by Trish Sammer Johnston, September 2, 2010
We may live in a so-called civilized society, but when you think about it, we’re still pretty tribal. In some ways, we might as well be living in huts along the Amazon.
The jocks hang with the jocks. The artists hang with the artists. If you steer your little canoe into the wrong encampment, things might not go over so well. In fact, you might not even speak the language and the tribe members may misinterpret your request for directions as a hostile act.
It’s the same in the business world. The suits hang with the other corporate-types and the IT crew hangs with the other “tech geeks.” Sometimes these two tribes have to work together – and when they do it can be tough for them to communicate. Often, these neighboring groups will just grunt a few syllables at each other and move on, both of them uncomfortable with the encounter.
But what if there was a person who could easily move between these two tribes? What if this person understood both languages and was accepted into both communities? Then that person could harness the best aspects of both tribes and help foster collaboration so that they create something bigger than either group could’ve imagined on its own.
What if that person was you?
If that sounds appealing, you may be a great candidate for an MBA in technology.
While it’s called different things at different schools (such as an MBA/MIS, for example) the MBA in technology is the degree that’s going to allow you to be fluent in the language of business as well as the language of technology. The result is that you can build fully-integrated business models that harness the best of information technology to optimize business systems and positively impact the bottom line.
Put a simpler way: You can hang with the suits and you can hang with the tech geeks and neither of them will try to kill you with a poison dart – because they’ll each accept you as one of their own.
“You have technical knowledge without sounding like a techie, yet you still understand business concepts, like marketing and supply chains”
says Wendell Tull (founder and MBA admissions advisor at GraduateBusiness.Org, a company that helps prospective grad students navigate the competitive business school admission process).
Tull, who has over 15 years of experience working in higher education and has helped thousands of people navigate the graduate school application process, explains it this way:
“This degree integrates two very different ways of thinking. People have a stereotype of the technical person as someone who isn’t a team player, who just wants to think about their own piece of the puzzle but not look at the big picture. The technical MBA shows that you’re not afraid to jump in and be a problem solver and run the business side. Your expertise is not totally dependent on a specific piece of technology, which can always break down.”
Charles Kannair, a current MBA/MIS student at Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh explains it this way:
“Technology isn’t a tool. It’s a system of tools. It’s piercing traditional business models to create efficiencies. Think about it – many companies these days are practically virtual entities. The technical MBA is a slam-dunk for me. It’s extending what I already know as far as technology, while integrating big-picture business knowledge. It’s a competitive advantage. It demonstrates a certain depth of knowledge. A lot of people see IT as those guys in the back – you know, they’re like the plumbers,” Kannair jokes. “You don’t see them unless something goes wrong. A lot of companies, while they know that their IT staff is important, also view them as a cost center. With this degree, I can build systems and then go, ‘How can we use this to increase the return on investment?’ I can translate between two different aspects of the business world by communicating with the technical team and the management team.”
So if you’re still kicking the tires, here are some things to consider when determining if this degree might work well for you:
You’re a big-picture person. Yes, you need to be detail-oriented, “but you’re not the one pushing the buttons,” Kannair points out. “Think of this degree as two inches deep and 20 miles wide.”
You’ve dipped your foot into the pool, at least in one topic or the other. Tull points out that this degree is often a good fit for the business student or professional who wants to specialize in technology, or for the technology student or professional who wants the business perspective.
You don’t have to be an engineer … but some technical aptitude is necessary. In fact, Kannair asserts that some of his classmates with lesser technical backgrounds have more of an advantage for one simple reason.
“They don’t have any bad habits to unlearn. They just take the instruction for what it is, rather than saying, ‘Well, this is the way I’ve always done it.’”
You’re a problem solver. You have to be willing to get creative and get the job done – and not be thwarted by stumbling blocks along the way.
If you’re the type who wants to sit at your desk and be left alone, this is not the degree for you.
Both Tull and Kannair stress that the technology MBA candidate has to be a people person, first and foremost. And since you’ll be dealing with some very opposite personality types, you’re going to need to be nimble enough to switch gears to deal with both.
This is a degree for someone who wants to be part of the executive team. Tull states that many graduates go on to mid- or senior-level management positions, including possibly running entire divisions.
Carolyn Boviard, the Director of Specialty MBS programs at Northeastern University, states that many of the students in their high-tech MBA program go on to a variety of careers, based on their backgrounds and course of study, including:
Of course, people who want to strike out on their own as entrepreneurs may also benefit from this degree, particularly those considering starting a technology or Internet company.
Tull advises doing some fact finding before dropping a lot of green to start a grad program.
“Take some intro business courses at a community college to see if they interest you. No one likes accounting, but it’s a necessary evil. See if you can get through it. Take some classes in finance, business operations and marketing as well. See what you think before you commit to dropping $85 grand for a program. Talk to someone who already has the degree and find out what’s involved.”
Then you need to consider exactly what kind of program you’d like to participate in. “There are a lot of options these days,” Tull says. “You can get your degree online or go part-time or full-time in a more traditional setting.”
In addition, some programs are more technology-based, while others focus more on the business side. The best-rounded programs may involve collaboration between the engineering and business departments.
Kannair gives some good advice if you’re still on the fence about this degree:
“It sounds simple, but think about what makes you happy. Think about how you want to spend your time every day.”
So if the idea of floating down the Amazon in that canoe of yours, stopping to visit different camps and bringing ideas up and down the river sounds good to you, you just might have found where you’re supposed to be.