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Engineering to Product Management: Embracing Career Crossroads With Ganesh Vernekar

 Engineering to Product Management: Embracing Career Crossroads With Ganesh Vernekar 


Ganesh Vernekar is a graduate of BITS Pilani (Goa, ‘05) with a Bachelor's in Electrical and Electronics Engineering. His path led him to IIM Ahmedabad, molding him into the accomplished professional he is today. Currently, a product manager at Google's Zurich office, Ganesh boasts a remarkable journey and brings a wealth of insightful perspectives to the table.

You went straight to CAT after engineering; why not wait for work experience first?

I was placed in Oracle SSI in 2008, before my graduation. However, my joining was delayed due to the financial crisis that year. With the job market severely impacted, I took up teaching at an IMS CAT coaching center, while waiting for my software job. Given the challenging market conditions, I decided to invest in my career by pursuing an MBA at IIM Ahmedabad in 2010. This allowed me to acquire additional skills and expertise while waiting for the job market to improve.

Did you go into management only because of the situation then, or were other factors pushing you towards non-core opportunities?

After completing my MBA, I initially worked in sales at Unilever. During the aftermath of the financial crisis (2009-2010), opportunities in core sectors, like EEE were limited in India, with only a handful of companies like Cisco available. People usually opted for MS programs in the US to pursue EEE roles, where core job opportunities were more abundant. Given the market conditions and my admissions offer from IIM Ahmedabad, pursuing management became my obvious choice. A few years ago, I became a product manager, finally returning to my tech roots – it feels like things have come full circle!

Experiencing two very prestigious institutes in India, BITS and IIM Ahmedabad, can you tell us how they were different or similar in campus culture, professors, and opportunities?

In terms of approach, BITS and IIM Ahmedabad are opposites. BITS fosters a more relaxed environment with no attendance requirements and an emphasis on extracurricular activities, which is ideal for undergraduate students. In contrast, IIM Ahmedabad mandates almost 100% attendance in the first year, with rigorous academic expectations, which makes sense given it’s a different stage of life. Professors expect pre-work for each class, and if you are randomly cold-called during the class, they will know if you have not done the work. While BITS encourages a balanced lifestyle, IIM Ahmedabad's intensity suits the serious atmosphere of a B-school. Yet, both offer avenues for enjoyment; Ahmedabad hosts Frisbee competitions and cultural events similar to BITS, highlighting the diversity and vibrancy of campus life.

Could you tell us a little about your day-to-day life as a product manager?

My day as a product manager is a whirlwind of collaboration, coordination, and individual work. First thing in the morning, I map out my day based on top priorities. A good chunk of my time is spent on particular tasks like understanding user pain points, crafting detailed PRDs, defining the product vision, or providing feedback on design. Collaboration is key, though! I work closely with UX and engineering to refine ideas and ensure the best possible outcome. There's also a significant operational side – I lead discussions on project progress, drive initiatives forward with diverse teams, and answer any questions that pop up.

The key part? Convincing everyone! I need to explain user problems well and show the value of our products. This gets my team and the wider organization on board to invest in them. It's a versatile job where I have to be flexible and influence people at all levels.

What is one experience you had at BITS, either with a peer or a faculty member, that you feel sticks out to you?

At BITS, I was surrounded by incredibly driven and talented peers. Many of my friends and seniors consistently scored top marks, achieving 9 or 10 CGPA. This exceptional environment pushed me to set the bar high for myself from the very beginning.

On the extracurricular side, I volunteered for Maharashtra Mandal. In 2007, online radio, that is, radio over the internet, was all the rage. I remember setting up an online FM channel for Marathi songs. It was the first entrepreneurial thing I did back in BITS.

What advice would you give to a BITS student right now who is aiming to get into a consulting role in the future?

For a BITS student aspiring to enter the consulting field or a similar industry, my advice would be to prioritize gaining practical experience through internships. While talking to industry professionals can offer valuable insights, nothing beats first-hand experience in helping you discern your interests and strengths. Rather than solely focusing on factors like stipend or location for PS, consider what aligns with your unique skills and interests and the industry's growth potential.

When selecting internships, carefully evaluate the quality of projects you'll be involved in. Aim for roles where you'll be challenged and given opportunities to contribute meaningfully. Talk to your seniors who interned in the company you are targeting. If possible, leverage your network to secure additional internships, as early exposure to different roles will facilitate a clearer understanding of your career aspirations.

Ultimately, the earlier you identify your passions and strengths, the smoother your career trajectory will be.

Can you tell us about an unexpected challenge you faced in your career?

One challenge that took me by surprise early in my career was the experience of transitioning from an MBA graduate to a management trainee at Unilever. Instead of immediately stepping into a managerial role, I spent the first month visiting 30 to 40 stores daily, taking orders. This stark contrast to the strategizing and visioning I had gotten used to in B school was pretty disorienting.

However, this experience turned out to be one of the most valuable learning opportunities of my career. By immersing myself in the day-to-day tasks of a salesperson, I gained a profound understanding of the intricacies of the sales process and the dynamics at play in interactions with store owners. This hands-on experience taught me invaluable communication, negotiation, and relationship-building lessons.

I realized that every role, no matter how seemingly mundane, offers unique insights and opportunities for growth. By mastering each tier of the sales process—from salesperson to team leader to account executive—I developed a comprehensive understanding of the field, laying the groundwork for success in my subsequent roles.

Ultimately, this experience taught me the importance of humility, adaptability, and the willingness to roll up my sleeves and tackle any challenge head-on. It was a humbling reminder that true mastery often begins with embracing the fundamentals and learning from every experience, no matter how unexpected.

If you could have done anything differently during your time at BITS, what would you have done?

I wish I had tried to start an internet-based business in BITS. I think it would have been an interesting experience. But I would not change anything apart from that. I had a lot of fun at BITS and enjoyed my time there.

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