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Ask Slashdot: As a Programmer/Geek, Should I Learn Business? 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-recommend-buying-low-and-selling-high dept.
An anonymous reader writes "During my career I've always been focused on learning new technologies and trending programming languages. I've made good money at it, but I'm not sure what the next step is. I don't want to do this for the rest of my life. I'm not sure how to find a good way to transition from programmer to somebody with more responsibility. Should I learn business? It it more important to focus on personal networking? Do I step into the quagmire of marketing? I'm not sure what goals I should set, because I don't know what goals are realistic. Running my own business seems like something I'd like to do, but I'm unsure how to get from here to there. I'd appreciate advice from any fellow geeks who are making (or have made) that change."
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Ask Slashdot: As a Programmer/Geek, Should I Learn Business?

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  • short answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OutOnARock (935713) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:18PM (#45147609)
    yes
    • Re:short answer (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gander666 (723553) * on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:24PM (#45147679) Homepage
      Slightly longer answer:

      The things that probably baffle you about the leadership where you are at, the decisions that seem to make no sense, and the troglodytes that seem to have power will make more sense to you after learning a bit about business.

      As someone with a physics degree, who does marketing and product management, I self taught myself a lot of what is needed to function in these spheres. It isn't hard, but it will seem alien. It doesn't require more than a modicum of common sense (once you learn to not sneer at it) and the ability to do basic arithmetic. I occasionally break out a PDE to model a pricing structure, and am met with amazement (particularly when it turns out to accurately model the true system response). But I am a geek like that.
      • by fair_n_hite_451 (712393) <crsteel.shaw@ca> on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:49PM (#45147937)

        Slightly longer answer:

        yeeeessssss.

      • by perpenso (1613749) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @07:07PM (#45148087)
        After decades of software development I went to business school. Some take aways.

        (1) Business school is probably not what you think. The bankers, ceos, etc making the headline news for various nefarious reasons are not practicing what they were taught in business school. They are very much like the software engineer who is taught how to write well designed maintainable and reliable code and then writes complete crap once they enter industry. You can teach people how to do the right thing but there is no guarantee they will follow through, this is true in both engineering and business. In business school you will be taught to plan for the long term, to treat your business partners well, to treat you employees well, to treat your customers well, to be socially responsible, to be ethical, etc. In other words things leading to long term company success.

        (2) An MBA program is probably not what you think. An MBA program is not about accounting and financials, that is just once topic covered. An MBA program is an overview of the complete organization and its lifecycle: Entrepreneurship, strategy, product development, marketing, accounting/finance, operations, information technology, organizational behavior (people), economics, etc. You will learn to look at things from the perspective of each of these specialties. The point of doing so is not to make you an expert in any of them. You will not become an expert, however you will learn enough to understand their perspectives and to therefore be able to effectively communicate and perhaps be more persuasive in your arguments with them. You don't have to stop being an engineer. You just become an engineer with a broader perspective and more likely to persuade ceos, accountants and people in marketing.

        (3) Your classmates will probably not be what you expect. Most people in an MBA program are not coming from an accounting/finance background. They actually represent a minority. About 1/3 of my class consisted of people coming from engineering and scientific backgrounds. You will have an incredibly wide set of skills and viewpoints among your classmates.

        (4) You get what you reward. There is a common theme that occurs in many classes, strategy, accounting, product development, information technology, operations, etc. Many failures can be traced back to having the wrong incentives. Basically people give you the behavior you incentivize, that you reward. Not what you ask for, not even what everyone agree is good or the right thing to do. There are many lessons to be learned in business school but it is amazing how often and in how many unrelated areas this one single problem arises.
        • This is the most accurate description of a MBA program that I have ever read on Slashdot. I am in a similar situation (I work in IT and am currently studying at Berkeley in the Evening & Weekend MBA program, my undergrad was in EE), and my experience mimics your post. The most popular undergraduate field for my class was engineering at 40% followed by Business/Econ at 24%. We have a myriad of backgrounds from medical doctors to restaurants, and virtually everyone I have met means well and isn't trying t

          • Overall I'd recommend anyone who criticizes MBAs to try and reserve judgment until you have a chance to go sit in on a class at a good school. I believe that you will be surprised at what it's like, who you meet, and you might even change your opinion.

            That is exactly what happened with me. A friend was a TA and a guest speaker for his class was the person running the Mohave Spaceport. My friend thought I might be interested and invited me to sit in. I think the class was entrepreneurship and they were discussing the various companies at Mojave and the civilian space industry in general. Sitting in got me thinking about enrolling in the program.

        • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @09:22PM (#45148907)

          I have a serious question. Maybe I've been working for dysfunctional organizations too much, but I've noticed a different MBA pattern.

          How do you explain the hordes of McKinsey/Accenture/pwc/BCG/Bain "consultants" who walk into a business and proclaim to the execs that they have all the answers? Usually, these consultants are in their late 20s, got their MBA right after their undergrad years, never worked anything more complex than a retail job, and are immediately hired to dispense advice. I've also seen that the MBA gives new grads at least a manager job starting out, often never having worked in the field the company is in. That "MBAs can manage anything" mindset is a killer in technical job roles, and has led to me working on some miserable projects. Of course, there are exceptions, but why does the MBA automatically qualify someone as a manager any more than a paper technical certification conveys proficiency with a product?

          If MBAs really aren't taught "bad management skills," what is it that corrupts them and causes the disastrous short term thinking epidemic in companies these days?

          • by ranton (36917) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @09:49PM (#45149055)

            what is it that corrupts them and causes the disastrous short term thinking epidemic in companies these days?

            As the parent mentioned, they are immediately given incentives that reward short term thinking. If they don't grasp for short term solutions, they don't reach a VP position by the time they are 40. It is an endemic condition found throughout our entire economic system.

          • by khallow (566160)

            How do you explain the hordes of McKinsey/Accenture/pwc/BCG/Bain "consultants" who walk into a business and proclaim to the execs that they have all the answers?

            Conflict of interest. They have a product to sell.

          • by sydneyfong (410107) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @10:21PM (#45149179) Homepage Journal

            How do you explain the hordes of McKinsey/Accenture/pwc/BCG/Bain "consultants" who walk into a business and proclaim to the execs that they have all the answers?

            Some people believe in magic(k). So you find overqualified (on paper) people to pretend to be magicians and sell them snake oil and pixie dust.

            "MBAs can manage anything" mindset is a killer in technical job roles

            I'd wager that in many non-technical, "commoditized" industries, this is actually true. If your job is to trade oranges, you're not going to set up a multimillion dollar R&D facility to make better oranges. Instead, you just try to source the cheapest oranges, and market it as if they were premium products and pocket the difference. Everyone knows what an orange looks like, and how to deal with them, so you just fire the expensive employees and hire a bunch of unskilled workers at minimum wage. Any on-the-job skill required would be picked up in a week by those workers -- there's nothing complicated about oranges.

            That's how the vast majority of businesses are done. When the CEO of the oranges trading company jumps to a textile company making commodity (non-designer) clothes, it's pretty much the same thing. Sell off the factory, buy cheap stuff from China, put your brand on it and market it like crazy. Then they wonder why people look at them funny when they move to a tech company and their first act is to sell off the billion dollar R&D facility and fire all the employees working there. Just get a team in India to do that programming stuff, right?

            That being said, while you can laugh at the ignorance of most of the MBAs, technically oriented people (eg. slashdotters) are often just as clueless when it comes to the business side. That's why it's really hard to find a right CEO or exec for a tech company -- they have to know both worlds really well.

            • by HnT (306652)

              Some people believe in magic(k). So you find overqualified (on paper) people to pretend to be magicians and sell them snake oil and pixie dust.

              While technically not wrong, there is an important detail to add here. Practically ALL these big-name consulting firms have two things in common: a big name which brings them clients which in turn translates into references to wow the next client - and they all got a HUGE collection of more or less industry specific data. What they are doing when they are sending young, empty suits to a customer is plug that empty suit into their knowledge system and chunk out pages of essentially industry-wide comparisons

            • Reminds me of when I had a long dinner conversation I had with a lady who was nearly finished with her MBA and was due to launch her new career. Without all the details, I ended up expressing my opinion that an MBA was the modern day equivalent of a Carpet-Bagger -- they are hired by corporations to learn how to cheat. On taxes, on pay to employees, on what costs can be driven out of the company by sacrificing quality and focusing on marketing. I said that on paper, it looks like they are efficiency experts

          • If MBAs really aren't taught "bad management skills," what is it that corrupts them and causes the disastrous short term thinking epidemic in companies these days?

            It's not that the MBA training is negative, it's just not enough to be useful on day 1. So the process goes like this:

            The guy who hires him is looking to fill a role, and he knows it's not going to happen without a learning curve, so he can never find an exact match to the job.

            So you can hire someone who wants twice what you want to pay and doesn

          • by perpenso (1613749)

            I have a serious question. Maybe I've been working for dysfunctional organizations too much, but I've noticed a different MBA pattern.

            Been there done that. At one company that I worked at the senior management team was chosen by investors who bought out the original founders. I would characterize them as con men and thieves that were secretly executing an exit strategy, doing things that enhanced the sale price, hid the true state of product development and sales, and actually impeded the development of the next generation of products. They reinforced the negative stereotypes I had of CEOs and MBAs. What I eventually learned was that they

          • by mellyra (2676159) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @05:10AM (#45150789)

            How do you explain the hordes of McKinsey/Accenture/pwc/BCG/Bain "consultants" who walk into a business and proclaim to the execs that they have all the answers? Usually, these consultants are in their late 20s, got their MBA right after their undergrad years, never worked anything more complex than a retail job, and are immediately hired to dispense advice.

            Strategic consultants aren't hired to provide answers, they are hired to provide "independent" "scientific" justification for those answers that your execs have already decided upon but don't want to be held responsible for.

            I recommend you read the third part of this article series in which a young former consultant recounts his experience with BCG in Dubai:

            Part I: The city of tomorrow [mit.edu]

            Part II: Welcome to your caste [mit.edu]

            Part III: The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell [mit.edu]

            Part IV: Dispatches from the collapse [mit.edu]

          • by ImdatS (958642)

            Out of my nearly three decades of work experience:

            I was in a similar situation, i.e. I was an engineer and slowly switched to management/business and see myself as a manager with strong software engineering skills today.

            I always recommend people to first learn a technical skill (actually engineering skill), then collect experiences over at least ten years and then learn business, preferably by going through an MBA program.

            But, and this is really a BIIIG "but": before entering the MBA program define for your

        • Excellent response! I found my MBA program to be a very engaging - and challenging may I add. I managed to engage with all sorts of people from various professions, many very technical.

          In short, I gained a perspective that otherwise never would have attained on my own. I recommend it highly.

          One caveat: In my finance and operations courses (where geeks tend to gravitate), my professors were a bit impatient with me when I would ask questions that probed too deeply into the subject matter. (Not so accou

      • Re:short answer (Score:5, Insightful)

        by trout007 (975317) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @07:16PM (#45148157)

        It is always helpful to know how what you do affects the companies profits. When I worked in the private sector that was the question I would ask my boss at review time. It is a good check to see if your boss knows what they are doing. It's simple to ask "how does my performance affect our bottom line?" What can I do in the next performance review period to help this company make more money?" "How do we measure this?" "Can I get a reward based on these measurements?"

        I have never worked for a boss that could answer these questions. I assume someone somewhere could have. But at least I knew then it was a dead end job with this guy in charge.

      • by dbIII (701233)

        will make more sense to you after learning a bit about business

        At which point you need to resist the urge to cry when you find out that some of those people you've forgiven for their lack of any technical grasp due to a supposition that they are good at business turn out to be crap at that too. Nepotism is a curse on many workplaces.

    • by MijaDeus (304400)

      yes

      Hey I was gonna say that!

    • Re:short answer (Score:5, Insightful)

      by todrules (882424) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @07:55PM (#45148365) Journal
      If you're a real geek, the answer is always yes when it comes to learning new things. It doesn't matter what it is.
    • by Spazmania (174582)

      Yes! You absolutely should learn business!

      Not so you can do it yourself: by now you know what work you like to do. Why rob yourself of what makes you happy?

      Learn so you can understand the folks you work with for whom the business side is their source of joy. They'll notice. And enough of them will repay the favor to expand your opportunities to do the work *you* enjoy.

    • Every software developer should have their own company, even if it's just a company of one. Nothing teaches you how to be a better employee than being a boss, even of just yourself. You should have your own company in parallel with your day job until you can support yourself fully.

      Virtually everything important I've learned about how to deliver working code came first from working on an outside project, which I then perfected by applying those techniques as part of a project at work. Everything important I

  • write a script (not even worth real code) to replace MBAs once and for all?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Are you looking to climb the ladder on the tech side or completely move to something non-tech like marketing, sales, HR, etc.?

    I've had good results in getting opportunities to manage and lead tech teams because I have spent a good bit of time pursuing business goals. The goals themselves have not been successful but being someone who would take on the responsibility of making a business work gives you a good start in conversations about moving up the ladder on the tech side.

    • by Irishman (9604) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:29PM (#45147755)

      Even without wanting to move to a non-tech area or become management, understanding the business side of things gives insight into how/why decisions get made. It can also allow you to make calls as to which features you will implement when faced with a limited budget or other item not related to the technology. I have found it allows me to make better decisions based on pragmatic reasons and fight the fights that are really important, rather than wasting time on something that is technically not overly important but to a business person is apparently critical.

      Take care to not let the business-think take over your mind though, you may wake screaming from the cognitive dissonance that seems to be a requirement for senior business people to operate.

      • Plus it helps with communications. Customers and end users are not used to framing their requirements in a technical fashion.

        On the other hand I am not sure you should study “business” – that covers a pretty wide range of activities. Figure out what you want to do. Running a team is one thing, marketing is another.

        Lastly, if you go for a MBA find a good night school that requires their students to work full time. The “full time” might seem to be an odd requirement but it means

    • by Lennie (16154) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @07:26PM (#45148211) Homepage

      Most businesses are doing it wrong.

      Instead of moving smart people from being productive to management-type functions and get payed more, they should pay the more productive people more.

      As Gabe Newell from Valve puts it: Management is a skill, not a career path.

  • Sure (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    .. If you enjoy losing your soul.

    Brush up on the art of backstabbing, lying through your teeth, fake smiles, and keeping up appearances and you'll be successful in business.

    Oh, you just want to deal in local business? Don't want to get tangled up in the politics of a large national or multinational and want to stay in your local community? Well then the above goes double. (Triple if you're involved in local politics)

    • Brush up on the art of backstabbing, lying through your teeth, fake smiles, and keeping up appearances and you'll be successful in business.

      Keeping Up Appearances [wikipedia.org] may not be as much help as you suggest, especially if your family doesn't cooperate.
    • by grcumb (781340)

      .. If you enjoy losing your soul.

      Brush up on the art of backstabbing, lying through your teeth, fake smiles, and keeping up appearances and you'll be successful in business.

      The fact that you've been modded Flamebait for offering an honest, unvarnished (and embittered) opinion is, ironically, the strongest supporting evidence you could have asked for.

      It's hard for some of us to come to terms with a world where much of what we do and say isn't dictated by deterministic, defined and empirically measurable phenomena. It takes a great deal of effort and learning to begin to understand what motivates people, how to deal with the vagaries and, importantly, how to get money from them

  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:24PM (#45147677) Homepage
    What is it that you really want to be? Do you want to be a businessman? (or woman, but then, this is Slashdot after all) If so, by all means study business. Do you want to be a project manager, or do some other type of management? If so, study that. Until you know what you want to do with the rest of your life, nobody can tell you what to study, and once you do, you won't need to ask.
    • by postbigbang (761081) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:46PM (#45147899)

      Every person not working for a wage is a business person, and needs to understand taxes, business law, accounting, and ethics.

      If you want to earn a way, there's nothing wrong with that, but many people are in small business, freelance, do projects as freelancers, and never see a W2/W4. And you'll need to know what a 1099 is, how to do accounting and why and when, and so forth.

      It ought to be mandatory. Being a programmer is a discipline and business is how the world works. You need to know both.

      • and ethics.

        Ethics are important. Most MBA programs include courses on ethics. Most popular, is the course titled, "Ethics . . . and How to Avoid Them"

      • by mysidia (191772)

        any people are in small business, freelance, do projects as freelancers, and never see a W2/W4. And you'll need to know what a 1099 is, how to do accounting and why and when, and so forth.

        Yes, but many people want to outsource these functions, so they don't have to deal with them.

        If you can outsource these tasks to be handled by less technically advanced folks: Why should you have to deal with all these issues, instead of doing what you love --- designing and implementing great software?

        Spending a

        • You're in denial. While you weren't watching, bad things happened to you and around you. Better to know than remain "blissfully ignorant". Rockstar coders get their clocked cleaned, often by moves that result in hideous taxes.

          • by mysidia (191772)

            Rockstar coders get their clocked cleaned, often by moves that result in hideous taxes.

            What's that supposed to mean?

            Taxes are what you hire accountants and tax attorneys to help you deal with.

            • Keep thinking like a rockstar. Lots of them end up broke at death. Why? Because they thought they were too cool to audit what's going on, and paid a lot of attorneys fees, interest, penalties, and otherwise left it to someone else, instead of being responsible for themselves, which ultimately, we all are, and personally.

              You plan in advance about taxes, assets, and how they move back and forth, and affect you. Unless you're a gamer or an embedded systems coder, you have to deal with the real world, and not f

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          I certainly studied computer science because I did NOT want to be a business person. I never once have ever had to do any accounting in an engineering job in 30 years (though in a summer manual job in college I had to). Similarly, I have never had to do taxes or law with regards to engineering (other than waiting for legal department to clear up some paperwork). I only have to deal with my personal taxes and personal legal issues and personal accounting. I'd only have to deal with that ugly stuff if I w

    • Here's a secret: what you find interesting and exciting while you are 20 year old, and therefore "want to do with the rest of your life", may be vastly different 20 years later.

      It's called personal growth, and the trick is to constantly reinvent yourself.

      • by rwa2 (4391) *

        Yep, sounds right.

        Programming is a tool, not a trade. It sounds like the submitter wants to learn a trade, that may or may not be business-related.

        If you have a job that pays for education, by all means, go back to school and take courses that interest you. And see if you can surreptitiously grow that into a trade that you can be awesome at because of your mad programming skills. There are tons of fields (business, accounting, engineering, wedding planning, art history, etc.) and all of them could greatl

  • by stox (131684) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:26PM (#45147721) Homepage

    If nothing else, it is an important part of a well rounded education. It will help you personally and professionally.

  • by Millennium (2451) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:27PM (#45147725) Homepage

    It's useful to know enough about these things that you can discuss the basics with the people you work with. That said, you do not need a degree in marketing to speak marketer, and you do not need an MBA to speak boss.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      That said, you do not need a degree in marketing to speak marketer, and you do not need an MBA to speak boss.

      Personally; I think the main reason to get a MBA is to be able to effectively refute arguments made by clueless MBAs to $do_stupid_thing_X based on $short_term_focused_reason_Y, at the cost of $long_term_damage_of_nature_Z, Q, and R.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      And as everyone here may have learned through experience, a manager of a group of programmers does not need to know the first thing about computers.

  • Yes! (Score:4, Informative)

    by David Betz (2845597) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:27PM (#45147735)
    This is part of the modern fundamentals of the liberal arts: trivium, quadrivium, then everyone should also know how to physically use a computer (desktop/laptop and tablet variants), know how to make a document/make a spreadsheet/use the internet, know some HTML, know how to run a business, know how to do your taxes (without killing yourself), know when to contact an attorney (as important as 911 these days), and know how to change a tire. These are BASIC skills... and at this point you are smarter than a fifth grader!
    • by mysidia (191772)

      know when to contact an attorney (as important as 911 these days)

      Hm... perhaps you should just say to h**** with the business stuff, and start studying law, then.

      Wouldn't it be better to be the attorney; then you would rarely need to contact one ?

      • by w_dragon (1802458)
        A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.
      • What if you don't want to be a lawyer?

        I haven't needed one more than half a dozen times in a fairly long life, but when you need a lawyer you're likely to need one badly. Becoming a lawyer to save myself a few thousand in lawyer's fees over a lifetime just doesn't seem a good idea.

        • by mysidia (191772)

          What if you don't want to be a lawyer?

          The argument is you should probably still study at least some law. Maybe you ought to study a lot of law, and still not be a lawyer. Do you really need to be capable of passing the bar to eliminate the need for a lawyer in many cases?

          I haven't needed one more than half a dozen times in a fairly long life, but when you need a lawyer you're likely to need one badly. Becoming a lawyer to save myself a few thousand in lawyer's fees over a lifetime just doesn't seem

          • Knowing the law isn't a bad idea, but study takes time and energy that can be spent on other things. If I were a young entrepreneur (I'm neither), I'd have other things to do than to become a lawyer myself. If it turned out that my business was in a field with a lot of litigation, I'd hire whatever legal help I needed, because concentrating on winning a case would mean I'm not concentrating on growing my business.

  • by bhlowe (1803290) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:29PM (#45147751)
    Sure, get a business minor and/or an MBA. Especially if you like the business side of things. I have a minor in business, and got a major in CS. I've been very happy with my education and run a small software business. Or you can teach yourself these things by just reading books and listening to lectures, but that is harder to "sell" on a resume unless you can back it up with job experience...
  • by powerspike (729889) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:30PM (#45147773)
    The first thing you need to do - is work out what you want to do.

    Then you can start getting your skills together - and plans.

    However in saying that, networking is always important, regardless if you want to start a business, or get into the higher rungs of management - no body is going to want your skills and services if they don't know about them.

    If you want to start your own business, remember there is things like start up cash (you'll be running at a lose for a while - even a year or two if you don't have clients to start with), you'll need to be able to market your business to the right people

    Are you going SaaS?
    Are you creating software to sell in volume, or are you going to do custom work for every client?
    Have chosen a vertical industry to go into?
    • by timeOday (582209)
      "The first thing you need to do - is work out what you want to do."

      Except you don't really know until you've tried it! Instead of diving in head first, I'd suggest seeking opportunities to wade in, being patient if necessary (up to a point). "I have a friend" (ahem) who took a temporary management position, and learned it was not for him. Granted, this leaves him with no clear career path, shaking up his expectations of the future. But at least he gained some perspective without burning any bridges.

      • I have been business for a while now, alot of people seem to take up the mantra "build it and they will come". It isn't like that at all. You need to network, let people know what you are doing, or willing to do, if you can't work out what to do to start with - people will start to ask you - as long as you keep networking. When that starts happening - you can start to work it out.

        If you don't know your destination - you don't know how to get there - this is so true in business, if your going out on your
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Keep doing it. It seems like you are implying that you have moved up as high as you can as a programmer and therefore, you must move onto "business". I think this is a false assumption. Sometimes management can be a good move for some people, but for others it's not. You will have to play politics and do things you don't currently consider work. You might hate it. You also will not necessarily make more money doing it. I know of cases where a manager did not make as much as programmers that report to him/he

  • Business can be learned, but like all things it is better to learn that in your pre-teen years and continues for a life time. Marketing is something you are born with... you can learn it but the innate talent (?) has to come first. Yes, learn business!!!
  • At UCSD, I majored in Computer Engineering and minored in Business Economics. This combines lower division economics, and upper division accounting. It does help me think of money and time's value to managers, and understand the jargon of the business world.
  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:49PM (#45147933)
    But yes you should get the bulk (or entirety) of what makes an MBA under your belt; just don't drink the kool-aid. I really don't like people who only have an MBA. But having a real skill plus an MBA is pretty powerful stuff. Quite simply I have seen a zillion people build awesome stuff (me included) and just not market it very well or at all. And then I have seen people with complete dog poo for a product market the product into being set for life. Guess which skillset the later had and the former didn't have? This is not just marketing but being able to communicate with those moneyed types such as investors and banks.

    At the same time financial training is not a magic bullet. I have seen highly educated CFOs get completely hosed by well concocted financial set-ups.

    As I said, don't drink the kool-aid. The worst symptom of a useless MBA is that they are able to manipulate reality through very convincing reports and excellent spread sheets. A recent example of this behavior would be the MS Windows phone OS. MS made every effort to make it look like it was gaining real traction; I even remember one article where they were breathlessly predicting that it would have over 50% of the smart phone market by about 2014. Even when sales were abysmal they started quoting numbers like units shipped or quoting the first day sales as a comparison to other phones.

    With good business training you will learn to bend the market into accepting your awesome product. With the same training you might even fool the market into buying your worthless product. But with only technical training you should be prepared to be the only user of your awesome product.
  • If you don't understand Business, then you are a limited programmer. Programming taught me business and understanding business processes is how a programmer markets themselves to a business. If you aren't smart enough to understand business, you have no business in in IT.
  • Business will help you no matter what you get in to. It's worthwhile, but if you don't care about it, you won't invest yourself in it and really appreciate it.

    Sales/marketing takes more natural ability than book teaching in my experience. Here you REALLY have to have a desire for it, or you get burned out quickly and hate your job.

    Starting your own business requires some level of knowledge of both, as well as finance/economics, or complementing your team with those knowledgeable/trustworthy where you lack

  • Look, if you want to get paid to program, you're going to need to know something about the business or organization you work in. In a ton of cases, that means knowing some accounting, organizational structure, and the actual goals of the business. For anyone who can actually program, that should be too hard.

  • by williamyf (227051) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @07:12PM (#45148129)

    I remember when I was a young engineer. I got promoted through the ranks quickly, and at some point faced the same quagmire as you. What I ended up doing was to take a program of marketing management. Two months, Friday all day and Sat mornings for a month and a half to get a taste of the discipline (I was exposed to economy and accounting at the University, 12 weeks each, and lots of reading on economy, administration, etc). After that brief and non compromising stint, I realized that there were more nuances to marketing than what could be anticipated, and that the whole "Business" field was VERY interesting to me. Therefore, I went and did a full time MBA.

    If you are gonna learn on your own (which I do not recommend), try to read the classics, Kotler on marketing management, rice & trout for positioning, etc. No Wikipedia or "Business for dummies" for you.

    If you are going to take (a) short course(s) on the subject, go to reputable schools (I did the Short stint at IESA, not high in the world rankings, but best in my country, and did my MBA at IE in Madrid), while there are no hard and fast guarantees, going to reputable institutions will raise the possibility of being exposed to great teachers. Try to go for classroom courses, is harder, but you will build your "networking thingie" much better.

    There is no guarantee that doing an MBA will improve your situation. But it would be hell to sign up for an MBA and discovering that you HATE "Business", and ALSO it would also be a grave mistake to decide "What you want to do" without at least a glance of what this "Business" thing is all about.

  • I work in areas of quantitive finance and have found the CFA charter to be very worthwhile. It briefly covers some of the subject matter of an MBA but is more oriented toward analysis which may be a good fit to a geek mind-set.

    It's not an easy program - first, because it's largely self-study and second, because each of the three successive levels of the test has about a 50% pass rate. However, the self-study aspect also means it's far less expensive than most academic business degrees. Also, the rigorous

    • I thought that in order to qualify you had to have some years of experience in a financially related industry?

      I know the exams are f[r]ee for all though.

  • I think it's best to go "all in" - or not go in at all. If you want to get an MBA or other business education, make a commitment to it. However, most technical managers I know have no real business education and they do just fine in The Big Corporation. So a business education is helpful but not necessary.

    Likewise, if you want to start your own business, go all in. I've operated a part-time home software business for the last 15 years which has been modestly successful. However, since I do 100% of ever

  • Yes, to an extent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jwthompson2 (749521) * <james AT plainprograms DOT com> on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @07:26PM (#45148213) Homepage

    The answer depends on where you want your career to go. But, regardless I would say that all programmers should invest the time to understand the business they work for so that they can best serve the interests of their employer. This is different from getting an MBA or studying business in the general sense. Programmers need to understand the problems that their company deals with, otherwise they're not going to see the best solutions.

    As an example I currently work for a company that manufactures packaged food products. As the lead developer it is part of my job to understand how the business operates; from how our inventory is managed, to how our customers pay us, to how our shipping personnel process incoming and outgoing items. Understanding this and talking to people in all these areas allows me to spot inefficiencies and address problems, sometimes before others realize they are a big deal. That means I can help put technology to work in a way that makes our business more efficient, which leads to better profits and happy bosses and better compensation for myself and those I work with.

    Unless all you ever want to be is a low-rung developer, or if you don't have any desire to stay with the company you're with long-term; then it always makes sense to get to know your business, and it will make you a more valuable employee.

  • and how it is applied. I am in business and got my programming certs in Java and VB. It has helped me immensely, becuase too many business people don't understand the complexities of tech and see it as a panacea for everything.
  • 1) "How to Get Rich," by Felix Dennis 2) "Screw it, Let's do it," by Richard Branson
  • by raymorris (2726007) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @07:43PM (#45148301)

    Absolutely do NOT start your own business at this point. The first few years of starting a business typically means working 60 hours doing alot of business management and adminsistration. Unless you have a passion for either a) tax forms or b) working until 2AM because the buck stops with you, starting and running a business probably isn't your optimal choice. That's especially true if you'd have any employees. There's a lot of crap involved in being an employer. Without employees, you still have to run the company, so while you're doing the quarterly taxes, who is serving the customers?

    Check into project management. There are certifications available. After a few years of managing projects, you'll have some clue if you'd want to manage a company and how to manage a company.

    • by raymorris (2726007) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @07:53PM (#45148353)

      BTW, the comment above is from someone who has run businesses my entire life, helped several other people start businesses, and whose clients and mostly small businesses. I just sold one of my companies, which is the second time I've sold a business. Now I have one left (Clonebox). So it's not that I'm saying starting and running a business is a bad thing - it's just not right for YOU right NOW.

      When I was about eight years old I put an ad in the newspaper selling replacement window screens. I'd go to your home or business (on my bicycle) and make custom fit window screens. I have a passion for starting new businesses, and don't mind working until 2AM doing that. I also enjoy running them, being the "buck stops here" guy, even though that means the buck stops with me at 2AM, I'm the one who has to get up and drive 90 miles to the datacenter or whatever. From what you've said, you really don't know if you have any interest in business. In that case, starting one would be like getting married without ever going on a date.

  • Absolutely yes and at least become familiar with other departments at your company. It will really make you appreciate the roles that sales, marketing, technical support, product management, professional services, accounting, legal, etc. play.

    As for myself I transitioned from pure development into professional services (customer-facing post-sales installation, training, integrations, trouble-shooting). As much as I liked development I'm finding I'm really good at this role even though I consider myself an

  • Learning how business works should be a high school basic class. If you are involved with programming beyond the "here's a spec, write code to match it" level, being able to communicate with users in their own terms will make your life SO much easier!

    As others have pointed out, it will help you with the "big picture".

    If you're writing software to be used by businesses, understanding what is important to them affects what you develop. It is easy for someone to write a detailed specification of what someone T

  • When I was a lonely undergrad and not studying for my degree in what they now call MIS because I was too busy writing code the department chair of all people gave me a great piece of advice that I have never forgotten and it has paid off on at least one occasion. He told me the being a coder is all well and good but the people who really get the jobs are those who can code AND are competent in some other area as well.

    One job I got in the late 90's with a library software vendor was specifically because I k

  • Especially if your company's paying, you should do it. If nothing else, it might give you perspective. I have a pretty broad background, but don't have an MBA. I'm not sure if it would help me or not but I'm never against learning something new.

    That said, what is your reason for wanting to be in management, or "something more responsible?" I've been repeatedly asked to make this transition, given that I'm getting older, and so far I've been able to avoid it. Not that I mind responsibility -- I have technica

  • The actual "learning" part that goes in a classroom is nothing, no problem. The hard part is the personal interaction part. And if you can't do that naturally, no program is going to teach it to you, and you won't succeed in business.

  • by PPH (736903)

    Some business basics should probably be a high school graduation requirement. One way or another, people are going to have to deal with or become a business. Understanding the basics of loans, billing, contracts, employee laws, etc. would be good for both sides.

    Sad stories: When I worked for a major local engineering/manufacturing firm, I ran across engineers that had no idea what the Dow Jones Industrial Average was (including one guy who had several hundred K$ in stock). When they enrolled me in a manage

  • No (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Miamicanes (730264) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @09:59PM (#45149093)

    > Should I learn business? It it more important to focus on personal networking?

    No, and it doesn't matter. Statistically, if you're good at programming and love it, you'll probably be miserable focusing on business, and even MORE miserable trying to force yourself to personally network. If you're miserable, you'll never succeed. Network enough to find someone who won't fuck you over too badly who genuinely ENJOYS the business end, and stick with programming. Come up with something cool, and let THEM worry about finding a way to make it profitable, so you can buy a cool loft somewhere, take a few decent vacations to places you enjoy, and have enough money in the bank after the IPO to let you spend the rest of your life writing quirky open-source software for your own personal gratification.

    Learn enough about business to sense when you're getting screwed over, but don't try to BE the one who actually RUNS the business. Been there, done it, swore to at least 3 major deities I'll never do it again. And fortunately, I was young enough to be mostly judgment-proof. If you're a programmer, having to spend most of your time being a bill-collector, salesperson, or worse will demoralize more than anything you've ever done in your life. If you study ANY area of business, study the basics of IP law so you can turn your hobbies into a personal patent portfolio, then go shopping for someone to finance your future fun.

  • if you are asking if you should on /. = my guess is that you probably aren't that interested

    but this always make me laugh (because it is true) [youtube.com]

  • Starting your own business is a lot harder than working as an employee/programmer/engineer etc. There's a lot of BS you have to deal with, and at 10:30pm if the order has to get out for the morning, guess who's running the machinery? And if you are just breaking even, that 10:30pm isn't even going to end up in your own pocket. I started a small businesss with a friend, worked 30+ hrs a week on it, had to work 40hrs a week as "high income earning consultant" to pay my bills, and for 7 years I was flat b
  • We've followed similar career arcs. When I figured out, like you, that this wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I started studying money. It's essentially a new language, with variable, types, modules, classes etc. Once you understand the basic premises, it's no more difficult to make it than to write a significant application.

    The cool thing about working towards a good chunk of cash is that it gives you the ability to take a step back and look around. Maybe software development IS wh
  • Studying business is short sighted. At the end you'll find it's mostly a waste of time because you could have learned it all on the job. Blah blah, yield management, blah blah cash flow, blah blah EBITDA.

    If you feel strongly about studying business, what you'll find next is the obstacle you can't get around is law. As much as you might want to understand the business dynamics, you'll run into having to deal with contracts, agreements, or copyrights and patents. That's a much harder obstacle to overcome, eve

  • by deego (587575)

    And not just for transition's sake.

    It is my card-carrying geekiness that has allowed me to make money using software, trading, start a C corp. etc..

    But, once you do all that, everything gets more complicated. There's so much regulation in every aspect that you can't help but feel the need to learn this stuff . Yes, you can hire experts for everything, but as the decision-maker in your business, it can't hurt to learn these things. And, learning the basics of accounting can never hurt, regulation or not...

  • by johnlcallaway (165670) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @08:50AM (#45151673)
    If you answered anything but 'money', you are wrong. You need to know the basic of making money and the processes that help a company know if they are making a profit or not. You need to be able to do a cost analysis of a project so if it's something you really think is a good thing to do, you can prove it from a 'making money' perspective, or at least 'not losing as much'. The cool thing is, many of these skills are transferable to your personal life in how you handle money also. Accounts payable, receivable, book keeping, and budgeting are all skills one needs in the daily life to manage finances. For instance, an understanding of ROI can help one decide if they should spend the extra money on the higher grade of carpeting.

    You don't need to be an expert, some basic account, marketing, and ethics knowledge will suffice. It used to be that developers would spend time out in the field learning these things. I've sat with accountants, bookkeepers, and other office staff for hours at a time learning their trade to help design software for them, and in doing so picked up a lot of skills. But opportunities like that don't happen as much anymore; with the advent of more formal SDLC procedures the ability of developers to mingle with their users has limited that path to a few higher level jobs, like project leaders and architects.

    It's not important whether you learn by taking formal classes or buying books and studying or just being observant at work. But you do need to know it. Or be prepared to be nothing more than a code monkey the rest of your career.
  • If you want a degree, consider an MA in Economics instead of an MBA. Pick a solid school with plenty of flexibility in course selection. Take some classes that MBA students take—general Mgmt, Finance, Production Mgmt, etc.—and otherwise concentrate on behavioral and quantitative stuff (business psychology, forecasting, econometrics). You'll probably need to take some undergraduate prerequisite courses such as Micro, Macro, Money & Banking... but that's a good thing. What you'll end up with i

  • that's what Im looking for....
    • by tatman (1076111)
      wait! delete delete delete. crap. I meant thats the job Im looking forward to when Im done programming....
  • My major right now is account with the emphasis on the information systems. I plan to get my CPA certification so if the computer aspect doesn't work out, I have something to fall back on.
  • Learning about business is probably a good idea for anyone who works for a living, and possibly others.

    I decided to this recently and went back and forth with the idea of going for an MBA, but realized that the return on my investment of money and time to get it would not be worth it, so I decided to learn on my own.

    The first book that I'm reading for that purpose, and I'm glad that it is, is "The Personal MBA: Master The Art of Business" by Josh Kaufman. This has been excellent so far, giving a concise int

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