Do Engineers Need an MBA?

In a recent Careers newsletter, I asked whether readers thought engineers should bolster their technical education with a more business-oriented degree, like an MBA. The responses (flooding my inbox all week) have been quite staggering and run the gamut from strong agreement to vehement rejection of the notion.

For those who don’t receive our weekly Careers updates, I asked whether you felt supplementing your engineering degree with an MBA would boost your job prospects and propel you to the top of the career ladder or waste your precious time?

My question was prompted by a recent survey from the tech career recruitment Website Dice, which claimed that nearly a third of its 3,121 respondents (32 percent) reported seeing an MBA as important for future tech employees, while more than half (52 percent) saw it as unnecessary.

The firm said requests from employers for candidates with an MBA as a prerequisite or a preference were relatively rare, but that despite this, perceptions about the need for an MBA among non-MBA-holder tech professionals continued to lag.

Tech pros who had opted to get an MBA believed it would give them the potential to achieve higher pay and allow them to move more easily into management within the technology department, obtain employment at a preferred company, or land work in a new, business-oriented technical role.

Dice reported that technical MBA holders were still few and far between, making them a rare commodity, but whether or not the degree actually helps employees do their job better is very much up for debate.

“MBA’s are a dime a dozen. You are better off identifying an allied technical field that is in high demand and then get your Masters Degree in that,” wrote one reader, John Kiekhaefer, in an email response to me.

“A Technical MBA is a worthwhile pursuit only if your employer pays for it,” wrote another reader, Brian Bissett, a holder of both an MBA and MSEE. Bissett said an MBA could open doors and be used as justification by senior management to upgrade an engineer’s position, but that effectively, the only new things an engineer would learn in an MBA program were how to give effective presentations and enhance one’s writing skills.

“For people involved in the execution of product development, I don’t think an MBA is helpful,” wrote Chuck Hill, chief architect at Radisys, but for people who want to be more involved in the creative side, it is actually very helpful. “The execution doesn’t happen unless someone first turns loose some of the money.”

Neil Farukhi, a materials and process engineer at Geospatial Systems, said he got his MBA not because it would have any direct impact on extra money or career status (although he agreed that would have been a bonus), but because he wanted to understand his business-oriented bosses better. “What the degree has given me is the understanding of how the business works.” This helped him focus on what he needed to do, how things moved through the system, and who the key individuals were to get things done. “This results in becoming a key resource for everyone.”

What do you think, readers? Is an MBA a worthwhile academic pursuit or a total waste of precious time? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

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This story was originally posted by EE Times.