Arjun Lalwani: From Microsoft intern to Google’s rising star

Written by: Vikram Sharma

(November 28, 2023) Ever since he joined Google in July 2020 as part of the Associate Product Manager Program, Arjun Lalwani has been living the techie dream. Not only did he get to work with the best mentors, who taught him what he needed to know to be a strong product manager, he was also promoted twice. As part of the program, he travelled to New York, Austin (Texas), Paris, Lisbon and Singapore. And best of all, the youngster got to work closely on projects important to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

“I wrote multiple documents for Sundar Pichai, ranging from analysis of industries, emerging technology trends (like web3/blockchain), and reviews of popular/new promising products,” smiles Arjun Lalwani, product manager with YouTube, in a chat with Global Indian.

Arjun Lalwani | Google | Global Indian

Arjun Lalwani

A cut above the rest

Google’s highly competitive APM program was the key to jump-starting his career. Over 8000 people apply annually and only 45 make the cut. The rotational program takes in new grads across the US and teaches them the skills to be better product managers through mentorship executive coaching, and access to a tight-knit community of 45 peers to lean on for career advice and support. “Landing an interview for the APM program is like hitting a goldmine,” says the 26 year old, who is currently based in New York.

“My first few months in the program were quite stressful! I was given a lot of responsibility as a recent graduate and my decisions could impact a billion users using our product. That weighed on me,” recalls Arjun, who joined Google after a gruelling set of eight interviews over the course of three months. “The interviews were challenging and they assessed a variety of my skills, ranging from analytical, technical, product sense, and strategic thinking,” says Arjun. In his second interview, for instance, he was asked to design a new product from scratch and justify why it would be an innovative solution for customers. This was followed by a series of five on-site interviews at the Google HQ in Mountain View, California, as well as a tour of the elite campus. It took several iterations and mentorship for Arjun to feel comfortable enough to make faster and bolder decisions.

The APM journey

In his first year, Arjun was part of the Google Hotels team, which helps consumers make eco-friendly travel choices. He was tasked with setting sustainability parameters for hotels and launch a feature to help consumers understand them too. It involved extensive research, through academic papers on sustainability, learning about different eco-certifications in the market, talking to customers and to hotel chains like the Hilton and the Marriott to understand the space. “About nine months later, we launched a feature to help customers learn about what makes a hotel sustainable,” informs Arjun, whose feature was showcased during Google’s annual sustainability event.

In his second rotation, Arjun arrived in the office of CEO Sundar Pichai. His manager worked closely with the CEO, holding multiple meetings with him weekly. “He would pass down his meeting notes to us when relevant,” he said. Apart from working on projects important to Pichai, Arjun “streamlined the process for the internal goal setting system.”

The third leg of the journey was at YouTube Shopping, where Arjun was “deeply involved in launching a new monetization program for influencers / creators with the YouTube Shopping Affiliate Program,” informs Arjun, who received two promotions over the course of his Google career. He is presently Product Manager 2.

The experience took him around the world, to New York, Ustin, Paris, Lisbon and Singapore. He met with D2C companies to understand what makes their businesses tick, acquainted himself with the startup ecosystem in Austin and Paris and the impact technology has had on this boom, studied South-East Asian e-commerce trends in Singapore and learned why Lisbon is a new hotspot for tech talent.

Born to shine

Born in September 1997, Arjun finished his tenth grade at Gitanjali Devshala and then went to P Obul Reddy Public School where he completed his class 12. Academically, he did well. “I received the “Outstanding Student of the Year” award. My 10th and 12th board scores hovered around 90% which was exactly what I was aiming for,” says Arjun. He was also the school topper in Entrepreneurship during his Grade 12 board exams. It runs in the family – both his parents are entrepreneurs.

Arjun moved to the University of Washington for his undergrad in 2015. One of the highlights of his college days was launching, running, and scaling a student organisation, HuskyTech. “Our mission was to help accelerate students’ tech careers by connecting them to the right people and opportunities. Over the course of 2.5 years, my team grew to about 30+ students, collectively raising $25,000 from our sponsors (Google, Facebook, Expedia, etc), and helping 1500+ students in the process,” he recalls.

The Microsoft experience

He thoroughly enjoyed studying Computer Science and interning at multiple companies, ranging from startups like Joy), Smarthseet and large companies like Microsoft).  Arjun did two internships at Microsoft, including one as a Software Engineering Intern on the Azure Maps team. “I was responsible for creating a set of APIs (Application Program Interfaces) that helped perform various sets of geometric calculations between two coordinates. It was my first foray into creating industry-grade software and I found the entire process to be extremely fascinating,” says Arjun, who moved from San Francisco to New York for his job.

It gave him an immersive look into what to expect at each of these companies, if he were to start or join one. His second internship at Microsoft (from April to June 2019) was as a Product Manager Intern on the Office Apple Experiences team. “My team was responsible for building new experiences for Office apps (Word, PowerPoint, and Excel) on Apple products,” informs the youngster, who worked on designing an “available offline” feature where a customer could request Microsoft Word to make a document available offline.

He was also involved with analysing their customer experience end to end and thinking about the biggest opportunities for improvement based on the customer data. The experience was revelatory in more ways than one – he understood that software engineering may not be the best fit for him. Instead, he found he enjoyed “thinking about different parts of a business and interacting with different stakeholders across Marketing, Design, Research, and Legal to shape the next version of a product.”

A key highlight of his Microsoft internship was attending a fireside chat between Melinda Gates and Satya Nadella. “It was a surreal moment to watch two legends on stage, discussing their shared love for books, philanthropy, and ability to change the world,” he recalls.

Work/life balance

Arjun usually starts his day with meditating for 30 minutes, and then heads to the gym for an hour. “I head to the office around 9 am where I spend the majority of my time in meetings, writing product documents, analysing customer data, and brainstorming ideas with my team to improve our products,” he says.

Occasionally, he stays in later or arrives earlier at office as he works closely with a team in Zurich, Switzerland. “My evenings vary based on the week. Some days, I spend time reading books on entrepreneurship, tech, business or learning about an emerging technology (eg: Artificial Intelligence or Augmented Reality). Other evenings, I spend time with my friends or colleagues, exploring the city and unwinding,” smiles Arjun, who loves reading non-fiction. His favourite book is Range by David Espstein who touches upon why having a breadth of experiences is critical and helpful to long-term success in the modern world.

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