In search of IT's dual degrees

What's better than an MBA? A so-called techno-MBA: an MBA with a concentration in information systems or e-commerce, or even dual degrees that yield two distinct diplomas an MBA and a master of science in IT upon graduation.

"The CEOs and hiring managers we've interviewed tell us they would kill for this kind of MBA talent," says Louis E. Lataif, dean of Boston University's (BU) School of Management. BU will admit its first class of 100 full-time MS/MBA students in September.

According to Lataif, in the 1960s, only about 4,000 students graduated from business schools each year. Last year, 105,000 students in the U.S. earned MBAs.

Michelle Guldalian, a senior analyst in the IT services group for the city of Philadelphia, will complete her MBA with a concentration in MIS this spring. She began the program at Temple University in Philadelphia in 1997, attending part time at night and paying the tuition herself.

With that kind of motivation, she will likely meet her next career goal of working as an IT consultant at one of the major consulting firms.

"Temple gave us a lot of practical application," says Guldalian. "We worked on projects in cross-functional groups, just like we do in the real world."

Temple recently revamped its graduate school programs to meet the needs of a student population that's increasingly interested in adding proficiency in IT to traditional business studies. Part-time students can now choose an MBA with either an MIS or e-business concentration, or a master of science in e-business, which is a post-MBA program. Full-time students can pursue an MS/MBA in e-business.

Competitive Edge

Last September, Frank Reynolds, who already has an MBA and a master of science degree in psychology, began earning his master's degree in e-commerce at Temple.

"I need to get the competitive edge over my peers," says Reynolds, a document production marketing executive at Xerox Corp. in Philadelphia. "E-commerce is at the forefront for the business decision-makers of the future."

In addition to working full time and studying part time at Temple, Reynolds and several of his fellow students formed an e-commerce think tank that hosts a Web site and does pro bono project work.

But Reynolds' model isn't the only one available for ambitious IT professionals who want to speed their climb to the senior ranks with a dual-edged degree.

Frank Skinner was employed for several years at a company where he was responsible for integrating manual processes with information-tracking systems.

"I saw that workflow issues were just part of a larger problem with business in general," says Skinner. "I wanted a solid foundation in effective IT implementation so I could deliver proper solutions to clients."

He left his job and entered the demanding full-time MIS/MBA program at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. To survive the temporary loss of income, Skinner banked sales commissions while he was still working. While enrolled in the program, he obtained loans, lived frugally and worked on campus.

Most important, Skinner had the support of his wife, Kim, who was willing to work full time while her husband attended school. A paid summer internship at Memphis-based Federal Express Corp. helped ease the financial burden.

Return on Investment

The career time-out paid off. In December, Skinner was offered a job by Chicago-based Andersen's business consulting group. He starts work in Charlotte, N.C., upon graduation this spring.

"Based on what I have learned and experienced here, I have set a course to make a real impact for my clients," says Skinner. "I see my career progressing to the level of partner or CIO."

Challenging work, a dynamic culture and executive education opportunities at Andersen attracted Skinner to the company.

"Every time you achieve a promotion, there's a training program to help you get ingrained in the skill sets you'll need to take on the new responsibilities," Skinner says. He's already looking forward to continuing his professional development at Andersen, he says, with company courses in project management, client relationships and leadership.

Vitiello is a freelance writer in East Brunswick, N.J.

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