When Dan Keyserling graduated from the University of Virginia with an undergraduate degree in political and social thought, he never thought he’d be working in the technology industry.
“I definitely thought I was going to be working in either politics or journalism,” says Keyserling. “I worked for the [UVA] school newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, for most of my time there; then I worked in communications for Hillary Clinton’s first campaign, and briefly at the New York Times.”
Today, Keyserling is at Google, where he has been since 2009, doing foreign policy consultancy for a product called Jigsaw. After college, a friend working at Google had encouraged him to come to the company, and he landed an initial job as an assistant to a few engineering directors at what was then called Google Ideas. It wasn’t until 2015—when he was also running a small coffee shop business with a couple of college friends—that he finished his MBA at New York University’s Stern School of Business, as a part-time student.
“I don’t think I needed [an MBA]; I got one because I wanted to go to graduate school—I wanted to learn in a formal environment, and have a kind of structure around getting smarter,” he says.
Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple all scooping up MBAs
With ‘big tech’ firms like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple snapping up more and more MBAs, interest in the technology sector is high among would-be graduate students.
And MBAs naturally gravitate to the hubs, where these firms are located.
Stanford University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, still stands out as one of the most renowned program that feeds graduates into the sector. But other schools are also increasingly funneling graduates into Apple, Google, and other big tech firms. Of the full-time MBA class of 2016 at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, for instance, almost 39 percent of graduates went into the technology and telecom sectors. And it’s not just schools in California’s Bay Area: of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business’ class of 2016, Amazon picked up a whopping 34 MBAs. Likewise, of Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management’s class of 2016, Amazon snapped up 23 MBAs and Google grabbed 12.
Outside of the US, there is Berlin’s ESMT European School of Management and Technology, Imperial College Business School in London, China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, and ISB Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, India, among others.
And as the interest in tech burgeons, business schools are adding tech-specific curriculum to their curriculums.
Dan Poston, assistant dean of master’s programs at the Seattle-based Univeristy of Washington Foster School of Business, says that last year the full-time MBA placed upwards of 50 percent of their graduates in the technology sector—with this year’s figure likely being higher.
“Up until about four years ago, we were still sending full-time students to eleven, twelve industries; recently, that has bent more and more toward tech,” says Poston. “The sector is hiring like crazy and they’re paying more money than other sectors, so we see people who come back for an MBA—not intending to go into an MBA—changing their minds after they see those incentives.”
In response to the demand, Foster has added more classes to its curriculum over the years—for example service marketing, delivering software services, cloud, and data analytics—an increasingly popular class, Poston says. Foster also offers a Technology Management MBA designed for those who already have six to eight years of working experience in the sector.
“The most popular thing people come back to do an MBA for is to be a product manager,” Poston says. “That’s probably the most popular single job.”
Likewise, Berlin’s ESMT has significantly upped its number of classes on innovation, and reshaped the entrepreneurship classes in the last two to three years, according to Linus Dahlander, professor of innovation and entrepreneurship. The courses now allow students to work on projects for longer periods of time, and integrate professionals from outside the university to engage with students and speak about how the concepts taught in class actually play out in practice.
“That’s been a really good experience,” Dahlander says. “Of course we teach the theory, but you also need the practical side—to get your hands dirty and do the work.”
MBA jobs in the tech sector
For those looking to break into a large technology company, plenty are hiring. Poston says Foster graduates, being in Seattle, often place into regional giants like Microsoft and Amazon, which was the top recruiter of Foster graduates last year. Non-tech companies needing professionals for the technology side of their enterprises—insurance companies, for instance—are also hiring, as well as consulting firms.
“In our region, most are hiring like crazy,” says Poston. “As one of our recruiters said, tech is part of every enterprise now.”
ESMT, being more focused on entrepreneurship, sees many of its graduates going into the startup side of the industry, taking positions at early-stage growth companies or going on to launch their own.
Any advice for MBA grads looking to go into the sector?
Dahlander says that it pays to closely consider location. “Honestly the place matters a lot; if people are interested in this kind of area, it makes sense to go to one of the hubs. There is something to be said for being exposed to that kind of environment—you get a lot out of the class education, but if I were someone interested in the sector, I’d go to a city that’s known for its entrepreneurship.”
For Poston, it’s: do your research. “I think a lot of people say they want to work in tech, but don’t know what that means. Be informed—go talk to people working in the positions you’re interested in, ask them questions. ‘What do you do all day? Are you happy doing that? Do you like coding?’ Tech companies are moving at lightning speed; they’re not going to hold your hand through the learning process. They’re going to want you to be ready from day one.”
As for Keyserling, he never anticipated working at the most renowned tech giant in the world—which he says was perhaps all a part of how he ended up in his current role.
“Don’t let the perfect role be the enemy of a good role,” he says. “I said, ‘let me just get in the door of the coolest place in the world and see how I can be useful there.’ Once you get inside, you have a much better sense of what’s going on. You’re better equipped to make informed decisions about your career.”