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Pros And Cons Of MBA And Business Training For IT Pros

Pros And Cons Of MBA And Business Training For IT Pros
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IT professionals interested in the management track should consider some form of business training, certification or education, like the popular MBA, to further their goals. Here are the pros and cons of each.

For certain IT pros, leapfrogging into the management game is absolutely the right move for career advancement, income enhancement and a boost to job satisfaction. For others, it may seem like a good idea but turn out to be a less-than-perfect fit. Let's explore what kinds of things those who decide to take the management track can do to get going or speed up their trajectories.

When it comes to planning out a long-term career in IT, it's easy to divide up those who work in the area onto two basic tracks. First, there's the technical track, which is a perfect fit for most people who work in IT because it plays to the focus of the field—namely, technology and technical skills. Second, there's the management track, which moves IT pros with the right skills and interests away from hands-on involvement with technology toward management in information technology and of those people who work directly with the tools, platforms and technologies that define IT and justify its existence.

The furthering of one's management skills and knowledge can come in many forms. Beyond the most obvious and readily available—namely, on-the-job exposure and experience—there are a variety of ways to pursue and develop management skills. We'll tackle these in no particular order, and let their pros and cons speak for themselves.

The Master's Of Business Administration (MBA)

An MBA has become something of a checkbox item for those whose aspirations extend outside IT at some point, perhaps aiming at an Executive VP or "C-Level" position, such as CIO, CTO, CSO and so forth (all of which combine a technical/technology component with a management component). An MBA can take 18 to 36 months (or longer, for part-timers or stop-n-go pursuit) to complete, can cost over $100,000 to earn and involves significant time and effort to pursue with diligence and success.

PROs: 

  • Well-recognized and highly regarded management credential
  • Teaches useful business and analytic skills
  • Provides strong demonstration of interest and ability
  • Often leads to substantial increases in job responsibilities and pay

CONs:

  • Expensive and time-consuming
  • Can require suspension of earning and work during pursuit
  • May require relocation to attend classes
  • There's excessive attention paid to where one goes to business school with a relatively small number of top-caliber slots competed for by a large number of aspiring managers

For those deeply interested in management, an MBA is worth pondering carefully, particularly for those preparing to transition from early to mid-career status in IT (which usually occurs 5 to 10 years after entering the workforce). For those planning to get on the management track, and make it the focus for the rest of their careers, it's something of a must-have credential. Those interested in highly technical areas of business management with an IT flavor—specifically, security management, risk management, IT governance, IT policies and procedures—the right kind of MBA can provide an entry point into those disciplines. Thus, it may also make sense for those making the mid- to apex- or late-career transition as well.

MORE: How To Become A CIO Or CTO
MORE: How To Obtain An MBA Without A Bachelor's Degree

Project And Program Management Certification

Those interested in the nuts and bolts of day-to-day project and program management can pursue project and program management credentials to get a feel for what's involved in this kind of work, along with a significant career boost. The Project Management Institute's Project Management Professional, or PMP, certification consistently ranks at or near the top of high-paying certifications of interest to IT professionals. 

PROs:

  • Highly regarded class of credentials with excellent prospects for promotion and raises
  • High demand for qualified project and program managers
  • Interesting and engaging subject matter
  • Excellent opportunity to learn more about group dynamics, interpersonal communication and organizational skills and knowledge

CONs:

  • Atrongly oriented toward development projects so some effort is required to recast for other kinds of IT projects
  • Involves moderate expenditures of time, effort, and expense to obtain
  • Ongoing commitment to continuing education and certification maintenance
  • Fair amount of paperwork involved

MORE: Best Project Management Certifications
MORE: 
PMI Certification Guide: Overview & Career Paths

Quasi-Management IT Discipline Certifications

Several items fall under this heading, including IT governance and enterprise architect certifications. Likewise, pinnacle certs for many more technical disciplines often start shading into architect or policy/governance dimensions (such as the Cisco Certified Architect, or CCAr), because they recognize that understanding and demonstrating business value is essential to justifying investment in information technology of all kinds. This area is ideal for those in the mid-to-late career transition (15 to 20 years in) seeking to occupy senior roles in IT that often come with management responsibilities as well as technical involvement.

The pros and cons for these kinds of credentials are similar enough to those listed for the preceding section on project and program management that I won't recite them in detail here. All of these certs bring significant job and pay enhancement opportunities in their wake (most are in the top 25 in multiple rankings based on pay or demand), and any or all of them reflect fruitful and valuable ways to expend time, effort and money in improving one's marketability and (quasi-)management cachet.

MORE: Best Enterprise Architect Certifications 
MORE: Best IT Governance Certifications
 

American Management Association Seminars And More

The American Management Association (AMA) has been around since 1913 offering management training and career development information for interested business professionals for over a century now. The range of offerings from this group is wide and varied and its focus is on management education, recognized by the State of New York as an accredited institution of higher learning.

AMA seminars cover a fairly complete business curriculum and beyond, including Analytical Skills, Business Analysis and Quality, Business Enhancement Skills, Business Writing, Communications Skills, Customer Service, Finance and Accounting, HR Management, IT Management, Interpersonal Skills, ITIL, Management and Supervisory Skills, Presentation Skills, Project Management and much more. Courses are interesting, reasonably priced and widely available in classroom and live online versions.

PROs:

  • Affordable
  • Great selection of topics
  • Highly regarded organization
  • Learn (and pay) as you go model for training and development
  • Indicates management interest, motivation and learning
  • Terrific offerings for IT professionals in the IT Management category, including Effective Technical Writing, Communications and Interpersonal Skills, and Information Technology Project Management

CONs:

  • Requires some care in selecting and documenting seminars taken, plus skills and knowledge acquired thereby
  • Short of meeting degree plan requirements
  • Not the same as acquiring a business degree (bachelor's or masters)
  • Requires some degree of dedication, interest and application to complete

Is On-The-Job Experience Not The Same As Formal Training?

While experience is indeed an important teacher of management skills, it may not be enough by itself to demonstrate competency when it comes to management. Companies and organizations that train new managers, or that offer access to AMA curriculum (as many do), will often produce better managers through the school of hard knocks than do "sink or swim" organizations.

If you work for one of the latter and start dipping your toes into management waters, you may want to pursue other options mentioned here—especially the AMA items—to help you learn what you're supposed to be doing while you keep on doing whatever it is that gets the job done!

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