Monday, September 9, 2013

Business Leaders Can Learn to Code

MBA's can code it just isn't pretty.
The Harvard Business Review is always a great source of inspiration.  As a young entrepreneur, it is always nice to get wisdom from the combined academic and business community.  This week they even offered up a little bit of humor as they discussed the efforts of the MBA program to teach its students to write software.  This week, I have some thoughts about managers who try to understand technology.

Prior to entering the world of technology and seven years after earning my undergraduate degree, I decided that I wanted to earn an MBA.  I hoped it would help me advance my career and develop some financial security.  Thus began a thirteen year odyssey of fits, spurts, layoffs and late checks which culminated in me receiving my MBA.  Instead of a mortarboard during commencement I wore a Kofi hat signifying my twenty years of tribal experience as a business person.

During those thirteen years I switched careers and became a technical professional.  As I became more involved in technology, I discovered that many people who ran technology departments had no idea about what they were managing.  They people knew sales, marketing and some of them understood the company financials but rarely did they know the difference between UNIX, Linux, and Windows systems.  What made this more maddening is that they made decisions about these systems.  This gave me further incentive to get my MBA because I felt there had to be a need for business leaders who understood technology.  It is nice to see the rest of the business world is catching up with me.

The current concern about STEM careers and American’s global competitiveness has further accelerated the need for business leaders to understand code.  This is why I like the Harvard Business Review article.  They interviewed eighteen alumni of the the Harvard Business School and asked them if the CS50 class which is titled Introduction to Computer Science was worth the effort.  A whopping 83% said it was.  The class has gotten fairly popular because over the last six years over seven hundred students have taken the course.

I think the best insight that these future masters of the Universe learned is that coding is hard.  The class required two to three more work that a typical MBA elective.  Learning to write code and solve business problems requires plenty of smarts and hard work.  It is also very humbling as you make plenty of mistakes and confront long nights with little sleep and even less productivity.  Many of these students found their way into technology start-ups or IT departments.  I think this is a positive step.  Now, the MBA in the corner office will not think they are responsible for a bunch of magicians on the development staff.

It is also why I founded E3 systems.  I became tired being told by my manager to, “…just figure it out.”  I wanted a company where the boss would pitch in to help solve problems.  I also wanted a company which would help other small and medium sized businesses fix their problems.

Getting my MBA was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.  I say the same thing about learning to code.  Being an Entrepreneur, MBA, and a software developer is not what I envisioned when I graduated from college all those years ago but since Terri Hemmert is still doing mid-day at WXRT and Steve Stone is still broadcasting White Sox games, I can’t think of a better way to spend my life’s work.

Until next time.