Are MBA’s a Waste of Time for Engineers?

I know the feeling, wanting to get out of the monotonous routine, get out from the cubicle, and get away from your boring boss that has been working for the firm for 30 years. I’ve been there and I am seeing more and more that many engineers get that same itch. That need to use the other half of your brain, to engage that creative nature that has been suppressed. The desire to act on a vision, build with your hands, mix it up, do what feels natural and control your own destiny.

Right now you feel like:

Here is your problem,
here is your paycheck,
now go solve it monkey.

… but you have so much more potential. About 35% of the students in my MBA program that did engineering for their undergrad and are now looking to follow their true passion (which may not have been socially acceptable in their mind to their family when they were younger) to be an entrepreneur. It is only natural to ask if getting the MBA is the right bridge to connect your future:

  • My good buddy Pat began working in Silicon Valley with his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering as a Sales Engineer for the company that makes processor testing equipment. Within five years he had the have that change, left his job, sold all of his possessions and went to Alaska for a year.
  • My buddy Mike designed radio antennas on vehicles in the Midwest for years before ditching it all to come out to Lake Tahoe and become a message therapist.
  • I worked for HDR Engineering, and Domenichelli & Associates on Wastewater Treatment, Reservoir Design, Hydrology and Hydraulics; today I am working on business plans for independent movie theaters, adventure voluntourism projects, local business investment funds, and most importantly a new type of entrepreneurship competition.

But is the MBA the answer? Or is it just another, “do what you’re told, and I’ll give you what you want,” in this case a passing grade. I have serious concern for those engineering undergrads who want to become entrepreneurs because doing what you’re told is not an entrepreneur. Many important business tenets (that you may not experience otherwise) can definitely be learned through and MBA (such as time value of money, basic accounting, and how to work effectively in teams to accomplish a goal) but much of the same must be learned when you’re in the fire of a startup business.

I would argue that you are no more ready to be an entrepreneur as an engineer with and MBA than you were as an engineer without an MBA.

First thing’s first… If you’re serious about being an entrepreneur, stop making excuses and in the words of an awesome blog I just read by @RubyBuddha:

I hereby grant you the permission to start doing whatever you need to do
to be the person you claim you want to be.”

Thank you for reading my blog – Daniel S. Herr.
I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @DanHerr
Or follow to my blog 

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Author: Dan Herr

catalyst. tech geek. ENG & MBA. tahoe raised. helping @CastleCrowCo. been @ProjectVesto, @CleanEnergyCtr, @MartisCamper, & @Cornell I invite you to visit my personal blog or connect with me @DanHerr on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Are MBA’s a Waste of Time for Engineers?”

  1. Equally, you’re no more ready to be an entrepreneur because you have an advanced engineering degree. An inventive mind is an inventive mind and an entrepreneurial mindset is an entrepreneurial mindset. These are quite separate from how you learn the tools necessary to craft the solution you invent. Many learn what they need on the street while other learn more effectively in an academic setting. An MBA is the most interdisciplinary advanced degree so, in some senses, that parallels the the breadth of understanding one needs to thrive in a startup. Of course, an MBA helps fill the toolbox of the professional manager, tools that most startups don’t really need in their early days but become more useful as a business scales. What matters is the ability to discover what you need to know and the ability to learn it, however best suits your circumstances and ambitions.

    Bottom line is that if someone is signing up for an MBA–or any other degree, for that matter–to check a box, to have some notion of credibility bestowed, they will be disappointed and are wasting time. In a startup and in entrepreneurship, it matters less about academic credentials of any kind than does a demonstrated ability to execute. As Henry Ford said: “I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.”

    1. Agreed and points well taken. One question I am hoping to answer for the audience is; can an engineer naturally have an entrepreneurial mindset without formal business education? Yes. My inkling is that if you are asking this question, you may not have the drive to make it with or without a formal business education. Is there any substitute for jumping into the fire and learning firsthand? If you can think critically, mind common-sense and execute effectively with steadfast determination an MBA may or may not be worth your while with the important point being that you make no excuses (permission granted) and have the determination to see it through.
      When asked, “What would they be if not an engineer?” most in the UNR MBA program say hands down “Entrepreneur.” Is it that they are not yet a successful entrepreneur because they are truly risk-adverse and hoping that an MBA will help ensure some level of success? I hate to generalize, but perhaps…
      Thank you for a great comment John!

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