Should I leave my job to pursue an MBA degree?

May 1, 2002
Q: I have been in sales/marketing in a laser company. Should I go full-time for my MBA or continue my current job and earn an MBA over time?
1304qa Chang New

Q: I have been in sales/marketing in a laser company. Should I go full-time for my MBA or continue my current job and earn an MBA over time?

A: My suggestion is to attend full-time unless your financial situation does not allow you to do so. You already have work experience, so mixing work with study does not add much benefit. One obvious advantage to going full-time is that you can concentrate on learning and immerse yourself to internalize what you pick up in the classroom. Another important advantage is that you are more likely to develop close relationships with your classmates if you stick around the campus. Most people think of school as a place to learn "technical" skills, but perhaps more important is the opportunity to learn social skills and to mix with your peers to develop a network of professional friends. The level of trust you develop with your classmates is almost never matched with people you encounter later in life. Unlike in technology, in business whom you know is often more important than what you know. You might want to keep this in mind in selecting a school. At the end of the day, most MBA programs cover more or less the same subjects with similar books, and the caliber of professors is not dramatically different. I also believe in starting with a clean slate because growth requires making changes. Strategically, clinging to your current job could also limit your upward mobility because it is difficult to change an established image. As a practical matter, it would be awkward to be promoted over anyone who previously was your boss.

I might add parenthetically that this is a particularly difficult year to get into a good MBA program. In an economic downturn, people who cannot find jobs return to school. Applications have almost doubled in some business schools. You want to apply to multiple schools and spend some quality time preparing your applications.

Q: Why aren't there more standards in the optical telecom space?

A: Historically, establishing standards has been an uphill battle for our industry. I recall it took years just to adopt a standard for a lens bevel. It is useful to know that in the U.S. the government does not directly get involved in establishing standards. It is purely a volunteer activity within the industry. Establishing standards is difficult when there is a high level of innovation as new products are coming on stream. At that stage, companies compete on differentiation, which makes them reluctant to accept standards. Companies on the supply side resist standards that result in uniform performance because then products become primarily compared based on pricing. And once a standard is established, it is difficult to get anyone to buy a new product even if it is superior. As the rate of new product introduction slows down, companies on the buy side push for standards, forcing many suppliers to bid on the same product to drive the price down. At that stage companies are faced with a lower margin business with competitive advantage not based upon technology, but rather upon manufacturing costs and operational effectiveness. In some cases, a product becomes a de facto standard, which means one product is so well established that it has gained a majority of the market share. The good news is that many telecom components are at this stage; the bad news is the current poor market conditions are driving prices down no matter what you are selling.

The situation in datacom is quite different traditionally. There the volume is large and historically there are large buyers with purchasing power to push for standards. There is also more of the attitude that "if it does the job, it is good enough," with emphasis toward supply and price as opposed to performance. Some of the standards established in datacom, like those for 10 Gigabit Ethernet, are migrating into the telecom space to help drive the costs of telecom equipment down. So, one way or another, standards develop over time as requirements mature.

About the Author

Milton Chang

MILTON CHANG of Incubic Management was president of Newport and New Focus. He is currently director of mBio Diagnostics and Aurrion; a trustee of Caltech; a member of the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies; and serves on advisory boards and mentors entrepreneurs. Chang is a Fellow of IEEE, OSA, and LIA. Direct your business, management, and career questions to him at [email protected], and check out his book Toward Entrepreneurship at www.miltonchang.com.

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