When Brian Chang decided he wanted to make the leap from his mechanical engineering background to a project management role with one of Silicon Valley’s blue chip tech companies, he had one place on his mind: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A native of Sunnyvale, California, a community of about 140,000, positioned literally in the heart of Silicon Valley, Chang believed the best way to pivot was to earn an MBA and come immediately back to the valley. And after research, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business was at the top of his business school list.
“In Silicon Valley, everyone knows about Carnegie Mellon, even though it’s a small school in Pittsburgh and so far away from Silicon Valley,” Chang insists. Indeed, Tepper’s western Pennsylvania campus rests about 2,600 miles from Silicon Valley known more for steel and the deindustrialization suffered by many upper Midwestern cities rather than tech prowess. “People know about CMU and they respect what you know about technology and data because you’ve gone there,” Chang continues. “People never question if you know your stuff when they find out you went to Carnegie Mellon.”
Chang, 27, seems to be onto something. Google and Apple are two of about 1,600 tech companies generating nearly $21 billion in annual payroll in Pittsburgh. Only the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business sent a higher percentage (43%) of its MBA class of 2015 into tech. Some 38.2% of 2015 Tepper MBAs recently found employment with high tech companies, including those found in tech epicenters like Silicon Valley and Seattle, says Stephen Rakas, the executive director of Tepper’s Career Opportunities Center.
CMU ‘SYNONYMOUS WITH EXCELLENCE IN TECHNOLOGY’
“Carnegie Mellon is synonymous with excellence in technology,” Rakas believes, also noting the percentage of graduates entering tech has been on a constant increase for about a decade now. “We’ve always had an edge in the tech sector given we’re Carnegie Mellon and the Tepper School. But the number has probably doubled in the past five or six years.”
Rakas says the influx is largely due to a changing job environment and Tepper “riding a wave” that’s been building for a decade or so.
“The lifecycle on product development has become shorter and it’s more competitive,” Rakas says. “Companies are gathering an immense amount of data on consumers, and they often don’t know what to do with it, whether its user behavior or consumer insights. That’s becoming a whole set of opportunities where MBAs are really poised to help these companies analyze trends and data. And at the Tepper School, in particular, that’s our hallmark, analytical decision making.”
So an excursion such as Tepper’s Bay Area Tech Trek, which is one of a trio of trips organized and sponsored by the school’s Business and Technology Club, makes sense and helps students, who are often coming from somewhere other than the West Coast hub to get a feel for the area and scene. This year, about 40 first- and second-year MBA students explored the campuses of 13 Bay Area tech companies including GoPro, Google, Shutterfly and VMware.
Another obvious benefit of taking the trip from Pittsburgh is to get face time with top execs in massive tech companies. “Building this network and knowing I can tap into it later on is the biggest piece for me,” explains Saraswati Kaul, a first-year MBA at Tepper and trek planner for the school’s Bay Area and Seattle tech treks.