After my recent post on improved demand for my IT elective course at HBS, an alum sent me the following email:
Hi Professor McAfee-
Just read your latest post and wanted to chime in with some thoughts-
I’m an HBS ’04 and while I didn’t take MIA, I did take a number of the other "tech" focused HBS second year courses- David Yoffie’s strategy course and Alan MacCormack’s product development course.
I think you’re absolutely on to something- the technology market (and valuations) is certainly heating up, but more importantly managing technology has become a normal aspect of everyone’s job. Its good to see that MBA’s are finally starting to realize that managing technology is no longer the function of a CIO who used to be a developer.
Collaborative technologies within the workplace (blogs, wikis, RSS, etc.) are becoming more commonplace and with them they bring a host of management and new communication challenges. (As an aside, I shared your AvenueA intranet post with a number of people as an example of how we could improve our internal intranet at TripAdvisor).
I run the search engine marketing group at TripAdvisor- I spend my days figuring out how to drive traffic to our site via paid search marketing as well as natural search optimization. Paid search marketing is becoming a norm within the marketing world- you simply cannot be out building a brand or ad campaign without thinking about the online aspect of marketing including search marketing. Success requires that you understand traditional direct marketing analytics as well as website technologies that allow you to track and optimize the performance of these accounts. Even if you’re outsourcing it to an SEM agency, you still need to be capable of managing your marketing IT infrastructure. Natural search optimization is significantly "geekier" and pretty much requires that you be willing to get into the weeds with your site engineers.
This is not what I would consider a typical job for an HBS graduate and yet why shouldn’t it be? I manage a huge budget, I "own" more than 70% of our traffic, I manage internal marketing and engineering resources and external partners, make data-driven decisions, think about market strategy and product positioning. Post that job description on the HBS Job board and people would love it. Mention that its "search engine marketing" and half the interest likely goes away. Are people just scared of being technologists? I also spend a fair amount of time working on acquisition integration. When we’re out buying companies, we are, in essence, evaluating their IT infrastructure (can they scale) and their web infrastructure (where are they getting their traffic, what are the economics). I’m generally acquiring engineers and working with our own engineers to integrate features. As a manager, I need all the skills they taught me in LEAD with an additional filter for how to motivate, prioritize projects for, and manage engineers
Anyway, I thought I’d let you know that I enjoy reading your blog posts.
Adam makes a really interesting point. By most of the standard yardsticks, he has a great job for a recent MBA — plenty of responsibility and autonomy, a large budget, use of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills, a role to play in large deals like acquisitions, etc.. And at a company like TripAdvisor I’m pretty sure he’s not painting himself into a career corner by taking a job related to the company’s online presence. As he says, that presence is becoming more and more important for marketers, brand builders, retailers, and many others.
So he has an interesting job, the chance to use and build skills, and a career trajectory that looks good. So what’s not to like here? Maybe his pay is lousy, but I suspect not. I suspect he’s right — that jobs like his are still not seen as being in the ‘sweet spot’ for most business school grads. I think and hope that this will change; the world needs more business-IT / geek-suit boundary spanners.