Want to get ahead in the tech world? Give these 4 executive MBA programs a look

BY Rich GrisetSeptember 28, 2021, 02:00 am

Elon Musk made waves in December 2020 when he criticized what he called “the MBA-ization of America,” saying that hiring people with the degree clouds a company’s ability to think outside the box and meet its customers’ needs. Business school leaders immediately fought back; needless to say, whatever the Tesla Inc. and SpaceX CEO may think, he and other entrepreneurs in the tech industry heavily rely on MBA grads. 

An MBA is a great way to learn more about business, expand your network, and ascend the corporate ladder—all of which holds true for professionals in the technology industry. If you’ve been in the workforce 12 to 20 years and aspire to climb the ranks at a tech company, you may be contemplating an executive MBA degree. Several top-ranked EMBA programs offer curriculum and experiences tailored to the tech field, and many have networking opportunities and partnerships with tech companies and entrepreneurs.

But which programs do this best?

To find out, Fortune spoke to business school officials across the nation to find some of the top EMBA programs that cater to aspiring tech executives. Here’s what we found.

University of California at Berkeley, Haas School of Business

When it comes to networking in the tech field, the EMBA program at University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has a lot to offer.

A recent EMBA cohort included students employed by SpaceX, Google, and Facebook, as well as a TOPGUN flight instructor and a member of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron, according to Hoyt Ng, Berkeley’s senior director of MBA programs. Roughly 15% to 18% of the school’s EMBA students come from the tech field; after graduating, about 25% end up working in tech, often going to companies that include Facebook, Apple, and Google, Ng adds. 

The school’s location in Silicon Valley is a boon for students because of the alumni network, according to Ng.

“We have a really extensive network in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, all along the West Coast,” says Ng, adding that EMBA students at Berkeley bond with each other. “It expands your network. Not only are you learning the skills to manage and lead in the tech world, but you’re also building these great relationships.”

Berkeley’s 22-month EMBA program also offers field immersions that cater to the tech realm. These immersions include a focus on entrepreneurship and innovation in Silicon Valley, along with applied innovation in San Francisco. During Silicon Valley immersion, students learn the demands, benefits, and risks of working for—or launching—a startup and engage in frank conversations with founders and C-suite executives through the immersion. During the hands-on experience in the San Francisco immersion, students work to solve complex business problems with design firms and leaders from corporate innovation labs.

Cornell University, Johnson College of Business

Cornell University’s Johnson College of Business offers three EMBA programs: a Metro NY program, an Americas program, and a dual degree of an EMBA and master’s of science in healthcare leadership. The programs range from 17 to 22 months in length. 

All three offerings cater to the tech industry in different ways, says Mark W. Nelson, dean and professor of accounting at Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. Both the Metro and Healthcare Leadership EMBAs are based at the Cornell Tech campus, which was designed to tackle the digital economy and aims to fuse technology and business with creative thinking.

“They’re on a campus that has both MBA students [and] tech-based master’s students housed there,” Nelson says. “In terms of networking opportunities, there are plenty.”

The innovation and new venture creation program of Cornell’s Metro NY EMBA would be perfect for an aspiring tech leader.

“That would be a classic one for someone who’s interested in tech to double down on that focus,” Nelson says, adding that the program’s course on leading digital transformation and innovation would also be beneficial. “The idea is that every business is a tech business. Every business is having to make sure that it’s well prepared for the digital economy, well prepared to thrive.”

In the schools’ Americas program—which takes place remotely and in boardrooms throughout the Americas and is jointly offered with Queens University—students benefit from the diversity of their cohort and learn about the tech industry from classmates during discussions and team projects. 

The EMBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program is jointly offered with Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, and is located in the Cornell Tech campus’ Tata Innovation Center. There, students have the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship in the healthcare space as well as the application of digital health technologies. The program’s curriculum offers students the opportunity to explore elective courses that include design thinking in healthcare and digital innovations in healthcare. 

About 15% of Cornell EMBA graduates across programs end up working in the tech industry. Many additional EMBAs work in a technology function across industries including finance, consulting, and healthcare. During and following the EMBA program, top tech employers that recruit Cornell grads include Amazon and Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, and Microsoft.

Georgia Tech, Scheller College of Business

Georgia Tech’s 17-month EMBA program offers two specializations: a Global Business track and a Management of Technology track. 

Trent Thurman, associate dean of executive education for Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, says part of the school’s draw for tech-focused students is its connection to the Technology Square neighborhood of Atlanta. As he notes, the surrounding area has more than 100 startups, 25 innovation centers, and seven venture funds. “Having access and being in close proximity to all of those is a significant draw,” he adds.

In addition to a curriculum that includes processes of technological innovation, and technology forecasting and analysis of emerging technologies, Management of Technology students also undergo a capstone that includes courses focused on a new product or service launch. In a team environment, the students will choose an emerging technology, then undergo the process of market validation, financial analysis and build marketing and business plans, and a go-to market strategy.

Management of Technology students are required to undertake a two-week international residency—to Dubai, this year—and have the option of taking a Silicon Valley trip, learning from startups and other tech companies that have included Google, eBay, Sysco, and AT&T in the past. In the future, Thurman says this trip will expand to other tech hubs, such as Austin and Boston.

Presently, Thurman says Georgia Tech is reviewing its curriculum to expand its focus on current tech trends and build digital fluency. “Technology is in our name, and is certainly in our core,” he says.

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business offers EMBAs in two, 21-month formats: a weekly program that primarily caters to students in the Puget Sound area and a monthly program that caters to people who either travel often for work or live outside the area.

Across the two formats, Foster has between 130 to 150 students at any given time. And the EMBA programs attract students from a wide variety of backgrounds, according to Louise A. Kapustka, the executive director of Foster’s executive MBA program.

“That gives you the perspective not only of your own industry, but different companies, different size companies, even not-for-profits,” she says. “That gives you a broader view of what’s happening in business.”

Kaputska says her EMBA programs don’t offer electives: “Our view is we’ve got it about right.”

More than 25% of Foster EMBA students are mid- and senior-level managers in the technology industry. In addition to its foundational business curriculum, Foster courses explore technology trends and impacts on the future of employment and leadership.

Kaputska says Foster has relationships with the local business community and that many local entrepreneurs enjoy mentoring students. Frequently, faculty members and guest speakers are C-level professionals who have focused on technology in their careers. Businesses that Foster has relationships with include Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Intel. The EMBA program also includes a capstone where students create their own business on paper; some students choose to bring that plan to life after they graduate.

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.


Simonne Stigall

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