MBA for Software Engineers – Do You Need One to Climb the Career Ladder?

You’ve been a software engineer for years, and you feel it’s now time to take a step forward. But you’re wondering: What comes next? Where do I go from here? 

What catches your attention is that other software engineers are going for an MBA. As a result, they’re getting promotions and enjoying fatter paychecks. But is this the road you want to take? How will earning an MBA increase your chances of climbing the software engineer career ladder?

If this is you, we understand. We know it can be difficult to decide on the next step in your career. That’s why we’ve put together this guide specifically for you. In it we cover:

  • The career ladder of a software engineer (from bottom to top)
  • How an MBA can help you climb that ladder 
  • The different types of MBAs, and how to choose one to match your needs

When you finish reading this, you’ll know exactly where you want to go next in your career and whether or not an MBA will help you get there. Let’s dive in! 

Understanding the Software Engineer Career Path

To know where you want to go on the software engineer career path, you first need to decide what your biggest priority is. Is it to gain a bigger salary? Or is it to keep doing what you love, but on a larger scale?

Think of it like this. The higher you move up on the career ladder, the less you’ll be getting your hands dirty doing the work of actual programming. Some are happy with a lifetime of writing code and fixing bugs. Others want to go into managing complex software systems, and others want to manage teams. 

To make a good decision on where you want to go, it’s important to go into detail on the typical software engineer’s career path.

The Software Engineer Career Ladder

You start as a software engineer, but it’s not uncommon for you to move to the top with a C-suite job. 

Here’s what the career ladder of a software engineer looks like. We’ll start with the first rung on the ladder, junior software engineer, and go all the way to the highest rung, CTO. In between, you’ll see the different steps in the ladder and how each one requires its own set of more complex skills and responsibilities. 

Junior Software Engineer

Junior software engineers are mainly responsible for building quality software. This includes writing code, fixing small bugs, and working closely with senior developers on pair programming. 

The junior software engineer role is an entry-level position. The skills required are what you already have: knowledge of programming languages, operating systems, and databases. As you gain experience, you’ll start handling larger projects and working more independently. 

Senior Software Engineer 

Senior software engineers still write code, but this time with an eye on the bigger picture of a project. They’re in charge of designing and developing software solutions, plus coaching other developers. This is an excellent position for those who love programming but don’t like the idea of leading a team. 

The skills needed for this position are basic software architecture, advanced code design, and coaching. 

Lead Developer 

Lead developers still write code while coordinating work and implementing decisions. Other programmers usually look to them for direction. This position is seen as a transition into a mid-level management role. 

Technical Architect 

Technical architects rarely write code. Their main responsibilities lie in designing complex systems that other developers create. Going for the technical architect position is the biggest leap you can make as a software engineer without going into leadership and management roles. 

Development Team Lead or Software Development Manager 

Mid-level managers are in charge of overseeing either projects or teams. Depending on their leadership skills, their job can include:

  • Managing complex projects
  • Coordinating between higher management and development teams
  • Hiring and firing developers 

Besides the technical skills required for this position, mid-level managers need excellent people skills. 

Chief Technology Officer (CTO) 

Chief Technology Officer (or CTO) is the highest-ranking position in the IT business. The role of a CTO is to oversee all of the company’s technological needs. CTOs have executive powers they can use to make decisions and investments for the advancement of the company. 

The Career Path for a Software Engineer After Earning an MBA

How far up you want to go on the software engineer career ladder is up to you. Some professionals stay at the senior engineer level their whole lives (and love it!) while others progress to CTO. It all depends on what you love doing most, whether that’s writing code, managing projects, or handling relationships between people. 

If your dream is to get into leadership and management roles, getting an MBA makes sense. Here’s why. 

MBA for IT Professionals: Why It Makes Sense 

Of course, strong technical skills are a must if you want to climb the software engineer career ladder. However, they aren’t enough to get you to the position of CTO. This is because companies today are looking to hire executive officers who have both excellent technical skills plus strong business acumen.

Think of yourself in the position of hiring a new CTO for your company. The first applicant has strong technical IT skills and years of experience as a software engineer. The second one has all these, plus the ability to see the bigger picture and understand how technical decisions will impact the company’s finances and business outlook. Who do you think you will hire? 

If you already have years of experience developing software and the next logical step for you is to go into C-level management, an MBA can help you acquire the skills to fit into this position. 

Is an MBA for Information Technology Worth It?

Earning an MBA can cost upwards of $200,000. If you stop working while pursuing your studies, this amount can rise up to $400,000. 

To determine if an MBA is worth the cost, you first need to ask yourself some important questions.

  • What do you plan to do with your MBA?
  • Where do you see yourself five years after completing your MBA?
  • How long will it take you to achieve significant ROI from your MBA?

Why Do Software Engineers Pursue an MBA?

Here are six reasons software engineers pursue an MBA despite the heavy cost. 

  • Respect from business-side teams
  • Promotion to management roles 
  • Salary increase (up to $44,000 per year) 
  • Better chances of being hired as CTO in a new company
  • Greater confidence working in managerial positions 
  • Career satisfaction from being able to climb the corporate ladder

MBA Software Engineer Salary Statistics

In general, professionals with an MBA earn more than those without one. In the U.S., MBA holders earn an average of $102,100. That’s higher than the national average of $74,378

But it gets even better for IT professionals with an MBA. According to U.S. News, technology is one of the top three fields that pay the highest salaries for MBA holders. 

According to PayScale, a software engineer with an MBA earns an average of $119,438. That’s $44,906 larger than the average salary of software engineers, which is $74,532.

An MBA for Software Engineers

Understanding the different types of MBAs is essential for mapping out your career direction. Here are three to consider. 

  • Campus-Based MBA. Requires you to stop working and focus on earning your MBA on campus. Best for new graduates who have the time and financial stability to support themselves in school.
  • Online MBA. Allows students to continue working while they earn their MBA.
  • EMBA. Designed for professionals with many years of experience, the executive MBA is for people who want to advance their careers and move into senior leadership positions in their companies.

The Best MBA for Software Engineers

Use this as a guide to select the MBA that’s right for you. 

Executive MBA for IT Professionals 

If you are an IT professional looking to climb the career ladder into senior leadership, the best program for you would be an executive MBA. 

An EMBA is different from an MBA mainly because of its focus. While MBAs are designed for new graduates, EMBAs are for professionals with years’ worth of experience looking to showcase their business credibility and advance their careers. 

The qualifications for EMBA are also different from those of a regular MBA. While qualifying for a regular MBA requires top-notch academic scores, getting into an EMBA program requires a look into professional working experience and skills. 

MBA Career Network for Tech Professionals

Since 80% of positions are filled through networking, it’s an excellent idea to look into programs that offer exposure to other top-notch professionals. Knowing great people will not only widen your chances of professional growth, but also challenge you to grow and sharpen your skills. 

What’s great about joining a career network is that you can connect with thousands of the brightest minds around the world. You get access to current students, alumni, plus the chance to get discovered and hired by excellent tech companies.  

MBA Course Curriculum for Software Engineers

Before selecting an MBA program, it’s essential to look into the curriculum to see if it includes these four aspects.

  • Business. To lead in a C-suite position, it’s important to understand the core concepts of business, finance, and marketing.
  • Strategy. In a management position, you’ll be in charge of top-level strategy so it’s important to find an MBA that covers this.
  • Decision Making. IT professionals should be able to understand how to make critical business decisions based on data.
  • Leadership. Since leading a team will be one of your duties, acquiring communication and interpersonal skills is a must. 

MBA for Software Engineer Discussions on Reddit

Going through other professionals’ different experiences and opinions will help you weigh out the pros and cons of getting an MBA and make your decision. One great way to do it is to read Reddit threads on the topic

Believe it or not, Reddit is an open community and discussion forum that’s influential among higher education students. Here you can ask, find specific questions from other software engineers, and get answers and suggestions from those who are in the same field and have earned their MBA. 

Summary: Should You Get an MBA? 

Getting an MBA is not for everyone. To determine whether it’s right for you, you first need to consider your priorities and where you want to go on the software engineering path.

If writing code is what you want to do all your life and you have no interest in managing a team, getting an MBA might not be the best fit for your needs. However, if you have your sights set on mid-level management or even CTO, earning one will give you the knowledge and credentials to get there.