As I’m finishing up my master’s program at Columbia, it’s time to reflect back on my experiences of the past two years. I wrote up an email to Frank Giardini from the comments on yesterday’s post, who asked about comparing the program to getting an MBA, and realized I might as well post my thoughts in public.
I have not pursued an MBA myself, so my perspective is admittedly biased. I’m also biased by the book Managers not MBAs, which points out how artificial the skills learned in an MBA program are when compared to the skills needed to be a manager. That being said, let me extol the benefits of the Technology Management program.
The Technology Management program has a very specific goal – it is designed to give experienced technologists the business tools they need in order to take their technology domain expertise and become successful technology executives. So we took classes in corporate finance, innovation, technology and the law, operations, knowledge management, marketing, etc. These are all standard classes that might be taken in an MBA program, but each class is taught with a technology focus so the examples and the assignments involve challenges relating the subject to a technology organization.
It’s designed for experienced professionals – most students in the program have 8-15 years experience, so the class discussions are grounded in that experience. Instead of theoretical musings, most discussions come back to “When I was in that situation, this is what I did”, which is far more useful in my opinion. For instance, in the innovation class, when we were discussing the phase-gate method of
managing innovation, I was able to offer my perceptions from having gone through a project run with that method.
The other students are definitely a highlight of the program. I have really enjoyed working with and learning from my classmates over the past two years. I also look forward to continuing to benefit from their knowledge and expertise in the future, as we plan to stay in contact via our Google Group and other social networking tools like LinkedIn.
The centerpiece class of the program, in my opinion, is Alan Morley’s class, “Behavioral Challenges in Technology Management”, or Becoming a CIO, as I like to call it. The class covers the financial and strategic tools necessary to become an effective executive and teaches how to synthesize those tools into a coherent plan. See my linked post for more details.
The master’s project itself is developing a business plan and pitch for a technology venture. Some people do an internal project at their company, while others pursue an idea for a startup. At the end of each term, each student has to present their master’s project to a panel of three mentors. They have ten minutes to give their project pitch with another ten minutes to take questions, and they are graded on whether the panel would fund the project based on that presentation. It’s a terrifying but educational experience, as these presentations (whether to boards of directors or venture/angel boards) are what executives face when getting projects funded.
The program also finds each student an industry mentor as a guide, somebody who offers feedback on the project from the perspective of somebody who is already a successful executive. My mentor was Jon Williams, who was CTO of Kaplan Test, and is now the CTO of iVillage. Other mentors are similarly distinguished, generally CIOs and CTOs from different industries in New York. I am extremely fortunate to have worked with Jon over the past two years, as he has been unstinting in sharing his advice and knowledge with me.
I highly recommend the Technology Management program, and think I learned more from it than I would have from an equivalent MBA program. It’s not right for everybody as it definitely has a technology focus, and may be a little light on general management techniques. But it succeeded in giving me new perspectives and new ways of looking at the world, which can only help me as I continue to move up in the management hierarchy.