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Forster-Thomas breaks down the advantages and disadvantages of coding experience for an MBA, and evaluates its worth in a b-school application.

By Ben Feuer

There is an intriguing ongoing debate right now about whether MBAs should learn to code.  As the workforce becomes more and more technical, coding becomes a more and more valuable skill.  The question, really, is how much is too much?  And on a related note, if you are seeking an MBA and you know how to code already, how valuable a skill is it to bring to the table?

CODING PROS:

Managers who can code (at least a little bit) know enough to be able to determine what is feasible and what is not.  This allows them to make smarter management decisions.

Coding teaches logic.  Logic is a valuable tool in any management position, and helps with problem solving.

CODING CONS:

Managers may become overconfident in their understanding of coding.  A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

The work is long and arduous, and could potentially distract from core MBA curriculum.

As a fundamentally solitary activity, coding-focused MBAs might be poorer communicators and less visionary leaders and become more concerned with the nitty gritty.

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Fair enough.  So what about that other category, MBAs who already have coding experience?  Historically, the results for highly technical people seeking an MBA has not been great, if that is their primary qualification.  The needle on that issue may be moving somewhat, but Forster-Thomas needs a few more years of results before we can definitively say whether it is or it is not.

In the meantime, the status quo still rules -- b-schools respond first and foremost to leadership in group contexts and the ability to take on visionary initiatives and see them through to completion.  Coding, unless it is in the context of a more ambitious goal like building a startup, should be seen as a complementary flavor rather than a main course.


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