Former MER student Preetham Duvva is an electrical engineer by degree and an experienced Software professional with a demonstrated history of working in the healthcare industry. To fulfill his goal of pursuing a career in product management, he decided to apply for the Fully Employed MBA Program of UCLA Anderson while continuing his job as a Tech Lead at LA Care Health Plan.
He partnered with MER (myEssayReview) for his essays for the FEMBA program at UCLA Anderson Business School. Now a second-year student at Anderson, Preetham has kindly agreed to share his Anderson experience with us.
Watch his interview with Poonam to learn how Preetham is navigating the business school with his full-time job and family responsibilities.
Talking Points of the Conversation:
- His background 00:49
- Career goals & FEMBA program 02:17
- His Favorite aspect of the program 06:06
- Challenges faced during the application journey 10:19
- Work-life-school balance 13:30
- Application of classroom learnings at work 26:30
- Extracurricular activities at Anderson 28:55
- Contribution to the program 35:16
- Advice to incoming FEMBA students 37:42
- His insights on Anderson's principles 41:57
And now presenting Preetham…….
Poonam: Hello, Preetham. How are you doing?
Preetham: I'm doing well. Poonam, how are you?
Poonam: I am doing well too. Thank you for making time for this conversation. I really appreciate it because you have a busy schedule. So, thanks for fitting this conversation into your schedule.
Preetham: No, it has been an absolute pleasure to be here, and thank you for having me. I am really looking forward to our conversation.
Preetham's Academic and Professional Background
Poonam: Sure. I am also looking forward to learning about your Anderson experience. And before we start that, can you please tell our viewers a little about yourself- your academic and professional background?
Preetham: I completed my Bachelor's in engineering in India before coming to the US to pursue my Masters in electrical engineering from California State University, Sacramento. My professional background has been primarily in business intelligence. I graduated in 2010 at a time of economic downturns and not many jobs in hardware. So even though I wanted to pursue a career in hardware engineering, I shifted my career to business intelligence and worked as a business BI consultant for companies such as Accenture and Hewlett-Packard. Currently, I am working as a Technical Lead in BI with a healthcare company, Elica Health Plan, based out of Los Angeles, CA. Before joining Anderson, I had gained nearly ten years of work experience.
Preetham's First Year Experience at Anderson
Poonam: Thank you. So, you wanted a management education to pursue a career in product management. Has Anderson's FEMBA program met your expectations so far? You are a second-year student now.
Preetham: Yes, I am a second-year student. That's a good question. The program has been instrumental in helping me develop the core skills that are essential to becoming a successful management professional. My career goal is to become a product manager. To pursue my career goal, I wanted to gain the skills necessary to become a management professional in the field before getting into the actual product manager role. I know some people have done product management certifications and got the product manager role because you don't need an MBA to become a product manager. But I chose to pursue an MBA degree instead. The learning experience and skillset gained from an MBA program are vast and highly beneficial for becoming a successful product manager. In addition to learning soft skills, an MBA program offers diverse insights and perspectives from people with varied backgrounds. This exposure has helped me develop my core values and shaped my approach to becoming an expert in product management.
During my first year of the program, I was fortunate to have learned a lot about operations, business strategy, finance, and accounting, not to forget the leadership foundations, which was the best course I had. So, I got the core skills needed to become a management professional. Second year onwards, I have the option to choose my specialization. At Anderson, we don't have a specific product management specialization but a technology leadership specialization, where we can tailor the courses according to our career goals. Unlike finance or marketing, where there are dedicated courses to become a finance or marketing specialist, product management requires a broad range of skills and knowledge beyond marketing or operations. So, I wanted to pursue an MBA to fill the gaps and gain vast experience/ insights from different fields. I am currently tailoring courses specific to becoming a successful product manager. I have enrolled in courses related to trade, technology, and leadership, which will help me get into this role in the future.
Preetham's Favorite Aspect of the FEMBA Program
Poonam: Great, good to know that it has been a great learning experience so far, and now you will select your electives that will fit your goals. So, what has been your favorite aspect of the program so far?
Preetham: The coursework at Anderson heavily focuses on solving real-world problems, introduced through case studies and quantitative analysis. This has challenged my cognitive skills like never before, enabling me to think critically and understand the problem. In my ten years of experience, we face various challenges on a regular basis. But at Anderson, I work on entirely unfamiliar areas, which enables me to think even more critically. For example, in our operations class, we solve various challenges found during supply chain management, some of which we may have read about in the news but have forgotten. In MBA, we connect the dots and understand how it could have been done better. So, MBA enables you to think broadly and understand a real-world problem and how to solve it more effectively. Overall, the MBA program at Anderson has enhanced my problem-solving skills and given me a better understanding of approaching real-world challenges.
The coursework at Anderson is designed to challenge how students think and make them better professionals once they enter the workforce. The case studies are aligned in a way that helps students apply what they learn in real-world scenarios. I think it generally applies to most MBA schools, but at Anderson, we are grateful to have a leading faculty with many professors having real-world experience working for leading companies. Interacting with professors is an amazing experience as they are easy to talk to. The admissions team is also fantastic, making students feel at home.
Getting lost during the MBA is easy, so you don't know what direction to go. Different avenues and clubs are tailored to students' interests. The best aspect for me is the support network of classmates, learning groups, and faculty. Everybody knows that students work nine to five during the day and have other responsibilities, so they are very accommodating. Overall, Anderson's coursework and support network makes it an excellent choice for those seeking an MBA education.
Poonam: So, it looks like you love everything about the experience, but the supportive network of the Anderson community is something you like the best, right?
Preetham: Yes, that's the best part.
What Preetham Wished he Had Known Before the Program
Poonam: Is there anything you wish you had known before you started the program?
Preetham: Yes, definitely. I wish I had known more about the demands of the coursework before starting the program. I work full-time and have a family, so managing ten different things and schoolwork can be challenging. I am more prepared now about the hours I need to put into specific coursework. It has been more than ten years since I was in an academic setting. So I underestimated the amount of reading and writing required for this program. I wish I had been more prepared for the time I needed to devote to the coursework.
It is not only about attending the lecture. We must be prepared before the class to succeed and get all the pre-reading materials before most classes. The more we participate in the class, the more we get out of it. Many people choose to have work experience before pursuing an MBA because they bring valuable experience to the program. The professors emphasize experiential learning, and I wish I had known the time required for each coursework. I don't want to scare anyone, but I typically spend at least 15 hours a week on coursework, besides managing my job and other responsibilities. It's essential to manage your time effectively to ensure you complete all assignments and readings before each class, as this is key to getting the most out of the program.
Preetham's Views on Work-Life Balance
Poonam: Of course. Pursuing this program with a full-time job and family responsibilities must be challenging. So what challenges are you facing, and how are you tackling them? Can you share some advice regarding the work-school life balance?
Preetham: Regarding balancing work and school, time management is crucial and often difficult for me. Prioritizing between work and school demands can be challenging, especially since I currently hold a leadership role and work with local and offshore teams in India. To overcome this challenge, I have been developing better planning strategies. I plan ahead for my weekly work deliverables, which can be pretty demanding as I have to deliver twice or thrice a week. Since I am taking two courses in a quarter, I also have some deliverables for on-campus recruitment. The work demands are high, so I often spend extra hours. I'm grateful that I'm currently working remotely. I live in the suburbs, and it takes me around an hour and a half to get to work. I can't imagine how challenging it would have been if I had to go in person.
Poonam: It would have been three hours of commute.
Preetham: Yes, it is a 3-hour commute because LA traffic is terrible. Many people try to avoid traffic here in LA, so remote work is helping me. However, there are still some challenges I am trying to overcome.
Poonam: Any advice for fully employed professionals with a young kid?
Preetham: You probably would hear this from many people, how they prioritize their work and manage their time for the week. I spend 10-15 minutes during breakfast or lunch sorting my priorities for the week. I suggest noting all your weekly deliverables because some assignments may have specific deadlines in the middle of the week rather than the end of the week. It's easy to forget the deadlines, so prioritizing your work and managing your time is critical. If you spend a lot of time on something that isn't working out, it's better to stop and focus on something else. Coming back to it later can often help you approach the problem with fresh eyes and renewed energy. Overall, prioritizing and effectively managing your time is crucial for success. Doing so lets you stay on top of your deliverables and maximize your time in the program.
Poonam: And it is especially crucial for applicants who have family responsibilities.
Preetham: Yes. Another crucial aspect, especially for those with a family with kids, is a strong support network. Whether it is from your friends or family, having that support is vital because you cannot do this alone. Pursuing an MBA is not something you can accomplish alone. You need a support network to help you through the program. At Anderson, they say it takes a village to be a successful MBA or FEMBA student.
Poonam: I like the statement- it takes a village to be a successful MBA or FEMBA student.
Preetham: At Anderson, we already have that support system through the learning groups you are placed in during the core program. These groups provide support for completing assignments, group projects, and other coursework. Additionally, the staff and students can always offer help when needed. However, it's still important to have support from friends and family outside of school, especially if you have a family with children.
It's easy to become stressed while pursuing an MBA, and I can speak from personal experience. My wife has been an incredible source of support for me, and with her help, I have overcome those moments of stress. As a result, my first year in the program has been successful.
Challenges Preetham Faced During GMAT and Application Prep
Poonam: Great. Looking back, what challenges did you face during test prep and application prep, and how did you overcome them? You also applied in Round 3, the most competitive round. Can you share your views regarding the round people should apply to?
Preetham: The main challenge I faced during my test prep was procrastination. Due to work conflicts in 2018 or 2019, I kept rescheduling my test date. When I decided to apply for the MBA program in 2018 or 2019, I had just been promoted at work and had additional responsibilities and expectations. I struggled to balance my exam preparation with work demands. At the time, I believed I only needed a good GMAT/GRE score for admission, which is not true. Despite taking the GMAT/GRE several times, I was not satisfied with my scores.
The type of procrastination I struggled with was constantly pushing my exam dates. Another challenge I encountered was finding the appropriate resources for my test preparation. I tried several online courses but wasn't satisfied as I could not be flexible with my work schedule and prepare adequately for the exams.
I took a break for some time before applying to Anderson. Previous students had advised that it is important to give your best application regardless of the round you apply in, which proved true in my case. I applied in the third round to ensure I put in the extra effort and demonstrated my best qualities. The admissions team does not have a specific preference for the round in which you apply. During my application process, I was waitlisted at Anderson and applied to the USC Marshall School of Business, where I was accepted. However, my heart was still set on Anderson due to its unique curriculum. I stayed in touch with the admissions team. They were super friendly and helpful and provided me with directions. Anderson does have a cap on how many students they can take in the program. They look for applicants who are a good fit and have the potential to succeed in the program, regardless of the round they apply in. So if you have what it takes, they will consider your application anytime.
Poonam: And how about application prep?
Preetham: My only challenge was getting my essays in order during the application process. I knew what I wanted to include in my essays, as they are a crucial factor in the admissions committee's decision-making process. Your essays are reviewed by multiple admissions team members, current students, and professors. Therefore, putting effort into crafting compelling essays is essential. I am grateful for choosing your services, Poonam. I had the stories and content I needed, and you helped guide my stories more effectively and compellingly, making my selection into Anderson possible.
Application of Classroom Learnings at Work
Poonam: Thank you. I enjoyed working with you. The best part of part-time MBA programs is you can apply your learnings the next day at work. That's what people have told me. So, have you been able to apply your classroom learnings at work so far?
Preetham: Currently, I am working as a tech lead in the software industry. Unlike marketing or finance professionals, it may not be as straightforward to apply the learnings from an MBA program to my field. However, the operations class in the first year of my MBA was particularly valuable for me. I learned a lot about managing work and project management, which I have been able to apply in my current role. As a healthcare professional, the operations class at Anderson gave me valuable insights into project management and managing waiting times in a healthcare setting. I tried to see what we could do to improve our members' experience in healthcare. Additionally, the leadership courses have been a highlight of my MBA program, especially the leadership foundation course that every Anderson student goes through during their first year.
Participation in Extracurricular Activities as a Part-Time Student
Poonam: Great. As a part-time student, how often do you get opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities like clubs or organizations? Have you joined any clubs?
Preetham: The great thing about Anderson is these clubs are open to all students, FEMBA, full-time, or executive MBA programs. Right from the first year, you have tons of opportunities. There are no restrictions on the number of clubs you can join.
But my suggestion would be to be selective in choosing which club to join, considering the effort required to manage academics and club involvement. During the first few quarters of my first year, I was a member of some clubs but not an active member. I used that time to learn how to prioritize and balance my workload.
I became heavily involved in the Healthcare Business Association club last quarter. I joined as an active member and applied for a leadership position. I am now the director of the Healthcare Vitals Conference, which I lead. I was motivated to leverage my healthcare industry experience and give back to the program by contributing my learnings from my healthcare experience. It is a challenging position where you must organize the healthcare conference, but I was eager to take on the responsibility and contribute to the event's success.
Health Conference Preetahm Organized
Poonam: When I contacted you last month, you said you were not available because you were occupied with organizing that health conference. So I am curious to know more about the health conference you organized.
Preetham: It's a wonderful experience. At Anderson, we have an annual flagship conference called Vitals Conference, and this was our 9th annual conference. This is the largest student-led conference in Southern California. This year was special because we had our Dean, Bernardo, who is more inclined to explore healthcare. He has made it one of Anderson's strategic initiatives to have more events catering to healthcare.
The theme of the conference was precision medicine. As the Director of the Healthcare Business Association, my primary responsibility was to host a panel and invite industry professionals to share their insights on precision medicine. It was a challenging role but a great learning experience. I had to reach out to people outside of Anderson, including students from the medical school and public health school at UCLA and alumni directors, to find the best fit for this topic. Coincidentally, my company's chief medical officer, who is a UCLA alum, was interested in being a speaker at the conference. So I represented not only Anderson but also my company during that panel.
Poonam: The conference gave you a unique opportunity to represent Anderson and your company.
Preetham: Absolutely. There are tons of opportunities for prospective students to explore. It is vital to choose something that challenges you and helps you extract the most value from the program. There are abundant resources available, but it's up to you to make the most of them. The program is rigorous, and you must plan your time efficiently to make the most of it.
His Most Valuable Contribution to the Program
Poonam: True. So you consider this health conference your most valuable contribution to the program?
Preetham: Oh yes. Outside of academics, I consider my involvement with the Health Care Business Association Club my most valuable contribution to the program. I could leverage my healthcare experience of more than eight years and bring my valuable insights to the club and Anderson. In academics, I have made significant contributions through coursework and group projects in every class I have attended. Class participation is highly encouraged by the professors, and it also contributes to your grade in some courses.
Giving weightage to class participation allows us to learn from our fellow students. For example, I had students from diverse backgrounds in my class, including entertainment, finance, accounting, operations, and healthcare. Thus, the more you contribute to the class or the specific course, the more you learn about other people's perspectives. I had wonderful interactions with my fellow students during the classwork and group projects, allowing me to learn about their perspectives.
Advice for Incoming FEMBA Students
Poonam: Every student brings unique perspectives to the discussions and group projects. What other advice do you have for the incoming students so they can thrive in the program?
Preetham: For those considering applying to Anderson, I highly encourage you to submit the best application. It doesn't matter which round you are applying to; the admissions committee thoroughly reviews each application. Don't be discouraged even if your scores are low. You can talk to the admissions team, and they may offer you an opportunity to retake the exam after submitting your application. Focus on highlighting the unique aspects of your application and showcasing your strengths.
And for those who are already accepted at Anderson, congratulations; my advice is to prioritize and plan accordingly, as the Anderson experience is one you will cherish for a lifetime. Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of a support network for those with a family. Even if your family cannot provide direct support, know that you are not alone, and do not hesitate to ask for help from professors or fellow students.
If you ever struggle in certain areas, don't hesitate to ask for help. This was my experience because I don't have a background in finance or accounting. I reached out to Anderson professors and senior students for assistance, and they were more than willing to help me. Seeking help when needed is always better than spending extra hours trying to do everything yourself. So never hesitate to seek help.
As I mentioned, you have weekly deliverables at Anderson. So please take note of the weekly deliverable and make a plan to complete them. You get the hang of it in the first year; you become better at managing time afterward. My first year was very challenging. Even though seniors advised that planning and prioritizing are important, I didn't realize until I came to that point. So planning and prioritizing work accordingly is essential.
Poonam: Yes, all the fully employed MBA students I have talked to have emphasized the importance of planning, prioritizing, and time management. So, Preetham, it has been a very enriching conversation. You have provided valuable insights into Anderson.
Preetham: Thank you.
Preetham's Thoughts on Anderson's Values
Poonam: Is there anything I haven't asked and you want to talk about?
Preetham: Yes, there was one thing I wanted to talk about. At Anderson, we emphasize these three pillars, 'think fearlessly, drive change, and share your success'. These pillars are meant to help students understand Anderson's values. You have to think fearlessly when you are at Anderson. Don't ever feel that you are not better at something. When I joined Anderson, I initially felt I was not good enough for something, what you call 'Imposter syndrome. It is human to think we must do things in our comfort zone. At Anderson, you are challenged to do something extraordinary by leaving your comfort zone. Initially, I was shy, which was a challenge, but it was a good learning experience. At Anderson, I have significantly boosted my self-confidence since the very beginning of the program. I now feel a lot more comfortable and confident interacting with others. So be fearless. Remember, you are better than you think you are. So don't let fear hold you back, and be ready to accept challenges and push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Poonam: It's amazing to hear that a Booth student I talked to a few weeks back also shared the same advice. Share your ideas, engage with professors, don't hesitate to ask questions, and ask for help. Preetham, it was a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for the time you have taken out despite your busy schedule. And I wish you good luck with the rest of your time at Anderson and continued success beyond that. Thank you so much.
Preetham: Thank you, Poonam. It was a pleasure talking to you. And I wish all the viewers good luck in their pursuit.
Poonam: Likewise. I am sure your conversation and valuable insights will be helpful resources for prospective and incoming students to the FEMBA program. Thank you. Bye.
You can connect with Preetham via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/preetham-d-a35a3697/
Click here for Preetham's testimonial of MER Services.
Click here for Preetham's GMAT Club Review.
About MER (myEssayReview)
Poonam Tandon, the founder of MER (myEssayReview), is a Ph.D. in English with 12 years of MBA consulting experience and three decades of teaching experience in India and the US. A master storyteller, Poonam has successfully guided hundreds of students from around the world to gain admission into the esteemed MBA, EMBA, and specialized Masters's programs in the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia. Throughout her four-decade-long professional career, she has reviewed 10,000+ essays written by applicants worldwide. Poonam is recognized as one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club (142 reviews).
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