Todd Biske asked the following question on Twitter earlier in the week:
Should Enterprise Architects have/get an MBA?
In typical EA fashion, the responses fell into two camps, those for and those against. I happen to think that an MBA is a good thing for an EA to have and not just because I have one. But before I share how my MBA has helped me immensely in my career, I will state on record that some of the most impressive IT and/or EA type people I have ever worked with or read about do not have an MBA. In fact, many never completed an undergraduate program. Also, an MBA is secondary in importance to having a wide range of IT knowledge across the entire enterprise (software development, telecommunications, quality assurance, database management, application integration, security, etc., etc., etc.). At the end of the day, nothing beats hands on, on the job training. Some of the best learning experiences come from failing. An MBA cannot teach that.
With that said, here is my story about my MBA. I had been working for many years at a previous company and my hopes of advancing higher up were very limited because there was so little turnover in the company. Almost the entire management team had been with the company for 10+ years (including me) so I made a decision to prepare myself for my next career by enrolling in a Master in IT. I felt that to land my dream job of becoming a CTO, I had to expand my knowledge in areas of networking, communications, and other infrastructure related topics since I had spent my whole career in software development. At the same time, I had been trying to convince management that we needed to invest in a business process reengineering and SOA initiative for quite some time. One day, I was able to convince a colleague in our R&D department that the BPM/SOA initiative could create tremendous business and IT value in areas of speed to market, elimination of waste, increased sales, and many other tangible benefits. Over the next several months we tagged teamed and sold the concept to C-level people on the business side and the rest was history. What I learned during the process is that my colleague understood how to speak in the language that each person understood. He could sell to the accountants because he knew what they looked for and understood their jobs. He new how marketing worked. He could create business plans, financial models, calculate payback periods and more. I quickly realized that if I had enrolled in an MBA program that taught me about marketing, economics, finance, accounting, organizational leadership, business law, analysis, and more, I probably could have sold this idea years earlier. So when I finished my MS in IT, I immediately enrolled in MBA program.
I am now a CTO for a young company and still perform many EA-like functions. I frequently meet with investors, clients, lawyers, and partners and have to present to marketing VPs, CIOs, CMOs, lawyers, accountants, VCs, etc. I think my MBA has made me much more effective in this role. I never really had many opportunities to interface with these types of people before so my on the job training in this role was extremely limited. That is why the MBA was so crucial for me. Now that I have been doing this for two years, I have added on the job training on top of my MBA skills. Had I been an entrepreneur my whole career, I probably would not have needed an MBA because I would have experienced all of those roles first hand.
So do EAs need an MBA? No. But if an EA has never walked a day in the shoes of a marketing VP, a controller, a lawyer, a CIO, a Sales executive, an operations executive, and many others, an MBA can transform the EA from a smart IT person to an effective liaison between IT and the business. My MBA was one of the best investments I ever made in my career. I would love to hear your experiences and/or opinions on this.