In last week’s Careers newsletter, I asked whether readers thought engineers should bolster their technical education with a more business orientated degree, like an MBA.
The responses (flooding my inbox all week) have been quite staggering and run the gamut from strong agreement to vehement rejection of the notion.
For those who don’t receive our weekly Careers updates, I asked whether you felt that supplementing your engineering degree with an MBA would boost your job prospects and propel you to the top of the career ladder or waste your precious time?
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My question was prompted by a recent survey from tech career recruitment website, Dice, which claimed that nearly a third of its 3,121 respondents (32 percent) reported seeing an MBA as important for future tech employees, while more than half (52 percent) saw it as unnecessary.
The firm said requests from employers for candidates with an MBA as a prerequisite or a preference were relatively rare, but that despite this, perceptions about the need for an MBA among non-MBA-holder tech professionals continued to lag.
Tech pros who had opted to get an MBA believed it would give them the potential to achieve higher pay, allow them to move more easily into management within the technology department, obtain employment at a preferred company or land work in a new, business-oriented technical role.
Dice reported that technical MBA holders were still few and far between, making them a rare commodity, but whether or not the degree actually helps employees do their job better is very much up for debate.
“MBA’s are a dime a dozen. You are better off identifying an allied technical field that is in high demand and then get your Masters Degree in that,” wrote one reader, John Kiekhaefer, in an email response to me.
“A Technical MBA is a worthwhile pursuit only if your employer pays for it,” wrote another reader, Brian Bissett, a holder of both an MBA and MSEE. Bissett said an MBA could open doors and be used as justification by senior management to upgrade an engineer’s position, but that effectively, the only new things an engineer would learn in an MBA program were how to give effective presentations, and enhance one's writing skills.
“For people involved in the execution of product development, I don’t think an MBA is helpful,” chimed in chief architect at Radisys, Chuck Hill, but added that for people who wanted to be more involved in the creative side, it was actually very helpful. “The execution doesn’t happen unless someone first turns loose some of the money,” he noted.
Neil Farukhi, a materials and process engineer at Geospatial Systems said he got his MBA not because it would have any direct impact on extra money or career status (although he agreed that would have been a bonus) but because he wanted to understand his business orientated bosses better.
“What the degree has given me is the understanding of how the business works,” he said, adding that this helped him focus in on what he needed to do, how things moved through the system and who the key individuals were to get things done. “This results in becoming a key resource for everyone,” he explained.
What do you think readers? Is an MBA a worthwhile academic pursuit or a total waste of precious time? I would love for you to continue the debate in the comments below.
As I understant it, you are saying that an MBA 'is' useful, but you can learn the material on your own.
Some engineers can pickup the skills needed to become an engineer without going to engineering school......
First off, I have both a MBA and MSEE both obtained at a full up university (Rochester Institute of Technology and both using employer funding while also holding down a full time job. I did it because I wanted to! I have also taken other graduate level courses over the years - again just for the h*** of it.
Did this have any impact on my career? I don't think so. It didn't hurt but I really don't think it helped all that much. I still remember the comment one of my bosses said when I proudly announced I had gotten my MSEE. He said 'I hope you don't think this will help you. You are still the same engineer today that you were yesterday'. Well, that stung. But, from one viewpoint, he was correct. Education doesn't make the man - the man makes himself (with a lot of help from others).
An MBA can be a great complement to the knowledge gained through an undergraduate engineering degree. However, that being said, it is also a great financial burden, and oftentimes in industry one may not get to utilize much of that knowledge gained before it is forgotten. One needs to look at the circumstances, and costs, before deciding if the sacrifice is worthwhile or futile.
I have an engineering degree with a number of years of experience. I also earned a MBA degree.
MBA degrees do not entitle anyone to greater roles, though, in some cases I 've seen it happen.
What has it done for me? Not much, no real foot in the door so to speak, no promotions, etc. Just some debt to such my free cash flow every month.
On the other subject, going into management is not starting a new career. Especially if one is to go into engineering management where engineering skills are necessary. Frankly, if an engineer wants a seat at the table, so to speak, as far as influencing decision, directions, projects, etc. Eng mgmt is the way to go.
MBA will give you a big picture perspective for business, how it gets used or implemented is dependent on attitude and drive.
The jaded opinions on MBAs and engineering, I suspect are just opinions from jaded people in general. We all work with these people and yes a lot of them are engineers.
MBA good business training, return on investment probably not worth it, unless gained from a top 5 school.... is the simplest explanation.
Thomas McCormick was spot on. Several who commented obviously are engineers who don't have MBAs and domt realize the value of having one. When I was CTO of a major multinational defense firm my MBA served me well in developing and delivering on business cases for $70M investment in new product development that paid the salaries of 600 engineers developing these products. As such I have taught MBA courses as an Adjunct Professor to aspiring engineers for over 15 years helping them climb the management ladder where today they are making 7 figures.
From many years of observation, very often a competent design engineer remains a competent design engineer. The MBA helps on occasion when a degreed engineer is not capable of designing her/his way out of a wet paper bag. (This is NOT an across-the-board statement, but has been known to apply to certain individuals).
Unions have only worked to the benefit of engineers in very limited situations in the aerospace industry. Even where they do work you're subject to the peril of transferring the real power from your manager over to a union boss you don't even know! And it certainly WON'T work if your boss figures your job can be outsourced to a non-union worker overseas for $800/mo. or so. Believe it or not there was actually a time when one of the principal functions of a manager in a high-tech situation was to INSULATE the precious workers from outside disturbances so they could get actual work done, NOT spend large amounts of time trying to find ways to get rid of them entirely! (If you didn't experience it you probably have a hard time believing it was ever like that)
I went over to working on developing, documenting and testing safety-related code in order to shelter myself somewhat from managers trying too vigorously to find "shortcuts". It DID work for awhile but sadly there isn't enough development of ANY nature going on in THIS economy.
Gatorfan this is exactly the problem with modern business approach. Near enough is good enough we just need to make a quick profit and to hell with the consequences. When wev've wrecked this company we'll just move on to wreck some other company and when there aren't enough profitable enterprises left standing then its hat in hand to the government for a bail out and another bail out and another bail out then a monthly bail out that will continue indefinitely. Thats good business sense I suppose???
1) Marketing is about guessing, usually without any data, what people want and are willing to pay for and then asking for everything and the kitchen sink for unrealistically low costs.
I guess it is all about perspective. Marketing is important, but form my experience, most of the people doing it aren't very good at it. They want to use a shotgun approach and cover every single thing anyone could possible want. The really good marketing people, sadly, get promoted into management :)
On the other hand, management work is more transferable than a lot of engineering work that requires a specialty. How big is the market you want to be in, assuming you are unwilling to move? How transferable are your technical skills?