UNIX developers generally have an arrogance that the world revolves around them. Developing operating systems, writing drivers, dealing with C-assembly interaction is as geeky as it gets. It is probably one of the most challenging jobs in software programming industry and pretty prestigious one too. At first I thought I was lucky to be part of this breed but then later I became more ambivalent about the whole thing.
We had a new IIM graduate in our office and after about 2 months he made some suggestions of how we should do our jobs. So this is how I observed the conversation between a couple of engineers and the MBA guy after he made his suggestions...
Engineer1: What did you do before MBA?
MBA: I did engineering in REC.
Engineer1: Do you know anything about Linux?
Engineer2: Do you know what a vi editor is?
MBA: No I dont know what it is. Never used it.
Engineer1: So all you do is draw diagrams in power point. Thats your skill set?
MBA: No I collect information before I put it in the power point.
Engineer2: But you dont add code to mainline product development. We can still develop the product without you... right?
MBA: I think you can.
Engineer1: Then what the *%%**# do we need you for?
Looking at the conversation, I thought how I would have reacted couple of years before and how I felt then. Two years before I would have sided with the engineers. But at the time I was witnessing the conversation exchange, I felt sympathy for the ignorant engineers. They were infact pretty pathetic. As a new engineer your whole world is just surrounded by other engineers. You have product deadlines, bug list, everybody is looking at the engineering team and concerned if xyz would come out well etc. So it is fair if you thought engineering was the center of the world. But as years went by and I began to think about how a company is started and what needs to happen for a business to run, my opinions began to change.
Most companies run their business because, to put it simply, they solve a problem. Even if the problem does not exist they try and provide a solution that would make lives comfortable and create a situation, where without that solution, life would be a problem. Tech companies are mostly IP (Intellectual Property) based. So lets say you are a business man wanting to start a business. What do you do?
1) Research a market and its needs (market research)
2) Decide what solution would solve that needs (market research)
3) Pick an IP thats relevant or invest in developing an IP that is relevant (innovation)
4) Find out how much revenues can be gained out of the market by selling the solution.
5) Need to convert raw IP to a software solution. So set up team to do that (engineering)
6) Sell the solution (sales)
Items 1 through 4 is marketing and innovation -- The asset part of any company. 5 and 6 are costs. They reduce profits. The less the amount expended into 5 & 6, the better for the company. While 0.1% of engineers fall in #3 the other 99.99% of them fall in item #5. So the more engineers, I employ to develop my solution, the more my profitability decreases.
This was a significant realization for me. This cut down to size my perception of the value of engineers to a company. I began to view them as liabilities. I began to see marketing(and innovation) as the key sources of profitability of any company and everything else just costs. To put it simply no matter how complex the engineering work you do, if it ain't selling anywhere and ain't got no market, then you are just doing bullshit.
So I stopped saying "he is an MBA guy who doesnt dont shit about the technology. What use is he in this company". You know what? For an MBA, intricate knowledge of technology is irrelevant. As crazy as it sounds. Its completely irrelevant when you are out to determine if a solution will sell or not. You don't need to know shit about the intricate details of a technology, if you can tell me how to package it and where to sell it? Thats more important than anything else. In fact knowing technology is a burden. You get hung up on irrelevant details, which don't matter at all.
This led to a realization about where the meat of a company lies. It lies in finding the right direction for a company. It lies in aligning the company in directions where the costs (the ones you spend on engineers) can be recovered quickly. It lies in market research, it lies in betting on the right things to innovate. Words like courage, leadership, which until then meant dissecting a memory core dump to analyze a crash, began to take new meaning. Doing work to develop something in a closed system is not that hard. Doing work in an open environment where there aren't strict definitions on do's and donts is more difficult.
Management decisions are like angles of rocket re-entry into the earth. A few wrong nano-centimeters here and there and you could find yourself in Africa instead of the pacific. Strategy and marketing are things that rule how a company behaves. It probably constitutes 95% of the intellectual work done in the company. To put it simply an MBA moves you from a decrease-profitability section to an increase-profitability section.
Part Time MBA Vs Full-Time MBA:
A lot of people have asked me on my thoughts about Part-Time MBA. I conciously chose not to do it. So I can't lie that its the best thing and so you should do it. It is certainly considered by some I spoke to as - 1 step lower than a full-time MBA. I partially agree with that opinion. Most top schools don't allow career-services/recruiting access for part-time students. Full-time students in Business Week forums believe that since Full-Time students have higher stakes and have taken greater risks - it is unfair to allow low-risk takers an equal share of the career services facility.
The full-time MBA experience is a separate beast. Some top companies clearly know if you are a part-time MBA (it shows in the resume) and might not even consider you a real MBA. 99% of the recruiters are ex Full-Time MBAs and they carry strong opinions about different MBA streams with them. In the US, an MBA is less about courses than it is about the experience, the clubs and the activities that go on outside classrooms. As a part-time MBA you cannot get this experience. This does not mean that part-time MBAs don't get jobs that full-time MBAs get. But it is more difficult and rare. Moreover, you may have some obligation to stay with the same company after you do an MBA because they sponsored your part-time MBA. So once you complete an MBA, you won't have an instant job promotion and salary impact. While full-timers get instant rewards (because they have given up 2 years of salary), part-timers have to depend on their organic career progression or other opportunities within the company to get up, which is usually slow and very restrictive.
My general suggestion is - if you can do a full-time, do it. When you have no choice (marriage, kids are not sufficient reason for not doing full-time) then do a part-time. But know that this may not be the best option out there.