Is an MBA Worthwhile or Worthless for Tech Pros?

Once seen as a valuable differentiator for career advancement, the intrinsic worth of an MBA degree is now a hotly debated subject in the enterprise.

An MBA used to be the crown jewel in a candidate's resume, but in a rapidly changing business climate driven by technology, the degree is barely considered a bauble, unless there are proven achievements, success and demonstrable real-world business acumen to back it up.

"Seeing an MBA on a resume used to mean candidates would get a de facto stamp of approval, but because of how rapidly how things change in the technology and business world today, those in positions to hire tend to look at candidates' knowledge and achievements when filling a role, and use their ability to adapt and change to suit a challenging market as a predictor of future capabilities," says Chris Duchesne, vice president of global workplace solutions, Care.com.

"The way people's careers get built today, their role changes give them real-world experience and, in my opinion, greater knowledge than formal training and education do; just having an MBA won't necessarily give you an edge anymore," Duchesne says.

MBA

This isn't to say that having an MBA is a detriment. It can absolutely demonstrate your ability to commit to and achieve goals, emphasize your willingness to learn new skills, and give employers a baseline against which to gauge your knowledge, especially if you earned the degree while working, says Rona Borre, founder and CEO of IT hiring and recruiting firm Instant Technology.

Timing Is Everything

"When people get MBAs is important," Borre says. "Anyone who just comes out of college and goes straight into an MBA program will certainly have the book learning, but they don't have relative work experience in an actual business environment. But in senior leadership, if you got your MBA while working, and you are able to take the information you learned and are applying that to real life situations and learn from those experiences, that's a huge advantage," she says.

The advantage is especially great in the tech field where, oftentimes, programmers, networking pros and administrators are often pushed into senior leadership roles for lack of better candidates, Borre says.

"An MBA can set candidates apart because the market is so strapped for people, they move tech programmers and technically skilled mid-level people up into leadership roles when they may not be ready," Borre says.

"It's not really strategic to do so, but in many cases it's done so they can quickly solve problems as they arise, rather than deliver any kind of long-term strategy," Borre says.

Keeping Up Without an MBA

If you're looking to gain the kinds of knowledge and experience that would put you on par with an MBA-holding candidate, first you have to keep up with the pace of technological change within your organization, but also remember to keep networking, says Duchesne.

"Make sure you're looking within your own organization at different roles, responsibilities and tasks you could assume that will get you to that goal," he says. If, for example, you're aiming for a new business development role and your current position is more internally focused, keeping an eye on available sales positions and customer-facing initiatives you can get involved with can help take your skills to the next level.

Location Matters

Another factor that affects the worth of your MBA is the school that granted the degree. And if you happen to have an MBA from a "no-name" school, its benefit is negligible, says Rick Gillis, job search strategist, career specialist and consultant.

"MBAs aren't worth too much anymore unless there's a major Ivy League name attached," Gillis says. "There are so many institutions, both online and brick-and-mortar, that are offering these that the elite nature of the degree has been watered down. It's become just an add-on degree, and it should absolutely be seen as a supplement to your existing job-specific skills, experience and knowledge," he says.

A recent Business Insider survey asked more than 300 professionals across the healthcare, government, technology and finance industries, among others, what value they perceived in an MBA degree, and asked them to rank business schools.

More than 77 percent of survey respondents selected Harvard University as number one, with 60 percent choosing Yale University. Stanford University slid to third place with 58 percent of respondents choosing the school. The survey also asked respondents to rate the value of an MBA, and only 3 percent stated that MBAs were "extremely important." A 61 percent majority said an MBA was "slightly important" or "moderately important."

"Do you need an MBA to be successful? No," says Borre. "But for senior leadership candidates, it could help them be more strategic and forward-looking in business management roles," she says.

"To be able to talk about what you created, how you drove success, and to give examples of what types of environments you worked in and how you delivered on the promise of your projects -- those are more important. When we look at candidate profiles, we look at education, sure, but we mostly look at what they have accomplished," Borre says.

Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at sflorentine@cio.com Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.

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