Best B-Schools to Jumpstart Your Career in Tech—or Advance It
We’ve all heard about the time Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg—who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School—went on record in a Quora forum saying that while she got great value from her experience, MBAs aren’t necessary at Facebook she doesn’t think they are important for working in the tech industry. And then there’s venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki’s scathing assessment: “For every full-time engineer, add $500,000 [in company value]. For every full-time MBA, subtract $250,000.”
But the times, they are a-changin’. More and more students are looking to use business school as their launch pad to successful careers in tech. According to the 2017 Prospective Student Survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council, almost one in every five prospective students for full-time, two-year MBA programs hopes to work in the tech industry upon graduation—almost double what it was five years ago. Not only that, increasing numbers of business schools are looking for tech backgrounds in the MBA students they admit. Of the incoming MBA class this year at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, 32 percent of students bring backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM)—more than those with business backgrounds.
Tech Firms’ Increased Appetite for MBA Grads
And tech firms—who perhaps at the outset shared views more like Sandberg’s and Kawasaki’s—have quickly become some of the top hirers of freshly minted MBA grads. In fact, Wharton Vice Dean of MBA Admissions, Financial Aid, and Career Services Maryellen Reilly pointed to this as a contributing factor for the uptick in STEM undergrads in incoming classes. “Over the last five to seven years, more employers who once said to us on the career management side that they don’t hire MBAs have ended up hiring our graduates and realizing that they bring a lot of value,” she told Clear Admit in an August 2017 interview. “By virtue of getting more MBAs into tech firms, we are seeing more of those employers want to hire MBAs,” she continued. Not only that, increasing numbers of younger tech firm employees now view the MBA degree as a means of advancing their career within the industry and have begun to apply. “We see real interest from those firms in having us come and visit—both from the admissions and career perspectives.”
For more evidence of this phenomenon, look no further than a few recent headlines. In an article earlier this week, the Financial Times reported that Microsoft is on a hiring spree at U.S. business schools, with the head of global talent acquisition reporting that the company hired 30 percent more MBAs this year than last and has plans to hire even more. And the Wall Street Journal last month reported that Amazon has hired 1,000 MBAs in the past year.
Why this shift? Part of it has to do with the blurring of lines between technology and more traditional business. One no longer exists without the other. As technology becomes central to accessing services and products, period, demand for the skill set of the MBA with a technology specialization has become pervasive. Facebook needs skilled general managers who understand strategy, operations, marketing, and logistics but are more than conversant in tech. (Increasingly, for that matter, so do most any consumer packaged goods [CPG] or manufacturing firms.) And the phenomenon that Wharton’s Reilly points to is likely also at play. As more tech firms hire MBAs, they get to know their value first hand—leading them to look to hire more and/or send their junior staffers back for an MBA.
Why Tech Lures MBA Grads
As for what draws MBA students to careers in technology, where do we start? Salaries are competitive without even taking into consideration the stock options that can frequently be a part of the deal. According to Transparent Career, a tech company formed by Chicago Booth MBA students that aggregates recent MBA grads’ self-reported data in their first jobs, salaries at Amazon range from $137,000 for a program manager to $180,000 for a senior product manager, including signing bonuses. By comparison, the average salary plus signing bonus for MBA grads heading into consulting is $165,000; $170,000 for those heading into investment banking.
At the same time, many tech firms—even those that have grown as huge and, dare we say, corporate as many traditional corporate firms—still hold firmly to their startup ethos in everything from casual dress codes to unlimited time off (provided you get your work done) to time to work on passion projects built into the work day. Career paths are less rigid and innovation more embraced than at the consulting giants and big banks. Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard, technology is the future … Who isn’t at least a little bit curious about the cutting-edge fields of AI (artificial intelligence), IoT (Internet of Things), or VR (virtual reality)?
In this converging world, as tech companies must increasingly operate like traditional companies and vice versa, business schools recognize that being able to train their students for success in tech is no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” Business schools that don’t offer their students the opportunity to specialize in technology, that haven’t launched programs in data analytics, that don’t tout their relationships with recruiters like Amazon, Google, and Apple—they are now the vast minority.
Not surprisingly, many of the schools that are best at preparing MBA students for successful careers in tech are the ones who got an early start doing so. But make no mistake, there are also relative newcomers to the field who have rolled out innovative programs and offerings that are well worth considering, too. In this piece, we’ve highlighted a handful of the leading MBA programs that send more of their grads into technology than any other fields. And in a subsequent piece, we’ll look at a few other programs—hip to the tech revolution taking MBA hiring by storm—who have made some pretty significant bets on tech in recent years with new programs, campuses, faculty, employer relations investments, and more.
Read on for our line up of business schools sending more of their MBA classes into tech than any other industry.
B-Schools Sending the Largest Percentage of Their MBA Classes Into Tech
- University of Washington’s Foster School of Business
While UW’s Foster School of Business may not appear quite as high as some of the other business schools on this list in traditional rankings of MBA programs, it trumps all others in terms of the percent of students it sends into careers in technology. As astounding 52 percent of MBA graduates in the Class of 2016 took jobs in tech. Consulting was a distant second at 23 percent, and just 8 percent of the class headed into pharma/biotech/healthcare products, the third most popular industry.
UW Foster School of Business
Foster’s Seattle location is obviously an asset—spitting distance from Amazon and Microsoft headquarters, as well as an ever-increasing number of new tech startups. The school also places a premium on experiential learning, no doubt taking advantage of the Seattle tech scene to place students with companies for real-world experience.
The school’s Information Systems and Operations Management Department claims 18 professors, six lecturers, and four professors emeritus whose areas of expertise include big data, data mining, and data analytics, as well as e-commerce, information security and assurance, machine learning, and social network analytics, among many others. The school also offers a wide range of elective courses tailored to its students’ tech interests, ranging from “Software Entrepreneurship” and “Technology Commercialization” to “Web 2.0 & the New Economy” and “Business Intelligence & Data Mining.”
In terms of extracurriculars, the Foster Tech Club gathers together Foster students focused on careers in technology. Its mission is to leverage the local tech community, students with prior experience in tech, and the larger UW community to help expand tech-related educational and networking opportunities for the club’s members. The club helps organize company visits, including recent visits to Tableau Software, Zillow, and Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, as well as guest speakers and networking dinners. It also organizes an annual Tech Trek to the San Francisco Bay Area. Last year’s trek included visits for the entire group to TripIt, IDEO, RocketFuel, Google, and Facebook, as well as smaller group visits to Zynga, Pinterest, and Apple and Autodesk, Salesforce, and Zignal Laboratories.
Recent Foster grads have gone on to work at employers ranging from Amazon to Zynga with another 25 in between—including Facebook and Google, Dell, Microsoft, and IBM. Of the more than half of the class that took jobs in tech, the average starting salary was $113,241.
- UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business
The proximity of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business to the tech industry’s Silicon Valley seat—coupled with its focus on innovation—makes it a front-runner in terms of grooming grads for technology careers. Haas leapfrogged CMU Tepper this year and landed in second place in terms of schools sending the most grads into tech. It sent 38.8 percent of the Class of 2016 into tech jobs, up from 37.8 percent last year. Here, too, consulting was a distant second, drawing just 19.1 percent of the class (down from 25 percent last year).
Unlike peer business schools, which send students on Silicon Valley treks to explore tech firms, Haas dispatches its students in 15-week stints to help those very companies tackle real business challenges. As part of the Haas@Work Applied Innovation project course, student teams have worked on site for clients including Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, PayPal, SAP, and Yahoo, to name just a few.
As part of a second experiential learning program, Cleantech to Market (C2M), Haas MBA students join teams comprised of graduate students from across Berkeley’s many schools to commercialize promising cleantech inventions selected from leading universities, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other Department of Energy labs, as well as existing startups.
UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business
In addition to these unique programs, Haas students can also select technology as an area of emphasis, choosing from a wide assortment of courses including everything from high-tech marketing management to the signature Lean LaunchPad methodology pioneered by Haas Lecturer Steve Blank. And in 2015 the school launched a partnership with Accenture to develop a curriculum around big data.
With so many major tech firms within a stone’s throw, Haas also easily draws industry experts to campus for its speaker series, whose fall 2017 lineup included top executives from Cisco, Microsoft, and Intel. Nearby industry leaders also serve as guest lecturers and project advisors. And current Haas Executive Fellows include Twitter’s Biz Stone; John Hanke, whose startup, Keyhole, became the foundation for Google Earth and who now heads Niantic, creators of Pokémon Go; and the aforementioned Guy Kawasaki, former Apple evangelist and now chief evangelist of Canva.
Student clubs complement the rich technology curriculum, providing valuable networking opportunities; organizing events, conferences, and workshops; and preparing students for tech career searches. They include the Haas Technology Club, the Digital Media and Entertainment Club (DMEC), the Haas Innovation Design Club, and the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Association.
As for where recent Haas grads have gone to work, almost half of the 14 firms listed as top employers—a designation given to those hiring three or more grads—were tech firms. They included Adobe, Amazon, Cisco, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. The mean starting salary for the most recent crop of graduates was $122,946 with a mean signing bonus of $22,555 on top of that.
- CMU’s Tepper School of Business
Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business also sent a little over a third of its Class of 2016 graduates to work in the technology industry—33.5 percent—though we should note that’s a bit of a downturn from the whopping 38.24 percent of the Class of 2015 who went into tech. Consulting, the second-most popular industry for Tepper grads, draws just 27 percent. These stats may not come as a surprise to those acquainted with Tepper, which has a long history of churning out quant wizzes with tech prowess. Even so, it represents significant growth even for the traditionally tech-focused school. As recently as 2011, Tepper sent just 20 percent of its grads into tech.
There are several aspects of the Tepper MBA program that set students up for success in the technology field. For starters, any Tepper MBA student can choose to pursue a specialization in business technology, which combines technical and managerial coursework with experiential learning opportunities. The 10 faculty members who teach in the Business Technologies Department boast an array of research and expertise between them, from big data and IT management to e-business and the economics of information systems. There were no fewer than 19 technology courses on offer this semester, from “Intellectual Property and Internet Commerce” and “Digital Marketing and Social Media Strategy” to “The Art and Science of Prediction” and “Strategic Technology to Revitalize Business.”
CMU Tepper School of Business
Students who come into Tepper with a technology background can also pursue the school’s Technology Leadership MBA Track, a joint partnership between the Tepper School and Carnegie Mellon’s top-ranked School of Computer Science. One of the most popular offerings in the MBA program, the Technology Leadership MBA Track trains students in the specific strategic and management issues facing companies developing cutting-edge software technologies. This serves to prepare them for success in senior technology roles ranging from product manager to CTO, CIO, or CEO. To enroll in this MBA track, students must have an undergraduate degree in computer science, computer engineering, management information systems or comparable work experience to ensure that they can keep pace in the School of Computer Science’s rigorous, technical classes.
Finally, Tepper also offers a three-year, dual-degree MBA/Master of Software Engineering program, also in partnership with the School of Computer Science. Designed for “exceptionally strong candidates who have engineering and science backgrounds or appropriate experience,” this program equips MBA students with the advanced engineering skills they need to advance to the most senior technology strategist roles.
Beyond academics, Tepper also features several student clubs that help prepare students for tech careers. With 282 members, the Business and Technology Club (B&T) is one of the largest groups on campus and serves as a hub for recruiting, case competitions, treks, and other events with technology and e-commerce companies at Tepper. Each year, the B&T Club helps sponsor the Tepper Tech Innovation Challenge—a case competition built around applying business techniques to the development of emerging technology products—as well as numerous networking events drawing representatives from some of the most innovative tech companies in the world.
Recent Tepper grads headed off to work for top tech firms including Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Expedia, and Google, reporting a mean starting salary of $119,031 and a median signing bonus of $25,000.
- Stanford Graduate School of Business
Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) was right on Tepper’s heels, sending 33 percent of its Class of 2016 into the technology industry. That outdistanced the 31 percent who went into finance and was more than double the 16 percent who went into consulting. Like Haas, Stanford surely benefits from its proximity to Silicon Valley—both in terms of having a wealth of tech recruiters within arm’s reach and being able to draw executives from those same companies to serve as guest speakers and lecturers, student project advisors, and more. Experiential learning opportunities in the tech industry also abound for Stanford MBA students.
Of course, the Stanford GSB faculty is nothing to sneeze at either. More than 20 faculty members make up the Operations, Information Technology department, including leading experts in areas ranging from product design and manufacturing processes to information systems, homeland security systems to social networks. One such professor, Haim Mendelson, is known for his “Organizational IQ” concept, which quantifies an organization’s ability to quickly and effectively use information to make decisions.
Stanford Graduate School of Business
Stanford also offers students the opportunity to pursue a dual degree of significant relevance to students interested in careers in tech. Its joint MA in Computer Science/MBA degree links two of the university’s world-class programs and helps students develop a unique skill set ideal for becoming a manager and/or entrepreneur for new technology ventures. The program includes a year of courses at each the GSB and in the Computer Science department followed by a third year of elective courses in both programs and enables students to shave off one to two semesters it would take to complete both degrees separately.
The GSB is also home to multiple centers and research initiatives, many of which study issues central to the technology industry. The Digital Business Initiative, for one, focuses exclusively on looking at the types of questions that can be answered with data and statistics, as well as best approaches to do so, such as the use of data and designing metrics to influence decision-making policy, data-driven products design and experimentation, and marketing analysis.
And by virtue of being part of the larger Stanford University ecosystem, Stanford MBA students can also take advantage of several other centers of research, such as the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, where some of the world’s most brilliant students and faculty are hard at work building smart algorithms that enable computers and robots to see and think.
Student clubs, of course, round out the offerings for Stanford MBA students hoping to land careers in technology. The High Tech Club offers members opportunities to share tech fundamentals and trends with each other, access employment resources, and network with tech leaders. Another club, the Product Design and Manufacturing Club, gives students who appreciate the importance of creation opportunities to learn more about how designers and inventors create everyday products that make life easier.
OK, so where do Stanford MBA grads work in tech? Stanford is pretty cagey in terms of what it reveals about who its recruiters are. It simply provides a LONG list (16 pages long) of companies who either did On‐Campus Interviewing (OCI) and/or posted to the GSB Job Board for summer and/or full‐time positions. Given that there were approximately 1,550 companies on the list—and only 410 graduates in the Class of 2016—it’s hard to know which tech companies actually hired Stanford grads. Needless to say, every major tech recruiter you can think of—Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and many more—appears on the list.
We do know that the mean salary for students in the Class of 2016 who took jobs in tech was $130,447 and the mean signing bonus was $18,237.
- UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business
Tied with Stanford, with 33 percent of its MBA Class of 2016 headed into tech, was UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business. That represents a near doubling of the prior year, when just 17 percent went into tech. Trailing technology for ’16 grads was consulting, drawing 21 percent of the class, followed by financial services at 14 percent.
In an interview with MetroMBA, McCombs Director of MBA Career Management Stacey Rudnick cited several contributing factors to the huge jump in tech employment. “Technology is a growth industry for MBAs. There’s a lot more hiring of MBAs than there was 10 years ago,” she said, echoing observations from Wharton and elsewhere. “Also, there’s tremendous interest in technology locally in Austin—Austin is a technology startup hub—but just as importantly we also have strong markets in California and Washington, which we’ve been actively working on for the last 10 years.”
Just as Foster’s Seattle location is a strength—and Silicon Valley is a boon for Haas and Stanford—McCombs proximity to the strong entrepreneurship culture in Austin also helps drives the school’s success in tech. “It draws in students who have an interest in entrepreneurship, innovation, and product management, all of which have a strong overlap with technology,” said Rudnick.
Of course, the school also works actively to strengthen its alumni network in both the Bay Area and Seattle as well. For the past 10 years the school has led treks to both technology hubs. “We do pre-term treks in January and, this year, took 45 students to Seattle to visit Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, and T-Mobile. Plus, we took a Bay Area trek with 40 students to see Facebook/Oculus, Oracle, Salesforce, Adobe, Twilio, SoFi, Flex, HPE, and Google,” Rudnick added. Student interest was record high, encouraging the school to bump the cap on both treks to accommodate more students. There were also additional micro treks focused on gaming companies and clean tech, with smaller groups of just 10 to 15 students visiting Zynga, Electronic Arts, and TinyCo and PG&E, Nest, and Bloom Energy, respectively.
UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business
And like Wharton, McCombs also notes that a full third of its students come from a technology background. “Since so many of our students come to McCombs with technology as an interest or experience in the technology space, it is a natural choice after graduation,” Rudnick noted.
When they get to McCombs, MBA students find plenty of resources to support their study of technology—whether it’s a continuation of prior work and experience or a completely new endeavor. In terms of faculty, the Information, Risk & Operations Management (IROM) department at McCombs counts at least 50 professors, associate professors, assistant professors, and lectures, as well as additional professors emeritus. The Information Management program within the IROM Department is ranked third in the nation by U.S. News and fifth by the Wall Street Journal.
McCombs is also home to multiple centers focused on different aspects of technology. Among them are the Center for Business, Technology, and Law, which examines problems arising at the intersection between managerial decision making and legal or regulatory constraints, and the Center for Research in Electronic Commerce, which supports innovative research into how computer and communications technologies can most effectively be developed, used, and managed by today’s organizations.
Student clubs, meanwhile, offer plenty of opportunities for students to come together, apply what they’ve learned, share recruiting experiences, and more. Student clubs at McCombs of particular interest to those seeking a post-MBA career in tech include the Graduate Business Technology Group and the CleanTech Group.
Like Stanford, McCombs doesn’t reveal a great deal of detail in terms of which recruiters hire McCombs students each year. It publishes a “recent sample of top employers,” on which companies like Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, and Symantec all are listed.
The mean salary for McCombs students headed into tech from the Class of 2016 was $107,044. Mean starting bonus information was not broken out for tech specifically, but the mean starting bonus for the class as a whole was $27,564.
Stay tuned for the second part in this series, which will look at additional schools that have strong programs in technology but send slightly smaller percentages of their overall classes into the industry, as well as programs to watch—that have recently begun devoting significant resources toward training technology leaders of the future.