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B-School for Hackers

Cornell is taking a gamble that a new program will help bring its business-school curricula into the information era. Only, do great programmers really need business degrees?
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If digital and data are the future of business, science and engineering grads are bound to lead the way.

That's why Cornell University  is creating a one-year MBA program designed particularly for engineers. It's betting that the engineers, at least the variety with computer science and programming backgrounds, can be the next generation of business leaders.

The university's Johnson Graduate School of Management plans to launch the business-school program to give software developers and computer engineers a dose of management skills. Cornell created the program, expected to launch next year, after conversations with tech startups and larger companies such as LinkedIn about what skills are difficult to find in employees. The curriculum was created to provide a mix of courses on software development, leadership, and persuasion.

These types are so endlessly employable that there are agencies popping up to represent and recruit them. Students are learning that this is where the jobs are. Science and engineering undergraduate degrees grew in popularity by 19 percent--nearly twice as fast as others--over the past five years, a new National Student Clearinghouse study found

Here's how the Cornell program will work, per the Wall Street Journal:

Unlike a traditional M.B.A., where courses last a semester, faculty will teach subjects such as design thinking and digital marketing in short bursts. Those will be followed by hands-on work exploring a startup project or pitching in on a company-sponsored assignment. Business students will work alongside engineering and computer-science students to prepare them for the group dynamic of life in technology.

Perhaps this interesting move isn't so much for the students's career prospects (what programmer isn't in-demand enough right now?) as for the image of the business school. It's still putting down roots in New York City and is trying to make its mark and gain relevance.

Cornell's new campus is still going in on Roosevelt Island, as part of a city initiative to foster tech-sector growth, and currently Cornell is housing some graduate-level engineering and computer science courses at Google's Manhattan HQ. Daniel Huttenlocher, the school's dean and vice provost of what's being called Tech Campus told the Journal the program is part of an evolution of b-school curricula.

"If technology really is permeating everything that we do in this information economy, business-school curricula will need to change over time. We're just trying to get way out ahead of it," he says.

And while many MBAs pursue a path of entrepreneurship, plenty of employers haven't who haven't been interested in hiring them might just warm up if they have the tech chops. The Journal reports:

Employers such as Next Jump Inc., a New York-based online rewards company with about 200 employees, will be watching Cornell closely. Chief Executive and founder Charlie Kim says he hasn't hired any business students since 2010, when none of 12 M.B.A.s who were hired worked out because they appeared more focused on spreadsheets and strategy than action. He says he expects the Cornell students to be "thinkers and doers."

Reaction on Twitter to Cornell's announcement was largely positive, but a few people smartly called out the added credibility a bit of tech skills might give to an MBA these days:

 

 

 

Last updated: Nov 26, 2013

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.




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