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Network World - Michael Morris, 36, had a decade of networking and communications experience (including four years as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army) under his belt when he decided to go back to school to earn a Master's of Business Administration degree, or MBA. An IT manager at a $5 billion tech company, Morris leads a team of engineers responsible for data networks, storage area networks, IP telephony and security. His certifications include Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) and Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE).
So why business school?
"My technology background is networking and telecommunications. I'm good at that. The problem is, if I want to go and run application groups -- which is where a lot of senior IT managers and CIOs come from -- they're going to look at me and say, 'You're a network guy. Why would we want you to run our Oracle platform?'" says Morris, who earned his MBA with a concentration in corporate finance from North Carolina State University in December 2010. "The theory is that [the MBA] will open up doors in other parts of IT that my technology background can't take me to."
In his current role, Morris says his knowledge of corporate finance is an asset.
"The best thing the MBA gives me from a skills standpoint is the ability to really look at business decisions, quantify them from a financial perspective, apply certain principles, and derive an ROI from any type of activity. That's key, because there aren't a lot of IT people who can really do that."
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IT staffing experts agree that technical skills combined with business acumen is an appealing package, particularly for senior IT management roles such as CIO and IT director.
"In general, we see a big push toward tech professionals who have insight into cost structure, customer behavior and emerging trends - business IT," says Tom Silver, senior vice president, North America, at tech jobs site Dice.com.
Project managers and business analysts also benefit from business administration skills, though earning an MBA is by no means a requirement for these positions.
"Today, we still see the MBA as preferred vs. required. However, I do think we're heading in the direction for more required master's degrees," Silver says.
John Reed, executive director at Robert Half Technology, agrees. "If someone is doing it now, they're probably ahead of the game," says Reed, who expects it will become increasingly desirable for IT pros to earn an MBA. (See 7 open IT jobs that prefer MBA candidates.)
"Having an MBA isn't mandatory, but it's certainly advantageous, particularly if you're looking to be in a leadership capacity. A candidate who brings an MBA to the table -- many times that separates you from the pack," Reed says.
In particular, an MBA can be a differentiator for job hunters looking to climb the IT ladder.
"If your ultimate goal is to be a high-ranking technology leader, such as a CIO or CTO, those roles are very difficult to get and there's a lot of competition," Reed says. "You're going to need some sort of advantage when competing."