Designing a tech MBA

In an age of technology, many students are seeking a specialised MBA for the tech sector or tech-centric companies, argues IE Business School’s José Esteves

Technology has emerged as one of the most relevant economic sectors in recent years, with technological innovation driving growth and labour productivity across all areas of the economy. The adoption of emerging information technologies is influencing employment and remuneration, requiring fresh skills, creating new jobs, and not only changing the nature of tasks in which workers are engaged but also the workplace environment.

At IE Business School, we believe the best way to meet these challenges is by designing a specialised MBA for the tech sector and/or for tech-centric organisations.

Why a tech MBA?

We identified four key business realities that a tech MBA can address: the rise of technology ecosystems; digital transformation; constantly evolving technology; and technology shortfalls.

1 Technology’s contribution to economic growth and labour productivity 

In a 2017 report, Huawei and Oxford Economics estimated that ‘the digital economy is worth $11.5 trillion USD globally, equivalent to 15.5% of global GDP and has grown two and a half times faster than global GDP over the past 15 years’. An analysis of the top US companies by market capitalisation shows that tech companies are the highest valued, among them Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google. In the past two years, some of these companies have reached capitalisation of $1 trillion USD.

2 Digital transformation 

The vast majority of companies are engaging in transformation initiatives as part of a rethink of their global strategies, business models, and organisational approaches.

3 Evolution of technology 

While the accelerated adoption of technologies, such as cloud computing, robotic automation, AI, machine learning, the internet of things (IoT), and 5G technologies is promising for the tech industry, it also demands continuous updating of skills and knowledge. 

New jobs will undoubtedly be created in this scenario, and the demand for data sciences, coding, digital ecosystems, and e-commerce will continue to grow. 

However, it will be difficult for workers to develop the skills needed in these areas. The mismatch between the skills required and workers’ capabilities will necessitate the expansion of retraining programmes.

4 The global tech talent shortage

Technology is creating more jobs than any other, but by 2030, it is estimated that the technology, media and telecommunications sectors will have a shortfall of 4.3 million workers worldwide, according to a 2018 report by Korn Ferry. 

Shortages in these industries are expected to cost $449.7 billion USD in unrealised revenue, while fintech and BFIS (banking, finance, insurance, and security) will have a shortfall of 10.7 million workers by 2030, resulting in $1.3 trillion USD in lost revenue. 

The situation when focusing in on specific countries and regions is similar: the European Commission, for example, has forecasted that 100,000 data-related jobs will be created across Europe by 2020. Since 2010, the number of tech-related jobs in the US has increased by approximately 200,000 every year, and the US economy is increasingly reliant on tech labour for its survival. Based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on projected employment in the year 2026, service-providing industries are expected to account for the majority of 11.5 million newly created jobs. 

Diving deeper into technology

IE Business School decided to create a tech MBA after listening to recruiters and students. Students are increasingly interested in working in the tech sector, or for tech-centric companies, or in tech-demand roles. In response, two years ago, as part of the International MBA programme, we launched the TechLab. 

However, we noticed that some of our students were looking for more. They wanted to dive deeper into technology – not only learning about the latest trends, but also being able to understand and leverage these emerging technologies and tech ecosystems fully. At the same time, our corporate partners were increasingly looking for graduates with a clear understanding of technology and business analytics as well as business acumen. 

The ingredients of a tech MBA 

IE Business School’s Tech MBA is a tech-centred programme that blends three modules – ‘business mastery’, ‘technology immersion’, and ‘transformational leadership’. Each of the three modules is outlined in more
detail below: 

1 Business mastery 

At the heart of any MBA programme, whether general or specialised, lies a curriculum in business management, strategy, and economics.

In the case of our specialised Tech MBA, this part of the curriculum is designed to ensure students are equipped with the knowledge and lasting growth strategies that every tech-centric business needs to succeed in the current landscape. From the very beginning it applies case studies and examples taken from the tech context.

2 Technology immersion 

This module provides a deep understanding of the tech ecosystem, exploring the processes and challenges that underpin technological innovation, and endowing students with the skills needed to manage within firms that are focused on the areas of tech and innovation.

3 Transformational leadership 

The leadership module prepares students to be leaders who can design, drive and manage change by expanding their mindsets, skills and tools in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world of work. 

This is the glue that holds the programme together and differentiates our students. It is the vital element that will equip them to lead the future.

We cover core courses in all three modules, which are fully integrated. The programme runs for one year, across four periods, and the first two periods include tech-related industry forums which take an experiential learning approach and provide a practical perspective with workshops on fintech, insure-tech, edutech and so on, all featuring leading experts.

The tech MBA learning journey

The learning journey ensures that students acquire technology, management and transformational leadership competencies, using an integrative approach made up of three phases: ‘exploration’, ‘action’, and ‘immersion’.

During the ‘exploration’ phase, students discover tech and business through specialised courses. In the ‘action’ phase, they undertake a specific technology experiential learning approach, and in the ‘immersion’ phase, they choose from electives to sharpen their business and tech knowledge.

During the programme’s core modules, the focus is 55% on tech and 45% on business. However, electives mean students can customise their tech MBA to their specific needs. If all the electives chosen by a student are tech-related, the percentage of tech courses covered by the end of the MBA would be more than 75% of the total studied. 

‘Tech career treks’ take place regularly throughout all four periods. Students spend two to three hours visiting a global tech company with the objective of learning about its company culture and priorities, and also learn more about career opportunities where applicable. Treks typically happen within Madrid or Barcelona.

The School’s Tech MBA will be run separately from its International MBA. We will also create a specific portfolio of electives for the Tech MBA. However, we will allow the students of both MBA programmes to share the portfolio of electives. Plus, students will be able to network across the two programmes during extracurricular activities and events (for example, the School’s TechIE annual conference or IE Global Innovation Challenge).

The classroom experience

Students who feel they would benefit from one-to-one time with professors, or who prefer working in groups, should consider on-campus MBAs as these allow for greater face-to-face interaction with classmates and instructors, not just academically, but also socially. 

The social events that materialise from being on campus also provide valuable, yet unofficial, networking opportunities. Students should never underestimate the opportunities that a coffee break can generate, and will want to take advantage of facilities and resources on campus, including extracurricular activities, lectures, libraries, and athletic facilities. 

In addition, attending a full-time MBA provides easy access to advice, career counselling, and other on-campus student services and activities, all of which help students build a robust professional network.

José Esteves is Associate Dean for the International MBA and Tech MBA programmes at IE Business School, Spain. 

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