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Are MBAs still worth it for IT leaders?
Should IT leaders still invest their time and money in a traditional MBA program? Or has that degree lost its power to supercharge your career? Let’s examine both sides of the debate.
PRO: IT leaders need to be able to speak the language of business peers
Scott Rexroad, founder, www.lil-tec.com: “I have read that traditional MBA programs are on the decline, but I feel that is short-sighted. The entire point of agile was to eliminate silos and work collaboratively as an integrated team. This concept has pushed IT from being simple order-takers to be solution providers. Moving from requirements documents to stories allows business users to speak their own language to describe complicated problems they are facing. We as IT leaders are expected to have a keen understanding of those problems to include marketing/sales campaigns, accounting and finance problems, as well as business management issues. So the subjects that are taught in MBA programs are precisely the type of knowledge that is needed to succeed when running an IT department.”
CON: Online learning programs provide flexibility and can benefit companies more quickly
Garry Brownrigg, CEO and founder, Quicksilk: “I’ve always believed that experience is the best educator. I decided to pursue my graduate work online because it provided more flexibility to accommodate a work/lifestyle balance while providing a vehicle to immediately incorporate my studies in a real-life scenario. Pursuing an online course of study also helped lessen the financial burden that accompanies full-time programs, encountered in mid-career. The benefits for myself and my employer were immediately realized through improvements in critical-thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. In this agile world, we must continually improve (Kaizen), so I supplement my graduate studies with specialized courses and workshops when a personal interest or work requirement arises.”
PRO: MBAs offer more than skills
John Picciotto, global enterprise architecture practice lead, Accenture: “Being an IT leader is about more than being the best at technology; it is about understanding the impact that technology can have on corporate operations and performance and communicating that to the rest of the leadership team. In the end, an MBA is about more than just gaining skills. If that is all that a person expects from their MBA, then they should look at some other education route. The true value from an MBA comes from the shared experience with other people who are driven to excel and invest in themselves. This provides the leader with a diverse network outside of their company and area of specialization that they can turn to throughout their career.”
CON: Experience is the best education
Nick Galov, founder, hostingtribunal.com: “In my experience, an MBA can teach you a lot of useful things for business, but it isn’t a necessary precondition for successful IT leaders. What is more important is hands-on experience in the industry as well as a number of additional certificates.
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“Now, people who aim for CIO positions will definitely benefit from the business and finance part of MBAs. However, I believe that this knowledge can also be achieved in different ways, which don’t include a two-year grad program. Being an expert in the IT part should be future leaders’ top priority.”
It depends: Temper your expectations for an MBA
Robert Reeves, chief technology officer of Datical: “I don’t have an MBA, but I do have a masters from McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. I chose Masters of Technology Commercialization because I’m an engineer but I needed a more solid business background. There were things such as marketing, finance, and accounting I had no exposure to in my previous software startup. The program was a great proving ground for my current company, Datical.
“I do not think technical IT leaders need an MBA. But keep in mind that CEOs come from two previous positions: CFO or VP of sales. Remember to temper your expectations of what an MBA can do for you in your career plans. If you want to be a CIO of a publicly traded company, an MBA is a very good choice.”
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