Business school for a tech career

12 August 2014

In just a couple of weeks, I'll be starting business school. For the tech industry, this is somewhat of an unusual path. What with a divide that often exists between the tech and business functions at startups, it's no surprise that many in the tech world don't see the value of an MBA.

To be honest, I applied to business school when I was still working in finance. In the worlds of finance and consulting, an MBA is a useful credential to help you get promoted beyond a certain point (it's practically a necessity to advance beyond Analyst-level at some companies). An MBA can also be used as a "reset button" on your career to help you jump to another industry.

When I tell people that I want to return to tech after business school, I'm often asked whether I think business school will still "help". I've given this some thought, and I believe the answer is still a yes. I wanted to document these reasons for myself right now, so that after the next two years I can see if my initial thoughts became reality.

Academic Reason #1: Wide learning of business skills

Although business is probably one of the most applied / practical skills out there, there are still some things that can be learned in a classroom setting. The bschool curriculum teaches the basics of fields that I haven't had exposure to yet, fields like operations, marketing, and management. Knowing a bit across the entire range of business skills will be helpful in the future if I have any kind of inter-disciplinary job, whether it's as a product manager or as a founder of a startup.

Academic Reason #2: The case study method

I'm attending a business school known for using the case study method, where classes are based around discussion of historic or realistic case studies. These case studies cover a wide range of topics, companies, and real problems that companies have faced. Learning through the case study method is essentially a way to see some of the biggest business problems out there across all industries, one after another at an incredible speed. Normally in a career you might face a problem big enough to be featured in a case study only once a year; at business school you learn about and dissect a few of these kinds of problems every day.

Career Reason #1: Exposure to new ideas and people excited about them

There's no doubt that bschool students are excited to be there and to talk about ideas. There's a joke that for every bschool student you meet, you'll hear three startup ideas. But that's a fairly exciting proposition - where else are you going to have such a concentration of people willing, eager, and with the time to talk about ideas they have? Much like the case study method, the exposure to such a volume of ideas will be a great way to learn about different parts of the business world and to hone my critical (business) thinking skills.

Career Reason #2: Learning about how the rest of the world works

In my career, I'll probably only ever work in a couple of industries and in a couple of functions. There's a high chance, however, that I'll have to interact with other functions and industries that I have no experience with. I see all the academic and interpersonal exposure in business school as a way to learn about how other industries and functions work, so that I can deal with them more effectively in the future and maybe even borrow some best practices.

Career Reason #3: Meeting people in general

Meeting new people is a large part of business school. Actually, some might say that networking is the entire point. Putting aside all the negative baggage that the word "networking" carries (I strongly believe there's an effective way to form deeper, meaningful relationships with lots of people), the fact is that in the business world knowing a variety of people helps. It might be for increasing my chances of finding a perfect job in the future. Or, it might be for being able to connect a friend with somebody who can help. Or, it might be for having more friends who are in the same industry who I can talk to and learn from. Whatever the expected benefit, meeting lots of new, smart people at business school is definitely a huge draw.

As business school gets closer and closer, I have that familiar feeling of starting something new in life, a mix of excitement and uncertainty of exactly what's going to happen. From everything I hear though, it'll be a fun two years with a lot of chances for personal growth.

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