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Can An MBA Help You Break Into Tech?

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As a technology career coach at the Ross School of Business, I am often asked by prospective MBA techies if business school is right for them:

  • “I work at Google already. Will an MBA help me rise the ranks faster?”
  • “It would be awesome to work at a hot startup. Will an MBA help me get my foot in the door sooner?”
  • “I want to launch my own startup. Will an MBA help me get started more quickly?”

And my answer, perhaps surprisingly, is often: “Nope!”

Because tech is weird when it comes to business school. Even though there are lots of MBAs in this space, two expensive years of graduate education is often looked down on compared to two years of:

  • Building real experience at Google
  • Hustling to meet and influence startup founders
  • Taking that $100,000 of tuition money and using it to launch your own venture

And that’s because, more than most industries, tech is a “show me” field. As in, “What can you actually do to help my company succeed?” Not just, “What credentials do you have?”

But there is one scenario in which I wholeheartedly recommend business school to would-be techies. And that’s because it’s the one I’ve lived myself: Being completely stuck on the outside of tech, looking in.

THE STORY OF A YOUNG NERD

That’s where I found myself seven years into my career. Because even though I had grown up as a tech addict — I remember my mom yelling at me to get off the phone line when I spent too much time on CompuServe (“It’s only a 9600 baud modem, ma!”) — I never thought my hobby would have any connection to my profession.

And so, after getting my start as a kindergarten teacher in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, I was firmly on the education/nonprofit track. But no matter where I went in that field, I never lost my childhood passion for all things tech. In fact, whether I was building a blog for my classroom or managing databases at Teach For America, I found myself gravitating to the very nerdiest margins of my role.

So after years of deferring this passion, letting it rattle around in my subconscious and stir up all sorts of occupational fantasies, I decided it was finally time to take the plunge into tech. After all, how hard could it be to get a job doing what I loved and was good at?

Hard, it turns out. Really, really hard.

I’ve since lost track of exactly how many applications I submitted to Google and its peers over those years of frustration, but, suffice it to say, I became very familiar with one particular email:

GOOGLE rej

Because this is the only email I ever got back. And I got it a lot!

So there I was, stuck on the outside of what appeared to be an amazing tech party, peering through the window and feeling lonelier with each passing rejection.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE

Now fast-forward 12 months. I’m about to finish my first year of the Ross MBA program. And I’m suddenly juggling offers from Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Say what?

Let’s rewind the tape a bit.

After finding myself stuck in a professional rut, I broke down and took the B-school plunge. Not that I really knew anything about MBAs as a former kindergarten teacher, but it seemed like the career equivalent of taking out a balky Nintendo cartridge and blowing all the crud out. Like I said, I’m a pretty big nerd …

And sure enough, within weeks of arriving in Ann Arbor, all the same tech firms that wouldn’t even send me a single personalized rejection email for years, now wanted to talk to me.

Which meant that all those generic “dings” started to get replaced by much happier “ding, ding, dings!”

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