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.
I agree with the sentiment that if your employer is willing to pay for it, then it would be worthwhile. That's assuming your main career objective is to climb the management ladder. Otherwise I would skip it.
For engineers transitioning into management, some only need the basics of business practices to succeed. Knowledge and good communication skills are much more important than a lot of business theory.
If an engineer wants to start a company, then they need to partner with someone with a good business background.
I would only consider an MBA if there were specific business opportunities that rewarded the effort. From what I have seen, an engineer with an MBA is not that valuable unless they the solid engineering background and the skills I discussed earlier.
Just my opinion.
Engineers dealing with hardware and manufacturing are held back by the fact that they require a lot of investment to get to market and have to often depend on a large number of people to get the product out of the door. This is where even non-technical MBAs & bean counters can have an upper hand over Sr.Engneer. So it would make sense for Techies in these areas to arm themselves with a MBA just to stay competitive. But for those in Design, Simulation, Software a MBA is not all that critical unless they want to manage a large Team or get into the start up mode..
OK I'll admit my perspective on this may be a bit extreme, but I really think an engineer who gets an MBA is essentially terminating one career in order to start at the very bottom in a new one. God knows I've "earned" this perspective though, spending countless hours either in meetings or private conversations with my manager(s) in vain trying to get allocations for tools and equipment that I considered essential to get the productivity of our group up to somewhere CLOSE to what would be necessary to meet the overly ambitious project schedule that was already "cast in stone", THEN practically getting dared to try and meet it anyway! I'm old enough to remember when there was actually a "tech career track", heck I was even around when we had "staff engineers" who were considered valuable enough that they'd actually be "kept around" even while they didn't have a "primary project" to charge time against. The current feeling that engineers and managers "play for competing teams" is actually NOT contributing to bottom-line productivity, but considering the extent to which it's been adopted you'd think it was always like this. (And I'm sure a lot of "line managers" feel pretty alienated themselves from the guys in the C-suite.) Also I've seen lots of places where the "transition" (from engineer to manager) is made even more difficult to discourage "career experimenting" and make entry-level management even harder to get into. I'd be interested to hear about different perspectives because I'm sure some of you will just disregard my comments as "terminally cynical" but I assure you they're at least legitimate.
Knowledge is ocean.Doing MBA will assist to strengthen their carrier.For example a Purchase head of an engineering company can utilize his engineering and business studies effectively.They can easily pick up and economize their company. A sales manager ,where as needs more technical strength with a good business approach.So MBA is a must, for those who are technically strong and this can be done in part time. Where as non engineering companies they do not need Engineering MBA's unless other wise they dont mind employing engineering MBA's because of their higher IQ levels.
I used to hear this too, about getting an MBA. However, going on the assumption that earning this MBA would be at the expense of some decent engineering graduate courses, after many years in engineering, I say nuts to that idea.
Getting an MBA is essentially straying off course. Moving into management, from engineering, is also straying off course. Since there are many more people "qualified" to become managers, than to be productive and well educated engineers, the simple truth (I've observed) is that managers are now far more expendable than real engineers.
In this economy, straying off course for engineers is a mistake. Simple as that.
The management view of a 40 or 50 year old engineer is that they have failed in their careers. NOTHING could be farther from the truth. Yet it is this fear of appearing to have failed drives far too many good working engineers into management just so they can feed, clothe and house their families. I have seen this many times over the past 30+ years. Companies tout a dual career path yet put no effort or resources into the engineering leg of that path so the path fizzles out at a modest senior level. Management makes no effort to identify, reward and keep in engineering their top engineers thereby making it look, to younger engineers, like engineering is just an entry level position for a career in management. If this mindset is to change a cultural shift must take place in the management ranks and that is unlikely to happen unless real engineers get a voice at the table. Getting an MBA does not give engineers the voice needed and is thus a monumental waste of time.
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