Posted on August 31, 2020

Data Science Engineer’s Journey to Booth Weekend MBA Program



Shivakumar Barathi completed his Master's in Business Intelligence and Analytics from Stevens Institute of Technology, NJ, last year. Since then, he has been working as a Data Science Machine Learning Engineer at Verizon Wireless.

Like many MBA aspirants, Shiva Kumar Barathi dreamed of pursuing MBA from an M7 program. Shiva partnered with MER (myEssayReview) for his application for the Chicago Booth weekend MBA program and has recently received admission into the program.

In a candid conversation with Poonam, Shiva shares his application journey, focusing on  the following topics :

  • His background- 02.00
  • Planning for MBA- 03.33
  • Career Goals- 05.25
  • Why Booth is the best school for him- 07.05
  • Planning for GMAT- 09.55
  • Application strategy, planning, and preparation- 13.12
  • Challenges during the application process- 16.26
  • Advice to prospective applicants- 18.34
  • Work-life school Balance- 20.05
  • Interests and Hobbies- 23.55
  • Thoughts on the impact of Covid-19 on MBA experience- 25:14
  • Interview Tips- 32:44

Poonam: Hello, Shiva! How are you doing? Thanks for taking the time to join us.

Shiva: Hello, mam. I am doing fine. Thanks for asking. I hope you are doing good as well. Thank you for this opportunity to share my experiences.


Poonam: My pleasure. Congratulations on receiving an offer from the Chicago Booth MBA program. After years of wait, finally, you are going to fulfill your MBA dream. How does it feel?

Shiva: Thank you. It has been a long path, but finally, I am very excited to get an MBA from one of the M7 business schools in the US, To be honest, my wife still couldn't believe that I got accepted to Booth. She said that this wouldn't have been possible without her immense support. I agree. I owe her a lot and my entire family, especially my dad, who is excited about my admit.

Poonam: Of course. Could you please tell our viewers about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What you do now?

Shiva: Sure. I am a data-savvy person with ten years of experience in providing robust data engineering solutions to clients across different industries such as Insurance, Investment Banking, and Telecommunications.

I am from Chennai, India, and I completed my undergrad in Electronics and Communications Engineering in 2008. I came to the USA by the end of 2014 through Cognizant Technology Solutions on a work visa.

Last year, in May, I completed my Master's in Business Intel. and Analytics from Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken NJ, and because of my GPA of 3.97/4, I was invited to be a part of Beta Gamma Sigma, a prestigious business honor society.

Since my graduation, I have been working as a Data Science Machine Learning Engineer with Verizon deploying robust propensity models helping Consumer Wireless businesses understand the behavior of existing customers, and deliver better-targeted promotions. That's all about me.

Poonam: When did you start thinking about an MBA? Why now?

Shiva: Actually, the MBA idea has been in the back of my mind since 2014, but I didn't have a strong reason or justification for an MBA then. My career has been steadily progressing from a technical standpoint.  After joining Verizon, I thought that in the next 3 to 5 years, it would be the right time to do a career pivot into management.

If I continue progressing in my current role without an MBA, I will probably become a data science manager in 5 to 7 years, and I will be stuck with this low ceiling. I might be an expert in this data science field-leading different sized teams, but I will never be able to progress in the leadership ladder without an MBA.

To get into the leadership ladder in the field of data analytics, I need to have a deep understanding of each business function within the industry, and of course, a strategic mindset with strong analytical skills to deliver robust analytical solutions to various business functions. Given my age, experience, and future career goals, I feel this is the right time to get the coveted MBA degree.

Poonam: What are your career goals?

Shiva: In another three years, I want to lead a team of data scientists and data engineers and deliver data analytics solutions spanning across different business functions such as supply-chain, finance, and marketing.

The pinnacle of my career will be a Chief Data and Analytics Officer. In another 10 to 15 years, I envision leading and inspiring a team of data analytics/ engineering and data science experts focused on creating an information advantage and translating complex findings into relevant and actionable deliverables.

In this position, I want to leverage my unique fusion of technical data science knowledge and strategic leadership traits to make the organization more data-driven, more digitally adept, and better prepared for the challenges of the future. This is my long-term goal.

Poonam: You applied only to one school- Booth. How is Booth, the best school for you?

Shiva: There are two significant reasons why I wanted an MBA at Booth.

First, I like Booth's educational philosophy– The Chicago Approach. As my MBA will be rooted in the fundamentals of Business, such as accounting, economics, psychology, sociology, and statistics, this approach will teach me how to think. It's not the direct knowledge, per se, that it will convey. Still, it will teach me how to ask better questions, evaluate evidence, have an enduring strategic and analytic framework to organize my thoughts, and develop better solutions.

Second, the flexibility in choosing courses and different concentrations such as Strategic Management and Behavioral sciences. The reason I am very much interested in Behavioral sciences is that as a leader in the field of data analytics, one of my primary responsibilities will be to make data analytics a vital part of every function's business decision-making. My success in achieving this will be determined by my understanding of the behavioral nature of the organization, such as individual roles, interpersonal relations, and group dynamics, i.e., to master organizational dynamics. Courses that are part of this concentration - 'Strategies and Processes of Negotiation' and 'Managing in Organizations' will enhance my understanding of human behavior in managerial contexts. These courses will help me understand human behavior in a better way from the managerial context. Booth is the best school for me because of its philosophy, flexibility, and wide range of courses that it offers.

Poonam: Can you tell us your GMAT prep? What challenges did you face during your preparation? How did you overcome them?

Shiva: I took GMAT twice, and I made my last attempt at GMAT in August 2016. From the start, I was good at quant. In my mocks, I was scoring around 49 and 50. So, I was pretty much comfortable with the quant section. I used to solve a lot of problems from the GMAT Club website. The questions over there were quite tricky but helped me to sharpen my quant skills. Verbal was my Achilles heel. In particular, I was struggling with Reading Comprehension and time management with the Verbal section. Initially, I was using the Manhattan prep for verbal, but it didn't help much. Then, I used PowerScore for Critical Reasoning, and I found it very helpful. Through Powerscore, I learned how to tackle a Critical Reasoning question in a structured way. Besides, I registered for e-GMAT's GMAT classes, and I found their 3-step process for Sentence Correction very helpful. Finally, for Reading Comprehension, I couldn't pinpoint a book or website, but time and again, when I practiced, I did improve, but to be honest, not to the extent what I wanted.

When it comes to time management, I was able to finish quant with around 5 to 8 minutes to spare. But I had a tough time in managing the verbal section. So, I used to take full mock tests once in two weeks with the proper exam-like setting at home, and I slowly gained control in time management.

Poonam: Can you share your application strategy, planning, and preparation with our audience/ readers?

Shiva: I thought of applying to Booth in May 2020. There are two main aspects that the admission committee is interested to see from my application. First, they want to know if I have enough clarity with my short- and long-term goals and how an MBA from the business school with help me meet those goals. So I should make it very clear that there is no other way other than MBA to achieve my goals.

Second, they would like to see if I am an excellent fit for their community. They are eager to know what I bring to the table and how I, with my work experience and knowledge, will play an active role in the Booth community.

So, I went through a lot of content on their websites, such as their educational philosophy, curriculum, teaching faculties, student groups, and specific blogs to understand Booth and its community. Then I jotted down all my strengths and picked those who will bring a unique perspective to the Booth community.

The only way to tell the Admission committee about these two aspects is through essays. So, I spent a lot of time drafting essays. Moreover, with your support and guidance, I was pretty confident that I had presented myself in the best manner in my essays.

Poonam: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the school admission process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?

Shiva: As I said, essays are the most critical aspect to reflect one's nature, strengths, weaknesses, and fit with the business school community. So, I wanted another pair of eyes to get the best out of essays. I was confident that I could write essays without grammatical issues. Still, I was a little bit skeptical about whether I am conveying the right information for the essay question in a meticulous way, and that became evident when we were revising essays twice and thrice.

When I compared my initial draft and the final one for each essay, I felt that I would not have done a great job without your support. You made sure that I convey my stories in a concise manner, and I could not have done without your support. Thank you so much for your excellent service.

At the end of the final revision, I always had the satisfaction that if you are convinced, then the admissions committee will also get confident with my essays. That's the kind of support you gave me. So, for future applicants, please don't feel pissed off when Poonam asks to make several changes to the essays. Trust me !! The final edit of your essay will be brilliant.

Poonam: What will you advise other applicants who are facing similar challenges in telling their stories?

Shiva: Some people might feel confident that they can deliver on their own. Yes, they can, but I would say that they need another pair of eyes to make sure that they are conveying the right information. So, they need another person to review their essays, and it would be great if they can go for a person like you who has expertise in advising a lot of applicants. You have assisted hundreds of applicants and know how to get the best out of each of them, so I would recommend your services to them.

Another advice that I would like to give is that please be honest. Accept weaknesses and let the Ad Com know about it and inform you that you are working on that. You need not have to be a perfect person. Ad Com knows that no one is perfect. So be honest in your application and make sure that this is reflected positively.

Poonam: This is highly valuable advice. Authenticity and honesty are the essential components of an MBA application, and that's what the admission committee members always emphasize. Thank you so much. Shiva, you will pursue an MBA along with your full-time job and family responsibilities? You will be traveling to Chicago every weekend, which is a tall order. What are your plans to achieve work-life school balance?

Shiva: The next three years are going to be extremely challenging, and I am all set with a smile to face it. I am skilled at handling multiple things in parallel. I pursued my Master's along with a full-time job while taking care of my pregnant wife and then my newborn.

I understand that with the weekend MBA at Booth, I will be put in a hot seat with even more challenges. The kind of academia I am entering into will be even more competitive, and I should make myself stay on top of a lot of things. To succeed, I need to remove the word 'procrastination' from my dictionary.

On top of everything, I will have to fly to Chicago every weekend for classes. I feel that doing something out of passion gives a lot more energy than doing something you don't like to do. I see an MBA as my passion, and I know that one critical aspect which I have to master is time management. Every Sunday morning, I will put a schedule for that week, and I will stick to it at any cost. Of course, I need to have some buffer for some unprecedented events, especially with my little 1.5-year-old son, who expects me to play with him any time of the week.

With a family to take care of, I need to be strong at emotional intelligence. I am pretty sure that I will experience a lot of different emotions, and I should be self-aware to be able to balance everything, including my health.

Finally, with the curriculum flexibility at Booth, I have control over the course load I can take for that semester based on the time at work and home for that semester.

Poonam: Can you tell us about your interest and hobbies?

Shiva: With my son around, I try to spend some quality time with him, enjoying every moment of his growing up years. Besides that, I love to play tennis, and down the road, I want to become a professional scuba diver. Also, I look out for the latest happenings and advances in the field of data analytics, and I am an avid reader of The Economist, a weekly newspaper.

Poonam: Finally, as you know, COVID-19 had turned lives upside down globally. Given the current tumult and uncertainty created by this international health crisis, what challenges are you anticipating in your MBA experience?

Shiva: One significant aspect of doing an MBA is networking. Networking is best in classes and onsite events, which is something I will be missing this semester. As I am going to take close to 3 years to complete my degree, I feel that the situation will stabilize by next year, giving me many opportunities to meet people in person.

COVID crisis is an unprecedented crisis. Even during the great recession, which happened around 2008, only financial institutions were significantly impacted. But now, all industries are widely and equally affected, and at this moment, the impact is not yet felt completely. For instance, even though the economy is down, the share markets are surging. That is something odd and exciting to watch. Pursuing an MBA at this time will give me an excellent opportunity to understand from a management perspective what business leaders are doing to get the companies out of the economic crisis without much impact. Also, I can research to see what is among companies that survived this pandemic without much consequence. It will be a great learning experience for me as I will get diverse perspectives from my peers in class. I see this as a positive out of COVID because this is the first crisis that the entire world is facing, and no one knows how to navigate and get the company doing well. An MBA at this time will give me enough knowledge to introspect each of the management's decisions.

Poonam: So, you think it's a good time to go for an MBA. To navigate through this international health crisis, B- Schools have been continually coming up with changes/ updates in school admissions to help the current students, incoming students, and prospective students. Have you received any updates from Chicago Booth?

Shiva: Regarding the classes, I am receiving constant updates from Booth. Initially, I was informed that this Autumn semester would be conducted in a hybrid model with both in-class and virtual. Later on, they said, only those who reside in Illinois could take in-person classes, and the rest will have to take virtual classes. As the situation is evolving, I would not be surprised by any further changes for this semester.

Poonam: Is there anything else you think I should have asked?

Shiva: I would like to share my experiences with the interview process.

Poonam: Please go ahead. Also, would you please share some interview tips with prospective applicants?

Shiva: Booth interview was the first and the last for me because I applied to only Booth only. Since this was the only chance for me to get an admit, I went through a lot of forums and posts to get an insight into the type of questions they ask in the interview. Finally, I prepared a list of 42 to 45 questions- a mix of behavioral questions and questions about my strengths and weakness. I prepared answers for all the 45 questions and rehearsed them in front of the mirror.  I knew that if selected, this would be the turning point in my life. I was interviewed by a Second-Year student who was a part of the Admission Panel. Whatever question he asked me was covered in those 45 questions that I had prepared.

I was comfortable in the interview. One thing I was sure that even if I didn't give the best answer, I did not draw a blank for any question. One crucial thing I learned from those forums and posts that people regret not asking the interviewer a question. So, to the prospective MBA aspirants, I suggest going with a list of 1-2 questions that you want to ask the interviewer and make sure that you cannot get their answers from the website. Ask questions so that you gain their perspective about what you wish to know before attending Booth. Be prepared and do your best in the interview. My interview was a casual talk, and I knew I did my best after having a rigorous preparation for the interview.

Poonam: Thank you for sharing your story with us. It was a pleasure chatting with you.

Shiva: You have gotten the best out of me through this conversation. I truly appreciate that, and one of the best things that happened to me in this entire MBA prep journey was that I came to know about you and worked with you. You have been one of the major success factors, and I wish that you continue to play a core role for future MBA aspirants.

Poonam: Thank you so much for your kind words. It was my pleasure to assist you with your application. I wish you good luck with your Chicago Booth MBA experience and continued success in your career

You can connect with Shiva  via LinkedIn:

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You may email Poonam at with questions about your application for the 2020-21 admission cycle.

Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview) has helped hundreds of applicants get accepted into the top 20 MBA programs (Poonam is one of the top 5 most  reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.)