Student Spotlight: Fizza Jaffer

Fizza JafferFizza Jaffer is a current MEM student working as a Product Manager Intern at T-Mobile US. Based in Mumbai most recently, Fizza was born in Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) and grew up across India before studying at Apeejay Stya University, India. When she’s not working or studying, you might find her practicing her other hobbies of photography, dancing, writing, and debating. Then again, Fizza’s secret talent is clocking hours of sleep like Snorlax (Pokemon, anyone?). With her busy schedule, we were happy to catch her for an interview.

We asked Fizza some questions about her MEM experience, and this is what she had to say:

What made you decide to pursue the MEM degree?

I worked as a hands-on LTE engineer at Jio for 3 years where I helped in launching and scaling the world’s largest LTE network (by data consumption). This technical deployment transformed the lives of thousands of Indians in unimaginable ways by providing LTE services virtually for free. I was fascinated by the business model of Jio which piqued my curiosity to learn to evaluate business opportunities for technical innovations.

Favorite Class/Professor?

My favorite class was Product Management (PM) taught by Prof. Birju Shah. I never knew I could ideate, create a product end to end and evangelize its scaling. Being taught by an industry expert was an added advantage. Prof. Birju familiarized us with the best practices of Product Management Industry. He supplemented his teachings by bringing in his fellow colleagues for Q&A sessions. This helped PM aspirants to reach out to credible hands on PM to assess their skill gaps if any in the pursuit of breaking into the competitive world of PM. The course was also collaborative and very interactive, and the students were evaluated objectively by the Professor himself. This encouraged us to put our best foot forward and learn to “kill our darlings” (pivot)  relentlessly before we finally earned his nod on the product’s scope.

What is the most surprising aspect of your experience in the program?

Northwestern’s MEM Program is a part of the Master of Engineering Management Program Consortium (MEMPC), which is a group of highly selective MEM Programs in the US. This gives the students a plethora of opportunities. Another interesting aspect of NU MEM is that it’s very flexible. I started with the idea of graduating in 9 months and pivoted seamlessly to the 15 month track when I realized it was more aligned to my professional aspirations. The entire administration worked patiently with me to help me figure out which track would work best for me.

How does the program experience prepare you to reach your professional and career goals?

The program primarily has students from various industries with prior work experiences. This enhances the classroom discussions and peer to peer learning. Class discussions thrive on real life professional anecdotes of students. This helps in putting the learnings into perspective. Personally, for me, the Product Management course was the stepping stone into the PM industry.

What is distinct about your program experience?  What draws you in?

As a student of a MEM Program, which happens to be a part of MEMPC, I got the opportunity to work with students from different MEMPC schools and under the leadership of Rutu Manchiganti (Executive Director, MEMPC). This enriching collaboration gave birth to the Annual MEMPC Design & Pitch competition which was held in the Spring of 2019. It was a fulfilling experience to have contributed in establishing a platform for future MEM students to display their technical abilities and business acumen in front of industry pioneers. Being at MIT and hosting this memorable competition was the cherry on the top!

I am now headed to Grace Hopper Celebration 2019 in Orlando. It’s never a dull moment at NU MEM if you are open to stretching yourself and are open to hustling.

What do you feel you’re learning from Northwestern’s program that you might not be experiencing elsewhere?

As someone who is an eternal learner, Northwestern’s MEM exposed me to unimaginable opportunities. From interacting with Gwynne Shotwell (COO SpaceX), to having an insightful conversation with Prof. Mohanbir Sawhney (globally recognized scholar and professor at Kellogg) on his leadership journey, I have evolved a lot in the last few months of being at Northwestern by learning from these stalwarts. The in-class learnings coupled with collaborative projects helped me further my collaborative and cross functional skills.

Once you’ve graduated and are looking back, what do you think will have been the most valuable thing you will have received or learned from this program?

Looking back, I hope to be an accomplished Product Manager who has either contributed to or led an impactful product that improves human lives and I hope my decision to apply to NU MEM continues to be that turning point in life which introduced me to the fascinating world of PM.

What advice would you give future/prospective students?

It’s okay to be lost and to not know yet what you want to pursue. Start from a clean slate and avoid comparing yourself with other students. Every student has their own individual track, and what works for someone may not necessarily work for you and vice versa. Do what resonates with you and do it well.