in the same subject, or worked in the same industry previously and you wanted to learn how those experiences helped prepare them for their current role, that would be much more effective in getting a response. You can expect someone with a competitive job gets several messages daily asking to chat. I currently get hundreds of messages a week and I don’t have time respond to everyone so I respond to the people who have done a good job articulating why they want to chat with me specifically. Make sure your message isn’t a generic mass sent copy and paste if you want people to make time in their busy schedule to chat with you.

What's the biggest misconception in tech?

The dirty little secret is for most tech jobs, you don’t need to know how to code. (Obviously, software engineering roles are an exception to that.) I received product manager and product marketing manager job offers from Google, Facebook, and Microsoft and I don’t know how to write a single line of code.

Most roles in marketing, finance, sales, strategy & operations, etc. don’t require a computer science education. At many companies, including Facebook where I work, you don’t even need a computer science degree for product manager roles where you work with software engineers every day to create the vision for amazing products.

However, there’s a difference between being “technical” and being a software engineer. I think being technical is really important and I define that as understanding how technology works at a high level and essentially speaking the language of engineers.

A friend of mine recently wrote a Medium article about how he was able to reverse engineer the API of the popular dating app Coffee Meets Bagel and sniff the network traffic and to find a lot of sensitive information was being sent from the server to the client unencrypted. Being “technical” in my opinion means you understood what I just said, even if you have no idea how to reverse engineer an API yourself. The thing is, the engineers will do the actual coding so you don’t need to know “the how” but you do need to understand the what’s and the why’s—especially if you want to be a Product Manager.

Way back when, I actually spent a good half an hour searching on Amazon for a book that would help give me a high level overview of the tech concepts I needed to know to excel at interviews and better understand the technical implications when making business strategy decisions in the tech industry. I found that nothing like that existed. The information I sought was scattered across the web, written with various of levels of presumed knowledge. Although there are hundreds of books to teach beginners to code, I found nothing to help me better understand the underlying technology concepts. So with the help of a couple friends, I decided to write a book that contained just that to better help people interested in working on the business side of tech understand things like how google search actually works or the business rationale behind why Amazon changes product prices 2.5 million times a day.

What's the key to getting tech jobs without a technical background / what's your best advice for business students / other non-comp sci students interested in working in tech?

I think the high level understanding I had of tech really helped me in my interviews at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc. For example, if you are applying for a non-software engineering role at Google, you most likely won’t be asked to explain how Google’s ad targeting algorithm works. But they might ask you how you could increase ad revenue from a particular market segment. If you know how Google's ad platform works, you'll be in a far stronger position to come up with good growth strategies. I think having a high level understanding of both the tech and business sides definitely helped me get job offers from Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.

I actually recently co-authored a book with what I think are core tech and business strategy concepts from my experience at Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM, etc.

I don’t think you need to know how to code to work in tech, however it is extremely difficult to get offers without having a high level understanding of how technology you use everyday actually works under the hood.

You didn’t answer my question above.

Email your question to parth@parthdetroja.com and I will try to add it to this page if it’s a common request.

What can I do if I still really want to have a 20 minute phone call to pick your brain on something not covered above?

I’ll trade you my thoughts for yours. If you read my book, Swipe to Unlock, and share your honest feedback, I’ll make time to chat with you. Write a review on Amazon that’s at least two paragraphs of sincere feedback and send the review URL to the email address above or message it to me on LinkedIn. It doesn’t have to be a glowing positive review, just your honest thoughts and constructive criticism. We literally update the book every two months based on feedback we get as we genuinely want to make it as good as possible 😊