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Best Business Schools to Jumpstart Your Career in Tech—or Advance It

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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.