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What about advanced degrees for ba's

With all the talk of education lately something else has occured to me: What do people here suggest a BA (in history) do to further their education? Is an MBA worth it?
is it possible to get an MSCS after a BA... is anyone else in this position?

Daniel Shchyokin
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

If you want to go the MSCS route, find a school that will
let you enter their program with a minimum of prereqs.
Even so, you will probably have to go through a couple of
intense semesters of prep work.  The school I chose
required pretty much the entire undergrad curriculum.  I
finished the 2nd bachelors but never got the masters.

The MBA route?  Its been my experience that there is a
dearth of programmers that have any sort of business
knowledge beyond the bottom line.  I think it would make
a good combo, but it really depends on where you want
to end up.

Here is a good resource that may answer your questions: http://www.cio.com/research/executive/questions/12112001113153.html

mlr
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

An MBA is worth it in three circumstances:

1) You get into one of the top 5 schools, where you can network with the sons and daughters of extremely rich people, who can fund your startup ventures

2) You want to work LOCALLY and want to meet a lot of local business types. For instance, if you want to consult for HMOs in Minneapolis, it might not be bad to enroll in the U of Minnesota MBA program.

3) You work for some giant megacorp and they pay for it, so that you can move up to a higher salary bracket

Other than that, an MBA is sort of useless. (my biz partner is an MBA, he gave me this advice when I was thinking of MBA )

Regarding the MS in ... CS? It is probably useful if you have some VERY SPECIFIC interest. A general MSCS isn't that valuable.. the curriculum is going to be like a BS curriculum at a serious engineering school. However, if you know you like some specific branch of CS, like networks, AI, security, compilers, etc...getting an MS and focusing on that topic might be a good idea and sort of fun.

tbone
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

tbone,

I find it hard to believe that having an MBA wouldn't help
you make better business decisions, whether for yourself
or for a co. you work for.  That's what you seem to be
implying when you say that the degree is worthless.
Am I just reading too much in to it?

Its the whole arms race thing.  Say the ceo has to choose
between 2 programmers to promote to the cio spot.  If
they in all regards except one has an MBA, more than likely
the MBA will get the spot.  Same goes for contracting,
or trying to get funding, no?

mlr
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

mlr, MBA is a dirty word in large swathes of investment land. And no, I certainly wouldn't hire a programmer with an MBA.  I would wonder if he knew what he was doing.

There is a view that a lot of the garbage in the dot com era arose from empty business plans created by people with or doing MBA's, and these are contrasted against businesses with solid technology and solid understanding of the technology markets.

It's the old dichotomy.

Hugh Wells
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Daniel, the fact that you're aware of and reading this forum shows you've probably more of a head start than the average MBA. I would advise against an MBA. Probably some other post-grad course in some area more closely related to your interests.

As always, do something very well and you will do well.

Hugh Wells
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

mlr,

I'm saying getting an MBA from Idaho State (or equivalent school that isn't Harvard, Stanford, Sloan, etc) is worthless, or perhaps worse than worthless..because if your employer isn't paying for it, an MBA program typically costs a lot of money and could put someone in severe debt.

The real point of a MBA program is to establish a good network, and one does that at a tier 1 MBA program, or at a good local MBA program , if one wants to work locally. An entrepreneur or contractor will not benefit from most MBA coursework, and you won't get a job at McKinsey with an MBA from a school that isn't top 5, so there isn't much point of getting an MBA somewhere that isn't nationally or at least locally renown.

tbone
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Don't take my word for it. Get the course list from an MBA program you are considering, then get the book list. Then order the books from amazon, or better yet, save some money by heading over to barnes and noble and checking out the books in the store.  After reading through these books, see if you are still able to convince yourself that it is worth forking over $20K and 2 years worth of free time to get a piece of paper that certifies that you have a loose overview of that type of material.

Probably the most useful aspect of business school is learning how to write a business plan and having it peer reviewed. But , why not just get a business plan book , write a business plan, and submit it to some real investors?

tbone
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Hugh,

There is also a view that a lot of the garbage in the dot
com era arose out of techies that didn't have a clue about
how to run a business.  (My view is that the entire world
is insane).

Further, there's an awful lot of investment bankers that
have MBAs.  I have to believe that an MBA would only lend
you credence to this audience.  Granted, it won't make
up for a lousy plan, but its far from being a 'dirty' word
(except maybe to techies).

I'll grant that having an MBA will probably rule you out of
some entry level programming gigs.  Fine by me.  It will
probably make you look expensive for the higher level gigs.
Again, fine by me.

I think that having an MBA will only help you make better
business decisions.  At least it will help you understand
what the CFO is talking about???

mlr
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Ok.  I appreciate all the comments here, as I'm also in the
process of deciding b/w MBA or MSCS.

Some of my thoughts pro-MBA:

It would be a great way to bridge that dysfunctional divide
between management & engineering.

Also, I'm getting tired of writing bizapps.  There's only so
many ways to sort a list before it gets really boring.  I
would like a research gig, but I'm confined to a
geographical area where such jobs are nonexistent.  What
does that leave? If my present job goes down the tubes,
that means either branching out on my own, or
moving in to a mgt role.  Surely an MBA wouldn't hurt in
either case.  Here's a sample class, would it all be
irrelevant?

"Advanced topics in corporate finance. Topics include long-
and short-term investment decisions, cost of capital,
working capital management, dividend policy, long-term
financial planning. The course emphasizes the development
of computerized financial models. Cases involving domestic
and international firms are utilized. "


anit-MBA:

Why not just take a couple of accounting and proj. mgt.
courses?  That one's compelling, and the only way I can
justify it is that I _want_ an advanced degree. 


Pro-CS:
I would enjoy all of the classes.

Anti-CS:
I would never get to use the concepts in the 'real' world.

Does it come down to which is least irrelevant?  Thoughts?

mlr
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

mlr, if you're keen on the idea, go ahead. Maybe you'll be one of the useful ones. You can report back in three years and fill us in.

Hugh Wells
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

I've been pondering an MBA. Basically because I spend a lot of time turning up and people say "here, computerise this business process" which turns out to be broken. You tell them it's broken and that the best they'll get is a VERY FAST broken business process, and they don't take any notice of a mere software engineer.

Heck, what would I know about businesses? I've run a couple, I've been round lots of other businesses, I pay attention to how they're run. You'd think contractors would be seen as a great way to gain outside viewpoints - "so, how does everyone else do this?" But no, I'm just a developer.

The idea occurs that having an MBA might command a bit more respect from the people that are so distainful of the people who actually touch software.


Plus: software engineers never get promoted. Big companies like to promote accountants. They seem actually opposed to the idea of having IT directors that understand IT. {It's like there's an assumption that a business degree makes you a businessperson.}

If I ever go join a company, at this point in time, my future would be to retire in 30 years still sitting at the same desk, still dealing with the same shit still on the same salary and with the heart conditions that come along with that stress. If I'm ever going to make it into a position where I could be promoted I'd need business or accountancy qualifications.


I don't want to be a code-grunt all my life (because it's bloody annoying). I've got as good as I can in this environment. I've run out of challenges - I can't grow professionally without changing environment. I can't change THIS environment because I'm just a code-grunt; so the only solution is to change environments: I want to run projects. I can't run projects at the moment because I'm a code-grunt and they don't run projects. As far as I can tell, people who run IT projects have degrees in Art History, but that would bore me: an MBA is at least something I'm interested in.

Katie Lucas
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

This has become the MBA thread, it seems. Katie, I've worked with MBA's and I don't see that as a good route to what you're talking about.

Lots of companies do have high level architecture designers, usually with job titles like Architect. You should try for roles like that.

In fact, there seems to be a trend for companies to require that their architects come from software developer backgrounds, rather than from more general, or business areas, as has been the case in many cases.

I don't think any courses teach either product design or corporate architecture to a good standard; certainly not to the level of a talented practising software designer.

Hugh Wells
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

"Lots of companies do have high level architecture designers, usually with job titles like Architect. You should try for roles like that."

Trouble is, I've been there. They say "you can't be an Architect, you've not done that before."

And in the UK, technical architects STILL don't get company mercedes, stock-options or offices. They're still sat in the open plan office listening to other people's mobile phones ringing endlessly.

Seriously, I should have studied art history because with a degree in art history and just enough IT knowledge to be dangerous I could have been hired as the boss of a whole load of developers...

Basically, I'm tired of being disrespected. I want to move into something where there is some respect. I don't want to be a leaf-node on corporate trees any more. I've done everything I can out here.

I don't want to do software anymore. I'm tired of implementing Perl programs in C++ because we're not allowed to use Perl. I'm bored of having my professional opinion overruled by someone who can barely read their email because of something their nephew told them.

A number of times people have asked where the sensible working environments are: they aren't out there. It's going to need some of us to get into positions where we can make those environments. Currently IT is run by people who think quiet offices are for the managers, because developers are merely workers, and low-caste workers don't deserve quiet offices.

I want to BE in that position. The software industry is going to stay screwed up until it gets some smart people running it. I want to be doing that. At the moment the decisions seem mostly to be being made on a mixture of superstition, the way businesses were run in 1900 and the headlines from IT newspapers.

Basically it's either move up or move out, and I'm no good at anything beyond computing...

Katie Lucas
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

If you're a tech who's interested in the financial side of business management, another option could be "CMA" (in the UK at least, that's a Management Acountant). My father-in-law started with that and became the Financial VP of various large companies and government departments, eventually Auditor General for a couple of developing nations.

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Damn Katie.  I hate to be a me-too'er, but that was well
said & sums up exactly how I feel.  I've seen both sides
of it.  Tech people making horrible business decisions and
business people making horrible tech decisions.  There
has to be something powerful about a smart tech person
that can make good business cases out of his/her opinions.

"Why should we use perl?"
" Why should we buy the Enterprise 450?" 

"Here's why..."
(plops down 25 page report detailing cost /
benefit analysis, financial justification, ROI, cost of
ownership, bunch of other stuff I have no clue about).

Maybe its just wishful thinking... but at least we would have
other skills once age discrimination kicks in.

mlr
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

If you are in Oregon, then another option to consider might be an MS in software engineering from the Oregon Master's in Software Engineering (OMSE) group ( http://www.omse.org ).

The program is a mix of courses--everything from programming, design, and testing to professional communications, managing a software project, and understanding the software business.

You can also just take specific courses (which I've done).

Anyway, it is an option that takes some of the better parts of an MBA along with some more traditional programming / CS things.

If you're not in Oregon, you might look around to see if there is a similar program locally.

Scott MacHaffie
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

All just one mans opinion:

In IT, compared to other fields, I really feel degrees are a much a smaller piece of the puzzle.  One criteria of a "profession" is formal *required* certifications.  That is not the case in IT.

Regarding technical positions, I have never been in a place where anything beyond a BA/BS mattered.  It's more of a "Gee, that's nice" AFTER you have already decided to hire someone for their skills and experience.  From what I've seen, it's all about skills and experience.    Go get a degree if that helps you get the former.  If you've already got it, don't bother unless your up against a wall with no opther options. 

Advanced degrees are a "get out of jail card".  Use it when you have no other options.  Degrees are to become employable.  If you're already working, don't sweat it.  If it will help you change jobs/careers, then that's a different story.

Bella
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Having an advanced degree says something about the person, though. It says "I care enough about my chosen profession that I'm willing to keep learning."

All those bitching about how useless master's are don't get the point - they can *never hurt*! Especially if you are working, and your employer has a tuition reimbursement plan. Because if you don't take advantage of it, the guy in the next cube over will, and then *he'll* have the leg up.

I recently finished my master's program, and I think it helped make me a better engineer. Note - I didn't say programmer.  Engineering is about a lot more than just laying down code, and the bigger a project gets, the more important those other concerns are.

As far as project management goes, there is a specific certification you can get in project management, and from what I understand, it's fairly well regarded. That's all I know about it, though.

Chris Tavares
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

One of the main reasons I'm currently considering an MBA is quite simple: I don't understand business.

Every time managment/marketing/npi/&c. makes some stupid decision, I used to think "That's a real stupid decision."  Then I realized that the reality was closer to "That's a decision I don't understand."

In all these cases, the "other side" seems to make the right decision half the time, and half the time they make the wrong one.  When they're right, you can't convince them otherwise (and shouldn't try,) but when they're wrong, you usually can't convince them otherwise because you can't express the problem in a way that makes sense to them.  Funny how that's _exactly_the_same_ problem as them being unable to express their decisions in terms Engineering can understand.

I'm hoping an MBA can help give me the tools to (a) choose the right battles and (b) fight them more effectivly.  And when someday I migrate into Managment (hey, c'mon, how many 50 year old programmers do _you_ know,) understanding both sides will make me a better manager.

Engineering Arrogance is as plentiful as it is ultimatly pointless.  Once a person matures to a point when they realize that (a) they are not the smartest person around and (b) there is more than one truth, that's when they really start to learn. 

D. Holloway
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

If you want the MBA 'degree', go to school. If you want to speak the language and understand the concepts read "The Ten Day MBA". It's easy material and it will serve you well. It worked for me.

Dan Sickles
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

I agree.  If it's knowledge you're after, first read some books.  In fact, being in control of what you learn may be better.  What industry are you in?

Bella
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Perhaps one of the issues in this discussion is a difference between levels of experience, and perhaps expertise too. I *advise* MBA's, I don't have any trouble achieving the changes I consider necessary, and I can explain to management why decisions are wrong. And they often are.

Regarding the value of post-grad courses in general, I think Bella has hit the nail on the head. They tend to be more useful to people wanting to enter the profession or having trouble getting ahead. When I see a person with a course-work masters or diploma, I actually downgrade them compared with their peers, because, other things being equal, the peer has been working successfully and learning in that same period of time.

Obviously this does not apply to PhDs, and would not apply for a really interesting masters program.

mlr earlier suggested an MBA would help me present to VC's, or something along those lines. Well, mlr, I already do that, and enjoy some success, and know that investment executives tell empty MBA's to shove off.

Hugh Wells
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Wow.  The anti-education (or is it just anti-business
education?) sentiment on this board is really shocking.  I'm
not going to argue whether or not reading a few books is
just as good as attending a 60 hour graduate level
program.  I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader.  Is it
necessary?  No.  I never said it was.  What I will continue
to assert is that there is something to be learned in a
curriculum such as the following: 
http://www.wharton.upenn.edu/mba/curriculum/core.html
If you don't think that you could gain any value from such
a curriculum, then good for you.

mlr
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The comments of tbone and Hugh are the apex of idiocy.

Here's tbone:  "[G]etting an MBA from Idaho State (or equivalent school that isn't Harvard, Stanford, Sloan, etc) is worthless, or perhaps worse than worthless..because if your employer isn't paying for it, an MBA program typically costs a lot of money and could put someone in severe debt."

My response:  The logic of this statement is bizarre.  An MBA is "worthless" because it "costs a lot of money"?  That makes no sense at all -- people go to business school to gain strategic knowledge about business, finance, accounting, and so on.  This is high-level knowledge, gained through intensive coursework and group projects, and I suspect you would learn far more about business in a two-year program than you would working -- most people's jobs involve very specialized tasks that don't even come close to providing a comprehensive knowledge of business.  That knowledge gained in an MBA program is most certainly worth something.  Unless tbone has some hard data on the effects of an MBA on someone's lifetime earnings, he is just a babbling ignoramus.

Here's tbone again:  "Get the course list from an MBA program you are considering, then get the book list. Then order the books from amazon, or better yet, save some money by heading over to barnes and noble and checking out the books in the store."

My response:  An education involves more than reading the books on a course list.  Any intelligent person knows this.  An education is a form of socialization, in which you are required to interact with students and faculty, adhere to deadlines, submit your work for criticism and grading, give presentations, and learn in myriad ways from the constant, intense give-and-take of an academic program.  Books are only part of this.  You would not be able to find many business school texts in Barnes and Noble -- nor would you find the case studies that the professor distributes -- nor would you find the insights of your fellow classmates who have worked in diverse industries.  At Barnes and Noble, you will not engage in a stimulating debate over business strategy, corporate ethics, or the nuances of venture capital.

And here's Hugh:  "When I see a person with a course-work masters or diploma, I actually downgrade them compared with their peers, because, other things being equal, the peer has been working successfully and learning in that same period of time."

My response:  This is another illogical statement.  First of all, what basis does Hugh have for thinking that "working successfully" will impart the greater knowledge than two years of business school?  What metric comes into play here?  What if the person is in a narrow job that does not give them any overall strategic insight into how business operates?  Second, it suggests a negative, suspicious, even superstitious attitude, for Hugh to devalue someone so explicitly simply because they have an MBA.  People are unique -- they have individual strengths and experiences and personal qualities.  I would "downgrade" a person if he were an ex-convict, or if her academic record were abysmal, or if he had an unattractive personality.  But to do so because she has an MBA is bizarre.

James
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

I don't think this board is anti-education. I think this board *is* education.  Wharton is a top-tier school, the advantage of going there is that you will make a lot of connections. However, going to Penn State for an MBA is an order of magnitude less valuable...just because you wont meet as many rich people.

If you find accounting and "leadership seminars" intellectually stimulating, then maybe the MBA curriculum is the right thing for you. However, most people consider the MBA as a means to advance their career, not as an academic pursuit in itself. I'm trying to make the case that unless you have an extremely crappy job, an MBA from somewhere other than the top 5 or 10 schools is not going to put you in a fabulous position when you finish. In fact, you will most likely be at ground zero again. Most of the things people think they are going to get out of an MBA program can be obtained in other ways... Want to learn about business...start one of your own.

I used to work at a dot-com that went under. One of the people I worked with started an executive MBA at a top-10 school while the company was going downhill. She spent a year after the company folded finishing her MBA, and will be finishing up this spring. She has 0 job offers that pay more than what she was making as a software architect at the dot com, and is now looking for contract work as a programmer. (she also has an engineering master's degree from MIT)  I might be in the minority, but me and my programmer friends are all still making decent money, and my MBA friends for the most part...are unemployed.

YMMV.

tbone
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

--You would not be able to find many business school texts in Barnes and Noble -- nor would you find the case studies that the professor distributes --

This is completely untrue. Barnes and Noble is the back-end for over 50% of college and university bookstores in the united states.  You can obtain nearly any college text from barnes and noble, in any field. Check here, to see if you can find what you want:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/textbooks/browse/browse2.asp?userid=3EP25FCN6M&specID=8&BunMI=Business+%26+Economics

--nor would you find the insights of your fellow classmates who have worked in diverse industries. At Barnes and Noble, you will not engage in a stimulating debate over business strategy, corporate ethics, or the nuances of venture capital.--


This may be true, it depends on who you go to barnes and noble with.

To shed light on my point of view, I have worked solely as a consultant and as one of the first 10 employees for 2 startup companies in 8 years since I graduated from college.  I have simultaneously had stimulating debates about business strategy, ethics, and venture capital, whilst trying to actually obtain venture capital, implement my business strategy, and consider the ethics of shutting down the servers of clients who balk on payment.  Thus, unless I really want to stop doing what I am doing, and go work for mckinsey, I don't see the value of getting an MBA.

Now, if I had spent the last 8 years struggling to get out of the QA department of the megacorp I interned with in college, an MBA would probably teach me a lot about business and advance my lot in life.

tbone
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

When I was in college, I took all the interesting classes for year, then dropped out.  (I did a stint at the bureaucrat rumor mill, and had the scoop on all the profs.  Plus, it was one of the top schools on that US News link someone posted.)

I only really recommend college for the booklist and pals.  Socializing with the other kids is educationally pointless, since most of them are at least as clueless as you.  And profs by default presume a higher status over you.

Sure, a resourceful person can always gain advantage by going to college.  It brightens your resume, and MBAs need it to learn the dark arts of assfondling.  Average people should definitely go to college, because they get the greatest benefit.  BUT, people who choose to live & die by their resourcefulness often have compelling reasons to take the road less travelled.

conservative arts major
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

mlr and Janes, please go and do your MBA's. Please.

Hugh Wells
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

"mlr and Janes, please go and do your MBA's. Please"

Thanks for the encouragement Hugh, but I'm still not for
sure if its the right move for me.  The program Scott
MacHaffie posted a link to is exactly what I'm after.  I know
that Steve McConnell did a similar program at Seattle U. 
Unfortunately, no such program exists close by.  The closest
I can get would be the MBA/MIS.

mlr
Thursday, April 25, 2002

You are probably not going to learn anything that will make you money in school otherwise everyone would go to school just to make money. What will make you successful (meaning wealthy $$) is you. If you do decide to go to school it might as well be something you enjoy.

Jeb
Thursday, April 25, 2002

just my 2 cents worth: don't you have the possibility of doing your MBA part-time?  This thread just prompted me to look at MBAs again, and a lot of the schools near me run PT courses.
With full-time courses, it all comes down to the old equation of [n years higher pay] > [n + (course length) years lower pay], but PT you still get to earn.


Now all I've got to do is make sure that I'm in the same place for the next 3 years.

Just remember marketing / manager types are a different species. I took some marketing courses in my BSc and had my work marked down for using the decimated (the marketing type insisted it wasn't a real word) and corrected my spelling of separate to seperate.
Actually, I did learn something from those marketing courses - at the end of it the lecturer said something like "well, marketing is essential, but on a different level, you have to question the benefit of having 50 different brands of toothpaste."

Mat Watson
Friday, April 26, 2002

"just my 2 cents worth: don't you have the possibility of doing your MBA part-time? "

Yes...  I've applied to the local program for a part-time spot.
It will cost about 6K for books+tution spread out over
4 years.  I think I've decided to ditch the MIS route in favor
of the finance/accounting track.  I'll get more out of it and
it could serve as a 'backup' career.

mlr
Friday, April 26, 2002

I have a BSEE and a BSCS.  I continued on directly from school to get a MSEE/CS.  After 1.5 years of work I'm attending a top 10 MBA school part time (University of Michigan).

Here's the real deal:

A MS in tech get's you $10,000 on top of normal salary and a chance for promotion down the road.  A MBA doubles your salary and gives you a Director or better job 1 week after graduating.

A MS sticks you in the programmer's seat forever.  A MBA give you the key to executive washroom.

A MS traps you in the 50 hour+ work week.  A MBA makes you work two 100 hour weeks per year, and 30 hour weeks in between.

Promotions happen to techie programmers (like myself), not just english/accounting/etc... majors who work in IT.

The sad truth, whether you believe it or not, is that the VAST MAJORITY of techies REALLY have no idea about how a buisness runs.  Believe me, I've worked WITH plenty.  They work FOR me now.

The biggest reality that programmers have to grasp to move up is:

Business grunts want the quickest possible solution, no matter the quality.

Tech grunts want the best possible solution no matter the time it takes.

Neither one of those guys ever gets promoted.

Brett A. Summerer, MCSD, OCP, CLP, CNA, CCNA, MSEE, BSEE, BSCS
Monday, July 01, 2002

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