Can An MBA Help You Break Into Tech?

Plus, the sweetest email of all was the one I actually sent to Google when they finally did reach out to set up an interview:

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So what happened? How did I go from total tech wannabe to tech wanting me?

The first clue is the speed with which tech firms approached me and my classmates. Given that I had barely set foot on campus when the recruiters appeared, it’s not like I had the time to undergo a full Cinderella-like makeover. I was very much still the clueless applicant/former teacher I had been just months before.

So clearly, the campus itself was the only plausible explanation; specifically, the expectation that this campus would bestow upon me three little letters.

But to understand why “M.B.A.” means so much to a recruiter at Amazon or Microsoft, you have to understand what they’re up against.

Because unlike a startup recruiter, which may have to find just one perfect Product Manager all year — and which is therefore wary of MBAs without a proven track record of tech success — a big tech company recruiter usually has to fill at least a dozen such roles. And so, in many ways, they have more in common with their brethren at McKinsey or Procter & Gamble than at their smaller tech counterparts.

Which means they really only have three choices to achieve scale:

  1. Filter through thousands of random applications from the unwashed masses (since, like me, everyone wants to work at these big-name companies) and hope they magically come across a dozen diamonds in the rough
  2. Poach top talent from the competition, entering into a dozen bidding wars against well-financed foes
  3. Go to just 10-15 campuses a year, pick from a talent pool that’s already been pre-screened against a high bar, and have all their recruiting done three to six months in advance

Now which of these options sounds better to you?


And so, as much as I’d love to say that I was just that special, just that charming … what I really was, was lucky. Because, in going to B-school, I had inadvertently stumbled into the one part of the tech labor market that had established a marriage of convenience with the business world.

Put simply: Big tech firms need MBAs just as badly as MBAs crave big tech firms.

But what about all those typical prospective questions I get — the existing tech worker who wants to climb higher, the wannabe startup employee, the future entrepreneur? Can’t an MBA be the answer there, too?

While it’s true that business school can enhance your skills, build your network, and give you a safe space to try your hand at entrepreneurship, the best answer lies with the decision-maker in each situation.

Because if you’re a Google VP, would you rather promote someone who’s proven themselves time and again against your toughest challenges? Or someone who’s just analyzed case studies of those challenges?

If you’re a startup founder, would you rather hire someone for that one critical role who you’ve gotten to know through repeated Meetups and contract work? Or someone who looks good on paper but is basically still a stranger?

And if you’re a VC, would you rather fund an entrepreneur with a track record and existing customers? Or an entrepreneur who’s won a lot of pitch competitions but only has a business plan?

So the moral of my story is actually this: Don’t be like me. Don’t go blindly off to B-school with tech dreams dancing in your head.

Instead, put yourself in the shoes of the techie you ultimately need to win over. And think about how they’d view your investment.

Because understanding your audience is the surest path to the tech promised land. And the surest detour around yet another “We’ll be in touch” email!

Jeremy SchifelingJeremy Schifeling is an associate director for Ross Career Services and the founder and CEO of Break into Tech, a site that helps MBAs launch their tech careers. Click here to get the free, step-by-step course that Jeremy followed to go from teaching to Apple, LinkedIn, and startups.