Should You Get an MBA?

CIO published three interesting articles today:

  1. Should You Get an MBA? by Meridith Levinson
  2. 10 Reasons Why You Should Get an MBA by Thomas MacKay
  3. Six Reasons Not to Get an MBA by James Clark

As you can probably guess, the articles discuss the reasons why technology people -- specifically those who eventually want to be CIOs -- should or shouldn't get an MBA. Levinson writes in her introductory article:

With all the weight companies are placing on needing business-savvy IT leaders, IT professionals who don't already have the prestigious degree are considering obtaining it. [...]

[IT professionals worry] that not having an MBA will eliminate them from job opportunities and severely limit their prospects for career growth. [...] But many IT professionals remain resistant because earning the degree requires so much time and money. [...]

To help you figure out what's best for you, invited two IT professionals to weigh in on the MBA debate — one on each side.

Since I am four months away from completing my MBA, you can also guess that I would tend to agree with MacKay. In fact, some of the posts I've written here have demonstrated what he talks about in his article:

An MBA teaches you to look at problems and opportunities holistically. It also provides analytical frameworks, such as risk assessments, cost-benefit analyses and strategic plans, that you can apply to any problem or opportunity you encounter, whether in or beyond IT. The business mindset that an MBA gives you becomes habit because you use those frameworks repeatedly in a rigorous academic environment, and you see how they can be applied in a variety of situations from one course to another.

Clark also makes some valid points. These include problems with the time, money, and effort required to complete the degree. He also talks about the difference between learning in an academic setting versus learning hands-on. "I get more out of doing than studying", he says. While that is true to an extent, I think sometimes the opposite is also correct. As I wrote in  my MBA application essays: "doing an MBA is [the smarter option for me right now] since I will be more focused, more determined, and will have prioritised my life around learning instead of earning." Of course, a prerequisite for thinking that was is to not be concerned about "earning" for the duration of your MBA.

In my opinion, the path you choose will depend on your natural business acumen, where you are in your career at that time, which company you work for, and what you preferred method of learning is. For example, you might have good natural managerial abilities, be working under a great leader or mentor, be working at a company that helps develop its employees' abilities, and be someone who learns quickly in a hands-on environment. In that case, you are not likely to need an MBA.

If your situation is different -- in some cases, even slightly -- the MBA might be exactly what you need. It's all on a case-by-case basis, I think. Recruiters know that as well, which is why not having an MBA doesn't eliminate you from the running for most managerial positions. On the other hand, having an MBA does tell your potential employer a bit about the breadth and depth of knowledge that you possess -- and that can't be a bad thing.