Alvin Yu, Product Manager at Amazon, Shares His Experience from the Inaugural Class of the Joint Booth/MPCS Program

University of Chicago Masters Program in Computer Science alumni push boundaries and innovate across many facets of industry. Whether it’s developing seamless UX interfaces, engineering software at fortune 500 companies, working in big data or keeping networks secure; our esteemed alumni use their applied skills education from MPCS to problem-solve, create, and elevate the computer science field. Learn from their stories and discover how a CS background can prepare you for cutting edge careers and leadership roles.

Alvin Yu, Senior Product Manager at Amazon, Class of 2017

Alvin Yu, class of 2017, is a Senior Product Manager at Amazon and one of the graduates of the inaugural class of the Joint MBA/MPCS program with the Booth School of Business. Alvin reflects on how his Joint education helps him stand out and grow as a product manager, and offers advice to those considering the program.

What does a great day at work look like for you?

A great day happens when I have an ‘aha’ moment after learning something new, when I deliver results to my customers after days of hard work, and when I know I have made a positive impact on others.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

I like to solve challenging and complicated problems. I really enjoy working with smart people to get things done. Seasonality is a big challenge in Amazon’s retail business and my responsibility is to define and drive seasonality initiatives for Amazon’s hardlines business, which allows me to meet with many talented people across teams and functions at the company.   

What was your reason for applying to the Joint program?

I am passionate about product development and I knew I wanted to be a product manager post MBA. The MBA program taught me how to think strategically and hone my business skills. Technical skills such as coding are equally important in the product management world. PMs act as the bridge between users (and understand their needs) and developers (and understand technical solutions). PMs are expected to communicate and work effectively with these two distinctive groups of people. Therefore, I strongly believe the MBA/MPCS Joint program is the perfect combination for people looking to transition to product management and be successful in the long run.

I did an internship at Amazon before applying to the Joint program. During the internship, I learned that knowing both strategic and technical aspects of business is essential for future managers, especially in the tech space. Having both an MBA and CS degree allows me to better position myself as a product manager and a tech entrepreneur down the road. When I talk to software developers about topics such as algorithms, networks, and object oriented programs, they were surprised by my level of knowledge. This also helps me stand out amongst other MBAs.

Did you come to MPCS with a computer science background?

No, I did not have a computer science background. I have an engineering undergraduate degree, but I was never an engineer and I only knew SQL (which is not quite programing) before joining the MPCS program. With that said, having a quantitative background will definitely help students significantly in this program - especially with algorithms and programming.

Alvin Yu, Senior Product Manager at Amazon, Class of 2017

Would you recommend MPCS to others? If so, why?

Yes, especially for people who are passionate about technology and want to transition to product management. Technology has changed our lives drastically in the past two decades, and it will continue to redefine the way we live, work and think in the years to come. It has become essential not only to know how computers and systems work but also to know how to build technical solutions to solve problems. The lecturers of MPCS are all industry experts and I really like the practical aspect of this program.

What is your favorite memory from your time spent as a MPCS student?

The many long nights at Regenstein Library to study notes, and work on assignments. Computer science is not an easy subject, but the output is always proportional to input. Hard work will pay off.

What was your favorite MPCS course? Why?

Each course has its own merits. For instance, Algorithms is very essential for job interviews, and so are programming classes. I personally liked Computer Systems as it allowed me to “build” a fully functional computer simply using NAND gates. It also taught me how memory, CPU and compiler works - I eventually wrote a game on the computer I built. I also liked Cloud Computing, which taught me the key modules on Amazon Web Services. And I eventually built a fully distributed web service using AWS. I also developed a web application using Ruby on Rails from my Web Development class, which I am still using.

How has your MPCS education helped you achieve your professional goals?

It definitely builds my credential as a product manager in the tech space and the benefit of MPCS education is long lasting. Technology is changing everyday, and the solid foundation I gained from MPCS allows me to learn and grow to be a successful product manager.

What is a piece of advice you’d give someone considering applying to UChicago’s Masters Program in Computer Science?

Again, computer science is not an easy subject. You will have many long nights if you choose this path, but hard work will eventually pay off. I encourage people to talk to current students and alums to learn more about this program and to understand what it means both professionally and personally long-term.