Plan To Get An MBA Degree: Focus on Silicon Valley

by Guest Blogger on 2011-04-122

Today, we welcome a guest post by a fellow Silicon Valley resident, Gal Josefsberg who’d like to share with us his thoughts on getting an MBA. This is a short and quick guide that we hope will help you determine whether it’s a goal you’d like to pursue.

Sooner or later in the course of building most Silicon Valley (and other highly skilled) careers, many people ask: “should I get an MBA?” If you have a tech degree, you may wonder whether having a graduate business degree will give you a further leg up. Supposedly, an MBA (degree in Masters of Business Administration) is a mythical beast guaranteed to make any engineer into an entrepreneur and any line worker into an executive. It’ll open the door to the corner office, raise your salary by 25%, improve your networking, put hair back on your head and make you a better person all around. In other words, it’s a little overhyped. However, hype aside, what are they really worth? And are all MBA degrees created equal? This isn’t just a theoretical point for me, as the holder of not one but two MBAs (don’t ask): I’ve spent a considerable amount of money and time on these degrees. And so you may be curious to ask: is it worth it?

These are pretty common questions many people ask, given the hefty price tag attached to school tuition nowadays. We’ve actually asked similar questions on this blog before:

Wondering about that MBA is no different.

Plan To Get An MBA Degree

So let’s have a reality check.

First, what the MBA will NOT do.

  • The MBA will not make you into a successful entrepreneur. Sorry, but you do that on your own. If you want to learn how to start a company then go start a company.
  • The MBA will not make you into an instant exec. This isn’t the east coast folks, we’re in Silicon Valley! Here, an MBA is not as valuable as elsewhere. Sure, some of the larger SV companies do like and appreciate the MBA (Cisco, Intel and so on) but for the most part, an MBA is not a must have for advancing within these giants and it’s a non-issue in small and medium sized companies. The point here is that depending on what field you are planning to work in or where you’re located, an MBA may not propel you to the heights you expect.
  • It will not teach you how to manage. The actual skills you learn from going through a graduate MBA course are minimal. It’s more about having an MBA on your resume and building connections than it is about learning. Sorry to shatter any illusions.

What can you expect from an MBA?

  • It will allow you to make a career change. For example, if you work in software development, the MBA may open opportunities for you in marketing. If you’re an engineer, the MBA can lead you to a career in finance or management.
  • It will speed up your career path if you work at a company that cares. For example, if you’re working at a big, well known company like Apple, Cisco or Intel, an MBA will speed up some promotions but it will not guarantee them. The MBA will just open a door; it will be up to you to walk through it. (A good way to figure out if your company cares about an MBA is to see if they pay for the tuition, which is far from insignificant. If they don’t cover the education, then they probably don’t care if you aim for the degree… or not).

Where Should You Study For An MBA? Focus on Silicon Valley

Now, if you’re in the SF Bay Area, you have multiple options for MBA schools. But I’m only going to talk about four of them: Stanford, Santa Clara, Berkeley and Wharton. Why only these four? Because barely anyone has heard of any other options and an MBA is all about reputation, prestige and connections. So if your school of choice is not well known and doesn’t have a large network, then you’re wasting your time. An MBA from the University of Phoenix or from San Jose State just won’t garner you the same attention as a degree from a top school. This may sound harsh, but that’s the reality (from my observations). [Note: If you are familiar with any other top ten school with a campus in the Bay Area, then feel free to add notes in the comments.]

#1 Stanford

Stanford has an excellent full time program and an odd exec program. The full time program covers 2 years and the exec program goes for a year. Most Stanford MBAs I’ve known don’t seem to go into tech. Instead, they get jobs in consulting and finance. In fact, it seems like most Stanford entrepreneurs come out of the engineering school, not their business school. Still, not a bad choice since the Stanford name opens many doors.

#2 Santa Clara

This school is not well known outside of Silicon Valley but it’s quite well known within it. They have a variety of programs, including one that fits a part time schedule. Also, they’re the cheapest of the bunch by far.

#3 Berkeley

The UC Berkeley’s MBA school is better known as the Haas school of business. It’s somewhat liberal (it’s Berkeley after all), but nonetheless excellent. It’s got a good worldwide reputation and has a wide selection of programs from full time and part time to an exec program partnership with Columbia. Plus it has what I consider to be the best social life available (relative to what’s offered at the other schools). What I just mentioned may seem funny but that counts for a lot when one of your main benefits from getting an MBA is to develop a social network that extends beyond your school years.

#4 Wharton

This university is actually based in the East Coast but they have a campus in San Francisco that offers a great exec program. They have a reputation for focusing on finance and marketing but they’re actually pretty generalized. The only downside is that you only get to interact with other business school students (it’s less likely that you’ll get to mix with students from other programs).

Which MBA Program Should You Choose?

That depends on where you are in your career and what you want to do afterwards.

If you’re in your mid 20’s and have only a few years of experience, then I would recommend that you attend either the Stanford or Berkeley full time programs. Both have excellent reputations and the name brand plus a network to open doors for you after graduation. Berkeley is cheaper, especially if you live in the area, but I think Stanford is slightly better because of the connection to the Stanford engineering schools. Still, you won’t go wrong with either one.

If you’re in your late 20’s or early 30’s, which probably means you’re more advanced in your career and possibly have a family, then I would start looking at the Santa Clara part time program and some of the exec programs. I would not recommend the Stanford exec program since it forces you to take a full year away from work. Do take note that the three other MBA course options allow you to work while going to school. I don’t believe that the opportunity cost is worth it for someone who’s well advanced in their career to take a year off for school.

This leaves you with four options: Berkeley Evening Weekend, Berkeley Columbia Exec program, Santa Clara part time program and Wharton Exec program. If you’re planning on staying in the Silicon Valley for the rest of your career, then Santa Clara is probably the choice for you. You’ll pay A LOT less for your degree and the benefits are just as good. Santa Clara has a great reputation in the Valley and has a very good network.

However, if you’re thinking of ever relocating outside the Bay Area, then I would recommend that you look at the Berkeley or Wharton offerings. These two schools have world class reputations and networks that are going to be recognized anywhere you go. For example, if you ever move to New York (or even San Francisco) a Berkeley or Wharton degree will open doors for you whereas a Santa Clara degree will get you a lot of blank stares. Just make sure you choose wisely since the Berkeley and Wharton programs are not cheap. Expect to pay around $150,000 for either program.

By the way, the Berkeley Evening Weekend program is an interesting choice since it’s relatively cheap and still gives you a world class MBA. However, due to the nature of the program, you spend a lot less time interacting with your fellow students, which means that your network (which is one of the primary reasons to get an MBA) won’t be as solid. Still, this might be a worthwhile choice for people put off by the cost of the exec programs.

So Where Did I Pick Up My MBA?

As for me, I completed the Berkeley Columbia exec program and ended up working at a small tech company. In other words, I spent a lot of money for my MBA and probably didn’t get a good return on my investment. I suppose that in hindsight, I might have made a different decision but then again, anything could have happened (because who knows, anything is possible in hindsight) so I don’t really regret my decision. I just hope I can help you make an informed decision now that will help you find the best school for you.

Gal Josefsberg is not a trained professional at anything in particular but he’s a dedicated amateur at many things. He’s run marathons and started businesses. He’s a failure as a fashion blogger but a success as a personal fitness writer. He’s a high tech product manager and a serial entrepreneur who once tried to learn how to play the Banjo because he thought women love musicians. He’s a personal fitness trainer and a personal development coach plus a full time caretaker of his overly spoiled black lab mix Daisy. In the middle of all this he somehow convinced a wonderful woman to accept his proposal and hopes to marry her one day, just as soon as he finds some time away from writing his latest book. You can read more about him at his fitness blog 60 in 3 or at his personal improvement blog called Equally Happy.

Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David April 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I am from the Bay Area and have been mulling over the possibility of going to grad school. The MBA was always a possibility for me but seems like it’s lost its luster in recent times. A lot of companies hiring also say you could be overqualified for some positions anyway so won’t you be shooting yourself in the foot? Is it possible to think of a higher degree as not just useless (won’t add value to what you do) but also detrimental to getting a job (if the only kind of employment available is for lower level positions, because there’s no other job available). You’d have to balance this out against the benefits of any network you build up from a prestigious school.

Gal @ Equally Happy April 13, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I don’t think the MBA can be a negative unless you make it one. I recently had a candidate for a position I was hiring for ask for an exorbitant salary simply because he had a Harvard MBA. That’s just going to disqualify you right off the bat.

However, as long as you don’t buy into the hype yourself (that your MBA makes you a business genius) you should be able to see some benefit from it, or at least no negative side effects.


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