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Should an Enterprise Architect Have an MBA?

by Abel Avram on Aug 25, 2010 |

Todd Biske, an Enterprise Architect and SOA author, started a discussion on Twitter by asking the question “Should Enterprise Architects have/get an MBA?” Some of the enterprise architects who responded to the question believe that an MBA is not mandatory but it can be very helpful.

Mike Kavis, a former EA and currently a CTO for a start-up company, thinks that an MBA is secondary as importance “to having a wide range of IT knowledge across the entire enterprise.” He completes his statement telling how MBA can help. Before getting his MBA, Kavis worked for a company where he wanted to convince the management to apply an SOA initiative. He managed to convince a colleague which joined him in the eventually successful effort. He explains how that convinced him to get his MBA:

What I learned during the process is that my colleague understood how to speak in the language that each person understood.  He could sell to the accountants because he knew what they looked for and understood their jobs.  He  knew how marketing worked.  He could create business plans, financial models, calculate payback periods and more.  I quickly realized that if I had enrolled in an MBA program that taught me about marketing, economics, finance, accounting, organizational leadership, business law, analysis, and more, I probably could have sold this idea years earlier.  So when I finished my MS in IT, I immediately enrolled in MBA program.

Kavis’ conclusion is the an EA does not absolutely need to have an MBA, but it helps:

So do EAs need an MBA? No. But if an EA has never walked a day in the shoes of a marketing VP, a controller, a lawyer, a CIO, a Sales executive, an operations executive, and many others, an MBA can transform the EA from a smart IT person to an effective liaison between IT and the business.  My MBA was one of the best investments I ever made in my career.

Gagan Saxena, an IT manager and EA, added to Kavis’ blog post:

An MBA after being a tech superstar is certainly useful and will help in being a better EA. It will not get the EA a seat at the table automatically though. The EA still needs to earn respect with domain/industry knowledge, diplomacy and business leadership.

On the flip side, modern MBA courses need classes on EA so that we start moving away from the artificial boundary line. If you study basic Accounting, HR, Law and Operations there, why not EA? Each of these fields has dedicated professionals but a general business manager is expected to know the basics so he can speak with the professionals.

Aleks Buterman, a former EA and currently having a management position in a company, supports the idea that it is better for EA to have an MBA:

The responsibility of, and often the biggest hurdle to, successful enterprise architect is to be a trusted advisor to both business divisions and IT divisions.  That means being able to speak many languages - that of the business strategy, business operations, metrics (including financials), technology strategy, and technology operations - in multiple areas of both business and technology, which often have their own dialects.  Without either formal education in business administration or a significant amount of time on the ground managing business strategy and operations, I have a hard time seeing an enterprise architect appearing credible when discussing these topics.

This doesn't mean that people without MBA can't work in Enterprise Architecture, in fact actuarial background is just as good, if not better, than an MBA when it comes to understanding financials.  Nor does it imply that an MBA automatically allows someone unqualified with technology to be successful as enterprise architect.  At the end of the day, an EA must be credible as master of many trades, so I don't really see how an MBA would hurt that credibility.

Is an MBA really needed to facilitate communication with C-level executives, or the job of an EA is more technical and having an MBA does not hurt but it is not really top priority?

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And should your Doctor be a good artist and speaker? by Srikanth Shenoy

Ask yourself this question:
Should your Doctor be an artist so he/she can sketch and show you where the problem lies and be a good orator so that he/she explain in detail how he/she plans to diagnose you (and also be a lawyer - just in case you plan to sue him/her) ?
The same answer applies to Enterprise Architect and MBA.

Have we not seen enough Enterprise Architects talk (and really talk.. and talk everything except that matters) but not walk?

An enterprise architect needs ot know one thing well - Enterprise Architecture.
And apply common sense for everything.

Another question should be by Michael Hedgpeth

Would the return on investment make sense to get an MBA? Does this only make sense if the company is sponsoring it?

Re: And should your Doctor be a good artist and speaker? by James Watson

An enterprise architect needs ot know one thing well - Enterprise Architecture.
And apply common sense for everything.


The use of 'common sense' is where this strategy fails. There are many things that you learn in an MBA program that are not common sense. For example, accounting is not common sense. It's extremely logical and, at a basic level, pretty simple but common sense will not help you understand the needs of the accounting department.

You can't be good at enterprise architecture without understanding the enterprise.

Re: Another question should be by James Watson

It all depends on the return. We have a pretty good idea what the the investment is. The return depends on what the recipient does with his or her MBA. If you stay in the same job and get no raise as a result of your MBA, then, of course, no it's not worth it.

Re: And should your Doctor be a good artist and speaker? by Dmitri Tsveitel

An Enterprise Architect must be able to understand the business needs, communicate the ideas effectively, and influence others. Some people are naturally good at it, but for the rest of us, an MBA or a Master's in Technology Management degree is a great way to expand our skillset from purely technical to the right mix of technical expertise and business knowledge.

common sense - I do not think it means, what you think it means. by Luis Espinal

An enterprise architect needs ot know one thing well - Enterprise Architecture.


And if you don't know enterprise, you are most likely one of those who still confuse IT architecture with Enterprise architecture (two related by entirely different beasts as nicely put it by Grady Booch in one of his latest podcasts.)

You certainly don't need a MBA to understand the enterprise, but it certainly helps, and so would a MS in MIS or Engineering Management (I'd opt for the later once I finish my MS in Comp.Eng/EE.)

Typical IT/Software people who shun at business activities rarely understand the enterprise (and the core business that drives it), and make poor enterprise architects.

And apply common sense for everything.


Where is the common sense in lambda calculus or Turing machines? Where is the common sense in Riemann sums, or non-constructive methods of proof, like induction?

Rhetorical question by the way.

The fact is that common sense can only be discerned and applied on a particular context by an individual with sufficient knowledge in that specific context. Whether by formal education or first-hand extensive experience, you can't possibly apply common on something you have no experience on.

This applies to core business principles that drive the enterprise and its architecture. Common sense would tell you to always think on ROI when doing a software project, and yet most business-illiterate geeks fail at that. So much for common sense.

You use the term "common sense" quite literally. As Inigo Montoya said: You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means.

Re: And should your Doctor be a good artist and speaker? by Harry Simons

Spot on! IMO, the MBA degree should be renamed to BSA: Bull Shit Artist degree. with an advanced variation called, NS-BSA: Non-Stop Bull Shitting Artist.

Let's not over-estimate the usefulness of a degree by Mike Gale

I've seen convincing, polished MBA's take thriving growing businesses and destroy them utterly within 3 years.

I've seen MBA's who are the kind of guy you want your opposition to poach. They create enough havoc that you need 3 or 5 other people to counteract the damage they do.

And there are good ones.

Letters after your name aren't proof of competence or usefulness. Lets be careful here!

Re: Let's not over-estimate the usefulness of a degree by James Watson

Letters after your name aren't proof of competence or usefulness. Lets be careful here!


I'd accuse you of attacking a position that no one has taken (that having an MBA proves competence) but this is such a common theme that it is assumed by many that most people believe it.

Having an MBA only proves that you have been able to pass the classes required to achieve an MBA. I know that sounds stupid but I think it's really important to start here because it seems to me that most people have very little idea what studied in the pursuit an MBA. If the school is nationally accredited, there's a pretty standard baseline of what it taught. Most of the people who vehemently oppose the idea that an MBA (I'm looking at you Mike G.) can't tell you what is covered in an MBA program. If you actually look at the required courses, I think you will find that they are pretty boring things like hr, accounting, economics, and finance.

Lastly, an MBA doesn't really give the recipient any specific expertise. It's very broad and serves mainly to help the recipient to understand the different parts of the business.

Should an Enterprise have an Architect? by Clinton Begin

...no really.

You need business knowledge by Jim Leonardo

I don't disagree with getting more education, but I disagree with the premise that an MBA is the right additional education. In fact, the question asked here is a classic case of presenting a solution as a requirement instead of a need as a requirement.

The need: EAs require additional knowledge of business than they would gather in a typical IT career path.

The proposed solution: Get an MBA.

I seem to recall a study maybe 5 or so years ago that looked at public companies and determined that the most successful companies were run by non-MBAs.

Couple this with the idea that most MBA programs I've looked at have turned me off because they teach very traditional management models. You know: models that we know don't work for anything IT. Why are you going to waste your time and lucre sitting through classes that will be irrelevant?

If you work for a company where you need the paper, then I guess that's one thing (and make sure they pay for it), but if what you're after is knowledge, you'd be better off auditing select courses or searching for a different kind of degree. Do you really need an MBA, or do you maybe just need to augment your learning with some specific classes? If you have no business classes in your background, you likely will need to take several pre-req classes for the program and those may be all you really need.

I've always adopted the attitude since I first started writing code that I better know the industry I'm writing code for better than even the people setting the requirements. To that end, I've taken insurance classes, spent lots of time in accounting text books, etc. If you get to the stage where you're an EA and don't know anything about business, then I think you've been making a mistake all these years.

Re: Let's not over-estimate the usefulness of a degree by Mike Gale

Hi James,

Now who's accusing somebody of taking a position that hasn't been taken.

I've acknowledged that there are good MBA's. It's a hard course. I considered taking one once and have been to Manchester Business School, so have some idea!

My point is that qualifications are not enough.

(Years ago I was involved in a corporate exercise we called "the milk run". Went around to national universities, interviewing soon to be graduates looking for talent. We followed up on those who joined the company. As any old hand would tell you, the qualification and interview is just the first thing; some were great, some not!)

There's more to it than that of course, in different environments EA means different things. Especially where it's one role among several, a hat that gets worn sometimes.

(This threaded forum communication leaves out a great deal, doesn't it? Pretty much guarantees misapprehensions...)

Re: You need business knowledge by Richard Feng

Can not agree more.

Re: You need business knowledge by Srikanth Shenoy

If you get to the stage where you're an EA and don't know anything about business, then I think you've been making a mistake all these years.


Agree 100%

Re: You need business knowledge by James Watson

Couple this with the idea that most MBA programs I've looked at have turned me off because they teach very traditional management models. You know: models that we know don't work for anything IT. Why are you going to waste your time and lucre sitting through classes that will be irrelevant?


'Management Models' are a very small part of what is taught in an MBA program. MBA programs are generally mostly technical with a few 'soft' classes. That doesn't mean that that an MBA is necessarily a good idea but if you are going to argue against something, you should at least get your facts straight.

In any event, the question is why learn the traditional management models. The short answer is that if you don't understand these models, it will be difficult to impossible to explain why those models won't work when they are foisted upon your team.

Re: And should your Doctor be a good artist and speaker? by Luis Espinal

Spot on! IMO, the MBA degree should be renamed to BSA: Bull Shit Artist degree. with an advanced variation called, NS-BSA: Non-Stop Bull Shitting Artist.


Yeah, because mind-numbing simplifications and high schoolish generalizations are the epitome fact-backed constructive criticism, intelligence and logical thinking. Do you really, really, really believe in that kool aid?

Isn't this missing the point by Peter Evans-Greenwood

The big contribution Kavis' colleague provided was an ability to sell, not any extensive knowledge of the business. He found out what the customer cared about (which may, or may not, have come from the MBA) and then he sold to them.

MBA courses don't have a monopoly on knowledge about the business. Getting an MBA (i.e. formal business training) might help if you're not going to find this information on your own. If you are, then it probably has little value.

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