Should you get an MBA?

It takes a monumental commitment, both financially and personally, but an MBA could be the fastest ticket to business proficiency.

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"The traditional IT career path doesn't lend itself that well to building a mind-set and a skill set of how the CEO and CFO really think," says Peter Weis, CIO at Matson Navigation Co., an ocean freight carrier based in Oakland, Calif.

"Learning their language deeply by studying [business] cases and spending hours thinking about how other executives think is very hard to pick up in your normal work in the CIO role," adds Weis, who returned to school in his 40s to earn an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

Yet going back to school, especially while continuing to work, is no easy feat. "It was maybe the hardest thing I have ever done in my career," Weis says. At the time, he was a single parent whose daughter had just left for college. His employer paid his tuition and expenses, but Weis was required to use one vacation day for every two days he spent in school. He also agreed to remain at Matson for three years after earning his MBA.

For two years straight, Weis worked full time and attended classes every other weekend, all day Saturday and Sunday. "On my off weekends, it was absolutely studying full time Saturday and Sunday, which made it a seven-day commitment."

"You're constantly battling to strike the right balance, performing your job and hitting all of your critical obligations," Weis says. "It was important to me that there be no slip in my performance at the company. That led to a 24/7 feeling all the time."

As for the career benefits, he says, "An MBA doesn't translate into instant financial gratification." Nor did it significantly increase his prestige among executives in Matson's C-suite, many of whom had already earned advanced degrees from top-notch schools.

An MBA doesn't necessarily enhance one's innovation and leadership abilities either, according to Paul Glen, an IT career expert, a Computerworld columnist and the author of the IT management book Leading Geeks. Glen, who holds an MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management and has taught MBA courses at Loyola Marymount University and at the University of Southern California, says that "case methods that are taught in MBA programs can help people to think in different ways, but I've never seen anything that would teach someone to think innovatively."

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