Do Tech Companies Need Harvard MBA Grads?

tech careers MBA

Once upon a time, veteran tech companies had mixed feelings about the MBA degree. After all, famous founders such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell achieved mind-boggling success without an advanced degree. But times have changed. Now, many students at elite MBA programs have their sights set on a tech career. Today, we’re doing a deep dive into the tech careers MBA applicants aspire to upon concluding their studies at top business schools.

We’ll cover:

  • How the MBA prepares students for careers in tech
  • Which tech companies make HBS students’ hearts beat a little faster
  • The tech careers MBA students hope to land
  • Is the MBA required for specific tech company roles?
  • The specific prerequisites that tech companies look for
  • Whether an MBA from HBS is a Golden Ticket to a dream tech career

To get the inside scoop, we’re tapping into the expertise of Tory, an HBS graduate and experienced tech industry enthusiast who now works on the Stacy Blackman Consulting (SBC) team. Tory is here to answer our burning questions about what tech industry recruiting looks like these days at the most sought-after MBA program, Harvard Business School (HBS).

She shares insider intel and addresses whether the Harvard, Stanford, Wharton degree affords better recruiting odds in these current times. Tory also walks us through her experience at HBS and cites her own tech recruiting knowledge to demystify the tech industry career path.

Back in the Day

“Historically, Silicon Valley tech companies and startups, especially those that house a lot of veteran tech workers, have valued the idea of learning by doing,” Tory explains. This self-efficacy is helpful in the ideation phase of a product or program as it encourages creativity, the ability to navigate ambiguity, and a love for the conceptual and development process of a concept.

Meanwhile, MBA programs had primarily attracted people in industries outside of technology, such as banking and consulting. In the early days, the programs lacked the knowledge and resources to prepare students for traditional tech roles. 

Nevertheless, there has been a shift, and now tech companies are big players in MBA recruiting.

“Enterprise product teams, such as Cloud computing and Ad programs, value an MBA for their foundational education to support product growth and market expansion. But they are also seen in the trenches of product development and implementation roles more than ever before.

“MBAs are no longer solely helpful for the go-to-market strategy when the concept and product are already established. They are now closely involved in the ideation and development of a product from the start. And MBAs, such as Wharton grad Sundar Pichai of Google, Fuqua grad Tim Cook of Apple, and HBS grad Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, are seemingly in more than ever tech leadership positions.” Tory says. 

MBA programs have prioritized more foundational education fundamentals of product development, encouraging students to roll up their sleeves in entrepreneurship programs and boot camps. They have experiential course projects with actual companies to learn classroom principles on the job.

Additionally, these programs have attracted technical individuals (both students and faculty) who are former employees of tech companies and startups, building a candidate with hands-on specialized experience and a holistic understanding of business practices. These individuals add to the mosaic of an MBA program where the campus community can educate each other.

If you’d like to learn more about how Tory and our SBC team can mentor you across your tech career path and help you to secure a top MBA admit, please request a free assessment here.

The Tech Careers MBA Aspirants Covet

Q: In what ways does HBS prepare its students for tech industry careers?

The key tech-industry success factors that HBS has over other MBA programs are its culture and location. There’s real value to being outside of Silicon Valley and among various industries.

Being out of Silicon Valley, I felt it was essential to fine-tune my understanding of frameworks and demographics outside of the product development cycle, such as a company’s financial health, investor and board relations, and operations. In Boston and HBS, we also avoid being part of a tech “scene” echo chamber as we are among various industries and experts who can offer diverse perspectives. 

HBS’s rigor creates engaged students who want to understand how tech works and push the boundaries of what’s technically possible. At HBS, analyzing and love for the process is the norm. In fact, that love for the process is a core component of being successful in tech.

Students go beyond the technical and learn essential principles related to product development for different areas of tech companies—things like market understanding, finance and accounting principles, and technical operations. Also, the abundance of fields at HBS allows for transferable best practices and new product ideas.

Plus, the professors at HBS are both informed and holistic leaders who research tech and write the cases that many other MBA programs purchase. They approach their teaching technical, operational, and financial perspective. This has helped me fine-tune skills that allow me to understand a tech company’s growth potential and the operational pitfalls to avoid. 

These are just a few of the many outstanding HBS faculty: 

  • Joseph Fuller is a leader in the Future of Work and runs a student and faculty-led cross-university faculty research initiative further exploring this topic.
  • Chet Huber teaches Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise, has a mechanical engineering background, and was the former President and CEO of OnStar at General Motors.
  • Allison Moonkin co-leads HBS Startup Bootcamp and is the CEO of Quick Base.
  • Jefferey Bussgang is a computer scientist and HBS alumn who teaches Entrepreneurship classes and is the Co-Founder and General Partner at Flybridge Capital (seed-stage VC out of Boston and NYC).

The resources of HBS, including iLab, Rock Center, and New Venture Competition, are laboratories for tech industry learning within the student class with notable alumni in tech who collaborate and mentor. Companies started by students while at HBS through these programs include Rent the Runway, Stitch Fix, and Cloud Flare.

A few years ago, HBS alumni had founded more startup unicorns in the Valley than any other MBA program. 

Q: Do HBS students covet specific companies for recruiting?

Absolutely. It was split between big tech and “hot,” often Harvard-related startups.

Google: Most everyone I knew, whether or not they had technical or tech experience, wanted to be a Product Manager at Google. It was one of the few companies on campus (and the only tech company I remember) that had an entire auditorium for their on-campus informational session due to the overwhelming interest.

Google is a very rewarding place to work. It requires someone who loves the process of building a product, collaborates well with others, and navigates ambiguity while wearing multiple hats. They want you to succeed and ensure you have the tools and self-sufficiency to do so. 

Facebook (namely working at Instagram and WhatsApp): This was largely for product management and business strategy and operations candidates. Facebook was one of the few companies that flew you out for interviews, had a short interview turnaround, and made you feel like an asset versus an outsider needing to prove themselves. Product areas such as WhatsApp and Instagram were especially popular. 

tech careers mba

Amazon: The dreaded and notorious aptitude test was the first step in applying for an internship. This requirement confused students who felt that standardized tests weren’t the best reflection of promise on the job. Some did not get a callback. A few students said that they had made innocent clerical mistakes on past answers and weren’t able to go back and edit any responses after moving to the next question.

Some MBA students experienced pitfalls during their internship since they were not used to self-driven work and navigating ambiguity to solve problems in a fast-paced technical environment. Amazon is an interesting duality. It is the most welcoming company to MBAs but also very demanding and rigorous in getting full-time offers. 

Microsoft: Microsoft was known as a very supportive place to work. It doesn’t have blatant “PM” titles, except for a few roles (usually from acquisitions). Instead, you’re a Program Manager for a product. This title change led to less interest from students despite it essentially being the same suite of responsibilities. One problem is that the title “program manager” represents a variety of roles beyond the traditional PM.

Other popular MBA recruiters include: Uber, Tesla, Disney Plus, Wayfair, Toast, Nvidia, Dell, Spotify, Rent the Runway, Peloton, and Netflix.

Plus These Startups:

  • Stitch Fix
  • Stripe
  • Bolt
  • Petal
  • Lime
  • Waymo (semi-startup. A company within Alphabet)
  • Newly-created Harvard startups from the Rock Center and iLab. Many students on leave from consulting firms who had a “free” summer to do anything took these positions.

Q: What tech industry roles are most sought after by HBS students?

  • Product Manager: It felt like everyone wanted to be a product manager, regardless of their background. However, as students progressed in the MBA program and learned more about the variety of roles within tech, they grew equally excited about other functions. 
  • Business Strategy and Operations
  • Business Development
  • Partnerships
  • Product Marketing Manager: Often, folks who didn’t get PM went here since it involves working closely with the product team on supporting their vision and growth and involves contacts with the product and engineering teams.

Q: Are there roles, functional areas, titles for which tech companies require new hires to hold an MBA?

Previously, the MBA had been more attractive in the eyes of hiring managers for non-technical roles that support product teams.  However, MBAs are now more involved in more technical and” close to the product” roles than ever before. 

Once upon a time, I would have recommended that the more traditional MBA student profiles who wanted to be PMs (coming from finance, VC, PE, Consulting, Marketing, Strategy, BD, and Operations) look for operations and enterprise-based product teams, since they focus on growth and market strategy more than more technical user-focused product teams do.

More technical roles, including engineering manager, technical program/project manager, and product manager, often value a technical degree and evaluate candidates based upon past work-related involvement and impact in teams and products.

But MBAs who want to work on very technical, compelling, new products at these companies (such as self-driving cars or machine learning improvements) also have an opportunity on said teams with non-technical product support roles. Some non-PM functions that provide product support include:

  • Marketing manager
  • Product marketing manager
  • Business development and operations
  • Strategy (including growth and go to market)
  • Staff in social impact arms of a tech company (such as Google.org)
  • Program manager
  • Supply chain manager (for hardware)
  • HR business partner
  • Chief of staff

However, this is also changing. We are seeing MBAs in leading product teams as a PM. I’m excited to see how this changes and to support MBA applicants’ and students’ aspirations in tech.

If you’d like to learn more about how Tory and our SBC team can mentor you across your tech career path and help you to secure a top MBA admit, please request a free assessment here.

Q: Do tech companies favor an elite MBA such as HBS? 

Historically, having an elite MBA title next to an applicant’s name put them at the top of the applicant pile. In the realm of MBA program internship and FTE hiring, there has been some bias towards the M3: HBS, Stanford GSB, and Wharton (with MIT and Berkeley being a close 4th and 5th).

Or, more broadly, a bias towards M7s or even M12s when evaluating candidates, especially for internship programs where you only compare MBAs against other MBAs. This is likely because an MBA degree was viewed as a generalist degree in tech hiring.

However, as programs adapt to the needs of being successful in a tech career, and as tech companies work hard to broaden their internship and MBA FTE admits to have a balanced community, this is definitely changing.

Many tech companies have worked hard to admit promising applicants from various programs. Many have prided themselves on hiring within the top 50-100 programs. This feels more aligned with the Silicon Valley ethos of finding driven people who love the process of building products versus valuing a name brand.

The positive aspect of this new hiring reality is that it can (or hopefully will) motivate applicants to do even more research and preparation for interviews and their internships and encourage them to love the process even more. And for M3-12 students, this means staying as motivated as you were in your pre-MBA career and application process and appreciating that process of proving yourself. 

That means not thinking any task is beneath you, being hesitant to offer suggestions on processes until you’ve mastered them and proven yourself/gained trust in your colleagues, and almost obsessively/passionately producing results in your projects. 

As for M3-12 schools, one existing advantage they still have is the alumni network and support, experienced breath of faculty and researchers on staff with tech experience, and the funding and knowledge to build support services and programs for MBAs aspiring for a tech career. 

tech careers MBA

Q: Are there any specific prerequisites that tech companies look for?

Extracurriculars can help applicants shine, so they should look for compelling projects that will enable them to gain transferable skills. At HBS, this entailed participating in a hackathon, the optional “road to PM” activities, and helping a startup in their free time. In addition, local startups and companies and student-created students look to the volunteer help of MBA students.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to listen to podcasts (like “How I Built This” and “This is Only a Test”); watch talks from conferences such as SIGGRAPH, GDC, Google i/O, and CES; read books like Marty Cagan’s  Inspired and Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things; and check out great programming help sites such as CodeAcademy, W3Schools, StackOverflow, GitHub, and Reddit forums. 

Q: How has HBS evolved to be relevant to tech industry trends in data analytics, artificial intelligence, AR, quantum computing, etc.?

The HBS program includes:

  1. Path to PM Courses 
  2. Bootcamps such as Startup Bootcamp 
  3. Clubs such as HBS Tech Club, which hosts an annual conference open to external guests and featuring many tech leaders  
  4. More analytic courses added to the curriculum. This includes a growth management course, where students are paired to help startups on a project. Then there’s the famous CS50 course, offered specifically for MBAs in the spring. 
  5. iLab, Rock Center for Entrepreneurship 
  6. Cross-registration at Harvard, Tufts, and MIT, where there are many STEM courses, ranging from computer science to design. 
  7. Technical talks with faculty, alumni, and guests

Q: How can MBA grads be valuable at tech companies relative to others who lack a business degree?

MBA grads offer strategic thinking and modeling for product-market fit research, building dashboards and identifying success metrics for products, and more. They offer a set of transferable skillsets for a plethora of product support roles mentioned above. Depending on the company and the candidate’s background, they offer a candidate who is well-rounded and able to dive into the technical but also the more traditional facets of running and scaling a business.

Q: What’s the next frontier in tech? 

We often hear now about the “MetaVerse,” a term popularized by Meta (formerly Facebook) that has various meanings. In a nutshell, it’s a concept of a connected community of users who can interact in more immersive ways in real-time, such as virtual, augmented, and mixed reality.

There have been several waves of AR VR product explorations, but there seems to be another influx of product pushes in this vertical for many companies. Many roles, ranging from Product Manager, business strategy, marketing, and operations, are hiring MBAs. 

Web3 is also becoming a popular concept, down to reimagining NFTs for crypto pay to play games. Even companies like Microsoft and Zygnya hire crypto and blockchain leadership roles, such as head of crypto development. Additionally, exploring the efficiencies of cloud computing and machine learning has resulted in various new productivity features for clients, with research and product teams hiring heavily. 

As MBA programs continue to modernize their education to include more technical and analytical foundations, accept a diverse range of candidates outside the traditional applicant profiles (including STEM majors or former tech employees), and push students to love the process of building things, the MBA will continue to become more relevant in tech. And it looks promising so far. 

If you’d like to learn more about how Tory and our SBC team can mentor you across your tech career path and help you to secure a top MBA admit, please request a free assessment here.

You can read additional insights here:

MBB Consulting: Salaries, Trends, and Myths
Is Finance a Good Career Path?
Career Recruiting by MBA Program
MBA Program Deadlines & Average Test Scores
What are the Top MBA Programs and Why?

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Stanford GSB and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Erin, who was Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Director of MBA Admissions at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.

Contact

(718) 306-6858
info@StacyBlackman.com

Latest Blog Post

B-Schooled Podcast Episode #137: Doubting Yourself? This Could Be a Good Thing (Part One)

Every thoughtful MBA applicant doubts themselves at some point during the MBA application journey. More critically, it is often the applicants who have the most to offer—the most unique experiences, the most diverse perspectives, ...