Why MBAs Are Just What Silicon Valley Needs

silicon-valley

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave the world something to Tweet about earlier this week when she said in a Quora interview that an MBA isn’t important in the tech industry.

Specifically, Sandberg – who is a Harvard Business School graduate – wrote:

“… MBAs are not necessary at Facebook and I don’t believe they are important for working in the tech industry.”

Well, I never!

As an MBA and Facebook alumnus who had a great career in tech,* I’m not going to just sit here and let her defame the beloved degree that keeps my self-esteem warm at night.

So, I hereby go on record as taking great exception to her words for three important reasons:

  1. I have a book coming out next year titled You Should Totally Get an MBA: A Comedian’s Guide to Top Tier Business Schools,
  2. Contrived outrage is good for publicity (just ask those brats at Yale). And, most importantly…
  3. If she’s right, then my entire professional self-concept is a wretched, hollow fantasy.

To get clear on the message here, let’s look closely at Sandberg’s words:

“I don’t believe MBA <degrees> are important for working in the tech industry”

I guess I can understand an HBS alum saying something like this. But what if she had attended a really good program, like Dartmouth’s Tuck School? Perhaps she would consider the degree more than just résumé frippery for bankers, trust fund d-bags, and the next Jeffrey Skilling.

Truth is the tech industry needs business schools – especially HBS. Where else would it get business development people? From Peter Thiel’s kinder-preneurship camps? I don’t think so. One needs more than pleated khakis and a drab personality to do Business Development – one also needs a driver’s license!

Further, modern tech BD droids can’t just be the same ol’ Wall Street and McKinsey flunkies they were a few years ago. Today’s business development professionals requires specific skills, such as:

  • Taking good notes,
  • Saying “net-net” a lot, and…
  • Pretending that they’ve closed a deal when they get an NDA signed.

Guess where one acquires these critical skills? That’s right – business school. 

“… MBAs are not necessary at Facebook”

These words hurt my heart, but they do explain some of the experiences I had as a Facebook employee.

When interviewing for a job on the start-up’s sales team in 2007, I spoke with a young product manager, naturally dropping into conversation multiple times the fact that I had an Ivy League MBA. When done by HBS students and alumni this is called “dropping the H-bomb.” We didn’t have an equivalent at Dartmouth because “dropping the D-bomb” sounds creepy. (Also because when you tell a normal, non-MBA person that you go to Tuck, they generally say, “What the hell is a Tuck?”)

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.