Six Reasons Not to Get an MBA

You don't need to earn an MBA to get the expertise you need. Real-world business experience is not only an education, it's a path to learning how to be a leader, James Clark argues.

James Clark, the CTO of EpicTide, a provider of security software for the health-care industry, has focused on real-world business experience over the MBA curriculum and is satisfied he’s made the right decision. Here are the six points Clark cites as his rationale for why IT executives don’t need the an MBA to get ahead:

1. You don't have the time.

The amount of time required to receive enough credits to get the degree is a big hurdle for me in my current position. Most MBA programs are two-year commitments. If I were to enroll in a part-time MBA program to accommodate my work schedule, the degree would take me considerably longer to complete.

2. You don't have the money.

The average cost of a traditional MBA program is estimated at $40,000 for one year, according to MBAprograms.org. Online MBA programs from prestigious institutions aren't any cheaper. Though I have found some inexpensive online MBA programs, I can't help but wonder about the quality of their curricula. For more information on the cost of MBA programs, check out this link.

3. The subject matter puts you to sleep faster than a Xanax.

Since I was a young kid, I've been interested in technology and consumer electronics. That's what I tinker with. My interests don’t lie in reading The World is Flat, though I have read that book, and understanding outsourcing as a whole is important to me because I outsource to the Ukraine. But I have enough firsthand experience with outsourcing and globalization that I don’t see the need to sit through a class on it, which leads me to my next point.

Top CIOs Who Don't Have an MBA

Ralph Szygenda, group VP and CIO, GM (bachelor of science in computer science from the University of Missouri-Rolla; master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas; honorary doctorate in engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla). Read more about Szygenda's career here.

Randy Mott, CIO, HP (bachelor of science in math). Read more about Mott's career here.

Rollin Ford, CIO, Wal-Mart (bachelor's degree in business administration and systems analysis from Taylor University).

Gary Masada, CIO, Chevron (bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Washington).

Shaygan Kheradpir, CIO, Verizon (bachelor's, master's and PhD in electrical engineering from Cornell University). Hear a podcast with Kheradpir here. here.

Patricia Morrison, EVP and CIO, Motorola (bachelor of arts in math and statistics from Miami University; bachelor of science in secondary education). Read about Morrison's leadership style here.

John Hinshaw, VP and CIO, Boeing (bachelor's degree in computer information systems from James Madison University). Read more about Hinshaw's appointment here.

Nicholas Smither, VP and CIO, Ford Motor (bachelor’s degree in engineering from Loughborough University with first class honors, and master’s degree in advanced automotive engineering from Loughborough University in England).

Marv Adams, CIO, Citigroup (bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Michigan State; completed executive programs at Stanford and MIT). Read more about Adams' career here.

Doreen Wright, SVP and CIO, Campbell Soup (bachelor of arts degree from UPenn). Read more about Wright's career here.

Carl Wilson, EVP and CIO, Marriott International (bachelor's degree from Indiana University and an M.E.P. from the University of Minnesota). Read more about Wilson's work at Marriott here.

Filippo Passerini, chief information and global services officer, P&G (doctorate in statistics and operating research from the University of Rome). Read more on Passerine here.

4. You prefer real-world, hands-on experience to academic study.

I'd rather learn what I need to know about business by working than taking classes. In most classes, you deal with the theoretical. That's not my world: I have to deal with actual business and customer requirements. I get more out of doing than studying.

I've seen a lot of people come straight out of school with theories of how things should work but who lack real ideas on how to implement or upgrade a business process using IT. Those skills certainly aren't part of a business curriculum, yet that's precisely what you need to know as an IT professional. Personally, I get more benefit out of articles from CIO, for instance, that showcase the projects actual business and IT executives are working on than I'd get out of going to a class and hearing a lecture on change management. I'd prefer to learn about CRM or BPM from existing IT leaders than get the theory in an MBA program. It's quicker and easier for me. I believe that I've been able to get where I am today—in the CTO post of a growing software company at age 33—because I've been able to grasp certain business concepts, like sales and marketing, and integrate them with my technical knowledge.

5. An MBA won't teach you everything you need to know to be an effective IT leader.

Sure, an MBA will teach you about strategy, operations, finance, marketing and sales. But it won't teach you the soft skills that are critical for effectively managing staff and influencing colleagues. Nor will the MBA teach you how to navigate corporate politics—another extremely practical and important competence for successful IT leaders.

6. To be an IT executive, you really need to know technology first and foremost.

All of this talk about the importance of the MBA degree for IT executives puts too much emphasis on business knowledge. The reality of what I have to do every day is this: I have to make a variety of different systems work and talk to each other. I have to enable to the business. I certainly have to be able to talk to the business, but if I don't understand how my systems work, there are going to be cost overruns and project failures. Two-thirds of all software projects fail because they're mismanaged by business people who don't emphasize what actually has to happen to make technology work. The fact that the technical skills associated with integrating IT systems is de-emphasized over having business skills, especially in large enterprises, is one of the leading causes of IT project failure. That's a big sticking point for me. It proves that business knowledge does not translate into IT knowledge. IT knowledge, on the other hand, is applicable to any business, regardless of industry. You have to understand IT to run IT.

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