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Is an MBA Worth It for Engineers?

By: Benjamin Miller

Is an MBA Worth It for Engineers?

Is an MBA worth it for engineers? If you’re an engineer looking to move into management or start your own company, you might’ve pondered this question before.

We believe an MBA isn’t worth it for engineers for three key reasons:

1. The financials don’t make sense
2. The skills can be learned without traditional business school
3. The tech industry doesn’t value MBA degrees enough

Through analyzing these considerations, engineers with at least a few years experience will see how an MBA might only offer limited upside. But of course, everyone is different. We hope the following provides you with a launchpad for analyzing whether an MBA fits into your ambitions and goals as a rising engineer.

Is an MBA Worth it for Engineers?

Analyzing the pros and cons of an MBA reveals why it likely is not a worthwhile pursuit for an engineer. Here are three key considerations when deciding if you should stay the course in your engineering career, or instead take a handful of years to pursue an MBA.

1. The Financials Don’t Make Sense

We’ve written before about the immense cost of an MBA degree. Here’s a quick recap: A traditional full-time MBA at a competitive business school will set you back six figures. Recent research shows that all costs considered, an MBA will exceed $200k.

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    Then, once you return to the workforce, the average MBA graduate salary is around $115k. Here’s the thing: A lot of engineers are already making this salary by the time they are considering an MBA. With just a few years of software engineering (SWE) experience, you could already be earning a $200k salary as an L3 engineer.

    Another way of looking at this is simply that engineers have higher earning potential than MBA grads with equivalent years of work experience. And the discrepancy in earning potential accelerates quickly. If you can manage to rise beyond L3 compensation, SWE salaries scale very nicely – deep into the six figures.

    Finally, note that the true cost of leaving a job for an MBA is the $200k cost of the MBA, plus the opportunity cost of missing two years of salary. For the SWE earning a $200k L3 salary, that’s $400k in missed earnings over 2 years. So including the opportunity cost, you are giving up $600k!

    2. The Skills Can Be Learned Without Traditional Business School

    Traditional business school covers classes on finance, marketing, leadership, communication, and more. The first year in particular focuses on the business school’s core curriculum, which all MBA-hopefuls must follow to a large extent. For some, taking certain courses just to chase the degree is a downside, as it’s more about checking the boxes than learning about what you want.

    Keep in mind that software engineers pursuing MBAs should expect to have less time for SWE skill development. In the fast-paced tech world, missing a couple key years of sharpening a coding language could potentially leave you rusty once returning to the workforce.

    For the engineer who wants to transition into a management or leadership role, developing deeper business acumen is critical. Depending on the specific transition, you may need to better understand finance, sales, people management, or any number of competencies. But developing these skills shouldn’t require you to leave the workforce, fall behind on your engineering chops, and spend an arm and a leg on tuition. Programs like the Business Intensive offer a practical way around these challenges (more on this later).

    3. The Tech Industry Doesn’t Value MBA Degrees Enough 

    We saw how earning potential stacks up between MBA grads and engineers. But the story doesn’t end there. Let’s consider how tech employers view the importance of MBAs in 2021 and beyond.

    If you’re interested in business school but plan to continue working as an SWE or SDE after securing your degree, the MBA will do little to impact your value in the market. Of all industries, tech is one of the most critical of MBA degrees, as they’re seen as both unnecessary and often irrelevant. That is, a great software engineer doesn’t need the generalist business education you would get from business school. Tech companies know this, and some high profile executives have voiced their opinions.

    For example, take COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, who recently wrote, “While I got great value from my experience, MBAs are not necessary at Facebook, and I don’t believe they are important for working in the tech industry.”

    The Best Approach for Engineers Considering MBAs

    Given the high cost of MBA programs, and the downside of potentially stalling your engineering career, there has to be a better way. It’s not that good education is dead – rather the modern engineer or business professional needs a flexible, cheaper solution… one that allows you to continue pursuing a thriving career while simultaneously adding skills to your repertoire. 

    More and more of today’s ambitious engineers are turning to the mini MBA format. A mini MBA involves flexible, cohort-based business courses that offer highly-interactive education (at a fraction of the cost of a traditional MBA). This approach offers a structured way to develop your business and executive acumen, and it’s designed to be completed without needing to leave your full-time job. For those who want the upside of staying in the workforce and earning a degree, it’s a win-win.

    Finding the Right Mini MBA

    Because of the upside, mini-MBAs are growing in popularity. Here are three programs from Forbes that might be worth your time. The top recommendation? brunchwork’s Business Intensive course, which is highlighted below:

    Business Intensive at a Glance

    • Length: 2 months
    • Format: Online and in-person
    • Cost: Starting at $1,349

    What You’ll Learn in Business Intensive

    This two month program teaches eight core business skills via co-learning projects that put an extra emphasis on networking. Example projects include:

    • Refining and testing a business concept
    • Creating a high-caliber presentation
    • Analyzing financial reports
    • Developing a business strategy
    • Crafting a marketing and sales plan
    • Conducting user interviews
    • Building a no code website

    Weekly guest speakers include high profile business leaders, like former Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang, PayPal Founding COO David Sacks, Ellevest cofounder and CEO Sallie Krawcheck, and Peloton cofounder, Graham Stanton.

    We’ve seen our alumni grow from individual contributors, to engineering managers, product leaders, startup founders, and more. For those in need of a professional development experience that maximizes earning potential, value, applicable skill development, and professional networking, Business Intensive checks all the boxes.

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