Input requested: the MBA tech curriculum

Over the last few months I’ve spoken to a number of professors and staff from Chicago Booth and they basically have one general question: “how can we get students better prepared for a job in Silicon Valley?” First off, I’d like to say that it’s great to see Career Services, deans, marketing professors, entrepreneurship centers and various others reach out to me and fellow Booth grads in the Bay Area to get our input. I felt we had very productive sessions. Moreover, it seems like you do appreciate the often candid feedback I (we) provide and are willing to consider our ideas.

One of those idea, frankly my core idea, is that there should be a “Tech for MBA’s” mini crash course curriculum at the school. The goal is to give students a much better understanding of various web verticals (consumer internet, B2B, SaaS, social gaming, social web, etc.) when they start looking for jobs. They should know what these verticals really are, the players, the challenges, how the companies operate, the major buzzwords/acronyms and thus how an MBA could best fit in. It’s not too unrealistic to say that MBA’s graduate and they know how a PE firm works really well, how to market the crap out of CPGs and how to out-buzzword-bingo the company that hired them to consult, but few have any idea of what a tech company actually does.

So to hold up my end of the bargain of the school reaching out – I don’t want to just “complain”, but I want to help – I’d like to facilitate the design of such a curriculum. The current idea is to have a series (5? 8? a dozen?) topics which are taught in one-hour chunks by alumni knowledgable in the field. Delivery method can be anything: in-person if available or via Skype video conference if not (after all, it’s tech we’re talkin’, right?). They should be short, quick, no-credit and somewhat less formal sessions. No coursework, no homework, but laptops off. 😉

As is often done in Silicon Valley, I’m going to crowdsource the topics which might be taught, since I know I don’t have all the answers. Please comment on this post, send an email to me at or otherwise get in touch with your thoughts. The only request I have is that you tell me who you are – no anonymous stuff please.

To get started, here are some initial ideas for topics, which may not all warrant a full 1 hour session and please feel free to tell me if you think they’re not worthwhile:

  1. Agile Development: what this is, how it works and comparison to other models
  2. The 3 R’s: talk about reach, retention and revenue, arguably the the three most important metrics for a web company
  3. Conversion funnels and designing against friction: we all know how these work, but we also generally overestimate the various gates (this could be done very easily through various case studies)
  4. A/B testing in reality: why this is important, how to set tests up, multi-variate testing, holdout groups, run through UI and flow examples.
  5. Social platforms & channels: yes, everyone knows Facebook, but let’s talk about what the different channels actually are and how they’re used. How is Twitter used?
  6. Internet infrastructure: LAMP, EC2, NoSQL, cloud computing, SaaS, Ruby, Node.js
  7. Web feature development process: ideas, prototypes, user testing, spec’ing, dev’ing, QA’ing, releasing, iterating. Why is it done that way?

Someone also raised the idea of doing short videos on various topics, which got me thinking Khan Academy. That’s an option too and I’d be curious about people’s take on that.

10 thoughts on “Input requested: the MBA tech curriculum

  1. I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically support this idea and I am more than happy to contribute as much as I can / you desire.

    Re: your initial topics. I feel like 1,6 & 7 may be diving into a little more nitty-gritty than might be useful (they might be ‘201’ when we should start with things that are more ‘101’).

    I do like the topic of explaining verticals / channels / definitions. What is SAAS? What is ‘digital media’? What are location based services? etc

    I also like the piece on metrics, because business measurement is something MBA’s understand (and will work closely with), but the metrics for tech differ so significantly than metrics in other industries.

    Need to stew on this more and think about what ‘I wish I knew’ before/during/after my MBA but I love this idea.

    • Awesome, would love your input, help, support. Good feedback, definitely stew on it and let’s connect soon. Retweet, ask your classmates, etc.

      Your point on 201 is valid, though I’d love to figure out a way to get through the acronym jungle somehow. Rudimentary knowledge of at least a few buzzwords can really make a difference in making a student sound prepared. Maybe it’s just an undertone to the other modules?

  2. Love it and happy to help however I can. A very important topic that could be a nice fit (and could take a whole course unto itself) is user acquisition. I find that folks new to consumer internet (myself included) can be quick to overlook the importance of user acquisition as it relates to everything else in the business from the ground up (product, pricing, marketing, etc.). As a result you get products dreamed up in a vacuum that are cool/helpful/nifty/nice but impossible to profitably drive traffic into. Adding share buttons doesn’t make something viral and adding SEO terms does not get you search traffic. User acquisition channels must be baked into the product, pricing and marketing from the beginning to have a shot at being successful.

    While we are at it can we end all “Business Plan Competitions” always and forever or is that out of scope?

  3. Tim, thanks for starting this discussion. As a current Booth student who has a finance background and is developing a tech start-up on the side, I would be very interested in these topics. So far I’ve had to teach myself many of the buzzwords, but having a crash course could go a long way into my understanding of how the tech world operates. Even something simple as who I would ask or where I would look to solve a particular problem.

  4. How about different monetization models, and in what situations/products one would work better than the other?

    I would love to attend the sessions too!

  5. As a current Booth student and a techie by profession, I like this initiative, rather I love it because this does help MBA students without technical backgrounds move into one such career. I do like your selection of topics. But I have to say some of these may be more advanced to some one who has never been in product development. IMHO 4 and 6 seem to be in those advanced bucket. One more topic to add to this list is SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) processes (not just agile but SDLC in general). Overall I love this initiative.

  6. I am a current weekend MBA student. I have degrees in mechanical and industrial engineering; no background in IT or finance whatsoever. That said, I’d definitely be interested in your mini-courses since that opens another door for something new to explore. I’d also like to know some general statistics on tech startups such as, how many companies start-up in a year, failure-success ratio, why one company is better than the one that’s already out there etc. I am sure I can google such stats but it would be great if your first lecture is on such statistics and a general overview of tech companies.

  7. I have a tech background, and have very specific technologies in which I am a specialist. Would love to get generic background. Am also interested in covering cutting edge technologies in each of these areas, as they usually give an edge to startups.

  8. I am a current weekend student at Booth. Coming from an IT background, I have extensive experiences in agile product development and would love to contribute in any way. I love the idea and see definite value for the participants.

  9. I am a software professional working in bay area and current weekend student at Booth. I believe this is a great effort and badly needed. Talking about various web verticals is a great idea. I feel we could also talk how tech is being used across different industries such as biotech, retail, banking, consumer products etc. Moreover in internet infrastructure we could also talk about Browser based technologies – HTML5 and CSS3. In web feature development process we could also talk about User Centric Design (UCD) Process. In 4 we could potentially talk about test driven development as well. Thanks Tim for this effort.

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