What and Why, Not Just How: Journey from Software Engineer to Product Manager
Shruti Kotian began her career after her undergraduate degree in computer science as a software engineer in Mumbai, India, working for French consulting firm Capgemini. In her three years there, she dabbled in various roles ranging from coding, quality assurance, UI/UX, business analysis and release management, which helped her gain hands-on experience in almost every role in a product life cycle. While this was an enriching experience, she wanted to make a difference on a larger scale by contributing to products that change the way the world uses technology. Pursuing a master’s degree in the U.S. enabled her to develop a rich set of skills that would allow her to achieve this.
Kotian decided to pursue her MS in Information Systems at Northeastern University’s College of Engineering because of its highly flexible program and personalizable core coursework of both business and software engineering courses. Once at Northeastern, Kotian decided on front-end development as her concentration. “Front-end development appealed to the creative side of my personality and watching my code come alive on the screen in the form of visuals was exhilarating.”
Kotian credits her class experiences with encouraging her interests. “The faculty were great; they were not just knowledgeable in what they did, but they were also passionate about teaching.” She mentions Teaching Professor Yusuf Ozbek and his data course. “He turned a subject I thought would be dry and boring into something very exciting. I felt challenged by the assignments and project-based learning beyond exams… The program is well-structured over two years, and courses have a mixture of everything that would holistically prepare you as an engineer working for a major enterprise.”
The co-op program also made a difference for Kotian. She cites Maricla Pirozzi, director of the multidisciplinary masters co-op program, as someone who taught her how to network and write a good cover letter and resume. “Professor Maricla has built a great network with several companies. She’s passionate about her students, often going out of her way to ensure all her students receive the best job offers after graduation.”
Following her first year in Boston, Kotian completed an eight-month co-op for Copart, an auction company for car and truck parts based in Dallas, Texas. As part of a team of seven, she developed their mobile app. “Moving to Texas was a great learning experience because it meant I was starting from scratch in a city where I did not know anybody, as opposed to Boston, where I did have a few friends. Boston was a little like Mumbai, where I grew up, but Dallas was a different ball game. And while it would have been easy to feel isolated in such a huge city, I was fortunate to make a bunch of great friends in the office. I was also lucky to have been able to go into the office in pre-pandemic times and form a strong network of friends and professional relationships during the co-op.”
Kotian’s time at Copart confirmed her interest in front-end development. After finishing her MSIS program, Kotian started at McKinsey as a senior front-end engineer. She was the front-end technical lead on a team of four and was actively involved in not only the engineering aspects of the product, but also the business value activities like understanding product needs, risk analysis, stakeholder management, and building strategic product roadmaps. “McKinsey doesn’t have a hierarchy. They have a flat organizational structure. So, everyone on the team owns responsibility for the product… The what and why interested me more than just the how, and I organically graduated towards taking on more product management responsibilities.” This theme of “what and why” has been a part of Kotian’s professional journey from Mumbai to Dallas to Boston. “I’ve always felt I had a knack for leadership roles and for breaking down complex problems into smaller actionable insights. I’m also a good storyteller. I didn’t realize these were the skills needed for product management, but when I did, my supervisors at McKinsey saw and fostered them.” She started her current product management role in April 2022 at McKinsey’s Waltham, Massachusetts office.
For now, Kotian is focused on gaining more experience as a product manager building software for senior partners at the firm, but in the future would like to work on other diverse teams, even consulting for clients. “I like software engineering—it’s the same skills and has applicability across industries—but product management skills differ from team to team and industry to industry, which makes it more challenging but also keeps things constantly interesting.” Kotian looks forward to the new McKinsey office, which will combine consulting and software under one roof in the Seaport area of Boston.
Kotian continues to pay mentorship forward. A few months ago, she returned to Northeastern at Pirozzi’s invitation to give a talk about communication and listening skills for the co-op program. At McKinsey, she is part of an apprenticeship program for people interested in software and tech decades later in their career. She teaches them how to code and be an engineer in a large enterprise. As a panelist for the New York-based non-profit Navigate the Maze to Achievement, she encourages young Black and Latino people to apply for college using her story of tech and leadership. She mentions a high school student who wasn’t originally interested in a college education because he felt that he could learn to code through YouTube and other online platforms. “I showed him there are skills you learn in college beyond the classes, like leadership and teamwork.” Six months later, the non-profit director let Kotian know that the student did apply for and attend college.
Kotian is glad she attended Northeastern for her master’s in information systems. “The program is structured wonderfully with the right combination of everything you need to be prepared in the corporate world. You are learning the cutting-edge skills you need for the modern workplace.” When she is not leading teams, building products, or mentoring students, you can find Kotian enjoying salsa dancing, reading, and kickboxing.