From B-School to Tech: Two Graduate Success Stories

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Wednesday, May 8, 2024
By Nick Harland
Photo by iStock/valentinrussanov
Tech has joined consulting and finance as one of the go-to industries for business school graduates. Here are the stories of students who transitioned to tech.
  • Business school graduates hoping to break into the tech industry need to be aware of the cultural differences between the two worlds.
  • The question of when you try to pivot into tech matters. Early-career graduates benefit from being more malleable in the eyes of employers, while a late-career shift requires more clearly defined career objectives.
  • If you want to break into tech after business school, the work needs to start early. Growing your network, mastering basic tech skills, and finding a hands-on program are all important considerations.

Consulting, banking, finance. These are all industries that immediately come to mind when you think of the areas that business school students traditionally move into. But over the last decade or so, those standard career paths have begun to change. As the tech industry has boomed, so too have career opportunities for the best and brightest business school graduates.

Yet the worlds of business and tech are very different, and a business degree doesn’t guarantee a successful career in tech. To understand how to bridge that divide, we spoke to two business school students who moved into tech after graduating.

A Tale of Two Cultures: Business and Tech

From 2016 to 2024, tech has grown in popularity as a destination for business school graduates. But that has caused somewhat of a cultural clash between the two areas.

“That's what the MBA provided: a space where one can develop technical skills, but also the ability and art of communicating with other folks.” —Albert Fattal

“Technology is an interesting culture,” says Albert Fattal, a graduate of the MBA program at California State Polytechnic University Pomona (CalPoly). “It’s a culture which has a historical record of being a bit introverted. As a human being, communication is an incredibly important trait that I suspect many people in technology…can have a tendency of resisting against.”

To counteract this trait, Fattal used his MBA to meet that skills gap in the tech industry. “That's what the MBA provided: a space where one can develop technical skills, but also the ability and art of communicating with other folks.”

Yet the tech culture isn’t just more introverted. Matt DeAmon is a graduate of the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. During a mid-degree internship with a tech giant, he noticed the differences in working practices between business and tech.

“When I was with Amazon, everything happened at breakneck speed,” he recalls. “Requirements are constantly changing and you are at the cutting-edge [of the industry].”

These cultural differences mean that it’s not enough for business school graduates to have business knowledge and interpersonal skills. To succeed in tech, they must also be able to adapt to an entirely new working culture.

Pivoting to Tech: Early Career Versus Late Career

While business schools are increasingly incorporating more and more tech skills into their MBA programs—some even have specialized Tech MBA programs—deep knowledge of the tech industry still often comes from outside the MBA. If you want to break into tech, you still need to work on developing the core skills you’ll need to succeed in the industry.

After graduating from Bowling Green State University, DeAmon moved into an entry-level role at CVS Health. He joined the organization’s IT Leadership Development Program, a two-year program where graduates take on four separate roles across the company, each for six months. He currently works as an AI engineer. DeAmon believes the fact he’s still at an early stage in his career made him more “malleable”—and therefore valuable—in the eyes of his employer.

“For early career grads, the expectation of an MBA isn't necessarily there yet,” he says. “So you can take advantage of that. An employer should say: ‘You've studied what you did in school, and you got a general understanding of what we’re looking for, now let’s teach what you need for us to be successful.’ CVS takes that chance, and it pays off.”

If you want to break into tech, you still need to work on developing the core skills you’ll need to succeed in the industry.

Fattal’s transition into tech was a little different. By the time he went to business school, he was already a mid-career professional. He had more clearly defined career objectives and a good idea of what he wanted to do after his MBA. He used the program as a way of achieving those goals.

“It wasn’t that I was looking for a school that could mold my professional career,” he says. “I very much had specific goals and I felt as though I had a very good understanding of likely what I wanted to achieve.”

Fattal already had his eyes on a career in tech before his MBA—and the program helped him achieve it. He’s now working at the Federal Reserve Bank on data aggregation and automation and supporting the missions and goals of the Fed on an infrastructure level. “There must be a technological ‘do-er’ for all of the Fed’s processes to happen. That’s my role,” he explains.

How to Develop a Career in Tech

Learn the Foundational Tech Skills Early

Although DeAmon developed his tech competencies during his graduate program, he was only able to do that because he had something to build on. He learned the basics of tech early in his college career, and it gave him the platform he needed to work in tech after graduating.

“We did fundamental courses to understand the basics of programming languages, but then in the second half of college I moved to specialization courses which were all in Python. That was the most important skill I picked up at college,” he says.

Start Growing Your Network Now

If you want to break into tech, it helps to know people in tech. That seems fairly obvious to say, but maybe a little harder to do in practice. But according to DeAmon, you don’t necessarily need to know hiring managers or executives. For him, connecting with people who had been through the recruitment process at tech companies was just as valuable.

“By having connections [at Amazon], they made me aware of which skills I should work on during college, how to approach internship providers, how to prepare my resume, how to sell my skills, and generally what I needed to work on,” he explains. DeAmon used that insider knowledge to secure an internship at Amazon, which was instrumental in his professional growth.

Make Use of Internships

With such a cultural disparity between the worlds of business and tech, an internship is a way of bridging that divide. It can give you a little more insight into tech culture and let you know whether it’s right for you. Fattal’s mid-degree internship ended up leading directly to his new career.

“Internships are important, I would imagine, for many folks,” he says. “I did pursue an internship which led to my career at the Federal Reserve. I initially started as a graduate intern in one of their programs. I loved the culture so much that I knew this was the direction I wanted to pursue.”

Look for a Hands-On Program

When you’re considering a career change, getting some practical experience in that new area is more important than ever. Fattal says his time at business school gave him skills he still uses in his career today.

“CalPoly’s ‘Learn By Doing’ philosophy enabled a very unique advantage for folks pursuing these types of studies in a polytechnic university, which is getting your hands dirty with the real tools that are actually used [in the workplace],” he explains. “Not theoretically working on projects, but utilizing real-world outcomes.”

“In my case I pursued the route of economic analysis and technology analysis for securities. So we ended up using tools that would very much be used in the real world. All of this really came together to build a foundation of what my role right now at the Fed was likely looking for.”

Now, Fattal is relishing the opportunity to make an impact in the world of tech. “It’s up to me to build these technologies to support the infrastructure of the Fed. And in a broader sense, perhaps also the impact of monetary policy [in the United States].”

Nick Harland
Freelance Higher Education Writer
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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