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Down & Out

The latest fortune magazine profiles a typical out of work dude -- he's 40, has decades of experience working for Fortune 500 companies, a BS in engineering, AND an MBA:

http://www.fortune.com/fortune/careers/articles/0,15114,457284,00.html

Just recalled the talks we had some months ago where people were thinking of going back into school (going back into debt) to get an MBA, thinking that would help them get a cushy job. Well.. here's the answer.

Here's my own thoughts on the subject:

1. Going back to school? Study nursing or something that there is a demand for. Nobody needs yet another MBA.
2. Want an MBA so you can understand business better? Save the hundred-thousand you'd spend on an MBA and spend $500 on some good books on business instead. Take a night class at the community college for $100. that gives you 80% of the bang for far less than 20% of the buck.
3. Really want to stay in engineering? Great, create an exciting new product and market it.
4. Can't do that, don't want to, or don't have the cash to do so? Looks like you'll need to switch fields.

Finding a job in the industry where somebody hands you a paycheck may not be your best option. And waiting it out might not work due to the outsourcing issue. Next big thing might be the 2038 date rollover hysteria. That's a long wait. If you want to work in tech, you're going to have to go it alone and make your own products or services and try to get people to pay enough for them for you to live on. If you can't do that or it doesn't work out for whatever reason, take the next job you can find. Sales jobs pay well, also being a waiter in a good restaurant. Not kidding here, the experience you get in sales work will be of greater benefit than an MBA when it comes to selling your next vision to customers or investors.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, June 15, 2003

Take a marketing class or a "how to sell / negotiate" class. This is more important than learning the latest BS language, framework, methodology, or whatever. If you insist on going back to school to get a degree, go to a top 20 school only. You probably won't learn anything worth the price but with an elite name school people in the know will be impressed. 

Tom Vu
Sunday, June 15, 2003

That's a great idea Tom. I'd recommend a community college because of the great cost/benefit ratio. Also, at the CCs you get fine instructors dedicated to the profession, something more rare at research universities where your professor will never be seen and classes taught by exhausted and inexperienced grad students with hard to understand accents. Universities only have the advantage at offering high level classes and fancy brand names. Unless you're going to Harvard or Cal Tech, lower division classes are best served locally.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, June 15, 2003

Getting a business education is easy - start a business. It's not rocket science, it's just hard work. Even one you don't plan on bringing to profitability (hey, it's a tax writeoff every 2/3 years).

Building a brand, getting a good product, reducing costs, increasing profit, finding and retaining customers... These things are pretty much universal, and unless you've had to worry about these things yourself, you're not really gonna get them.

Most MBA's I meet, especially the ones from the top schools, have a self confident, almost cocky demeanor, and do know a boatload about things like MS Project and Powerpoint and giving a good presentation and all that. Certainly more than most community college grads, and at the end of the day, it's touches like that that differentiate a middle manager.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, June 15, 2003

"you're not really gonna _get_ them."

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, June 15, 2003

I'm with Mark too -- can't do better than start your own business. In fact, getting a MBA seems entirely pointless unless you've already started a few businesses already and are curious to smooth out the rough edges. How many good programmers show up at school not knowing how to program already? Not many if any. Likewise, a background running businesses should be a prerequisite for applying to business school.

But I think that if there is a class in salesmanship and marketing you can take at night available you don't have much to lose, especially if you are trying to do it during the day. A job at Nordstrums or at a good restaurant can also provide some real world experince in a safe environment that provides a paycheck that is proportional to how personable and customer-oriented you are. So if you need the paycheck, those are good thinks to look into that will help build up the skills you'll need either to market your new offering or to wow them in that elusive tech job interview.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, June 15, 2003

Half the reason I recommended taking business courses was networking - to meet the managers that may help you get a job.

Those managers don't go to community college.

Philo

Patrick Bateman
Sunday, June 15, 2003

Some people are going back to school because they always wanted to, they want to learn something, and now with the economy in a slump is as good a time as any to do it. If you are interested in business administration, an MBA program is a fun way to spend a couple of years while you wait for the job market to get better.

Joel Spolsky
Sunday, June 15, 2003

Tom Vu!  Heh-heh. Just the name makes me laugh out loud.

Loved your infomercials, man.

Clutch Cargo
Sunday, June 15, 2003

Re: Starting B-School

I've always believed that in order to learn, we need a framework from which to start. Otherwise we have no way of categorizing the information we're given, and it just passes out of us, or sits around like files scattered on the floor.

So if you've run your own business, you'll get THAT much more out of B-School. If you've already held a management position, you'll also get more out of them than someone who'se never held a position like that

I think that's what's wrong with our educational system - they force you to choose a college and a major before having any real-world experience.

Re: sales courses

The same applies here. I've read some great books on salesmanship, but don't think I got as much out of them as I would've if I was in a sales job where I could apply the principles I was learning on a daily basis. While each one increases my general knowledge, they don't really get ingrained.

I can read books on gymnastics but it won't make me a gymnast.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, June 15, 2003

Philo, did you just give away your secret identity?

School is a good way to wait out the recession, and don't those late night advertising trade schools know it!

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, June 15, 2003

---"an MBA program is a fun way to spend a couple of years while you wait for the job market to get better.

Joel Spolsky"------

You've sure got a strange idea of fun!

Stephen Jones
Sunday, June 15, 2003

I agree with the advice to start your own business over getting an MBA.  There is nothing wrong with getting an MBA, but having experience running a business I think is more valuable.  In my experience, Most of the people that I've worked with that had MBA's were arrogant, yet they were able to talk that talk, but when things got sticky, they started backtracking.  On the other hand, most of the business owners that started from the ground up painted a very realistic picture to me about what it takes to run a business.  One guy who used to run a consulting shop of about 6 Java developers said that there is a lot of time spent trying to acquire customers.  This time is not billable so you spend it writing prototypes, marketing whitepapers, case studies, etc.  He says that it is hard work, but is very fulfilling. 

Phil
Sunday, June 15, 2003

Philo's been using that Phil thing for a few days now.

School is fun. I agree.

$100,000 debt is not fun. And it limits your options severely. You are not going to be starting your own business when you gotta work 2 jobs just to make your student loan payments.

make darn well sure that that degree is going  to pay for itself if there is an issue of debt.

If you got a free ride from parents, goverment, or employee, it's not the worst choice.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, June 15, 2003

I mean Patrick not Phil.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, June 15, 2003

> Philo's been using that Phil thing for a few days now.

Phil? I'm talking about Patrick Bateman.

I know a doctor who went to columbia and left with close to $400,000 in debt. Yeouch. Then again, the only reason Columia, the gov't, etc. loaned it to him is that they were reasonably sure he'd be able to pay it off.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, June 15, 2003

nevermind.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, June 15, 2003

Yeah, it sucks ultra bad for doctors since they can get their licenses revoked if they fail to pay back government loans. Or so I've been told. If it's true, it sucks.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, June 15, 2003

So if your friend wants to go to Africa and help people with AIDS for $100/month salary, he's SOL, right?

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, June 15, 2003

> So if your friend wants to go to Africa and help people with AIDS for $100/month salary, he's SOL, right? <

If what you say is true, then only if he wants to return to the states afterwards and continue to practice medecine. Unless he has enough stored up to last through his time in Africa.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, June 15, 2003

Yeah, it's more a statement than a question. That sort of debt precludes African trips unless he's OK with defaulting on his loan. Sometimes there are options where loans can be partically forgiven for doctoring in a rural area, or perhaps working in the Peace Corps, but it's not like you can just accept an invitation to help out anywhere, it has to be done under approved circumstances, severely limiting one's options.

For most folks, graduating with $400k medical debt means you gotta do what you have to to make those payments. That means overcharging, turning away folks without insurance, and doing what you can to get the Pharmaceutical company kickbacks. Since the big medical schools are in cahoots with the big pharmaceutical companies, you can see how this all works.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, June 15, 2003

The thing about MBA's s that technical professionals frequently do them expecting it's an automatic ticket to advancement.

In actual fact, the very need to do an MBA can be an indicator that the person lacks the entrepreneurial or businesss skills that are needed to succeed in business or, conversely, lacks the brilliance to succeed in software development or engineering.

.
Sunday, June 15, 2003

I'll bet a case of beer that if a qualified doctor with heavy debt wanted to go to Africa for a year or more to work relief efforts, that he/she could find someone to cover the loan payments while they were gone, assuming they couldn't find someone that would actually pay off the debt in full.

USAID, Amnesty International, the Peace Corps, the Red Cross, heck - even write a letter to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

Philo

Philo
Sunday, June 15, 2003

For those that want to study business:  I recommend the part time MBA from a local college.  Much better networking and instruction than what you get from a community college.  Plus it looks good on the resume.

Remember, all those unemployed people have one too, so you need it just to level the playing field. :)

   
Sunday, June 15, 2003

All the engineers that I've known who got MBA's did so for a career change. The last 3 I knew went from engineering to marketing, and none of them would have much of a chance for the career change w/o it.

Nick
Monday, June 16, 2003


Two positive things about getting an MBA:

- Get to learn a whole heap of stuff which'll help you run a business. Yep you can get it from books, but it's not the same.

-Get to make a whole heap of fantastic contacts.

I agree with the general sentiment that experience is more valuable. However the most valuable combination is always knowledge + experience.

Yanwoo
Monday, June 16, 2003

By the way, once again let me suggest night school instead of day classes. Daytime classes will be full of recent college grads who can't find a job.

Night school will be full of ambitious managers who *have* a job... ;-)

Philo

Philo
Monday, June 16, 2003

"In actual fact, the very need to do an MBA can be an indicator that the person lacks the entrepreneurial or businesss skills that are needed to succeed in business..."

...which means that studying for an MBA is probably a good idea for them, right?

Jim Rankin
Monday, June 16, 2003

So, have any business schools started a "Managing Off-Shore Technology Workers" program yet?

Jim Rankin
Monday, June 16, 2003

> ..which means that studying for an MBA is probably a good idea for them, right?" (Referring to: "In actual fact, the very need to do an MBA can be an indicator that the person lacks the entrepreneurial or businesss skills that are needed to succeed in business...")

Not really. If they don't have those aptitudes, an MBA won't give it to them. That's the quandarry. MBA's tend to fill roles in large organisations, typically working for somene else.

.
Monday, June 16, 2003

The US has ~6% unemployment.  During a recession, after an insane boom.  This is incredibly good.  I know that's hard to hear for those of us unemployed, but it's not your fault and your counterparts in other nations are having a harder time.

Bowling for Columbine was interesting to watch.  I know it has Michael Moore, but its main thesis is that no one whether left nor right has all the answers, and that the press is all about entertainment.  Fear and worry are valid literary devices.

In the dotcom boom, the press was all about stirring up envy over others' wealth.  Now it's the fear of disappointing your family and losing all your social status.  This Fortune article is formulaic -- once-wealthy person loses his great job, his family must not know his shame... against the overseas alien invasion, his education shields can't hold... but there is hope!  Good and evil come in cycles.

After watching that documentary (at least download it if you're not going to rent it), I'm starting now to just critique how effective these articles are rather than think about what they say.

sammy
Monday, June 16, 2003

--For most folks, graduating with $400k medical debt means you gotta do what you have to to make those payments. That means overcharging, turning away folks without insurance, and doing what you can to get the Pharmaceutical company kickbacks.--

Doctors are employees of HMOs and Hospitals. A general practicioner makes about $80/hr. A brain surgeon obviously makes more, and they should. If you get hit by a bus, when you receive your bill, less than 10% of that bill goes to a doctor. The remainder goes to random hospital fees: hooking you up to an IV, hooking you up to some other device, $800 a night to sleep in a hospital room, etc. Very few doctors these days are in a position to personally turn people away or determine their own rates. Only doctors doing elective work (plastic surgery, dermatology, prescribing HGH) can do that, and those people should be able to charge however much they think they can get.

.
Monday, June 16, 2003

> The US has ~6% unemployment.  During a recession, after an insane boom <

Those unemployment statistics are skewed. They measure the number of people ON unemployment. That means 6 months after they register for unemployment, they're no longer "unemployed."

It's a clever way of making that statistic look a lot better than it is.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, June 16, 2003

The national unemployment rate is not based on how many people are collecting unemployment insurance benefits.  Indeed, this is not even a factor in the calculation.  The source of the calculation is the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of U.S. households.  It attempts to get at how many people are working, or not working but actively seeking work.  The full spiel can be found here:
http://stats.bls.gov/cps/cps_htgm.htm

Gary Sincick
Monday, June 16, 2003

I stand corrected. Too much of that liberal propoganda seeping into my consciousness.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, June 16, 2003

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