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Reader Questions: Principal PM. Interested In Faster Career Growth. Asking About MBA

Reader Questions: Principal PM. Interested In Faster Career Growth. Asking About MBA

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This is another post in my new blog category, where I answer Reader Questions. This reader is already a Principal Product Manager (E.g. L6 at Google/Facebook, L7 at Amazon, or L65+ at Microsoft) and has been accepted into a Full-Time MBA program from a Top-3 Business School. They want to stay in Product Management (i.e. not transition into consulting, banking, etc) and wondering whether the brand name of the top-3 MBA program will help them with their career advancement.

This is a great follow-up to my previous post, where I answered a new grad Product Manager’s questions about the MBA.

The reader’s email

Hi Engineer Seeking FIRE, very nice to meet you!

I recently found out about engineerseekingfire blog. I ran into a very thoughtful reply from you in a thread about doing an MBA and I was wondering if you would be willing to share your opinion on a dilemma that I have. I’m a Principal PM at a large tech company (non-FAANG) with $300k Total Compensation and I recently got accepted for a full-time MBA at a Top-3 MBA school, but I’m not sure if the opportunity cost is worth it at this point in my career.

I’m 35 years old (on the extreme end of the age for a full-time MBA). I don’t have a family at the moment, but I do would like to have one in the future. From your experience getting your MBA, would you say that is worth it if I’m planning on staying in the PM career path and not transition into consulting or banking?

Since I don’t have any friends or close contacts that have gotten an MBA from a top school, the main issue that I have is that I am struggling a lot with getting a sense of how helpful the MBA could be for my long-term job security and career progression, which are core career priorities for me. Given that I’m not planning on switching to IB, consulting, or VC, long-term career progression would be the main benefit for me, but I don’t have a good sense of how beneficial it could be. I would be super interesting to start my own company, but I don’t have any plans for one.

I read your post on if an MBA is worth it for engineering, and I would imagine that your opinion is that it wouldn’t be worth it, but I can’t stop thinking if doing the MBA from a top school could help my career in the long-term and provide some additional job security to it.

My response

Part #1: The Full-Time MBA providers tremendous learning and networking opportunities, but will not help you get promoted faster


From a learning perspective, a full-time MBA at a Top3 Business School cannot be compared to anything else that you’ve learned so far. The MBA will teach you core business skills, ie marketing, finance, operations, accounting, strategy, etc. You’ll also have the chance to do multiple consulting projects in different industries.

The caliber of the people in the program, the professors, the opportunities are amazing. For example, if you are interested in starting your own company, then you could use these 2 years to do this (write the business plan in the entrepreneurship class, the marketing plan in the marketing class, use the professors as advisors, find co-founders, etc). Of course, this is very risky, since you don’t know whether this will succeed, whereas now you have a much safer salary.

However, it seems that you want to stay in Product Management and want to understand whether the Full-Time MBA will help you get to higher levels faster. All the above areas of knowledge are great, but they won’t help you do your current role better. Also, your classmates will typically be people around 26-32 years old. As you mentioned in your initial email, you will be on the higher end of a Full-Time MBA student and you already have more experience in Product Management than they do.

The net result is that a Full-Time MBA will not directly help you get promoted faster, if you want to stay in your current role (Product Management).

Part #2: Not worth it from a financial perspective for a Principal PM

From a purely financial perspective, a full-time MBA is not worth it for you. 2 years of lost salaries plus 2 years of MBA costs will be around $800k-$1M (especially if you take into stock price increases, raises, etc). And typically, after a full-time MBA, you get into an L4 role at Google/Facebook (or L61-L63 at Microsoft). Amazon hires post-MBA Product Managers as L6, however, the compensation is lower than the L4 PM at Google/Facebook. Even if you could manage to return to the same position in your current company after the MBA, you’d be ~$700k lower compared to if you stayed.

Let’s assume that your net worth at the beginning of the MBA is $1.5M. If you do get an MBA, you will have $1.2 net worth at age 37 and you’ll be looking for a job. If you don’t, then you’ll have $1.9M and probably be closer to a promotion. I think that if your goal is to optimize your career progress, then it would be best to go for L6 at Google/Facebook than to get a full-time MBA.

So, it mostly depends on how you prioritize learning vs your finances.

Part #3: An Executive MBA or a Part-Time MBA is more preferable more, if you are Senior-level or higher

In your case, a part-time or Executive MBA would make more sense for the following reasons:

  1. You keep your existing job (and compensation)
  2. You network with people that are typically Senior-level or higher (Director-level or higher for Executive MBA)
  3. You get lots of the learnings that you would do from a full-time MBA
  4. You can typically ask your employer for reimbursement, even partial

Also, with the executive or part-time MBA you don’t have to move to a different city. Classes are typially on Friday and Saturday on alternate weekends. So, you’d have to fly a lot (similar with the rest of the class).

There are great EMBA programs by many top schools, including Wharton and Booth. Also, Wharton offers EMBA in San Francisco. Take a look https://executivemba.wharton.upenn.edu/emba-program-details/. Also, there are great Part-time MBA programs from Chicago Booth and Kellogg School of Management.

Even though it might be difficult to happen, it wouldn’t worth to ask whether it is possible to convert your Full-Time MBA admission into an Executive MBA admission. Doesn’t hurt to ask.

Executive MBAs are mostly focused on Director-level applicants. So, if it is not possible for you to get into an Executive MBA, then you can try a Part-Time MBA. Some advantages of the part-time programs compared to the EMBA programs:

  1. Part-time MBA is cheaper than EMBA (great, if you don’t have company sponsorship)
  2. Part-time MBA focuses more on the learning aspect (which is great, because you can also apply things on the job), whereas EMBA focuses more on the networking aspect
  3. More schools offer part-time programs, so there are higher chances that you will find something in your city

Part #4: Let’s try an alternate example. Would you advise an intermediate-level or Intermediate or Senior-Level PM to get a B.Sc. degree?

Maybe here’s an example that might help make things a little more concrete. 

Imagine if somebody didn’t have a technical (CS/EE) BSc degree but had reached an intermediate-level (e.g. L4 at Google) or a Senior Level (e.g. L5 at Google) with good ratings and were going for promotion. At that point they were accepted at a top CS undergrad program. Let’s say MIT EECS undergrad. 

Would you suggest that they left their company for 3-4 years to get an undergrad degree? Do you think that a BSc from EECS at MIT would help them become Senior Engineer faster?

Or maybe suggest that they do a Master (maybe even part-time), if they felt that they needed to get more technical skills?

Part #5: How to get additional information about the top MBA programs, if you don’t have contacts that attended the top schools

Some closing thoughts:

1. Since you don’t have friends with MBAs, look at the distribution lists in your company and search for ones that have “MBA” in the title. Try to find, if there any distribution lists from the Business schools that have admitted you. Search for the members that are around your level or higher. Email them and say that you are thinking about going to their B-School full-time and ask them their thoughts. Schedule a virtual coffee chat 🙂

2. Find the MBA recruiters for the top Business schools that have admitted you. Send them the same email as above

Do you have any questions for me?

If you’re interested in advice about your career or your financial plans, feel free to Contact me.

About Me

I am an engineer with 15+ years in the tech industry, including roles at Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. I've been a Software Engineer, Product Manager, and Technical Program Manager. I also have an MBA from Kellogg School of Management with Majors in Finance and Marketing.

What drives me? A passion for empowering engineers to achieve Financial Independence and Retire Early (FIRE). I reached FIRE, when I turned 40 years old. Whether it's through personal finance strategies or career insights, I'm here to guide you on this path. Have questions or need advice? Feel free to reach out!

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