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I know this is a very subjective question and I am the best person to decide this for myself...but I am just looking for your views.

I have 5 years of experience as a professional developer. I have a decent background in Maths and have done my bachelors in engineering in CS. I have still not reached a stage in my career where growth is difficult and do not foresee this happenning for a very long time if ever because I find myself constantly (self) motivated to pick up new skills.

A lot of my friends have however been getting through their MBA lately ...and not from the likes of Harvard or Kellogs, just mediocre colleges. They've however been landing paychecks fatter than me even though they have little or no work experience.

Given that I have the option of pursuing an MBA an have my finances in order (and am planning an MBA from INSEAD / IE) would it make sense for me to sell out what I like doing and go for an MBA? Will I regret not doing an MBA later, given that I am in the right age/experience group to do an MBA?

I absolutely love what I am doing right now and also the people I'm doing it with, but am just worried if this career would be as rewarding financially as the one after a management degree.

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You focused your question on money. Is there anything else you are interested in your job? (not a judgment, I try to understand) –  user2567 Jan 22 '11 at 16:50
    
I love to code. Thats why I'm confused. –  SharePoint Newbie Jan 22 '11 at 17:07
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One option is to take a couple of classes incognito. If you hate it - no harm done. You will just be a better team lead. If you like it, then you have a decision to make. I personally want more money too ... so that I can have more freedom and an option to work on things I want. For me personally MBA, then management would mean taking classes I do not like, do not agree with :) and then doing BS work, saying things I do not believe in, more responsibility, more money. Yes, I am biased against MBA. But maybe it is a good thing. If you truly want to do it, then I cannot stop you. –  Job Jan 22 '11 at 19:38
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See - programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/23559/… (which has been closed as off topic) –  ChrisF Jan 22 '11 at 22:24
    
If you love to code then your path should be clear. –  quickly_now Jan 22 '11 at 22:54
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closed as off-topic by Aaronaught, MichaelT, GlenH7, gnat, Kilian Foth Oct 31 '13 at 8:41

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9 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

My personal experience is 25 years being a developer or technical things over a wide range (my experience is s/w + h/w + all sorts). I've done bits of project management and so on along the way as well.

There are a few points I can make:

  • If you have the technical skills and ability and like what you do then your challenge is to stay current and relevant, technically.

  • If you move off to something else where you chase the $ but don't like it, you will be filled with regret, and hate what you are doing. Its common to live the lifestyle that comes with a bigger paycheck and so you struggle to go back to what you like that pays less.

  • In all my years in technology I've come across only 1 person who benefited from doing an MBA. They didn't finish but learned enough about project cost accounting and tracking to spot the early signs of a project running off the rails. THIS PART OF AN MBA is about 3 months or less of the total. [AND everyone else who had done an MBA was a dangerous fool.]

  • Some of the most switched on, savvy business people I know have never done an MBA. And I know one who started and gave up in disgust, his view was summed up as "If I did this crap in my business I'd go broke". Except he was a lot blunter.

I've been pushed to do an MBA on and off over the last 15 years, and procrastination was the best thing I ever did.

If you really want to broaden your horizons then pick off some courses on project management and project cost tracking. Put your peril-sensitive sunglasses on and have your bullshit detector finely tuned. Listen and think and pick out the good bits rather than slavishly following the advice.

And then go buy the following books:

  • "Slack" and "Peopleware" and "The Deadline" - All by De Marco. You will find good prices from The Book Depository or Amazon.

  • "The Goal" by Eli Goldratt.

Read these and have a huge big think (especially about the differences between them, and how the principles from "The goal" might apply to s/w development - its not what you might first think). You'll probably learn more from these than any MBA will ever teach you.

Unfortunately many MBA people have no other experience, or no real-world experience in what they try to manage. They exemplify a modern belief that to manage something you don't need to know the work, even the technical domain. All you are doing after all is managing. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Managers with this view, puffed up by an MBA, are dangerous. Check out what urban dictionary has to say about LOMBARD and you'll know what I mean.

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+1 - Struggle to go back to what you like that pays less. It's very true. –  Karthik Sreenivasan Jan 18 '12 at 9:59
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My apologies for being overtly blunt...MBA is not for everybody, so I would say know yourself and know what you want for yourself and see if MBA aligns with that. If for example, you are getting married so that you can be happy, then you are getting for the wrong reason. Same thing, if you are getting an MBA with the hope of getting a fat check or having the status, then you may be disappointed.

But if you are looking to have a MBA degree so that you can better understand the business structure and be equipped with advanced toolset for solving complex business problems and making informed business decisions or even apply some of those principles in everyday life, then maybe pursuing a MBA from a reputable business school can act as a catalyst to achieving such set objectives.

One thing I know is that if you have a background in IT and also possess a passion of seeing how businesses can derive better value from the effective use of technology, going through a well focused MBA program can create that path of becoming the strategic partner and Technology leader that businesses of today are looking as they use technology to create competitive advantage for their organization.

Again, this is not a path for everybody with a techie background. It is up to each individual to figure out what they want in life.

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This touches a nerve big time. Although I did not go for an MBA, I did make the move to management, and I regret it often (although I did learn a lot). You can read my story here, and listen to my interview on This Developer's Life. I also wrote an article about returning to development from management and related struggles, which I'll be expanding on shortly.

As I mention in that article, you only live once. Do what you know you love to do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s your life. It’s your soul.

And watch out for those golden handcuffs if you realize too late that you made a mistake.

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+1 - like your story and the matrix is a really good way of showing how things REALLY work as well as what you should do in a situation. –  quickly_now Jan 23 '11 at 7:07
    
excellent... I will be an avid follower of your blog. What I hate about not being technical - watching the architects, programmers and testers leave a room you've had them in for the last 3 hours to hash out a problem knowing they will be having a ball in that way we all understand from making something work, while I DON'T. What I hate about being technical, standing back & watching some twat screw things up when I know I can do it better... ker-splat (that was my brain imploding) –  nomaderWhat Jan 26 '11 at 14:54
    
+1 for "Do what you know you love to do." –  Stephen Gross Nov 14 '11 at 18:27
    
+1 for your story and I wish I could give another +1 depicting Talent with Satisfaction. From your article description, I feel I am close to the greener patches. –  Karthik Sreenivasan Jan 18 '12 at 10:12
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Why not to do it:

Rather than treating the MBA as a label that will look nice on your resume, and it will; it is better to ask yourself what you really want to do with it. As you mentioned only you can really answer that, but I would imagine you enjoy coding enough that you want to combine the two in some way. There are after all too many empty suits with MBAs out there with nothing else to offer (without knowing them this sounds like your friends to me), and are half the problem with everything that's been going wrong lately. You're clearly thinking whether you'll still enjoy the job as much 10/20 years down the track which is wise. The financial factor is not insignificant, but if you can see yourself content with 'just' coding for the rest of your career then that's good... and you'll do well enough out of it surely? Definitely don't do it just to keep up with your friends.

The other slightly different reason against doing an MBA is if all you want is the knowledge (sans prestige), then find out what the course texts are and read them. Much cheaper. Under no circumstances go to a no-name business school. Only because those of us who went to the other type consider them near worthless (tough, but it is the new school tie). INSEAD is a good choice btw, excellent even. The reason there are business schools better than the others is partly the teaching staff, but mainly the caliber of the students they attract. The actual course content is not exactly rocket science; it's the competition from your classmates that take simple assignments and turn them into death matches that separate the best schools from the rest. If this doesn't sound like fun to you, then another reason not to do it.

At MBA school you would instantly pick out the ones who want to get into investment banking (every finance unit, even doing external finance qualifications in parallel). Then there's the management consultant route (...well doesn't everybody? but the keen ones will organise themselves into case study-study groups within a few months/weeks of the course starting to get ready for internship interviews). There are other categories, but you get the idea... if you don't see yourself in one of them then you should try to get a good idea of what you want to do with it; other than get a job with a fat paycheck. That would probably happen, but you might not only just be miserable, but turn into something you hate.

Also if you are only doing a MBA to become a project manager. Then no, not a good enough reason.


Why you should actually do it:

Why I would do it is if you want to do more than being kept in a career box and worst of all used as a 'resource' by a MBA-type. Then put away when we're no longer needed. If you stay a pure coder/technologist then you will always be vulnerable to that. If you can see yourself wanting/needing to have a greater say in how things are done in your place of work, then the MBA is going to give you the toolkit to help you do that. I'm not saying it's mandatory, there are other pathways obviously. But this one is not going to hurt.

The MBA was designed after all to teach engineering-types management skills, not re-teach business majors what they should have learned in their first degree. And that stuff is interesting (imho anyway). Yes there's crap to deal with outside the technical sphere, and alot of it is BS. But a big contribution to that comes from having 3 or more people in a room... and someone has to take care of it so that coders are free to code. It was a surprise to me, but the biggest eye opener I got was from the accounting subjects. Not just add & subtract after all... and why financial regulators try to get hold of as many MBAs as they can. There are actually good reasons why companies don't put The Truth in their financial reports (aside from the bad ones); and the main one is their competition don't need to have that kind of information, not easily anyway. It's like obfuscated javascript. And you can get that kind of goodness from each part of the MBA, and as mentioned above in a way that takes you out of your comfort zone.

What I would ask yourself is once you have all that extra knowledge, what do you plan on doing with it? It doesn't have to be one single thing, you're still at the start of your career, so there are plenty of options. All I can leave you with is my personal credo... If we are going to win the war against true evil, then some of us are going to have to cross over to the dark side.

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Thanks for this excellent answer. –  SharePoint Newbie Jan 23 '11 at 4:54
    
"Also if you are only doing a MBA to become a project manager. Then no, not a good enough reason." +1 - This was one of the answers I was looking for a long time. I even asked this question but in a different way. Thanks. programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/119644/… –  Karthik Sreenivasan Jan 18 '12 at 10:27
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I would consider the opportunity cost. The cost of the MBA, the two years of employment free time spent incurring debt, the lack of progress in your existing career as a developer. I know people who've graduated from law school and MBA programs who have taken home serious pay cheques only to service a serious debt. I've also seen people in this position who realized they weren't thrilled with their career while still standing on a mountain of debt.

Despite the allure of saying you have an MBA, what is it specifically that you'd like to be doing that this degree will help you with? If you have a career path that requires an MBA, then investigate further. Talk to the managers or directors of your company who have MBAs (they usually list these achievements on LinkedIn). Ask them what their degree provided them, where they went, how they feel about the experience in retrospect. Do some investigation that's a little more thorough than "my friends are doing this" to really determine whether it's a good fit for you.

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I've gone the management route and personally feel staying techie was a lot more valuable. Eventually you lose touch with the hard core technology and generally are not as valuable to startups or companies looking to fill areas of research. They'll choose core techies for the tech positions, type A creatives for design, communications and management and business area experts for product development. Become an expert at what you do, whatever it is, database tuning, efficient algorithms, etc. Its better to have an MS in CS and pick up certificates in business areas of interest for better understanding the business area (manufacturing, energy, insurance, etc) of your industry. Try the engineering management route if you want to manage -- it will let you dive in when you want to. Don't sell out your tech skills where you actually manufacture something of value to become a manager good only at MS project and MS Excel and MS Word wordsmithing.

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+1 - Staying techie was a lot more valuable. –  Karthik Sreenivasan Jan 18 '12 at 10:20
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Do you like solving puzzles, analyzing problems, twiddling stuff to get a result? Do you go home happy at the end of the day when you have eradicated a couple of bugs, found that elusive solution to a library quirck, got a mail from a user thanking you for the new feature you created?

Or

Do you like figuring out how many hours a feature is going to take that hasn't been fully spec'd yet, talking to job applicants, meeting with product managers to decide features that will go into the next release(s), coordinating designers, developers and qa, documentation / manual authors, graphics artists (for the icons), going over budgets, doing job reviews of staff?

If the former: stay a developer. If the latter: go for the MBA.

Paychecks are nice, job satisfaction is a lot nicer. After all, you will be spending allmost a third of your life in that job. Doing a job you do not really like just to get a paycheck that sounds better, will kill your enjoyment of life sooner than you may now think...


Just for the record: I am almost 49, been a developer for more than 25 years. Have done project management as that was considered the normal career path, and was pretty good at it, but didn't enjoy it so decided to go back to developing. And I enjoy every day, oh, okay, almost every day... there are those days that everybody wants to forget... :-)

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+1 - Perspective well explained from a developer and a manager standpoint. –  Karthik Sreenivasan Jan 18 '12 at 11:20
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If you love what you do, keep doin' it. You can and should continue your schooling through whatever avenues are convenient. If an MBA will give you a skillset you desire, go for it; if not, don't do it! Who really cares about money? All it is, after fulfilling your basic needs, is means to happiness, which is exactly what programming is to you, now.

Of course, the only people who don't care much about money are those that have it.

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Money is important when raising a family; seeking "friend's" approval is retarded. –  Job Jan 22 '11 at 19:40
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I know you see the MBA as the biggest differentiator between you and your friends, but there may be more to it. Were they former programmers who got an MBA and went into management or were they business majors from the beginning? You may find yourself being a round peg in a square hole as a manager and not being very successful at it.

You may like your job currently, but do you see yourself writing code 10 - 30 years from now? If you can't think of anything else you'd like to be doing then stick with it.

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+1 for acknowledging other points of difference. –  unsquared Jan 22 '11 at 22:41
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