Computerworld - With a few promotions and a lot of technical expertise, 37-year-old Peter Webb gained exposure to new areas of The MathWorks Inc.'s scientific computing business.
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But Webb, a principal technical specialist at the Natick, Mass.-based company, also found that his bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science didn't provide enough insights into other parts of the corporate big picture, such as marketing and finance, to take him where he wanted to go.
"My role had expanded to the point where I was at a disadvantage, and my technology background was not sufficient to perform at the level that I would like to perform," says Webb. "I would get into discussions with the marketing people, and they speak in this cryptic jargon that I couldn't understand."
To rectify that situation, Webb enrolled last year in the High Technology MBA program at Boston-based Northeastern University. He expects to be fluent in the jargon and concepts of business management by next spring.
But contrast his approach to that of many IT professionals just two years ago, when students were abandoning MBA programs in droves during the innovation-driven dot-com bubble. The big debate for many then was whether a technologist with smarts should try to break his way into the executive suite through the force of sheer intelligence and bravado, or take a two-year hiatus and pursue an MBA.
That debate ended abruptly when the bubble burst. With the demise of the dot-com era, MBA programs, particularly those that offer a strong concentration in technology, are more popular than ever.
The question now becomes: Which schools do the best job of combining good management techniques and technology innovation under the general heading of sound business practices?
There are as many types of techno-MBA programs as there are three-letter acronyms in the technology industry.
Each school takes a slightly different approach, but the overriding theme is of shifting the focus away from technology products and systems and placing the emphasis squarely on the business's bottom line.
"Folks with an MBA from a top business school weren't affected by the dot-com hiccup; they knew how to do a business plan," claims Richard Honack, assistant dean of external relations at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "You have to teach that technology is a tool, and not the end-all."
Some programs, such as the one at Evanston, Ill.-based Kellogg, which is routinely ranked as a top business school, take a finance, accounting and operations-oriented approach to training business managers. Kellogg's two-year program offers a major in technology and e-commerce, requires a summer internship and includes courses that delve into Internet business models, research-and-development management, business intelligence and customer relationship management technologies.
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