If you have been scouring the net for international MBA related information, you’d know that a huge number of applicants from India have B.E, B.Tech, M.Tech degrees and several years of work experience after completing their engineering course (Read MBA in Canada after Mechanical Engineering). You don’t see a similar trend in other professions such as medicine, law, finance / chartered accountancy, entrepreneurship. Why is an MBA after engineering such a popular option for Indian professionals?
Engineers most likely to pursue an MBA
Let’s broaden the definition of what kind of engineers we are talking about here.
Category 1: Computer engineering graduates who work in the IT industry (primarily software development & testing roles)
Category 2: Engineering graduates with a non-IT specialisation (e.g. mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, mining engineering graduates).
Category 3: Non IT Engineers in non-IT roles e.g. mechanical engineers working in a production planning role, electrical engineering students who get into the energy sector, power generation / distribution / transmission jobs
Category 4: Engineers who are already in business oriented roles (like marketing and sales, finance etc).
Of course, you could mix and match these in many more ways, but for the sake of simplicity let’s take these 4 types of engineers.
The fact that the software industry takes up 2 out of 4 slots here, gets reflected in the actual MBA applications as well. Adcoms get overwhelmed (and confused) by the number of almost similar looking profiles they get each year.
Why MBA after engineering
The rationale for category 1 is relatively straight-forward. Why do software professionals go for an MBA after engineering? Ironically, it links back to the underlying reason that gets MBA Admission committees flummoxed.
Despite being ahead of the pack in their academic life, most software professional lose their identities in the ocean of faceless people just like them. Read this related post on Life after IIM / IIT.
The mid-life career crisis starts its onset earlier in the career. As opposed to the earlier generation of professionals who’d start hitting the glass wall after 15-20 years of working, for the current generation, the career cycles are shorter and more frequent.
Within 3-4 years, all the excitement of joining a new company at a higher salary dies down.
For category 2, things aren’t very different. If you thought, they are emotionally scarred for having to work in an industry that they were never trained for by their engineering college, you’d be mistaken.
For mechanical, electrical and mechatronics (yup, we got one from that stream too) engineers who have already transitioned outside their academic specialisation, very few express a desire to get back to their original domains.
But they suffer the same another-brick-in-the-wall syndrome like their peers who have relevant qualifications in computers and software.
An MBA seems like a good way to break away from the clutter and add a recognisable face back. Add to this the fact that the only way for IT engineers to rise through the ranks in the software industry is to take on managerial responsibility in the same field (as opposed to a diagonal or horizontal shift into unrelated areas).
So a few become team leads, project managers and start dabbling in new areas like recruitment, business development, budgeting.
The naturally gifted (and politically savvy) ones manage it well. For the others, an international MBA could get give their career vehicle the little nudge that it needs to start the growth phase again.
For categories 3 and 4, the problem of market saturation and oversupply of similar skills is there. But a bigger challenge is to deal with slower moving career paths. As opposed to software engineers who can expect to become manager in 4-5 years, the path to managerial roles in other industries is painfully slow.
For a category 4 professional who’s done well in the sales role and generated millions in revenue for his employers, there’s less of an incentive for the management to rock the boat and move him into a new role where his skills have been untested.
Ditto for category 3 folks in technical (and not business roles). A production engineer may spend many years in an operational role in companies that still believe in the traditional tenure based approach to promotions. No matter how much potential they have, there’s a long queue of seniors waiting in line for salvation.
Career growth issues for Engineers
The annual appraisals in the office appear to be more of a formality (in some cases, bordering on being a complete farce) to retain the employee rather than being really concerned about how he can develop and grow.
Which is probably why the Career Mock Appraisal Process that we launched purely as an experiment has generated so much interest (we had to turn down / defer most of them as our primary focus has been on MBA applications).
Focussing on the candidate’s interest (& not the employer’s) seems to be an alien concept for most companies.
Hoping that the company will one day realise the employee’s tremendous potential and reward him with all the goodies he deserves could be a naive expectation. Fast-tracking their career needs more than just patience and good work.
This realisation is the wake up call for many engineers that prompts them to consider an MBA.
Whatever your reasons might be, do be aware of the pitfalls of taking up the MBA route. Bschools, just like companies, have their idiosyncrasies. If you’ve read Beyond the MBA Hype, you already know what these are.
Are you an engineer? Which category (from the list above) do you fall in? Why and how do you think an MBA after engineering will help?
Also read, Top MBA with an average engineering degree?