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I am considering going back to school for my masters and I've been looking at several avenues I can take. I've been considering either an MBA or an MSIS degree. Overall I know that an MBA is going to give me a solid skill set that can help me become an executive. However they seem to be a dime a dozen these days and the University I can get into is good, but it's not exactly in the top 100 anything. My undergrad MINOR was in Business Information Systems. I'm rusty as hell, considering I haven't touched it, but an MSIS would be more in the direction of my past academic experience and seems to touch both on business management and IT. Question...

With an MSIS will I just be a middleman? Will I really be an important person with a real skill set or will I merely be someone who isn't quite cut out to be a manager and who is clueless about the tech side?

Is an MSIS degree going to give me a real chance to move up the pay scale quickly or am I better off learning programming, networking through another BS degree?

What will give me more upward mobility career wise? An MBA or an MSIS?

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What do you want to do in terms of a career? What do you do now? What do you like to do with your 8 hr day? –  Job Jun 12 '11 at 17:57
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4 Answers

MBA is more useful if you're looking to jump industries. It demonstrates that you have all-around capabilities and aren't just an expert in your field. My brother had a MS in Chemical Engineering, but decided he would get an MBA and quickly found himself in marketing for a major medical firm. The MBA opened the right door that his other degrees (he has 5) didn't.

So for overall mobility, I'd go with the MBA. Want to stick in IT, go MSIS.

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I'm a software engineer and last year I finished my company-sponsored MBA degree. My opinion is that between MSIS and MBA, MBA would be a much better option. IMO MIS (and MSIS) is more for people who want to learn computer applications and business, if you are already a programmer, you know WAY more about computers than what the school is most likely to teach you, and you probably have the skills to quickly pick up new software packages even if you are introduced to something you've never seen before. MBA is all business and as a computer engineer, you might as well go for business, because you either know, or can easily learn, the IT side of things.

As far as workload, MBA doesn't even come close to the amount of work I had to chug through when getting my BS in computer science, but it does shed light on things that a typical engineer wouldn't consider. It's true that you don't need the degree to become a manager and plenty of people without MBA have been promoted very high up. At the same time, as Peopleware (I believe that was the book, but not 100% sure) pointed out, engineers make some of the worst managers because as engineers we are used to being able to control things we work on. On the other hand being a manager is about making decisions that don't have solid outcome, and often there's no formula which dictates that if you have a specific set of inputs you will succeed. And you have to deal with people which is another big, unpredictable factor. MBA will force you to think and consider these things so hopefully you won't screw up as much when you do become a manager.

MBA really does give you a different outlook on life. I can now justify 25% of my company's upper management's decisions even though to an engineer they'd look plain silly. We also have people at VP level with no MBA and when they make changes that the first class about Managerial Accounting and Control teaches you not to do, it's very amusing to see the outcome that's completely predicted by what the theory says you'll end up with.

Another huge factor to consider, and this is something I royally screwed up on, is you go to MBA school not just to learn, but to make contacts. If you decide to go back, as painful as it sounds (and actually is), try to work with as many different people as possible. Most classes are group work and you will meet executives, business owners and other engineers such as yourself. Making contacts is tough and school will give you access to 100's of people and will force them to get to know you and vice-verse. Working full time, I didn't have patience to deal with others, so I had few friends that I stuck with for all 20 classes.. thinking back, shouldn't have done that.

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Frankly, I never understood the magic power of the MBA. Does Bill Gates have it? Steve Jobes? You can become executive without an MBA (and if needed - your company will sponsor your EMBA if some skill sets are required from it).

Of my previous employers, I've got one CEO with BS in industrial engineering, two with PhD in physics/electronics, one MBA, and one JD. That's those I know about, at some places I don't even know who the CEO is.

All the technology/R&D VP's maybe had MBA's but in their biographies it didn't appear.

So I personally see no value in taking MBA unless your position and employer require it, and then - have them pay for it (I know a couple of mid-level managers who got their EMBA at UCLA sponsored by the employer, both from the same company).

MSIS seems to be more "professional" degree, which depending on the syllabus might be useful, as consultant, IT executive, or something of that kind. Depending on your planned career path, that might be more useful than a generic MBA, IMHO.

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I don't think any degree has magic powers, but they are an indicator of aptitude. I'm sure Gates and Jobs would have done fine in an MBA program and could have gone to work for any company had they not choosen to start their own businesses. –  Christopher Bibbs Jun 13 '11 at 13:13
    
@Bibbs - true, but then again - one would argue that MBA teaches you how to think in the box, not outside of it. If everyone does everything "by the book" - then where would the innovation come from? –  littleadv Jun 13 '11 at 19:34
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If you want to move into management and are willing to commit yourself to the social aspect of leveraging your MBA (most MBAs are about who you meet and what doors they open not what they teach...) then go with the MBA. (be aware that your first job out of school is likely to be in Product Management, Finance, or some other "business-y" direction, not "VP of Engineering")

If you want to stay technical and move gradually but deliberately through 1st level, 2nd level managers and finally to a Director level, then MSIS would be the right choice.

Note- if you wanted to dive in and get a PhD in a CS/IT/Engineering field, that would also help propel you up the ranks through a completely separate path.

Good luck! (oh, and don't go too deep into debt to get any degree)

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