Product Management at HBS: Roll Up Your Sleeves and Learn by Doing – MBA

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Weston Ruths is registered with MS/MBA: Engineering Science Program

Class of 2022 and member of HBS Section D. After earning a computer science degree from Rice University in 2016, he joined the Marine Corps and served as a communications officer for the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. While at HBS and SEAS (the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences), Weston built his own video game, Regent, and honed his skills in product management and entrepreneurship. He is also Co-Chair of the HBS Show Club and Admissions Representative for the MS/MBA program.

My time in the MS/MBA program gave me two essential elements of my professional journey: assignment
and means.

During my first year, I embarked on identifying my assignment. I realized that empathy provided a solid foundation for much of my life’s direction: joining the Marine Corps with a desire to embody the spirit of the characters I portrayed in video games, to decide that compassionate leadership would be the way I worked to motivate my section. Now I have discovered that empathy drives me back to my new mission: to become someone who inspires and connects others through heroic stories as a product manager in the video game industry. For me, it’s the perfect combination of an empathetic understanding of the game client, a way to build strength in others, and a way to nurture my love for computing.

My second year focused on means to make that vision a reality, working on a mobile base-building game called Regent, and taking a series of electives in multiple disciplines, from artificial intelligence to data science to business strategy. The Product Management 101 course taught by Professor Melissa Perri was a particularly transformative process as it helped me develop a new vernacular, get my hands dirty with product management, and develop the confidence to explore new horizons in the video game industry.

My main takeaways:

Coming to terms with terms.
Clarity in communication was an essential tenant in the Marine Corps and I quickly realized that this learning carried over to product management. At the start of the PM 101 class, we defined the role itself, and while the responsibilities of a PM can be amorphous at times, we concluded that product management focuses on a customer’s needs and assembles the strategy to enable a solution. This customer-centric approach and entrepreneurial spirit immediately appealed to me, so I started looking for opportunities to do more.

Learning by doing. Professor Perri encouraged me to roll up my sleeves and start getting my hands dirty with an actual product. Inspired by the course on biologically inspired multi-agent systems I was taking at SEAS, I started to develop swarm intelligence to simulate the life of a small village. That sim evolved into Regent: a co-op, mobile, fully customizable base-building game with characters you care about. During this project, I gained first-hand experience with product management in the gaming industry, including identifying a market need, creating a game design document, coding in a game engine, promoting a Reddit and Discord community with over 100 alpha participants, and even pitching my game to investors.

Explore new horizons. Equipped with the learnings from the class and the creation of my own product, I felt more empowered than ever to pursue my dreams in the gaming industry. Business school is the best time to test a hypothesis and place especially ideal for a military veteran to test new waters beyond the realm of defense. The PM 101 class helped me overcome my impostor syndrome by showing me that my experience in the Marine Corps actually had a direct translation into product management, especially as I reflected on my time developing web applications for the Marines in my battalion. Conducting mock interviews and resume reviews with some of the amazing Product Managers in Professor Perri’s network created a new kind of confidence in me and the hiring process ahead. And finally, my end-of-semester project, where I dissected a video game’s design and monetization strategy in a product review, allowed me to put together a versatile PM toolbox to answer all of my future PM needs.

There are few places in the world where you are really given the opportunity to reshape your life and build a solid structure for future development, and for me that was first in the Marine Corps and now in the MS/MBA program. As I look forward to graduating in the coming weeks, I am excited to tackle my new assignment with a strong and proven skill set.

It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work!

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