IT professional, Prateek Shukla, got into a top masters program in finance from Germany with a scholarship. He shares views on why it has become important for software engineers, programs and IT professionals in general to drop the IT engineer tag and explore second careers.
My colleague Ajay seems crippled with his decision for giving GMAT and applying to his dream B-school.
Ajay chose to do engineering in an auto-pilot mode because the people around him demanded the same. Subsequently, he got into IT, again in an auto-pilot. Eventually, once the auto-pilot inside Ajay malfunctioned because of slow growth as a developer and scanty bonuses, he started dreaming of a top B-school to get an MBA and change his life overnight.
‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ was played a million times and many inspirational books were read but then Ajay fell sick. He was affected by the same contagious rumour that an Engineer-IT tag is inauspicious for Business school applications.
The rumour is allegedly true to an extent that so many applicants from IT companies get scared of future investments just by looking at GMAT fees. Amidst all this chaos, the few who jump ladder are the ones who dared to introspect and ask themselves why.
Asking yourself ‘why’ is the best decision-making mental model. It forces you to question every aspect of your decision and weigh the reasons judicially with a cogent thought process.
Argument A: Looking at the recent trends in attrition among IT companies, there is more fear of layoffs than ever before. IT companies have finally realized that money needs to be spent on increasing Quality, not Quantity.
Argument B: For employees with less than 4 years of experience, one can assume that many end up in IT support projects which generally follow either ‘Time & Money’ model or ‘Fixed Billing’ model. These projects fulfil experience requirement for Service Industry, not Product, and thereby, make the employees less adaptable in changing dynamics of IT and vulnerable to the ‘Automation fear’.
But is it true? Why do you think the employees are less adaptable? Is it because of the models these IT service projects follow? I guess no. Whatever be the case, Individuals are responsible for their skill development.
Argument C: Analyzing recent trends –
(1) IT companies are focussing on their own product line: TCS has rolled out iON for national entrance exams, BANCS for the banking industry. Infosys already has Finacle which competes with BANCS in Banking and financial sector.
(2) IT companies are investing in Artificial Intelligence, Internet of things and CRM software and other developments. Therefore, a projected increase in demand is likely for the skilled workforce in Design, Product, and Pre-Sales.
(3) With the launch of SMART city projects and Gift City, IT sector will see a booming rise in entrepreneurial activity. New avenues for enhancing job portfolio will open especially in SMART infrastructure services, security programs and Internet Banking services.
Summarizing Arguments A, B, and C, we can concur that individual competencies have become an important parameter for IT companies to decide on which employee to keep and whom to hand over the pink-slip.
To think beyond Engineer-IT tag is to narrow down on individual competencies and then extend career trajectory by defining whether MBA/MS can really help in the process?
Analyze your current role/function. Jot down points regarding the technology you work in and answer questions such as Skills required? Competencies you already have? How have others excelled in this field? Will the technology go obsolete? How long will that take? Will my promotion really bring the increment I need? What exactly is my career trajectory? Think for the next 5-10 years.
Now start the thought flow:
Can an MBA help? If yes, why? Is your Post-MBA goal coherent with your current job role and skills? No, then are you aiming for a transition, say from Tech to Finance? If yes, what else is required in your resume? Maybe some project experience which uses heavy finance literature or specialist skillset in various financial concentrations.
Can a MS help? MS is a specialist skillset. You need to be sure whether your current skills may it be in Tech, Design, Finance or Business need an upgrade. If the upgrade can help you get the coveted position and payscale you aspire then MS is the right fit. The debate between MBA and MS is always about the Generalist vs Specialist skill, each with its own pros and cons.
Thinking Big, Maybe an MS – MBA combo? : For those who have a strong financial backup, a combination of MS and MBA can really propel you to the top of the corporate ladder.
For example: Having a core technical degree and experience will not help your case when you are rejected by Consulting or Financial service employers such as the Big 4. Consulting companies do give a look to Tech profile but it is important to prepare for the worst.
In such cases, if you have enough time to evolve in your career, pursuing masters in a specific field really enhances your profile. It makes you a specialist depending on your choice of field such as Business Analytics, Operations and Supply Chain, Finance, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Strategy and Leadership and so on. Had you got into a Business school for a PGP or MBA, you would still struggle to get the in-depth understanding of a subject unlike with Masters.
MBA or PGP courses have a general approach, and especially, the one-year courses such as in ISB require the students to already have, not necessarily though, some experience or skill in chosen concentrations. It is not for the benefit of the school but the student himself. That is business school wisdom for you.
Ajay, my colleague, chose to do Masters in Finance from Germany and spent his weekends learning German in his early days at his company. Masters in Germany is affordable because of multiple scholarships.
In few years, he plans to pursue either a Ph.D. or an MBA, depending on market demand since he has time and money by his side. Switching to Finance from tech consulting isn’t a wrong move especially if you can align it with requirements of financial technology companies. A Masters in Finance, thereby, not only enhances Ajay’s profile but also adds a specialist skillset with International exposure.
Subsequently, having set such a goal, he started to learn the German language, adding another feather to his cap. Interestingly, there is only one Masters of Finance course in India conducted by Jamnalal Bajaj Institute in Mumbai.
Global Consulting Practices: MBA also opens up to the possibility of joining your IT companies GCP- Global Consulting Practices. Generally, the GCP requires MBA from a top Business school (preferable) and good amount of work experience. It helps one to expedite growth in the same company.
At this juncture, the IT people need to thoroughly analyze their job and function. Understand your ‘criticality’ in your current role and what can supplement your competencies to fuel your growth in the company.
This is when you can think of various Certifications, live-project and hands-on experience. Can they help accelerate your growth? If the answer is yes, then you can delay investment in the MBA/MS courses.
For example: To be a Product Manager one can go either through the MBA/MS route or through certifications (such as PMP, MOOCs lectures) and professional experience. Especially for people in design with a focus on UI/UX skills, one can exploit the demand in startup world to gain the necessary experience. Fortunately, Kellogg Business School thinks design is an upcoming field and it has dedicated an entire curriculum to integrate Management courses with design – labelled as MMM course. Again, think finances!!
Certifications allow you to remain afloat and if you cannot go for higher degrees, then within your native country, certifications help add value supplemented with some live project experiences. Moreover, one can look out for Distance/Part-time MBA or Masters Courses as an alternative.
In-House leadership programs:
Many organizations such as Tata have in-house leadership programs. Tata has Tata Administrative services (TAS) that requires a GMAT score and atleast 2 years of experience. Leadership programs give an edge to your profile and catapult you to managerial roles. It will not be overlooked during B-school applications as well. Similar programs are run by Aditya Birla Group, Mahindra etc. Check with your HR if you have any in-house leadership program.
Out-of-the-Box career options for Engineer-IT tag:
(1) Technology: Internet of Things/Artificial Intelligence/CRM/Analytics:
(2) Design: UI/UX/Product Management Roles/Startups: Entrepreneurship and Innovation
(3) Law: Intellectual Property Rights/Patent
(4) Finance: Advisory/ Consulting/ Mergers & Acquisition in technology
Law, really? : Surprisingly, Law is open to engineers as well. An engineer can do law through the 3 year LLB route and pursue a career in the field of Intellectual Property right, become a patent lawyer or depending on the engineering major, choose any specific field in law. Having a law degree with engineering background also gives you the chance to become in-house counsel in top corporate houses in the technology sector as well as in VC firms and start-ups.
My friend Ajay thought of it as well. He said doing a Masters in Finance also gives him the chance to become a taxation lawyer if he pursues law after masters. How awesome is that?
An engineer planning to pursue a career in law can write entrance exams such as CET Law (Maharashtra), Delhi University law etc. Many top private colleges have 3 year LLB.
Interestingly, the importance of law has not been overlooked by top business schools. Kellogg, Stanford, and many Business schools have dual degrees to give an MBA-JD combo to their students. However, an Indian applicant must be cautious of the financial commitment and the career he or she wishes to pursue.
Studying law in USA may be beneficial there. However, the law of the land varies in different countries. India does accept a foreign Law degree but again it gets difficult to practice here if you have never even attended a law class in India. Have you seen Harish Salve argue in International Court of Justice? If you haven’t, do watch. The confidence and swag can incline you to love the beauty of law.
Stuck in IT even after pursuing engineering in Mechanical, Civil, BioTech, Nuclear or Chemical (fields not related to computer or software)?
Having such non-aligned profiles does make us think twice about our career trajectory. However, it isn’t a wrong career move. IT companies require people from such engineering backgrounds as well. Eg: IT companies now support automobile subsidiaries and therefore, require Mechanical and Automobile engineers to carry out testing for the cars and in-built smart technology.
Yet if you are not satisfied, then maybe the thought flow below can help:
(1) Can I pursue Masters to supplement my bachelor’s degree?
– Specialist skillset with International exposure can be beneficial here.
(2) If Tech interests me, Can I pursue Certifications in current technology?
– Certifications in Analytics, IoT, Computer languages don’t actually require a four-year degree.
(3) If neither, Should I pursue MBA for switching fields/role/function?
– Tough one to justify. However, it can help switch to a suitable and more satisfying role of choice. Need to do a thorough homework before getting into the B-school route.
Answer such questions and you will have some plan in mind for your career.
In summary, an Engineer-IT tag opens up many alternatives for programmers, developers, project managers looking at an alternative career. MBA or MS is not the only way to go. If you are constrained financially or personally, then there are various ways you can evolve in your career and accelerate growth.
– Prateek Shukla