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Techies Say an MBA Doesn’t Do Much for Their Career

by Sep 10, 2012, 3:50 pm ET

As the debate over the value of an MBA slogs on, tech workers are fairly convinced that adding the business degree won’t do much for their careers.

IT specialty job board Dice surveyed job seekers a few weeks ago about the value of an MBA, finding that 52 percent of them believe it’s not important to future technical careers. Only 32 percent saw it as adding value.

That might be expected, as the question was asked only of those who didn’t have a Masters of Business Administration. But even among those who do have the degree, many doubt its value. Dice asked MBA holders how having the degree changed their career. The most popular response was that it got them a bigger paycheck. Next most frequently cited response, though, was that it had no impact on their career.

The “no effect” responders, whether among those who hold an MBA or don’t, may be on to something. Earlier this year Identified analyzed the millions of professional profiles to which it has access only to find that more CEOs and company founder have advanced engineering degrees than they do MBAs. The ratio is sizable: 3,337 leaders  in the Identified database are engineers vs. 1,016 have MBAs. (Ironically, Identified’s founders both have MBAs.)

Why is this? There’s really no clear answer. One possibility, as organizational theorist Jim March suggests, is that business schools teach students to suppress the passion and joy that drives much of entrepreneurship. It’s an argument that Stanford business Professor Bob Sutton seconds. “I found this depressingly accurate for too many students, who often seem to lose their spark,” he writes.

Nonetheless, employers are recruiting technologists with MBAs. Dice says about 1,500 jobs a day on its career site have the dual degree requirements. Compared to the tens of thousands of job posts on Dice.com that make no mention of an MBA, the dual degree positions are “relatively rare,” the company says, adding, “But, roles with that appeal are wide ranging from .NET Developer to Web Developer and about everything in between.”

Even though about a third of he professionals in the Dice survey believe “Expertise in a technical discipline will outweigh any benefit from general business knowledge,” the number of tech employers seeking MBAs grew 34 percent last year. QS Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd, which did the analysis, forecast an additional 10 percent increase this year. Not all these jobs require candidates to have both degrees, but, as the Dice survey respondents who do have joint degrees say, an MBA helps them contribute to business decisions outside of just the technical aspects. Plus, it makes them more marketable, and will help them move into tech management.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

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  • Robert Dromgoole

    Writing as one who recruits technical talent, and has an MBA, there should be a third option: Depends. Just like any degree, spending thousands of hours and dollars on a degree not related to your career goals might be mentally fulfilling, but not get you to where you want to go. If you want to pursue management, manage budgets and learn the language of accounting and business law, MBA might be great. If you’re a pure research engineer who wants to focus on R&D, an MBA can be a pure waste of time. The Steve Wozniak types could care less about an MBA. However, (I know Jobs didn’t graduate) but his types in leadership may value from it. So what’s their path?

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