In recent years, technology has risen to become one of the top career choices for MBA grads, joining—and in some cases, even displacing—the more traditional career paths like consulting and financial services. 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. Not only that, but 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, 29 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 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 headlines. In 2018, Bloomberg reported that technology firms are increasing their MBA hires year over year, as top companies are realizing the diversity that an MBA background can bring to the cutting-edge technology world. In 2019, eFinancialCareers confirmed that Google and Amazon increased MBA hires from four top programs 75 percent and 67 percent over the last three years, respectively.
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. Firms like Facebook need 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. Salaries at Amazon can range from $154,000 for a program manager to $194,000 for a senior product manager, including signing bonuses. By comparison, the average salary plus signing bonus for MBA grads heading into consulting at the MBB is $175,000; for those heading into investment banking, starting salaries range from $115,000 to $175,000.
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.
Business Schools Sending the Largest Percentage of Their MBA Classes Into Technology
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. An astounding 60 percent of MBA graduates in the Class of 2018 took jobs in tech. Consulting was a distant second at 16 percent, and just 5 percent of the class headed into financial services, the third most popular industry.
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 20 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 “Marketing High-Technology Products & Services.”
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 $119,308.
Stanford Graduate School of Business
Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) lands in second for tech placement, as it sent 33 percent of its Class of 2018 into the technology industry. That outdistanced the 31 percent who went into finance and was nearly double the 18 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 also offers students the opportunity to pursue a dual degree of significant relevance to students interested in careers in tech. Its joint MS 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 Value Chain Innovation Initiative, for one, focuses on the intersection of technology, sustainability, and trade and the role that intersection plays in business innovation.
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 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.
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 notes in its employment report that 421 firms hired Stanford MBAs for summer internships or full-time positions in 2017-2018. We do know that the mean salary for students in the Class of 2018 who took jobs in tech was $135,643 and the mean signing bonus was $31,744.