In fact, some schools like the University of Washington Foster School of Business and the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business have sent more of their MBA grads into tech than finance.
It’s an interesting shift considering that neither Google’s Larry Page, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, or Microsoft’s Bill Gates has an MBA. And the one technology leader, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s second-in-command, who does have an MBA from Harvard Business School, famously went on record saying that her degree wasn’t necessary for a career in tech.
So, why is there a growing tide of MBA students in the US looking to use the MBA as a launch-pad into a career in tech?
Why Do MBAs Want to Work in Tech?
In a 2017 Universum report, out of the top five most desired employers by business students in the US, three were technology companies: Google (#1), Apple (#3), and Amazon (#5). But that only touches the surface of the tech industry. Technology is pervasive throughout the business world.
“Technology is more than just information technology,” says Anirudh Dhebar, a professor of marketing at Babson College and the faculty lead for the Managing the Technology-Intensive Enterprise (MTIE) intensity track for F.W. Olin MBA students. “The term should be broadened to include science and enterprise as well. Over the last several years, we’ve been seeing more intense applications of science and technology changing the way businesses conduct their operations.”
It’s for this reason that Anirudh believes technology has become such a popular outlet for MBAs. Technology can be found within every business and organization whether it’s the creation of autonomous driving within the energy industry or using technology to cure diseases.
“Tech touches every part of our lives and is therefore such a necessity,” says Naomi Sanchez, the assistant dean of MBA Career Management at the Foster School of Business. “It also offers opportunities to innovate, create, and make lives easier. Tech cultures can be fun and offer young professionals chances to meet others in an environment that is fast-paced and innovative.”
And the good news for MBA graduates is that tech companies have started looking toward MBA programs for their new hires. So, it’s an industry where jobs can be found. According to a Poets & Quants report, over the last five years, Amazon has hired 445 MBAs from just six elite MBA programs, Google 199, and Microsoft 222—and that’s only counting graduates from Chicago Booth, Northwestern Kellogg, MIT Sloan, Columbia, Michigan Ross, and Duke. Overall, the average increase in MBAs headed into the technology industry last year was 4.71%—a positive job growth outlook.
The Changing Tech MBA
It’s for this reason that many top MBA programs have begun to modify their curriculum to reflect the new tech industry focus. Last year, 52% of Foster MBA graduate students accepted a job in the tech sector, and a lot of that has to do with not only the school’s location in Seattle—home to Microsoft, Amazon, and T-Mobile—but with the school’s coursework.
“Foster has added specific content to MBA core classes [which are] highly relevant to managing tech-driven firms,” says Dan Poston, assistant dean of Masters Programs at the Foster School. “We have expanded electives that address areas like data analytics and social media marketing. We use cases that address challenges current firms are facing such as how a firm can effectively meld the in-store and online shopping experience in a marketing course, or how to better utilize brick and mortar stores for online fulfillment in an operations course.”
But it’s not just inside the classroom where MBA students are seeing the shift toward tech. Outside of academic courses, MBA students can find workshops on software or discussions with alumni in roles such as product management.
“Foster’s close working relationships with tech companies in the region and beyond offer students both academic and extra-curricular activities throughout the year,” explains Naomi. “Being close to Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile, and a growing number of start-ups, both tech-bound students and career changers can find valuable experience.”
And at Babson College, there’s a foundation technology course that all MBA students take to complement their education. “The foundation course sets the tone for technology learning,” says Anirudh. “It’s focused on what’s going on right now in the tech industry. It’s hands-on, and it allows students to choose the enterprise of their choice to study and complete a white paper about their issues and opportunities in science and technology.”
Babson students then mix this foundation course with other core classes in marketing or business analytics, so that they can tackle management issues within any technology or science enterprise. Its this mix of skills that can make MBAs most valuable to technology companies.
Tech Skills for MBA Students
However, the most important skills for working in the technology industry are not necessarily what one might think.
“Aside from tech skills using the usual suite of software programs, communication, collaboration, working with ambiguity, taking risks and having curiosity are important as well as the ability to “integrate”—take different parts and put them together into a cohesive insight,” says Naomi. “Being an integrator becomes an important role. This skill, I’ve heard across many companies and industries. How do all the parts of an issue or problem connect to one another?”
Anirudh agrees. He feels the most important skills are those that encourage a student to ask questions and conduct experiments when they don’t know the answer. To be successful in tech, you don’t have to understand everything, but you have to be willing to learn quickly and to know how to ask the right questions.
“If you look at any business today, there is no way that it’s not related to science and technology,” he says. “Every business has science and technology. It’s highly pervasive, and that’s why MBA students gravitate toward it and will continue to do so.”