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Computer Coders Seek To Engineer A Business Education

A growing number of tech sector employees and engineers are banking on business education, as business schools begin to teach students computer science.

Thu Feb 12 2015

Before Bella Handojo became a business student, she was a food sciences undergraduate, with years of experience researching and writing reports on the manufacturing of food stuffs at university. Now she is an entrepreneur, cooking up a venture that she hopes will shake-up the food and drinks industries in Indonesia.

“I come from a country where education and work motivation is considerably low. I want to be able to create opportunities,” Bella says.

She has completed business education in a whirl. A masters in entrepreneurship took her across three different countries – France, China and the US – at three leading business schools, including EMLYON.

“Moving from one country to another within one year has helped me to adapt faster to situations,” Bella says.

There are many transferable skills, from tech to business. “Entrepreneurship is not just accounting or finance; it is about being outrageously creative in any field – engineering, IT, science or arts,” she says

She is one of a growing number of former techies that have banked on formal business education.

A 2014 survey of 5,604 business school applicants found 5% more tech employees and 0.3% more engineers were opting for business education than the previous year.

Bella and alumnus Abhinandan De are the new faces of the evolving business school scene. Abhinandan is a manager at IIAS Group, a company with interests in the education, hospitality, tourism and manufacturing industries.

He moved into management after a career as an industrial engineer, including at a steel plant in west Bengal, India.

“I [have] always wanted to be an entrepreneur and to build a business,” he says. “Engineering is hard work; it prepares one to not only be analytical, but to go through the grind of college.”

A masters in entrepreneurship has helped him to switch careers. He is now developing a business plan for a mobile applications business. “I can feel the difference that the program has made,” Abhinandan says.

“Not only has it made me more aware about how the start-up world works, but it has also provided me with the key skills [and] insights [needed] to think like an investor.”

The disruptive influence of technology is forcing business education to alter its content. At the same time, its graduates are increasingly pursuing careers in start-up companies or in innovative tech businesses like Google, Apple and Amazon.

Silicon Valley themes are now more common. Harvard Business School, for instance, launched a cross-disciplinary project – called its “Digital Initiative” – to help shape conversations about the transformation of the current business climate.

Harvard recently announced that it will start offering a business-focused version of its popular beginners’ class in computer science. About 25 HBS students have cross-registered for the undergraduate course this year.

Harvard in 2013 ran a survey of students who had enrolled in CS50, the introductory computer science course. More than 80% of them said they felt it was worth learning to code.

Harvard follows New York’s Stern School of Business, which announced plans to start a course that will teach students how to visualize data and use Python, a programing language.

Hacking for Hustlers, an intensive one-day coding workshop for business school students, last year ran classes at Harvard, NYU Stern and Wharton, all US-based.

South Carolina’s Aiken’s School of Business Administration is developing a part-time MBA aimed at students with undergraduate degrees in one of the STEM subjects, to launch in 2015.

Many more STEM graduates are studying at business schools to follow a start-up path. Magesh Rengaswamy, enrolled in the full-time MBA at EMLYON Business School in France, spent five years engineering in the energy sector in India.

“I realized the importance of undergoing a formal business school education to strengthen my entrepreneurial skill-sets,” he says.

He thinks the transition has been enriching so far. “The small MBA cohort size, with diverse backgrounds, is a key advantage,” says Magesh.

He has ambitions to eventually launch his own energy company. “I consider an MBA to be right decision, to gain knowledge and develop networks, in order to fast-track my professional career,” he says.

Technology industry darlings like Stanford GSB and MIT’s Sloan School of Management are seen as feeders to innovative tech firms and the field of entrepreneurship.

Yet even Wharton, a business school regarded as a finance specialist, this week announced that it was working with two internet start-up companies to teach students about entrepreneurship through online learning.

But other engineers prefer to pursue a corporate career path. Sandra Rodriguez spent several years working as an industrial engineer before enrolling in an MBA at MIP Politecnico di Milano, a leading Italian business school.

“I had the opportunity to [get to] know great people from around the world and at the same time live the Italian culture,” she says. When Sandra graduated, she landed a job at Luxottica Group, the NYSE-listed luxury fashion house.

“Italy has a culture of building high-quality products and luxury brands,” she says.

But working as a planning and reporting supervisor today at Luxottica in Italy’s Belluno city, Sandra still values her engineering background. “The [engineering] work experience helped me to understand concepts and connect the dots,” she says.