Leaving a good salary for an MBA
March 22, 2011 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Leaving a $120k salary behind. Am I really insane?

I have had a solid 10-year career in software development, and currently I earn about $120k/yr as a senior engineer in a Silicon Valley company. Yet, I am about to throw it away and go for a full time MBA at a top 10 program in the East coast. Most friends say I am insane for doing that, and that it will take me forever to recover the financial stability I have now. Usually I don't listen to them, since I am really done with software development. But I am starting to get afraid that after two years studying like a dog, having no income, and $80k down in debt, I will fall victim to the dreaded US job market. Software seems to be immune to that, but the market for MBAs isn't. I know many of you will probably ask "what do you want to do?", and my answer is that I want to be a damn good product manager.

Am I going to regret my decision? I have seen quite a few cases where people get an MBA just to return to the exact same career path they had before. That thought makes me sh*t my pants. Also, it makes me a little (just a little) guilty to be leaving such a good salary at a time many families are scraping to make ends meet.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (55 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, you're pretty much insane. But you'd be even more insane if you remained at your old job, wondering and wondering what could have been.
posted by Melismata at 7:37 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Everything I've read about MBA programs in the last five years is that they're pretty much useless. Are the project management jobs you're looking at requiring an MBA? Is it really worthwhile for you to leave your current life and career and take on nearly a hundred thousand dollars in debt, just for an extra degree?
posted by litnerd at 7:37 AM on March 22, 2011

Why do you want an MBA? What's the goal?

If the goal is to go forth and start companies, NOW NOW NOW is the time to do that. Not two years from now, when the whole thing goes bust and there's no more free startup money. Heh. You have ten years in software development; what you need is a partner and a plan.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:38 AM on March 22, 2011 [15 favorites]

If its a legit top ten program, and you want to make a career change you'll be fine. Who knows what the job market will look like in two years.

I have no idea what you mean by product manager, but I'm assuming its like a brand manager or something like that, and there is no path from your current gig to the job you want w/o going back to school.

(tho it really needs to be a top tier school and if its not H/S/W//C/C/K/M have a track record of getting people jobs in the field you want)
posted by JPD at 7:38 AM on March 22, 2011

How old are you? 30, 35? 2 years is a long time to spend out of work in your mid-career and take on significant debt to boot.

The questions I'd ask are: is getting an MBA really the only way to get to do what you want to do? If so, is the expected return over the rest of my working life sufficient to make doing one worthwhile to me personally?

You can calculate the financial part of the second question yourself. Only you can measure the value side of that equation.

Personally, I'd be looking for ways to make the transition you want without taking on vast quantities of debt. I really doubt that an MBA is a pre-requisite for what you want to do.
posted by pharm at 7:39 AM on March 22, 2011

If it is a top 10 program, what you are paying for is not the degree. It's the recruiting pipeline at the end of it. That means that if, in your years as a software engineer, your soft skills have lagged, now is the time to focus on those. Network, meet people, lay the foundations of relationships with movers and shakers that will carry you far beyond project management.
posted by bfranklin at 7:40 AM on March 22, 2011

I do not believe that you need an MBA to complete the career shift you're contemplating, unless you plan to be in consulting or working for a multinational product firm (Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Nestle, etc.)

I suspect, instead, that your energies would be better spent taking on a side-project and building it into a respectable software product. If your present employer does not permit such projects (and you cannot sufficiently anonymize it), then quit and pursue it full-time.

...but I do not see, personally, a path which requires you to pursue the MBA.

Unless, of course, you are truly in love with brand management for massive companies. Some people are, and those people typically get MBAs in my limited experience (I only know 3 brand people).
posted by aramaic at 7:43 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're making 120k, there's no reason you should have to face down 80k in debt. Defer your admission for a year, and challenge yourself to live frugally enough to save 80k. Pay your tuition in cash. Do a happy dance.
posted by charmcityblues at 7:44 AM on March 22, 2011 [34 favorites]

No one can tell you whether you'll regret this decision. However, it doesn't strike me that you need an MBA to get the job you're looking for. As others have noted above, a top-tier B school is not about the classes, it's about the networking. I don't think you need to be networking with the future PE boys and Wall Streeters to get your dream project manager job. You need to be working with people in project management.

A top-tier MBA is a great asset. However, like a top-tier JD, it's not a guarantee of future earnings or a job. It IS a guarantee of future debt. I'd think twice before matriculating.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:44 AM on March 22, 2011

If you're making 120k, there's no reason you should have to face down 80k in debt. Defer your admission for a year, and challenge yourself to live frugally enough to save 80k. Pay your tuition in cash. Do a happy dance.

Doing this will make it at least a million percent less insane.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:48 AM on March 22, 2011 [12 favorites]

Except you'll never get admission deferred for that reason.
posted by JPD at 7:49 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to go into Project Management I think a PMP coupled with your development background will be more valuable to you than the MBA. You can work on your PMP on the side over the next 6-12 mo without incurring any debt, and while you stay employed. You'll be $160K (1 year salary plus the 1 year of tuition you didn't borrow) richer before you even change jobs.
posted by COD at 7:52 AM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

I quit a six-figure job as a software engineer to work in a bookstore for $8.50/hr, then moved to New York to discover that it's easier to get software development jobs than work a cash register. I've since gotten back into the dev game. Good developers are really tough to find, and from my point of view there are more than enough jobs for them. If the MBA thing doesn't work out, you can always come back.

But, to be frank, I don't think an MBA has anything at all to do with being a good PM. COD really really nailed what your best path forward is.
posted by soma lkzx at 7:56 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

He said PRODUCT Management, not PROJECT. The two are entirely different and the distinction is important for this discussion.
posted by spicynuts at 7:56 AM on March 22, 2011 [13 favorites]

My workplace has a deal with the local university for getting employees Master's of Product Development degrees in 2-3 years. It's possible you can get the degree you want from a local school at work's expense instead of quitting your job to do it.
posted by garlic at 7:56 AM on March 22, 2011

If you want to go into Project Management I think a PMP coupled with your development background will be more valuable to you than the MBA. You can work on your PMP on the side over the next 6-12 mo without incurring any debt, and while you stay employed. You'll be $160K (1 year salary plus the 1 year of tuition you didn't borrow) richer before you even change jobs.

I was going to say exactly this. Get the PMP and it's an instant win. Update your soft skills while you're doing it and you're approaching double-rainbow levels of win.
posted by The Michael The at 7:57 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If money is the most important thing in your life, you're insane. If living your life is the most important thing in your life, then you are quite sane.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:01 AM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Only you can answer whether this is what you want to do or not. The part I'm scratching my head over is how an MBA leads to the Product Manager job. I've worked with lots of product managers in my time, and I don't think any had an MBA. I have met a ton of consultants with MBAs. I've also met middle and senior managers with MBAs, this group though typically got their MBA while working (and not at one of the top schools).
Note, if you had said that you wanted to get yourself on an upper management fast-track, then I could see the MBA being a stepping stone in that direction. But even in that case, an MBA is only a small piece of what's required.
posted by forforf at 8:05 AM on March 22, 2011

I know many of you will probably ask "what do you want to do?", and my answer is that I want to be a damn good product manager.

How much to product managers make? Do you need an MBA to be a product manager? Those are the questions you should be asking regarding whether the MBA is worthwhile.

The question is whether the recruiting pipeline at the end of the MBA is worth it to you. Personally, the only way I see a full time MBA being financially worthwhile in your case is if you're making the transition from software development over to finance or venture capital after you finish.
posted by deanc at 8:06 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Project Management != Product Management!

My bad, ignore my earlier advice. Although I think you can get into Product Management without an MBA, and especially without an MBA from a Top 10 school on the east coast. Start networking to find a way into marketing or product management. You might need to take a step back in pay, but making $90K as a marketing / product management guy still puts you way head of two years of no income and massive debt.

If having an MBA is that important to you, I think staying connected to the software development world while you work on the MBA at night locally will put you in good stead. My experience getting an MBA at night was that people are insanely impressed that you are doing it. Not the knowledge gained or anything like that. The mere fact you can work all day, go to school at night, and still have a life on the side seems to impress the hell out of people. More so than actually having the MBA later.
posted by COD at 8:08 AM on March 22, 2011

If you can't find someone to pay for your MBA, don't do it, especially if you're already making a good living. Which you are. I see this as being a really good way of blowing $320k (opportunity costs!) which you're not likely to get back any time soon.

Look in your industry. See if they're hiring MBAs, and see if the salaries are sufficiently higher than your current salary that you'd be able to not only pay off your debt but make up two years of lost salary within five or so years. I'm betting that there aren't any such jobs.
posted by valkyryn at 8:12 AM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

This, by the way, is why I took a job that I didn't really want with an only average salary out of law school instead of pursuing a Ph.D.: even with what I was making right out the gate, the opportunity cost would be about $250k, and I'd end up with a career where it would be impossible to make that back. Considering that I was mostly looking at the Ph.D. because I didn't have anything else going for me until I got that offer, this was really the right thing to do.
posted by valkyryn at 8:13 AM on March 22, 2011

You are not throwing away your software developer career - that's something you can choose to do, but attending school does not mean you can't do development again.

If you have an MBA from a top school (and I'd say top-5 is clearly worth it, not sure of top-10 is - you'll get a fine education at any of the top-10, I suspect, but the connections are more valuable the higher up the school is on the list, and it's not linear) you will have business connections that you likely would never have had as a developer. You will also, possibly, have business skills that you would have had to take an even larger risk than attending school to earn (like, starting your own company and running it for a few years - the risk being the potential of less payoff at the end than busines school).

You will also come out of an MBA as a striking candidate for investors and corporate execs - the rare MBA who knows technology inside and out.

If you really want to do this, and it is an excellent school, then go for it.
posted by zippy at 8:14 AM on March 22, 2011

Anecdote: most of the MBA people I know should be clubbed like baby seals before they are allowed to screw up a product launch, or god forbid lead a project.

MBAs are one of those degrees that are valued by the people that have them, but are a warning sign to everyone else that "wharton logic is inbound".

That said, most of my experience is with start up and IPO tech...your mileage will probably be different.
posted by dejah420 at 8:15 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You will also come out of an MBA as a striking candidate for investors and corporate execs - the rare MBA who knows technology inside and out.

THIS. I would KILL for one of these at my company. And at a top 10 B school you will be meeting the people who will be running start ups or new companies that need your skills. You will make connections. Also, you could be coding on the side while you go to school.
posted by spicynuts at 8:16 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

(by the way, with an MBA and 10 years software dev experience, you could be strong candidate for 'CTO/VP Eng' or maybe even COO at a tech startup). I think if you focus on 'Product Manager' you'd be limiting yourself.
posted by zippy at 8:18 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got admitted to a top 10 MBA program and deferred it for two successive years before going at night to a different top ten school. They will give you a deferment for financial reasons or pretty much any reason that is not "because". I do not regret getting my MBA, but I cannot quantify exactly how it helped. I can say I was making a little more than you are and this was 20+ years ago.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:19 AM on March 22, 2011

I am really done with software development

I just want to point this out to people. If OP doesn't want to work in software anymore, then ignore that part of the equation.

JohnnyGunn - I tried to defer my admission to a few schools in the top 10 back in '05 and was told no.
posted by JPD at 8:28 AM on March 22, 2011

If OP doesn't want to work in software anymore,

He said he was done with development, not with software.
posted by spicynuts at 8:34 AM on March 22, 2011

You might be unusual among your group of friends, but you sound like the typical MBA student at a top business school. I teach at one of the top schools and my classroom is filled with successful engineers, non-profit executives, bankers, consultants, scientists, soldiers, and one former NFL lineman with between 5 and 15 years of industry experience. Almost every single one of them is going to be employed within a couple of months of graduation and, for many of them, it'll be a job in a new field. What you're considering may be insane, but it's the norm among MBAs.

Also: the market for MBAs may wax and wane, but the market for MBAs from top ten schools with a technical background is always pretty good. See spicynuts comment above for a pretty common reaction to a bonafide geek with management expertise.
posted by eisenkr at 8:40 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would think a program like this would give you a start on the Product Management goal without the long-term commitment of an MBA, which I honestly don't think is the best path for you.

Have you talked with any Product Managers about how they got where they are today? That would be my advice to you, to actually get together with a few and find out what they have to say about the MBA idea.
posted by misha at 8:41 AM on March 22, 2011

First impression: if you are a senior engineer in software development, and you really want to be a damn good product manager then you should just go straight for a product manager position. I have not seen that an MBA is required for that position --- but if all "great" product managers have an MBA, then why not do just look for a "mediocre" product manager position where you can shine. Now, you may have to take a big pay cut, but that is much smarter than taking a 100% pay cut AND taking on debt, as you would in the MBA program.

Then, with the combined experience, after a couple of years of experience as a real-deal product manager, you should definitely be well-qualified for whatever positions you think the MBA would open the door for.
posted by molecicco at 8:55 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Won't this set you back by about 80$+120$x2 = 300$ ?

I do understand it's not always about the money, but isn't there any other way for you to bring more fullfilment to your life (not only working life) with that amount of money?
posted by martinmartin at 9:03 AM on March 22, 2011

We disregard whether or not you have an MBA during our recruiting for Product Managers.
In fact, if anything it would be more of a negative than a positive, since with an MBA you would be seen as overqualified for the position.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 9:44 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am going through a part-time MBA at NYU so I understand many of the anxieties and issues that you have brought up. In the same way, even though I chose a part time program I understand the appeal and the opportunities that only a a full time MBA can provide. With that being said the decision to pursue an MBA is highly personal and where you are in life and the opportunities you currently have should be taken into consideration. If I were to meet you face to face this is what I would ask you:

1) Are you independently wealthy? Have saved up a lot of your salary? or Are you generally ok with having debt for would most likely be a long time?
2) Have you tried looking for product manager positions and have generally being turned down for those?
3) Do you have any experience in managing that will allow you to transition to the role you wish even with the MBA to help you?
4) How big is your current network? Does it allow you to at least interview or find opportunities that you wouldnt have otherwise?

Because I dont know the answer to those questions I cant say whether you getting the degree is sane or insane. However I do know this, if you've tried to get out of whatever position you are currently holding and have been stuck there for a long period of time, then an MBA certainly couldn't hurt the issue and one from a top ten school will help you even more.
posted by The1andonly at 9:45 AM on March 22, 2011

You gotta follow your dreams, man.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:51 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I sat down a few months ago with a man who runs the sort of companies I'd like to run someday. We discussed my experience and my long term goals. I told him my plan for education, which involved getting an MBA, and he told me that getting an MBA that I paid for myself would be foolish, and that I didn't need it with my background. Whether or not this is true for you, I can't say. What I can suggest is that it might be incredibly helpful to find someone who in the position of hiring the jobs you want to talk to and ask whether it seems smart.
posted by Zophi at 9:55 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's only insanity if your goals are illogical.

$120k per year is more than financial stability - it's a comfy cloud compared to how many people live. Heck, that's a good income for two people in many situations. I understand the cost of living is probably quite different from where you are and other options, but money is only a cushion from need, it won't make you happy.

What is your goal? Maintain the current lifestyle in a different field? Your route is insanity (or a long, hard road). But if it's to enter a different field, or get into a different side of your current field, and money be damned, go for it.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:23 AM on March 22, 2011

Can't your company help you get the degree while you continue to work? Tuition assistance? If the program doesn't exist, design it and pitch it!
posted by thinkpiece at 10:31 AM on March 22, 2011

All of the best product managers I've worked with have been the ones without MBAs. Some have even come up through engineering.

That being said, if you don't expect a job to be handed to you post-MBA, it's your life and you have to follow your bliss and do what you like.

But seriously, work the hell out of that MBA. Be the guy that learns everything and more from every teacher. Do extra projects. Intern. Volunteer. Put together a student team that actually develops products + marketing + everything while in school and pitches it.

The weird secret is: you can get good grades + MBA degree and be useless. I've seen it. You've seen it. There are people that can coast. Don't be that dude (or gal). Have a plan. Do side work. Use your MBA as an opportunity to do informational interviews. Interview people you want to work for for the school paper or something. Write a column about software product development. Arm yourself with experience, knowledge and enthusiasm so that your job hunt is over before you even have a piece of paper.

Or, take a software development job (possibly for less pay) somewhere where they will give you deeper exposure and a career path to being a GPM. Take classes at night if you feel you need them and get there.

But you really have to ask yourself -- Will I be happy if I get the prestigious degree, but I don't go where I expected? Will I be happy if I get to be a product development person without a fancy MBA ('cause you can get a "regular" one locally)? Be honest with yourself and then do that.

If you go in honest, you're not insane. You're just true to yourself.
posted by Gucky at 10:46 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

My wife went to a top 5 MBA program. She also used to code, and was set up for a long career in a stable industry, making good money. She got much of her MBA paid for, but even if she didn't, she would have gotten her MBA anyway, because it made her happier.

The hard truth is that PRODUCT management positions aren't handed to just any software engineer. In my company (sequoia portfolio), our PM team is 5 people, and 3 of them have MBAs from an elite institution. All have significant technical experience in their backgrounds. My old company had technical folks leaving for slightly less prestigious MBA programs, and they wound up as account managers at places like Google. A few of my wife's former technical classmates are now quants in major sports franchises front offices all trying to be Theo Epstein - they never would have landed those positions without their b-school professors brokering the introductions.

In the worse case, an MBA will just rubber stamp you into a job change or bigger or more "prestigious" company. In the best case, it's much more. The MBA is not just about how much it costs vs. how much you'll get paid afterwords. It's about the people you'll meet, the experiences you'll share with them, and what you'll learn together. Same argument goes for an undergraduate degree. Yeah, it's expensive, but if you do it right, it's worth it, even if your balance sheet still shows red.

That said, I didn't pursue one, and won't, because that path isn't for me. It might be for you, and if it is, don't let other people talk you out of it strictly on dollars and cents.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:10 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have an Executive MBA from a good Canadian school. It gave me a really great skillset, enhanced my strategic thinking capabilities, introduced me to great people from a bunch of areas outside my silo and allowed me to work on projects that, previously, were not within my domain. Because I had no desire to move to NYC or SF and work in IB or what-have-you, I wasn't concerned about having a best-in-class brand. I also didn't feel it necessary to have contacts from elite organizations, because I am committed to staying here in my home city to raise my family. I made some great connections in my MBA, learned a ton and really stretched myself. And, because it was an Executive MBA, I kept on working throughout the program, so I could keep testing and applying what I learned to real life situations. I got to use work projects in class and so did my classmates, so we had a test lab for 2 years. I also got to maintain and grow my career during those two years (reducing opportunity costs) and I skipped the $100k or $200k price tag that two years in an elite program would have cost (not to mention the opportunity cost). I graduated, bought a home, was able to start a family - and I don't have big debt weighing down on me. I was able to instead make big balloon payments on my home, freeing me more.

I know some people know EMBAs and I suspect there are some EMBAs that aren't particularly challenging. But my program was challeging and interesting and my classmates -- who included NASA PhDs, the lawyer from UBC Law a few years prior, and senior execs and so on -- were finding the work incredibly challenging, too. Many of them were also managing homes and families and that meant we all had to learn time management skills at a level we probably would not have otherwise. Plus, if you study and reflect on any subject for two years while talking to professors, guest speakers and 60 others engaged in the same materials and looking at case studies and reading texts, you're going to see something at the other end. It's not just a piece of paper. It's what you make of it.

For me, I discovered along the way that I'm absolutely passionate about knowledge management and marketing. I ended up moving out of high tech and changing up my consulting business so that I productized knowledge and looked at ways to scale. (Which is what software is anyway.) I went in thinking I wanted to be a product manager and discovered new interests and abilities and then I was able to act on them in ways I could not have foreseen, because of my new insights.

So, if you don't fancy a career on Wall Street and you want to make local connections (many of whom will move around and have their own connections anyway) -- and you are worried about giving up your income and career -- look around for a good EMBA program. Your employer already knows you and may be willing to let you do some of the interesting projects from outside your silo and perhaps you can use that and the contacts to move into a new area. Perhaps at your company, perhaps somewhere else.
posted by acoutu at 11:22 AM on March 22, 2011

This -

since I am really done with software development.

and this -

ask "what do you want to do?", and my answer is that I want to be a damn good product manager.

are the only details here that really matter. Life is short; why waste it doing work you don't care about? Figure out how best to get into the job you really want and go for it.

I walked away from a $120k/yr senior engineer position a couple of years ago, after ten years specializing in compiler engineering, because I was burnt out, unhappy, tired, and creatively unfulfilled. I still haven't found a new career to focus on, but I've had no trouble making ends meet, and I've yet to regret quitting even for a minute. Sure, I'd have more money now if I'd stuck with it, but money can't buy creative fulfillment.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:30 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Zophi said what I was going to say.

Find someone who is doing what you want to do (not someone who has the job title, although that might be a place to start...someone who is DOING what you want to do every day). Talk to them about how they got there, what options you have for getting there, and then ask them who else they know that you could talk to. Then ask those people the same questions.

I don't know anything about project managing or getting an MBA (except a lot of people do it and some do it part time while working to gain experience) but for a change this big make sure you're picking a job based on what you would DO each day and not the position title. You may have already done this research, and that's awesome. Just in case, though...do some exploring and some research. There may be more than one path to get where you want to go, and I'd hate to see you take the same path as recent college graduates and get lost in their shuffle.

That being said, I believe that people should follow their passions but should do it in a fiscally responsible way. There's a way to make this work for you, but it might not be the obvious answer. Dig a little and see what you come up with.

And good luck!
posted by MultiFaceted at 12:13 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're making 120k, there's no reason you should have to face down 80k in debt. Defer your admission for a year, and challenge yourself to live frugally enough to save 80k. Pay your tuition in cash. Do a happy dance.

A thousand times this. When I did my undergrad, I had a very well-compensated summer job, so I paid my tuition up front every year with a cheque. I see others who were still paying off student loans a decade or more after graduation and I am happy that I did it the way I did. Your situation is mine writ large.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:20 PM on March 22, 2011

Do you know exactly what you want to do after you get your MBA? You say you want to be a product manager, what do you mean? Do you want to be a BRAND manager? Do you want to stay in technology? Have you spoken to people who have attended this MBA program about their experiences, and particularly their job hunting experiences? Especially people that are in the field that you are interested in going into? Have you spoken to people in the field you're interested in who DIDN'T go to business school? Do the companies you are interested in (or types of companies you are interested in) RECRUIT at the school you're considering going to for the type of position you are interested in? Are you a good networker? A good interviewee?

Are you willing to take a significant paycut ($40,000) after going $90,000 in debt to go to school? Do you understand that the rules for student loans have changed and gone are the days of consolidating at super low interest rates?

Just offering some things to think about, as someone who has attended a top ten business school. In my experience, the only people that got a ton of value out of their MBAs were the people that knew almost exactly what they wanted to do AFTER they finished school and who were very, very aggressive about getting there (I don't mean aggressive in a negative sense, but people who are major go-getters).

There are certain tracks in business school, and if you're looking for a job outside of those tracks, or at companies that don't recruit at those schools, or at companies that are in geographical areas that don't recruit at that school, then it is tough to find a job. Even if you're at a top ten school. That name won't actually get you as far as you think it will!
posted by echo0720 at 5:05 PM on March 22, 2011

Do you need an MBA to be a product manager? I'm pretty sure you don't.
posted by chunking express at 6:50 PM on March 22, 2011

I have no advice for whether you should join the program- but before you take a real pay cut, you should take a self imposed pay cut. How will you be living when you are in school? Savings? Part time job? Figure out how much you will be living on then, and cut your pay to that right now by putting it in savings.

For example, you make $120k now. When you are in school you have a part time job for significantly less, say, $20k. Start putting all of that other money in savings, and figure out if you can live on that $20k. If you can, great! You can do it and you have that money in the bank to cover school costs. If you find out you can't without going deeper in debt, then hold off for a few months, maybe a year, and save up as much money as you can.

I'm all for doing what makes you happy, but do your best not to get in debt for it. It will be horrible if you study like a dog, have no income, are $80k down in debt, and fall victim to the dreaded US job market. But it won't be as bad if you don't have that $80k debt to worry about.
posted by yb2006shasta at 10:14 PM on March 22, 2011

Having an MBA won't make you a good product manager, making good products & good mistakes will. You'd be wiser (and more likely to get hired in 2013 as a Product Manager) if you quit you job and spent the next two years & $80,000 doing a startup with a good product than being yet another Silicon Valley MBA. All the MBAs are looking for the vaunted "technical cofounder" for their startups anyway.
posted by anildash at 1:26 AM on March 23, 2011

i can't speak to product managing, or top 10 vs top 5, engineers->managers etc, and can only guesstimate as to whether you may, likely, potentially, be making significantly more money per annum with a good mba.

but, my leftfield pov: i took one year of an mba at top 1000 school while my band was waiting for my drummer to graduate, like, 15 years ago. and, that one year of simple schooling in how money works, management basics, marketing concepts, and just generally the whole broad spectrum of business skills i learned, has greatly and clearly helped me over the course of my life. jeeze, there's a million-and-a-half-entry long laundry list of moments in my life that mba shit came in handy! i learned a bunch of important things just from the coursework, and it's been invaluable to me every step of the way to where i am today (which i consider a good place :)

so, your job description/goals may be vastly different from mine. and phew! $80 grand is a lot of bucks. but on top of all the other factors weighing in on this decision, i feel i should mention that imho the kind of stuff you learn in those courses is fairly awesome information to know in general, and i'm glad i took the classes.

...and, now that i'm thinking about it, top 5 or top 10, that kinda ranking really might be worth something too, mba or whatever. my sister made some excellent connections at cornell art school for instance
posted by messiahwannabe at 3:01 AM on March 23, 2011

Anonymous, please me-mail me so we can follow up on some of your questions. I am uniquely familiar with the MBA world and very involved in the NYU MBA community.
posted by The1andonly at 6:53 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hello, a product manager here. I skimmed through most of the responses but want to add my 2 cents:

1) You absolutely do not need a MBA to be a great product manager - I know head/director of product managers without MBA, developers who jumped into product management roles, co-founders of startup who fell into it.

2) However, MBA is a great way to network, can open doors, and depending on the people around & quality of coursework, you can learn a lot from it

3) You can definitely make $120k (or more) if you are good at what you do (I can only speak for the Bay Area here)

I think if you want to purse the product management role, there are a lot of ways to do so without an MBA and it's worthwhile to explore those before making a commitment to MBA. Think about transferable skills and overlapping experiences you have. I'm not sure what your background is besides software development but one option is to transition into the PM role at a company where the main product is software.

If you have other questions about PM, how to transition, or how to acquire skills to become a good PM, feel free to contact me.
posted by vocpanda at 11:39 AM on March 23, 2011

Depends. Did you save anything? The US has a per capita GDP of $47,400 - about a third of what you're making each year. How about just living the average lifestyle (it's actually pretty decent, imho) for free for the next N*3 years? Except you wouldn't be tied to a low-wage job?
posted by doub1ejack at 5:44 PM on March 23, 2011

$120k in Silicon Valley isn't a whole lot.

As the Mayor of San Jose noted, $250k is "upper working class".

And this was AFTER the housing bubble!

Do yourself a favor, get into a Top 10 b-school. Get out of the Bay Area and the crazy rat race. Besides, most tech firms have age "preferences". Try to get a career that you can work at past 55.
posted by veryblue1 at 12:34 AM on March 30, 2011

People ask me this question a lot. I have an MBA from Haas and also created this program. It is an intensive one week class at UC Berkeley's Haas School of business that teaches the critical business skills necessary for Product Management. Taught by the MBA faculty. Misha, below, mentioned this as well.

If you know you want to become a Product Manager and this is the only goal of your MBA, I'd try the one week class and see if you can parlay this into a job. A lot of people do get promoted/moved into Product Management from development without an MBA.

I don't think you are going to make an ROI calculation work. Most Product Managers don't earn more than you already make.

On the other hand, if you don't mind taking two years off from working (which is completely understandable) and don't have an expensive lifestyle or a family, go for the MBA. It is an outstanding experience, you build a lifelong network and instant credibility.

Best of luck!
posted by Kimberly F. at 3:53 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

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