What I have observed over the years seems to show that getting an MBA requires a partial lobotomy, which would certainly impair an engineering career.
But when I was unemployed I borrowed sets of textbooks from several folks who had gotten the degree. I studied the parts about business plans and the various methods of management and keeping a business current. I did not study that accounting stuff because I don't enjoy accounting at all. I am already a good writer and communicator, so I did not concentrate on that part. For presentation skills, I found a much more useful course in showmanship, which was offered at a "clown college", of all places. That course was full of useful information about getting and holding people's attention, and also about appearing to be a "class act", and it was a whole lot cheaper than a university class. Also, the presentation was much more interesting.
The real question is:
What do you want to do: Manage something or Build something. It's A different job and different career. Pick your poison.
Many people can actually be more useful spending their time supporting the process by dealing with bankers, customers, other management, finance, regulators, etc, etc. than by actually designing something. And of course you get paid the most by doing the most useful thing you can.
Of course this raises the question about the value of staying in a career you focused your education on when the demand for the related skills are no longer in demand. But of course this is an entirely different question.
I've seen far too many MBA's screw up perfectly good companies. Few are the MBA's who really the understand product development process! Product engineering is a very expensive and difficult hobby. Engineers spend decades learning complex technologies and how they apply to their companies. MBA's learn how to count nickels. Who is better prepared to lead high tech companies? Maybe if the MBA actually understood technology, it's development and applications, they might be able to make intelligent decisions...but that seems sooo hard to find!
I have a very good friend who is a brilliant young engineer who could not only solve problems but could drive and guide teams to finish projects. He left engineering to pursue MBA at a prestigious school. His focus was clear-to be a part of a VC firm. Post MBA, he uses his engineering experience to identify products that will be successful, teams that could pull off engineering products and uses his MBA to evaluate a business case.
Then there is another friend with whom i went to graduate school. At the outset, he knew he didn't want to be an engineer for life. He went on to do a general MBA and now runs engineering teams. He knows just the right amount of engineering to identify risks in projects, projects that will succeed or not and leverages that with knowledge in marketing and business development to create cases for new business and then drive those products from all angles.
And then there is another friend, who did an MBA post engineering, and has no idea what to do with it and is languishing in zombie state.
And another who did MBA following MD, didn't like management and went back to being a medical practioner.
I am an engineer to core and a wannabe enter pruner. I wont pursue MBA but will hook on with some MBA to complement my skill set.
The common thread i read-as long as you know why you are pursuing an MBA, build up skill that will be reinforced by an MBA, MBA is a great value addition.
And, something not discussed here: the n/w you develop is immensely beneficial (as long as you know what you are going to do with it.
Have perceptions changed in recent years? Not that long ago, I remember when MBAs were thought to be a dime a dozen. I guess that's because most of them were young and inexperienced "fresh outs" with starry-eyed dreams of becoming a vice president while still in their 20s. Most learned the hard way that you don't just go to college for X number of years and get dropped into a plush corner office and given responsibility over a $100M budget!
If you are an established business manager with a successful track record and higher aspirations toward becoming a senior manager, then sure, go back to school to get an MBA with a concentration in Accounting or Finance or Marketing or whichever aspect of business is your passion. If you are an established engineer with no real business experience, but a strong desire to do accounting or to be a manager in the Finance organization or the Marketing organization or whatever, then sure, you can go get your MBA too, but be forewarned that your engineering degree and engineering experience don't count for that much in your new occupation.
As someone else pointed out, going from engineering to management is essentially ending one career and starting another one.
Asking if an engineer needs an MBA is like asking if a lawyer needs an MD degree. Well, if the lawyer is unhappy being a lawyer and would rather be a doctor then sure, go to medical school, get an MD and become a doctor -- but don't plan on being a doctor who still practices law on the side, in your spare time!
My experience at work and with a brother-in-law has been, once an engineer goes off into the management track, he loses his edge. He can't go back.
And there's more. Maybe this isn't true everywhere, but where I work, in these economic times, management ranks have been slashed far more harshly than engineering ranks.
The company where I work identifies itself as "an engineering company," and evidence is they mean it.
My point is, therefore, that spending your valuable education time, effort, and cost on an MBA, at least where I work, is probably not wise. Spend that effort on engineering education instead. I mean, unless you're sick of engineering or not particularly passionate about engineering. Of course, that's an entirely different matter.
I think an MBA without some years of hand-on engineering experience is fraught with danger.
I've had too many experiences with newbies who were put onto the fast track and sent off to business classes or school (whether or not it led to an MBA or not), and then think they can run a program. NOT!
We are seeing here a lot of comments by fellow Engineers. Wonder what Management types ( w/ or w/o MBAs ) think of Engr.s ? Can competent data-driven Engineers ever make a comfortable transition to MBA / Management which often requires influencing people with BS. Do poor Engineers become more successful when they ditch Engineering for Management / Sales etc. ?
An MBA isn't necessary to succeed in the business world, nor for an engineer moving into management. However, if an engineer does want to head in that direction, it can be very helpful.
In my opinion, the best results from an MBA program come from people that already have some real-world experience. The stereotype wrap that MBAs get isn't due to the program. It's due to misuse of the knowledge, or the application of that knowledge without wisdom.
Anyone that is smart, open minded, able to isolate one's biases and willing to minimize ego can benefit from and MBA program. Anyone who wants to use an MBA to "appear" smart is likely to end up being guilty of death or injury by PowerPoint.
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
Brought to you by