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

Weston Ruths is enrolled in the MS / MBA: Engineering Sciences Program

Class of 2022, and is a member of HBS Section D. After graduating from Rice University in 2016 with a degree in Computer Science, he joined the Marine Corps and served as the Communications Officer for 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 product management and entrepreneurial skillset. He is also Co-President of the HBS Show Club and the Admissions Representative for the MS / MBA program.

My time in the MS / MBA program has given me two critical components of my professional journey: mission
and means.

In my first year I launched into identifying myself mission. I realized that empathy provided a strong foundation for much of my life’s direction: from joining the Marine Corps in a desire to embody the ethos of the characters I played in video games, to deciding that compassionate leadership would be the way I worked to motivate me platoon. Now I’ve found that empathy once again drives me to my new mission: to become someone that 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 gaming customer, a medium to enable the strength of others, and a way to foster my love for computer science.

My second year has focused on the means of actioning this vision, by working on a mobile base building game called Regent, and by taking a series of elective courses across multiple disciplines, from artificial intelligence to data science to business strategy. The Product Management 101 class taught by Professor Melissa Perri was an especially transformative process as it helped me to develop a new vernacular, get my “hands dirty” with product management, and grow the confidence to explore new horizons in the video game industry.

My key takeaways:

Coming to Terms with Terms.
Clarity in communication was a core tenant in the Marine Corps and I quickly realized that this learning transferred to product management. At the beginning of the PM 101 class, we defined the role itself, and although the responsibilities of a PM can be at times amorphous, we concluded that product management focuses on a customer’s needs and assembles the strategy for enabling a solution. This customer-centric approach and entrepreneurial mindset immediately had me hooked so I started searching 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. Taking insights from the Biologically-inspired Multi-agent Systems class I was taking at SEAS, I began developing a swarm intelligence to simulate the life of a small village. This simulation evolved into Regent: a cooperative, mobile, fully customizable base-building game with characters you care about. Over the course of 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, fostering a Reddit and Discord community with over 100 alpha participants , and even pitching my game to investors.

Exploring New Horizons. Equipped with learnings from both the class and from creating my own product, I’ve felt more empowered than ever to follow my dreams in the gaming industry. Business school is the best time to test a hypothesis and a particularly great place for a military veteran to test new waters beyond the defense realm. The PM 101 class helped me conquer my imposter syndrome by showing me that my Marine Corps experience actually had a direct translation to product management, especially as I reflected on my time developing web applications for the Marines of my battalion. Conducting mock interviews and resume reviews with some of the amazing product leaders in Professor Perri’s network built a new kind of confidence in myself and the upcoming hiring process. And finally, my semester-culminating project, where I dissected a video game’s design and monetization strategy into a critical product, allowed me to pull together a versatile PM toolkit to attack all my future PM needs.

There are few places in the world where you are truly 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 graduation in the coming weeks, I’m excited to tackle my new mission with a robust and tested skillset.

Time to roll up the sleeves and get to work!

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