Is a MBA good for an EA?

A couple of weeks ago, I asked a simple question on Twitter: Should Enterprise Architects have/get an MBA? That meme made its way to InfoQ, so I figured I should actually post my own thoughts on the subject.

First, a full disclaimer: I don’t have an MBA. I do have a MS in Computer Science from the University of Illinois (go Illini!). At the time I got my Master’s, a friend of mine took a different route and did a combined MCS (Master of Computer Science)/MBA degree. In retrospect, I wish I had taken that route. Part of my reasoning to not go that route was the whole MCS designation. Who has ever heard of that? Even from an institution like Illinois, would anyone have known what it is? For those of you wondering, it’s basically a course-only option for a Master’s degree. Getting an MS required writing a thesis. Getting an MCS did not. More importantly, however, I realize now that my interests lie more in the application of technology than in the technology itself. I had inklings of it back then, but at that time, it was far more important to be strong in technology first, rather than the domains in which it was applied.

Today, it’s a different story. There are no shortage of tech-savvy people in the business, so simply being a technology expert is not going to get you as far as it did 20 years ago. I’ve seen enough headlines that say IT departments are shrinking, meaning that some of the technology knowledge needed is being provided by people outside of IT. I don’t think this trend is going to reverse itself, so those of us that want to make a career in the application of technology will increasingly need more business-savvy.

So, should we all go back to school and get MBA’s? I view it as a tool in your toolbox. It is not a guarantee of success, but it is something that can make the path easier. Having long term career goals and a clear idea on what it will take to achieve them is probably far more important. Some companies may look highly on MBAs in making personnel decisions, others may not. Those are all factors to consider.

The other thing I wanted to comment on is the fact that many (IT) people lamented that EA isn’t part of the MBA program. I don’t agree with this at all. It’s a business degree, and like it or not, EA is still viewed as a technology discipline, not a business discipline. I do believe, however, that MBA programs should include some aspect of technology management. If an MBA prepares you to be a CEO, shouldn’t you have some idea on what your CIO and CTO should be doing?

As for me, getting an MBA is on my radar, but I haven’t yet made a decision on it. I definitely am reading more business strategy books, and for now, I think that’s the right approach for me, as frankly, I’m more concerned about paying for my kids’ education than financing continuing my own. But if I were in college today, given what I have learned about my interests in applying technology rather than building technology, I would definitely take that path, combined with a technology degree.

3 Responses to “Is a MBA good for an EA?”

  • Hi Todd,

    I personally don’t think that an MBA is necessary (or even desirable) for an EA. This is because I have seen many business graduates who really don’t have any real idea about what makes a commercial enterprise tick. However I believe that what you are really getting at is that it is important that EAs (well, those in the commercial sector) should have an understanding of business and running a business – I just don’t think that an MBA is perhaps the best way to get that understanding. IMHO the better way would be to actually run a business yourself (or be married to someone who does, as in my case) – if you can’t do this I think that some form of MBA or business diploma may be a reasonable surrogate.


  • The fact that some business graduates are idiots doesn’t prove that an MBA is undesirable. Clearly many Computer Science graduates are idiots as well. Who knows, they might have been even worse without the degree.

    I think Todd is asking two questions. Firstly, which degree provides the best foundation for EA. (I can’t see any reason to suppose that a Computer Science degree is better than an MBA, and you’d probably learn some pretty relevant stuff on a politics and economics degree.) And secondly, whether an MBA would be a better top-up route for someone with a Computer Science background than merely reading a few books. (Probably, but shop around for the right course.)

    I did my Computing Science masters at Imperial. Much later I did a distance learning MBA with the Open University. The OU Business School is particularly good on Systems Thinking, and because we were all mature students, we learned a great deal from each other as well as from the teachers.

    One of the problems with doing an MBA when you are twenty is that it is just a theoretical exercise. I’m very glad I did my MBA when I had some real experience of business under my belt. Todd may get a lot more out of doing an MBA now than if he’d done it when he was younger.

  • Why not ask another question such as Is business-oriented certifications good for EA? For example, would becoming a chartered underwriter or actuarial help me do EA for an insurance company better than having a generalized MBA?

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