Does a DBA need an MBA to get ahead?

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A recent US News and World Report headline caught my eye. The title was “8 Ideal Jobs for M.B.A. Grads”. I was curious and read it. The top job shocked me. The report says that the #1 ideal job for a recent MBA grad is DBA. The second and third most ideal jobs shocked me as well. #2 was ‘web developer’ and #3 was ‘computer systems analyst’. Those  rankings shocked me as well and made me consider the following three questions. First, is being a DBA really and truly the #1 ideal job for an MBA? Second, is getting an MBA truly beneficial to a DBA who wants to hone their craft and stay in the profession? And third, what is the relative value of getting an MBA for a technology person in general from a career path perspective. These are complicated topics, and I can’t address them in full in a single blog post. But, I’ll share some perhaps contrarian thoughts and promise to revisit this topic again soon.

You can read the full report here:

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/articles/2012/03/21/8-ideal-jobs-for-mba-grads

I’m sure this will earn me some flame mail from folk’s technologists who have recently completed an MBA or are in the midst of doing so. But, between you and me, and I guess the rest of the internet. I don’t think getting an MBA is generally a good investment for technologists who are looking to further their career. I do think that having a solid understanding of the business side of the problem is necessary for any technologist to excel. Too many technologists strive for elegant and wonderful solutions ‘just because’ without really thinking through what the business actually needs. Technology in business exists to serve the business needs not the other way around. And, I do think that most good MBA programs teach skills that can be incredibly valuable to many technologists.  But getting an MBA from a good school will probably cost you 50K on the very low end to easily 100K and frankly there a cheaper ways for technologists to get a great business education.

*** Begin min rant*** I’m about to go on a min rant. But people who know me well (as well as dozens of people who have happened to be stuck in line with me at the wrong time when I feel like talking about this subject J) know that I think the ROI for college and university education in general is broken. Getting a degree costs way too much money relative to the value offered. Disruption and innovation within ‘higher education’ is all around us. Countless sites such as the Khan Academy are doing innovative things as they use technology to support learning, all for free. Countless world class institutes of learning such as MIT, Stanford, Cal Tech, and Oxford, are now offering vast amounts of their classes online, for free, albeit without credit being offering towards a degree. I think the ROI for college is broken and I think the college model my kids experience in a decade will be vastly different, and less expensive than it looks today. *** End mini rant***

Getting back to the questions at hand:

1.       Is DBA the #1 idea job for a recent MBA

2.       Does an existing DBA need an MBA to get ahead?

Frankly, I don’t know anyone who went for an MBA thinking ‘I sure do want to be a DBA when I graduate”. I don’t know anyone who is a DBA today who went to school for an MBA with the express intent of getting a DBA job.  And while I know several DBA’s who have gone to school for a MBA, I don’t know any who got their MBA with the intention of remaining DBAs.

Frankly, the entire concept of someone intentionally getting an MBA in context of pursuing an ideal job as DBA seems silly to me. Now, before everyone I know hates me. I do know many DBA’s who have business  backgrounds and how in fact have MBAs. But they didn’t go to school thinking ‘I want to be an MBA when I grow up’. They gravitated to being an MBA because they loved the technology and they love data.  Also, to be clear, I’m not saying that an MBA isn’t valuable. But I don’t believe the value of the MBA, especially for a DBA, is worth the necessary investment of time and cost.

Does an existing DBA need an MBA to get ahead? Umm. No. Does a DBA need a good sense of their business to excel? Absolutely. But investing 2 years or more of your life in plus upwards of 100K to enhance your DBA career simply isn’t a good ROI. And any MBA  should be able to tell you that.  

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