MBAs for IT pros

* An MBA program designed by and targeted at high-tech pros

Last time, we cited a Network World story that quoted two network executives who believe that earning an MBA would help them climb the corporate ladder. We all know that being IT savvy will help you create an IT architecture that helps your organization to compete effectively, but how will your business credentials compare with those of your sales and marketing colleagues when you both vie for that CXO position? If your sales and marketing counterparts can illustrate their business acumen with an MBA, why can't you?

As an IT pro, studying for an MBA doesn't have to mean you need to forget your IT roots and go back to school with people you have nothing in common with. A quick search on the Web and you'll see many MBA programs that offer technology management as a track added to the general MBA course, but the NTU School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Minneapolis, Minn., Walden University, says it is one of the first schools to offer an MBA program that is designed by and targeted at tech professionals.

NTU has been offering its High-Tech MBA, a 12-course (36 credits) online learning program since last fall, and boasts 100 students who work as engineers, scientists and IT specialists at companies such as HP, Intel and Lockheed Martin.

Rebecca Sidler, NTU's director of product development, says: "The curriculum is built on the fundamental business skills and knowledge that are found in prestigious MBA programs. The way the students engage the content and the depth or breadth of content differs somewhat, based on our target audience. For example, we develop the 'soft skills' like communication, constituency awareness, ethics, managing distance, and change management as threads woven across the core courses."

Sidler stresses that although it is a tech MBA, the degree is still an MBA and students learn about business but in a way that is related to technology. The case studies examined are tech-related and students learn the basics of accounting, how to read financial documents, how businesses are financed and discuss financial regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley as they relate to technology but still be able to converse with the accountants in their language. "But we try not to transform them into accountants," says James Patton, dean of NTU.

Since the program has only been available for a year and that most working students would probably spread the program over three or four years, it is too early to measure the success of the program based on what the students have gone on to achieve with their MBAs. But many expect to advance up the corporate ladder into technology management and to manage more people, or to set up their own business. Many also want the MBA to help them become more effective project managers. Most want to remain in technology, says Sidler.

One surprise of the program is how much the students have embraced the soft skills element, says Sidler. One student says he is now more confident at asking questions of the CEO when he visits his workforce.

The program also provides more effective networking opportunities for students because they are learning with like-minded professionals rather than studying with people who may have completely different job roles to theirs, as would be the case in a general MBA program.

If you're considering studying for a tech MBA, here are some places to start:, where you can search for programs based on your interests, and for a list of online MBAs in technology management.

What do you think? Do tech pros need an MBA to move up the corporate ladder? If you're studying for an MBA, I'd love to hear from you and perhaps we can share your story with the rest of the readership. Please e-mail me at

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.