Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Perspective or the MBA Progam one year in

On the shuttle over to UMB tonight I realized that it’s probably been about a year since I sent them my application. I am awfully glad I did (obviously). And I wonder why the Hell I didn’t get off my butt and do this three years ago. I mean, I know why I didn’t do it-it was going to be too hard, I couldn’t possibly be smart enough, and the biggest one-what if I failed or didn’t get in?

Well it certainly is hard. Even when it’s easy it’s hard. What does that mean? It means that there’s no getting by on Native Brilliance. Even if I know that I (or I and my team) can slam-dunk* something, there’s still prep work to be done. Even if I can see that this paper is going to write itself I’m not going to wait for the night before it’s due to start it (like I used to as an undergrad…)

I have certainly learned a few things in the past year (not all of which are on the curricula of the courses I’ve taken.) Things like-bring snacks, if something’s bothering you, you should probably bring it up, analyzing business cases is no different than analyzing literature, etc. My assumption going in-that I was getting a degree in Stuff I Already Knew-has proved mostly false. In general I am glad of that.

It’s true that the class I had looked forward to taking the most-IT Project Management-has not taught be to be a better project manager (all it has taught me a bunch of buzz words and acronyms) and that some of the things that they are teaching are, I feel, of questionable value (how many times to I have to hear about MBTI and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and are these things really going to make me a better manager?)

However, my Accounting class has taught me a decent amount, not just about accounting, but about business in general. It has taught me to reframe the things I already know. It provides a clear framework for making decisions. It’s an interesting class to take along with IT Project Management because they deal with some of the same concepts (particularly when talking about costs). Ironically, I was rather hoping that the Project Management Course would provide me with a better framework for making decisions, but all that course has done is muddy the waters (you can use these three complicated metrics to determine what the project will cost and if it’s on schedule BUT you’re still just guessing. Oh and IT Projects almost always run over budget.)

The thing that strikes me the most about the Accounting class is that the professor is always saying that Accounting doesn’t drive strategy-it supports it. This means that if the owners decide that they are going to finance a new initiative with magic beans and fairy dust accounting has to come up with a way to, well, account for all of that. I work in IT (theoretically anyways.) The same principle should apply there. IT doesn’t drive decisions-it just supports them. Somehow, that’s not how it works. Whether it’s because accountants are more meek than IT staff or because IT, unlike Accounting, involves real physical things as opposed to just numbers it seems to me that where I work and in the cases I read there is a feeling that IT is driving the bus. Furthermore, from my own experience I have to say that sometimes that’s true (and things would just be so much easier if they let us drive more often!) However, where I work often it’s Compliance that’s driving—so maybe accountants just rolled over when they should have been more aggressive (see also Enron.)

The thing is that while I miss having more free time to sleep in, eat things covered in hollandaise sauce, walk on the beach, see my friends etc. I don’t regret school-even when it makes me miserable and jumpy. It’s true that I wish that I’d done this three years ago. It’s also true that I can see why some of my friends might look down on an MBA. Taking Accounting and Finance classes is hard, and succeeding at passing them is satisfying, but it would be much more personally satisfying to take classes in writing or literature. There’s no getting around that. However, I picked a path and the Masters Degree on that path is an MBA. And the next time I hear someone sneer about how an MBA is not a "real" graduate degree I'll bring up Accounting.

*I’m afraid that Business School has probably not improved my metaphors

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