Hacking vs. Business School Matt 23 Mar 2005

18 comments Latest by Paul

Want to succeed in business? Paul Graham argues that an MBA won't help you nearly as much as real world tech experience (from "How To Start A Startup").

If you work your way down the Forbes 400 making an x next to the name of each person with an MBA, you'll learn something important about business school. You don't even hit an MBA till number 22, Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike. There are only four MBAs in the top 50. What you notice in the Forbes 400 are a lot of people with technical backgrounds. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Jeff Bezos, Gordon Moore. The rulers of the technology business tend to come from technology, not business. So if you want to invest two years in something that will help you succeed in business, the evidence suggests you'd do better to learn how to hack than get an MBA.

18 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Anonymizifier 23 Mar 05

Seth Godin’s been saying alot along these lines recently. His blog’s well worth checking out (as are the books)

I get away with this heresy since I, in fact, have my own fancy MBA from Stanford. The fact is, though, that unless you want to be a consultant or an i-banker (where a top MBA is nothing but a screen for admission) it’s hard for me to understand why this is a better use of time and money than actual experience combined with a dedicated reading of 30 or 40 books.

From this post.

Full blog is at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/

Anonymizifier 23 Mar 05

URL for the post is http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2005/03/good_news_and_b.html

Chris 23 Mar 05

Don’t let someone who just knows ‘business’ to run a technology business, otherwise gruesome things will happen.

Josh Williams 23 Mar 05

During Dirk Knemeyer’s session at SXSW (Future of Digital Product Design), a fellow in his 30s asked Dirk where he would recommend going to school to learn how to be a “visionary” (read: CEO). Dirk gave him a nice, off-the-shelf answer about Harvard and Stanford and such, but the correct answer is…

You don’t.

There is no “visionary” school. A quick look through the Forbes 400 will also show you that only a scant few in the top 20 even have college degrees. Graham’s right, you don’t get those skills with an MBA.

Dan Boland 23 Mar 05

I agree completely.

My best friend, who is the smartest person I know and makes probably twice what I make doing networking for the US Navy, didn’t graduate from college. I did with a CIMS degree. People think of going to college as the end-all be-all toward getting a job, but really, intelligence and drive make more of a difference. That sounds like common sense, but a lot of people still think no college equals no chance. (That doesn’t imply that I think people should say “fuck college.”)

I read an article in a recent issue of Business Week that basically pointed out that few of the Forbes list has MBAs and that CEOs at major companies (I can’t recall any at the moment, damn) that happened to have MBAs (at great schools too) have had a dismal track record in the last decade or so. It just goes to show you that can’t learn real life in a classroom.

I don’t know about any of you, but I use about 1% of what I learned in college in my professional life. The only truly great thing I got out of going to college, honestly, was my wife.

Chris S 23 Mar 05

Yep. The people who end up really leading the pack are often those who are attracted to challenges, not afraid of them. And many of those folks are simply not challenged by what typically passes for a college education these days.

As a former college prof, what I encountered most were people who were going through “their program” because they assumed it was a guarantee to better employment. Indeed, it often is, and what they often think they’re looking for is the opportunity to be a ‘happy cog’ in someone’s revenue generating machine. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

What colleges still do best is a liberal arts education, for the simple purpose of being a better thinker, and more knowledgeable about the world of arts, history, and ideas. And math.

But why spend four years in college to be an accountant? To stay a teenager a little longer? Better parties?

As Thomas McGuane once wrote, contemporary culture has “…prolonged adolescence to the threshold of senility.”

I think visionaries tend to skip that stuff, get their kicks out of doing something extraordinary, get the payoff, and some of them even get to party with chicks who used to only hang out with rock stars and athletes.

Steve, via Den, Fla and now RDU 23 Mar 05

Before you start comparing yourself to the Forbes 400 and who has what degree think first about basic statistical analysis. I bet that if there was a list of the 400 biggest losers you would probably be hard pressed to find any MBAs there as well or any education at all. Do you want to be in that group?

Over all, advanced education increases the PROBABLITY of you earning more over your lifetime.

And who are the last freshly minted billionaires? To guys half way through their PhD.

Brian Breslin 23 Mar 05

Wow, this topic really hits a nerve, as I’ve been debating whether or not to go to grad school to get an MBA. Here’s the way I see the whole situation. As per the poor track record/visionary things, my theory is that those who don’t go to grad school or study business aren’t taught “what is possible” so to them, anything is, and by believing that fully, they can accomplish more. Whereas if they had gone to grad school, taken a class on consumer marketing, they’d never think that so many people wanted to exchange their junk over the internet (cough cough ebay cough cough), or something else that has taken off.

Not to mention its tough for an MBA program to keep up to date with the real world the way working in the real world can, since all these professors worked in private business 20 years ago, and read text-books published 10 years ago.

As per the college being a necessary for a job, I’d say it helps quite a bit, but is hardly a guarantee to get a good job, mediocre job sure, but not good job.

Paul Ringger 23 Mar 05

If you have a choice, I’d say work a few years before getting an MBA. The knowlege gained getting an MBA is extermely valuable but only if you understand where and how to apply it. If you do have that choice, by work, I mean starting a company. Start a little cottage business. Work at it for, say, two years then get your MBA. You’ll get a lot more for your money that way.

Matthew Oliphant 23 Mar 05

The point at which I found an MBA to be worthwhile was when I found out my company would pay for me to get one.

One of several Steves 23 Mar 05

Experience and the right knowledge are definitely more important than the degree in determining whether someone can do a job and do it well. The problem comes in the way people screen for those sorts of things. Unfortunately, too many organizations are more concerned about the credentials than in spending the time to really get a good feel for what an applicant knows and can do.

There are some things I think I would know or understand better, particularly on the financial side, if I had gone to biz school. But most of the time, I’ll take my dozen or so years of working in the real world and actually getting things done over the classroom knowledge that I would like to have but don’t necessarily have to have.

safari 23 Mar 05

Off topic. there appears to be a malformed anchor tag in the first post. when you mouse over any text after the first post, all the text on the page after the first post turns white. Even the right column. It’s only in Safari though.

Dan Boland 23 Mar 05

I noticed the disappearing text while hovering also (I use Safari as well).

Brady Joslin 23 Mar 05

I’m at the half-way point through the part-time MBA program at FSU and have a background in web application development. Though it has been detrimental to my sleeping patterns, I feel it has been beneficial keeping one foot in the work environment and the other in the classroom.

While certainly some parts of the curriculum will most likely not apply to the work I do in the future, others have obvious benefit, specifically my marketing and entrepreneurship coursework. Since they lack a course in usability and design, I’m actually trying to get research credit on the topic from the marketing point of view.

I love the hacking side of life, but I will feel much more confident in the future evaluating areas of opportunity.

With that said, I have to go study econometrics for my exam tomorrow. Sigh.

Shane Vitarana 24 Mar 05

This very same paragraph struck a nerve with me when I read it for the first time after seeing the article on del.icio.us/popular. I finished my MS in Electrical Engineering over a year ago and since then have been contemplating a Ph.D. However, in the new free time that has been made available to me I have learned so much just by working on side projects (some open source, some just for myself). All I need now is a great idea for a killer app and then I would be set for life :) But I am content with the work I do and if something comes out of any of my projects, then that would be a bonus.

I believe success comes to those who strive to solve problems because they are interested in solving problems, not because of monetary benefit. I’m sure the Google guys actually wanted to make search better. The success came almost as an accident. Most of the guys I know who are thinking about getting MBAs don’t seem to be doing it because they are passionate about learning business. They simply want to get a bigger paycheck. For some reason I don’t know too many people who have made it really big with this philosophy. I am not stereotyping MBA’s here, I’m sure there are a few exceptions.

For those of you who want to hear more real life stories of techies who made it big, check out Steve Wozniak’s podcast on IT Conversations. It is truly inspiring.

Dana 25 Mar 05

An MBA’s not for everyone. For me it essentially doubled my salary — in a field outside of I-Banking and consulting.

I knew nothing about business before I got started, and there’s no way I could have gotten the same exposure with 2 years of work experience and “independent study” as I did from my MBA program.

Moreover, I probably wouldn’t have gotten jobs with Arthur Andersen and McKinsey Consulting without the MBA. Otherwise I’d be hacking up some ladder at FedEx.

Totally worth it for me. My BYU MBA was inexpensive — came out of school with no debt and lots of great contacts. But I know some people do just fine without it.

Ray McKenzie 28 Mar 05

Gene Landrum’s Profiles of Genius is a good read. “Thirteen Creative Men Who Changed the World”.

Paul 30 Mar 05

Taken from The Personal MBA, where the blogger has quit her job to spend 6 months doing the work required for an MBA:

Josh Kaufman, with inspiration from Seth Godin, has stated what I think most people have been thinking for some time.

“you can educate yourself effectively for less than a quarter of the time and money spent in most current MBA programs”

Well, I’m up for that. I had a quick scan up and down Josh’s reading list and I’ve heard of over half the sources mentioned so I feel the gentleman speaks sense. And so, I’m going to read them….

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