Is getting an MBA a good investment?
November 15, 2004 4:12 PM   Subscribe

Is an MBA worth getting? I've seen a lot of talk to the contrary lately, and most of the MBAs that I know don't seem to be doing work now that particularly requires an MBA, so I'm wondering if it's just a waste of time and money compared to just gaining more work experience? I was thinking of getting an MBA as a way to shift into less pure-IT related work, since I can't seem to get rehired as a developer after a long absence.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon to Education (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's not precisely what you're asking, as you give more of your own context, but see also AskMe's response to "What, exactly, does one do with an MBA?" for starters. Good luck deciding what to do next.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:17 PM on November 15, 2004

The only thing that pisses me off more than listening to an MBA is listening to people with Masters of Liberal Arts in (choose one:) [Psychology,Communications,Urban Studies,Social Work] trying to figure out what they're for and what they do, and trying to come up with a new snide comment about advanced studies in kitten murder or somesuch.

It's an advanced degree, like any other. They're usually designed for one of two fields: People who have a BA or BS in Business and want to continue their studies, and people from other fields who are in management and need one.

What does it teach you? Well, besides how to be efficiently boring, MBAs teach application of the business frameworks that a BA or BS in business would've taught you. They study how businesses are formed, how they're managed, how they *can* be managed effectively, and how to establish and monitor metrics for the success of a business. You'll get to play a lot with statistics and financial information and case studies. You'll learn to see business from the 30,000 foot view -- people with MBAs usually play a lot of "what if" a long, long time before "what" may happen, and that's good in situations like disasters where plans are already in place and need to be executed Right This Second. MBAs tend to be the dreamers of the business world, though, which is what's spawned all of the cruel MBA jokes: since they're at 30,000 feet, they can be kind of out of touch with what's going on down on the ground.

You'll also meet a lot of interesting people who are already established in their fields, esp. if you take an 'Executive MBA' program from a local university if you're in a high-tech area. Unfortunately, Executive MBAs are the worst of the lot and are essentially degree mills with actual education. They'll fail you if you don't care, but otherwise if you've got a pulse and pay your fee you're golden.

The unfortunate part of MBAs is that if you get a general one, you may as well forget most of what you learned as soon as you get that piece of paper in your hand, because a lot of it is academic in nature, developed outside of the framework of People Who Get Things Done (tm) and is useful in the same manner. However, there are some fascinating MBAs, including Portland State's MIM, Masters in International Management, which focuses on bridging the gap between US and asian business cultures. During that two year program, you get force-fed an asian language, learn about cultural differences between American and Asian cultures, learn about all of the management problems that business spanning a large body of water needs to get over (including shipping, etc.) and culminate the program with a three-week whirlwind tour of Tokyo and Hong Kong.
I'm sure there's a Masters in Technology management somewhere that's worth the time to take it. Study the program carefully before you join up.
posted by SpecialK at 6:42 PM on November 15, 2004

As someone who's never been near a business school, but has worked with a _lot_ of MBAs doing consulting, I'd say that the long-term value of the degree depends on how well the academic approach to business suits your eventual career.

To put it a little more precisely, if you're expecting to get deeply involved in the nuts and bolts of a business, an MBA probably isn't going to do you a lot of practical good after it helps you get hired. You're not going to learn how to manage company operations or thrive in executive politics in business school. You're going to learn that by doing, and by proving your worth. (Hopefully.)

On the other hand, if you're looking to do something a little more academic--and I say this with tremendous respect for the consulting MBAs I know (at least the good ones)--then an MBA can be invaluable. Yes, there are bazillion horror stories of management consultants coming in and screwing things up, and 99% of them are true, but that doesn't negate the fact that good business consultants are basically the folks who paid attention in business school. If you were looking to get into corporate finance, or something else that requires a lot of technical background, an MBA would really help.

That's still more the exception that proves the rule, though. Generally, I think a lot of folks who have MBAs would say that they're much like a college degree--a lot of the benefits are really the "meta" ones, like the connections you make, the cachet of the diploma, and the skills you have to develop to get by. From what you've said, that may still be attractive to you, though, so hey, you might want to give it a shot.
posted by LairBob at 8:59 PM on November 15, 2004

Here is an article about MBAs that may be relevant. With regard to the question 'Is an MBA worth getting? If you mean financially, then it will depend on what you are getting now, what you want to do in the future, and very significantly with regard to which school you get your MBA from. There is significant potential to increase your salary following graduation but you need to take into account that it may set you back $100,000+ to get a decent one, after you take into account lost earnings plus fees.
posted by biffa at 3:10 AM on November 16, 2004

An MBA is more useful for someone coming from an engineering or IT background (such as yourself) than someone who was already on the "management/sales" side of things (with a BA in business)..

I think the biggest advantage of an MBA for an IT person is to familiarize yourself with the lingo and the generally accepted management techniques, so that when an another MBA comes along and says, we're going to be applying six-sigma principles or Kaizen you know what the hell they are talking about.

I think it also teaches the non-social engineering types (thinking of the Saturday Night Live skid with the tech support), how to be a little more teamwork friendly.

One other important fact: I think which school you go to is immensely more important than the fact that you are going to the MBA. And, I am not talking about looking at the rankings here. Each school has distinct programs that they are good in, and distinct specialities where companies will come to hire. You really need to think about what you want to do and what kind of a company you work for, and choose an MBA program that will assist you in that task. Of course, geographics plays a role as well. Don't go to a university in Kansas, if you are going to look for a job in New York.
posted by tuxster at 7:33 AM on November 16, 2004

If you can get into one of the top ten MBA programs the MBA will be more than worth whatever it costs. Having one of these on your resume will get you lots of interviews and probably lots of good offers. This is not to diminish the quality of other programs, but they do not always pay off on the investment. The top ten (or so) schools offer in addition to fine learning, name recognition (snob appeal?) that will generate interest in you resume. If you can not get into one of the top schools you might also see success if you find a program that has strong ties to the local business community, you do extremely well in the program, and you use this to get access to that business community. An MBA will teach you a lot of good strategies for handling business problems, but you will still leave a business tyro. The trick is turning that experience into access, getting someone to take a chance on you.
posted by caddis at 8:07 AM on November 16, 2004

The other side of what caddis said about still being a tyro is that lots of courses may not look at accepting you if you don't have some decent management experience to start with.
posted by biffa at 9:15 AM on November 16, 2004

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