Tech MBAs: Catching up

SHERYL Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, said in 2015 that to get ahead in the tech world, an MBA is not needed. Ms Sandberg was not speaking from personal experience—she graduated from Harvard Business School in 1995—but her suggestion vexed those looking to capitalise on the expanding world of technology, including business schools.

For years, people questioned whether MBAs and tech firms were a good fit. Some argued that the degree encouraged students to think rigidly, to value cautious consideration over risk taking. How could such a mindset fit in with a company like Ms Sandberg’s, where the motto was once “move fast and break things”. 

In fact, technology is now the fastest growing sector for the recruitment of MBAs, according MBA Career Services and Employer Alliance, a business-school group. In 2010, for example, just 2% of MBA graduates from the Stern School at New York University landed a job with a technology firm. Last year 10% did. The school has responded to this interest by launching a tech-focused one-year MBA programme to cater to the need of employers in “Silicon Alley”, the New York technology hub that the school’s dean, Peter Henry, can see from his office window. “We have to figure out a way to be as important to the new economy as we have been to Wall Street for the past 50 years,” he explains.

That, he thinks, requires a different approach. The standard MBA model of a two-year course with summer internships has been replaced with a fast-track single-year programme without internships. Discussions with venture capitalists and big employers, such as Paypal and IBM, have produced a more tailored curriculum, including experiential learning with large companies, solving real-world problems. The school is not training coders, Mr Henry is at pains to point out, but envisages that MBA students will have the strong analytical skills that technology companies seek out from employees.

It is not the only school adapting to students’ new interests. From September, Edinburgh Business School will offer a one-year full-time MBA course specialising in entrepreneurship, in which students will be encouraged to develop a business plan to present to investors. Around two-thirds of Edinburgh graduates start their own business within five years of gaining their MBA, according to research by CarringtonCrisp, a market research agency. Other business schools, including MIT Sloan School of Business, have introduced courses specifically tailored towards giving MBAs entrepreneurial skills.

For all that, a surprisingly small number of MBAs go on to start their own businesses. Less than one in 10 at Harvard Business School become entrepreneurs, and one in 12 at MIT Sloan. In part, this is probably because the tech and entrepreneurial MBA is still in its early days. That institutions like NYU Stern are only now fully embracing the idea indicates that, unlike the fast-moving world into which they hope to launch their graduates, business schools themselves move slowly. Yet things are changing: the number of business schools beginning to incorporate tech more fully into their MBA curriculum will only lead to more tech-savvy graduates in the working world. Whether these graduates will have the skills needed by the fast-moving tech sector, or will be tomorrow’s yesterday men and women, outpaced by winds of change, awaits to be seen.

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guest-aamnlswa

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