Thoughts on MBAs in the Tech World

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007 @ 5:37 pm | Business, My World

Fake Steve Jobs:

If you wonder why Microsoft can’t seem to get out of its own way these days, read this terrifying first-person essay by an MBA who now works at Microsoft, in which he admits he’s a “non-techie” and describes his goal as “unlocking value” from software, which he compares to chocolate chip cookies and running shoes. Now look. I love MBAs as much as the next guy. Actually I don’t. But whatever. The fact is, Microsoft was better off when its staff looked like this.

…and thus, Fake Steve Jobs points out the new Exhibit A as to why MBAs are often loathed in the tech industry.

Not that I’m saying he’s wrong, mind you. The MBA folks I’ve met who are interested in the tech sector tend to fit into two groups — those that think feature checklists are the be-all and end-all and those that think you need to truly understand what the customers want. Furthermore, party membership doesn’t seem particularly driven by level of technical skill. Some tech-savvy MBAs want solutions with every bell and whistle while others believe that their level of tech-savviness takes them outside of the main market segment.

I had a really good illustration of this fact during the last course in my MBA program, Technology Commercialization. It was a 4 day class where we crammed a lot of topics into a very short period of time. By the end of the course, you had a pretty good idea of where people would fall on various issues. Two of the most telling topics were a discussion of Apple’s success with the iPod and a proposal of an innovative new product. During the iPod discussion, there were a few people who were hung up on the fact that the iPod didn’t do everything that competing players offered and that the lack of feature X was a deal-breaker for them. I stopped just short of pulling out one of my favorite rebuttals from when I was at RPI: “But you’re not normal!” While we never reached any consensus in the Apple debate, a handful of folks in the class continued to push the fact that the market for the iPod is not the same as the traditional market for computers.

During the new product proposal phase, though, there was no such hope. The feature checklist mavens got rolling and there was no hope of pushing the discussion towards anything that seemed remotely possible of achieving mass market success. If this thing ever came to market, I think it might be outsold by the Palm Folio.

So, this is the environment I’m facing now that I’m trying to get back into the work force. Furthermore, I’m trying to get into the specific market segments where MBAs often have a bad name. And now, I’ve got Scott from Kellogg making MBAs in the tech world look like idiots, which I’m sure will help matters. Thanks, Scott!

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