MSCE vs. MBA – Let’s Get Ready To Rumbllllle !

May 7, 2009 at 3:01 pm 36 comments

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of

The purpose of one pursuing a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering  is to develop a deep understanding and knowledge base specific to the specialization that is chosen (transportation, water resources, structural engineering, etc.). According to a 2005 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the starting salary for a Civil Engineer with a Masters Degree was ten percent higher than what was offered as starting compensation to graduates with a Bachelors Degree.  Obtaining a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering not only leads to  higher pay, but more importantly it shows one’s commitment to their field and is looked upon in a positive manner by the civil engineering community.  

An MBA on the other hand, held by a  Professional Engineer working within the Civil Engineering industry, for some reason is not always looked upon in a positive light…and I cannot quite put my finger on as to why?  MBA students study a wide array of business courses including accounting, finance, statistics, marketing, economics, management and other courses of the like.  By gaining an MBA, one is better preparing themselves for a role in management, which often is not a natural path for the more technically inclined civil engineer. It’s not that it is really frowned upon, but my deduction is that the pursuit and receipt of an MBA by a civil engineer sometimes puts up a misunderstood “red flag.”  In fact, many firms will reimburse their employee’s for coursework towards their MSCE, but not their MBA.

What I have found is that Civil Engineers who achieve their MBA have the best of intentions, but those on the outside looking in sometimes tend to smirk…as if that individual has “sold out.”  For some outsiders looking in,  they view their civil engineering counterpart who received their MBA as someone who is either attempting to get out of the industry altogether, or as a fellow professional who is not fully committed to the civil engineering profession in its purest sense. Or maybe it is that the existing supervisor or potential hiring manager feels threatened.  Because the MBA candidate is unaware of this oft ill willed perception,  they end up over estimating the power, if you will, of their MBA.  They often believe it will swiftly take them to the next level in their career, when the reality is, it will eventually play a role in their career advancement.  This mentality is ESPECIALLY the case for younger engineering professionals who, in the grand scheme of things, have really only just begun to put the brush on the canvas.   Again, their intentions may be good, but occasionally they believe that with just a few years of design experience, and now an MBA, that cube world will be a thing of the past and the red carpet will be rolled out leading to the corner office, only after passing by their newly crowned Executive Assistant.  This of course is not meant to be a blanket statement, but I would be lying if I told you that I did not speak to engineers from time-to-time who think this way.

Talking to hundreds of civil engineers each month for the past 12 years, the above scenario is what I see.  I believe that the pursuit of an MSCE and an MBA are both admirable and advantageous to one’s career.  But after talking to so many civil engineering professionals over the years and reading between the lines during the hiring process, both Masters Degrees can indeed benefit one’s career, but it is a matter of timing.  I am of the school of thought that one should pursue their MSCE first, and then only consider pursuing an MBA after spending a decent amount of time in the trenches.  The pursuit of the MBA should maybe come after one has already entered into the world of department or program management; or at least when they are on the cusp of attaining that level of responsibility.  It is at this level that you will begin to reap the benefits of your MBA.  You can have as many letters as you want after your name, but the way to respect is not solely through those letters, but through your successful technical experience within your trade, among other factors as well.  

How has your MSCE or MBA influenced our career?  If you had to recommend one over the other, which would you recommend?  I look forward to your comments.

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The Public Perception Of Civil Engineering Engineering Ethics… Is There Ever A Question?

36 Comments Add your own

  • 1. F  |  July 19, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Very interesting article and comments. Thank you. I am a professional chartered engineer with the ICE in Scotland with a masters of structural engineering. I have been working for 9 years and am contimplating an MBA but am trying to work out the pros and cons. Definetly food for thought. I agree that technical skill is most highly valued and an engineer must always ensure their ability but I think there are two types of engineer…the technical and the leader. Not to say you can’t do both and many do but there comes a time when one will dominate.

  • […] will find a variety of opportunities open to them over the next year. This may reactivate the MBA vs. MSCE discussion. What do you […]

  • 3. Jason  |  April 6, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    I understand what the author is saying in regards to an undergraduate CE going straight to getting an MBA after graduating and how that could lead to unrealistic expectations once they finally get a real job, but why is it better to wait until the “right time” to get an MBA, instead of just pursuing it after school and getting it now? The reason I ask is because I’m thinking that once you’ve gone further in to your career, it will become harder to budget the time and money required if you do decide to get an MBA, whereas right after college, it’s a lot easier to plan for getting an MBA if you want one.

    The other questions I have been trying to get answered is what is the difference between a Professional MBA and an Executive MBA? From the reading I have done so far, it seems that a professional MBA appears to teach more theory based business classes, whereas an Executive MBA would teach you more practical business classes. So with that said, my second question is, since an Executive MBA seems to be more practical, what would be the advantage of getting a Professional MBA rather than just waiting until you are qualified to obtain an Executive MBA?

  • 4. Felicia Miller  |  December 21, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    As an internal recruiter for an International Civil Engineering Consultancy, I look for the MSCE when I’m looking for someone who has chosen to push their career forward with a specific area of expertise. I look for the MBA when I’m looking for someone who may or may not possess specific expertise, but shows potential for positions with management or business development opportunity and/or responsibility.

  • 5. r  |  October 1, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    I am 37 years old. I joined the Marine Corps out of high school. Served 4 years, then got a honorable discharged and moved back to Chicago. I became a union carpenter and wanted something more. Moved to Texas to be with family and pursue a degree in engineering. After graduating from UTSA with a BSCE and a minor in BA, I entered the workforce. I have been a 3 firms so far for 5 years. 3 out of 5 years, I have been working as a Utility Coordinator. This job has no design but does pay well… I feel I am stuck and I would like to get more design experiance. I have been thinking about getting an MBA to provide a catalyst into another field. I like the technical side but I feel the longer I am away from it, the harder it would be for me to get a design position. Is there any solid jobs for PE, MBA engineering, like Program Management? What type of jobs can you do in technical firm?

  • […] will find a variety of opportunities open to them over the next year. This may reactivate the MBA vs. MSCE discussion. What do you think? Share this:MoreLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  • 7. Civil P.E.  |  April 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm


    Do pursue your dreams. I also work in Govt. (county road and bridge design) and could stay here until I retire but became restless and decided to pursue a weekend MBA program for working professionals from a top 20 program. Looking back at my situation I didn’t need a top 20 program, it just worked out a lot better for me this way. Many lesser ranked schools offer superior MBA educations and cost substantially less and/or are more convenient. If you are considering energy finance then I strongly suggest one of the schools in the energy corridor (LSU, Univ. of Houston, OU, Univ. of Texas system (McCombs), Texas Tech. etc.). Or if you decide to get into energy projects management the MBA and/or PMP designation could help. After completion of my MBA I will pursue the PMP designation as I am interested in energy projects management.

    It is possible however to completely transform your career from “Engineer” to a true MBA job however it is uber competitive to get into one of the top business consultants (Ernst & Young, Deloitte, Mckinsey, BCG etc.). McKinsey hired only one graduate from the entire Univ. of Texas system (full time, Executive, evening and working professional programs) this last year. Several working professional program classmates were hired by Deloitte but they were the very top students with 3.8 range GPAs. Several others made Deloitte with 3.6+ GPAs but they had IT backgrounds. Businesses and business consultants love IT backgrounds. They do not like us Civil Engineering and/or Govt. types that much however if you can make the grade or have some special experience then it is possible. I met an alum. who worked in Govt. IT before going to work for Deloitte and since he had 3.6+ GPA he got on. I am mentioning all this about grades because everything in Grad. school is graded on a curve and they only ration out so many As (4.0s) and A minus (3.66) etc.. The B+ (3.33) is the most commonly handed out grade at my school (public). Also high grades don’t get you hired by a B-consulting Co. or Corporate job however they are treated as a gateway prerequisite before they will even consider you for an interview.

    Best of luck with your decision. The strategies I learned in two semesters of Marketing Management are very cool especially since I never had any instruction in it; a completely different way of looking at things. Those classes alone I think would pay dividends in running an Engineering firm. Accounting interesting but not going to go into it. I think Engineering is more rewarding and enjoyable. Two semesters of Financial Management very interesting but wouldn’t want to go work on Wall Street 80 hours/week week in and week out.

    Overall the MBA was worth it to me even if I didn’t land an MBA job. I learned about how businesses operate. It opens up other possibilities down the line plus doesn’t look bad on a resume either.

    FINAL note: do weigh the costs versus how long to pay back tuition or how much you think the intrinsic value of the diploma is to you. I wouldn’t pay more than $40K for it unless you think you can land one of the top MBA jobs that pays $130K + bonus but also comes with 80-90 hr. weeks week after week.

  • 8. Anonymous  |  August 2, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Thank you for your insight Matt!

  • 9. Anonymous  |  August 1, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    The comments provided here has been truly beneficial. But, I would like to pose a different scenario with a different set of questions. I am a civil engineer (specialty-traffic) with a bachelor’s degree and 3 years of work experience in the transportation sector (state department of transportation in the US) and here are several ideas/questions/opinions I have in mind at this time:

    – I am looking to jump from the government sector to the private sector and I am actively looking for transportation jobs along the east coast at this time. The reason being is that the government sector is too slow and most of the projects are handled by the private sector which leaves me with the bare minimum technical exposure as opposed to what I hoped for when I first joined the department. I believe that in order to move up in any technical field…you need to be able to absorb all the technical expertise that you can possibly get along with your PE and I don’t think I would be able to get it at my current job. Now, with that being said, private sector is one direction I could go in…

    – Next, to throw this all out of whack…I want to explain my opinion on what I think I want! I don’t believe I am cut out to be a civil engineer and all the technical jargon that comes with it. I can certainly absorb all the technical concepts but the problem is that I don’t feel like it is “exciting” enough or I am not “passionate” enough about it! So, I would like to open myself to another career field. After briefly researching a few options, I came across the idea of pursuing an MBA with a focus on Global Energy. The reason I chose this among the 20 or so specialty areas in MBA is because I believe energy will be the next big crisis in the world specifically in US and I think it would be interesting to be part of that movement. After attaining my MBA, I would like to work for some energy company

    Now..for my questions:

    I would appreciate if anyone could provide their input if they have chosen a similar career path or if they have any general feedback?

    Does MBA open up opportunities to another career field, knowing that you do not want stay within the civil engineering field?

    If I am to go into the private sector, I am primarily looking to get a job in mass transit or maintenance and operations (ex: signals, railway systems)? Is that a good field to get into…If anyone know of any websites that I should look into to find jobs specific to what i was looking for…please let me know!

    Thanks for your help!

    • 10. aepcentral  |  August 2, 2011 at 9:07 am

      Anonymous – thanks for reading the blog and commenting. I will offer a couple of comments to you, in no particular order.

      1. The competition is fierce out there in todays marketplace with unemployment being so high, so it may be difficult to switch careers altogether with a surplus of experienced candidates on the market. That said, never stop pursuing your passion – if it is global energy you would like to get into then join the appropriate associations and start networking until you are able to land a job in that market. If you are able to break into the global energy market I think that you will be set for many years to come.

      2. Since you’ve already got a few years under your belt as an engineer, I would continue that route until you are able to find that energy job you so desire. Get the design experience you need and obtain your PE. If you are unable to land an energy job down the road then you want to be prepared to excel as a consulting engineer, and the PE will give you further credibility. Also, an MBA would be helpful as you look to get into management and executive leadership. The MBA is not necessarily a credential that many consulting engineering firms look for, but it certainly could help you personally in your career and give you some insight and methodology that you may not otherwise be exposed to.

      3. As far as something more exciting, you will find that the consulting side of things will be more exciting than the government side of the house. This opinion is not based on personal experience, but rather based upon the thousands and thousands of conversations I have had with civil engineers over the past 14 years.

      Good luck in your search for the next step in your career!


      Matt Barcus
      Precision Executive Search, Inc

  • 11. Joe  |  March 4, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    I’m a senior at Lawrence Tech Univ right now getting my BSCE. I’ve always thought I wanted to be an engineer but lately I’ve realized I want to be in the industry but in management. They way I see it is the specialized engineers (MSCE) are the best at what they do so they should be doing the engineering work. The guys with management skills (MBA, MEM) are the guys who are doing the management. Why would a company send its best engineers who are trained to do only engineering into management? They want managers for management and specialized engineers for engineering.

    I didn’t even know about an MEM until I read these posts but it seems to make sense to get an MEM or MBA over an MSCE from a money point of view and management is what I like anyway.

  • 12. Nathaniel Ddumba  |  February 20, 2010 at 2:24 am

    Sharp employers do sometimes hire engineers to work as accountants or sales personnel or business manager even when they know such engineers have no background in those fields, ever wondered why?
    Here is why, An engineer can be any professional. But any professional can not be an engineer. This is one of the interesting things when looking at a wide range of possibilities engineers can get into after finishing their bachelors degree.
    I myself have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a masters degree in structural engineering and what I have seen during my 8years in the working environment is that it is not really advisable for a young engineer to delve directly into the MBA program unless when the begining years of his or her engineering practice have nothing much to do with the technical bit of engineering.
    A young engineer needs to learn the skills he or she has learnt from school. Meaning that they always have a boss here or there who is most definitely a skilled manager. When the skills of the engineer go on developing, then can it be necessary for such an engineer two important paths

    i) continue in the profession, like masters and phds into related engineering programs
    ii) start managing the projects, like construction management or MBA.

    The first option is very good as it helps the engineer to get more feel into how codes and standards are developed. This is very useful since more and more challenges are coming up to the engineer which can be confidently solved by someone who has more than a mere bachelor’s degree.
    Whereas the second option is all about more money or rather trying to refine management skills in the working sector as the engineer grows up in ranks within the company. This meaning that the technical jargon slowly fades away as it is left to the new upcoming graduates.
    So in the end of it all, it would depend on one’s direction but remember though, someone has to continue with a masters and phd in engineering so as to foster the engineering profession. A mere bachelor’s degree doesnt do it. However, going for an MBA after getting a masters in engineering is very very cool..

  • 13. Barbara  |  February 19, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    I disagree with Pete’s comment above regarding firms that work in many different market sectors. I work for one of those firms and, while I specialize in one type of engineering, as most of our employees do, I enjoy the benefit of learning from and interacting with colleagues on a daily basis that are in different specialities. I understand how a project fits together better from start to finish because I work side by side with surveyors, traffic, environmental, roadway, site and water engineers as well as architects and construction managers. I’m not a confused employee and I believe my work product is much more in tune with realistic applications and integration of other engineering aspects because my firm can offer all these services under one roof.

    Back to the original topic, though. If you want to be technical, get an MSCE. If you want to be business-oriented, get an MBA. Both skill sets you can obtain on your own through work experience and self-study.

  • 14. Mohamed Kadasi  |  February 19, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    If I can summarize what I have learned about this question,armed with a BSCE, an MSCE, several course work toward an MBA, more than 20 years of experience in the AEC industry, and countless training and seminars.., , I will put it this way:
    The reality is that one can’t determine the value of knowledge obtained from a degree or otherwise in advance. The value of what you know will depend on what your potential employer sees in you (or what you can sell yourself for and deliver on your promise). It is easy and true that you can do a lot of things to improve yourself and build your confidence (or resume) , which is nice, but at the end of the day, what matters most is what others see in you.
    The bottom line is that if you want to be rewarded for your degree (and investment), it has to be targeted for specific goals. You have to have a clear understanding of what particular set of skills the potential employer your are pusuing is looking for, lean those skills, and then deliver when you are asked to do so. If you do that, the MBA or MSCE, or any self training exercise will do. Otherwise, you might be getting that degree jsut for the fun of it.

  • 15. Pete Dombrowski  |  February 19, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    I think that if I owned a company, I would wantmy engineers to be MSCE employees over MBA employees.

    I think that from a business standpoint, it makes more sense.

    Your liability is a function of your technical capacity.
    Your ability to do work is a function of your technical capacity.

    I would want my marketing and accounting people to have MBAs.

    I can build relationships by having dinners/lunches or doing face to face site visits.

    I’ve worked at several different firms, and when a client calls looking for engineering services, they want a solution at an effective cost. Someone might want to argue that to get those clients you have to be business savy. I disagree. Most firms that think they need to be business savy want to diversify their client base. Do work in more than one field.

    This leads to a group of people doing lots of different types of work and not really focusing on one type of market sector. Those firms wind up with confused emplyees trying to do quality work without quality “Experience”.

    I wouldn’t want a mechanic that specializes on front wheel drive sports cars working on Front End loaders. It’s the same thing with engineers. You don’t want a clean room specialist doing wastewater. It’s not effiecient.

    The key to success is to find your passion and follow it. If you want to chase work, chase an MBA. If you have a passion for problem solving chase that MSCE.

  • 16. Joe  |  November 27, 2009 at 12:11 am

    Honestly all the feedback here are great, and learn a lot from the above comments, i’m a civil engineer with BS only, i;m thinking of pursuing an MSCE or MEM. If you are into design, technical, analytical nature of projects, i think you should go into MSCE with the PE, but if you want in the future to have a managerial role in your own company, govertment, design or construction, you should go with MEM. Right now the business is tough, and if you are serious of having your company or be high top manager, then you should consider MBA, but as an engineer i think an MEM is better for an engineer than MBA. But it has happen i mean i know engineer that has both MBA and MSCE, in fact there are few engineers out there that actually has both, MSCE and MBA, or MSCE and MEM. But at the end it depends on the engineer nature, if you are not into management, dont do the MBA, if you more like in design u should go to MSCE.

  • 17. John Poole  |  August 27, 2009 at 8:18 am

    You may want to look at an MS in construction management. The interest is growing and as someone who has a construction management degress, I can tell you that it is a fantastic blend of business, construction, and engineering.

  • 18. JParker  |  August 26, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    I have enjoyed reading the comments above and think that they provide great insight. This might throw a wrench in the conversation: I have a b.s. in civil engineering, environmental concentration. I have had approximately three years experience in civil and one or so in environmental. I have been starting to sour on the environmental field, and wanting to get back into construction before I pigeon-hole myself. I am up for the PE this next spring and know that is my first step. Also, m I have been mostly a field engineer, which has taught me many different things, but I have not been involved with too much design. I am thinking about entering a dual degree program where you receive a civil ms (construction) and an MBA at the same time in 18 months. I want to know more about construction and the business side of things cause eventually see that is where I am heading How would this be viewed? Is this too soon in a career to do this. I want an MBA and an MS, but I am always question the timing and if companies would frown upon it because of the reasons mentioned in the article.

  • […] Barcus wrote a great article called MSCE vs. MBA – Lets Get Ready to Rumbllllle on this question for Civil Engineering Central.  More than a dozen people shared their insights.  […]

  • 20. Vishnu Reddy  |  May 30, 2009 at 9:06 am

    I am currently pursuing my bachelor’s in Civil Enginnering and would greatly appreciate if anyone would answer my queries.
    I am not able to decide if an MS in Construction Management or an MBA is more useful for my future. I do not see myself as a technical guy and am more of the managerial person (i hop so) and i would like to know if Construction Management or an MBA is more suitable?
    I looked about Construction Management on the internet and this was what i found…”The Master of Science in Construction Management provides you with the fundamentals of both project and business management. You obtain the requisite technical expertise and financial knowledge, as well as the entrepreneurial and organizational skills to run a construction project or company.” I would like to know if this is true and if this is what they do teach students undergoing this course. If so how different is it from an MBA in project management?
    Also, what are your comments on doing Construction Management in India?If I were to do it in USA would my knowledge pertain only to that country or can i relocate back to India without any problems finding a job etc.
    I would be glad if anyone would reply.

    • 21. Civil Engineer, LEED AP  |  April 29, 2010 at 6:25 pm

      Looks like your question is unanswered. From my experience, there is a vast difference in pursuing a Master’s in Construction Engg & Project Management (CEPM) from US as compared to one in India. I have a Bachelor’s in Civil Engg (india) and Masters in the CEPM (US). Post Master’s you work here in project controls (as scheduler/estimator) or as office engineer. I feel, the construction industry is totally different in both the countries and untill & unless you have a decent work experience in US (5 yrs min) after your Master’s degree from US – your MS is not valued at all in India. Its better if you get a Masters from NICMAR, India. Considering the US economy currently- its not going to get better for internationals so soon. Worst case scenario if you do not land up a job here after you complete your Master’s (this happened with few of my friends who graduated in Spring & Fall 2009) its a total waste of money & time! I know folks who have gone back are fetching less salary than their counterparts who either stayed at the same job after Bachelor’s or did Master’s from NICMAR. So research your options carefully before you decide to pursue MS. Abt MBA- you really need to know what you want out of an MBA degree – finance, marketing, general etc. Its an entirely different field as compared with CEPM.

  • 22. Sarah  |  May 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    I have an Bachelors in Civil Engineering, an MBA, and 15 years of experience in various role throughout the AEC industry. I’m sharing my experience here just to add another data point to this mix, so that someone might learn from my particular decisions (or mistakes, depending on how you view them).

    I embarked on an MBA program for 2 specific reasons. One, I didn’t particularly like design work anymore and I wanted to study things that were entirely new to me. Two, I didn’t want to throw away my 10 years of experience,because I knew that I’d probably continue to stay in the AEC industry. I thought I might work for a engineering magazine, or business consulting firm that worked with architects and engineers, or a software company like Autodesk or Bentley.

    Three years and thousands of dollars later, I graduated with whole host of soft skills that I simply didn’t learn as an engineering student. The most important thing is that I learned how to communicate. The group projects and case study work that are the hallmarks of MBA programs taught me how to listen, develop questions to unearth more information, to write papers and to speak in a clear, engaging manner. Work experience probably would have helped me to develop these skills eventually, but I think the grad school pushed that process along a bit more quickly because I had a fresh set of topics to learn while developing those skills.

    That said, most employers and HR people that I’ve interviewed with in the AEC industry like to see my MBA but aren’t quick to offer a premium salary because of it. Right now (2009) many small-ish AEC firms might view engineers with MBAs as overqualified or maybe easily bored in a small environment. (I’m currently looking for a new job, and finding this to be the case.)

    I’m glad I made the choice to get an MBA for both personal and professional reasons. It’s a great experience, meeting new classmates and traveling. And I eventually moved into different segments of the AEC industry, including marketing for a global AEC firm, software sales, and international aid work.

  • 23. Jose  |  May 22, 2009 at 9:19 am

    I finished a MBA over 5 years ago. In hindsight, I should have waited a bit longer to pursue it since my area of practice has changed a bit since then. In general I agree with Matt’s assesment that an engineer should focus on becoming more technically sound first and then move on to management. Technical expertise builds trust and will get you in position to grow and manage.

    Yes, you can learn management “hands-on” “on-the-job” and there is definitely no substitute for experience but the MBA can give you an edge.

    Having said that, not all engineers are meant to manage. One of my mentors had a partner in his firm. His partner was the technical guy, my mentor was the manager. The technical guy did not have the personality to manage and wasn’t interested it. My mentor recognized his skills lied more in business development and management.

    I recognized my personality/skill set is more suited for managing and that is why I decided to pursue more of a management track.

    As for the question posted earlier about online programs, I obtained my MBA from one of the working-adult oriented universities. I liked the way the program was structured and that it catered to working adults. My classmates were not just students but were in different stages of their careers and it was very helpful when sharing experiences. The problem I see with these programs is that people think you are buying a diploma basically. I put in a lot of work and time, learned a bunch, and would compare my education with any of the traditional programs. Do online if you want a flexible schedule to do your work and don’t want to have to meet. I like the classroom experience myself. It depends on how you learn better I suppose.

  • 24. Matt  |  May 22, 2009 at 8:57 am

    I am a younger engineer and came to that crossroads as well… deciding to go after an MBA of MSCE. I ended up finding a program which combines both at Northwestern, of which there are several choices. I think that MBA’s are being comoditized and do not differentiate an individual like they used to and like some of the previous comments, is sometimes looked like you sold out to engineering. Obtaning a Masters of Engineering Management or Masters of Project Management will help an engineer focus in a particualar field along with building their skills for management. I also feel that these degrees also provide mobility wether you want to stay in engineering or move on to something different.

  • 25. Steve Fairbanks  |  May 19, 2009 at 5:08 am

    There have been several business owners I have met that were highly educated (engineering masters, etc) yet they didn’t know crap about running a business. The thing they had was the guts to start a business but no knowledge how to maximize profit or manage the client to get the proper worth out of the employees’ efforts. (Granted that is somewhat tough in today’s environment, as many businesses are simply trying to make it through…)

    No consideration was given by these folks to desired profit margin and cash flow in the contracts they signed up for – these are standard items in the MBA education. Some got a good amount of work with big companies and were all proud to say “BigX Multinational is a client of mine” yet they were getting screwed on the deal with low margins because BigX had all the bargaining power. Quality, not quantity, and diversification is the name of the game when it comes to clients.

    An employees puts his / her trust in the business owner to know the business side of things. The owner of a business having an MBA education certainly would help a business run smoothly and help avoid potentially serious pitfalls.

    Other points: Knowledge of economics will help business expansion efforts. Knowledge of accounting will help business owners manage – even if the accounting staff / consultants perform the work. Marketing is crucial in growing new offerings.

  • 26. John  |  May 18, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    As a Civil PE with approximately 12 years of experience in land development, I have been thinking about pursuing a MBA. I believe that for me, my ultimate desire is to be in the upper levels of management. An earlier post I read above suggests online MBA programs. Has anyone had any experience with them? How do prospective employers view online degrees? Matt,
    I think it would be a great topic to explore as you are seeing more and more of these online degree programs. I am a little skeptical, as I believe that discussion in a classroom environment is a great tool for learning, brainstorming, etc.

  • 27. John Poole  |  May 13, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    I did my undergrad in civil engineering and then my master’s in construction engineering and management. I think this is a great combo to work for a construction company or engineering firm. However, there is still a stigma associated with an MBA. The worst situation I have ever seen is when an MBA is running an engineering operation and is not fully versed in the engineering methods. I would suggest construction management or engineering management – an MBA is just too broad.

  • 28. John Weinberger  |  May 12, 2009 at 2:57 am

    For the pursuit of an MBA, may I suggest North Park University ( ). One can study on campus in Chicago or get an MBA completely online which means one can study from anywhere.

    For the pursuit of an engineering masters, may I suggest the University of Wisconsin – Platteville ( ). One can study from anywhere as the coursework is only offered online. One would be making a good choice studying here.

    The Phd becomes valuable if one wants to teach at the university level. Also, it may help but it is certainly not required when providing expert testimony consulting.

    I wouldn’t mind hearing someone discuss where an MPM or its program management counterpart fits in all this…

  • 29. Peter  |  May 9, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Mr Matt,

    I am currently pursuing my MSCE. I am really confused if I should go and work in an industry or pursue a doctoral degree. Could you kindly shed some light on the advantages/disadvantages of doing a doctoral degree in Civil Engineering when compared to MSCE/MBA.

  • 30. That_DanRyan  |  May 9, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    I think the other comments are accurate and my thoughts are not significantly different.
    The value of the listed degrees depends upon what the individual wishes to do with their career. If the individual wants to become a SME (subject matter expert), then I would recommend the MSCE degree. If the person wants to gain a broader understanding of running a business which includes engineering, then the MBA would be the better direction.

    The greatest challenge I see to the Engineering world is the “narrow focus” of many leaders who find difficulty in sometimes seeing the value of other disciplines in the business, especially the Financial, Marketing and Human Capital partners. i also have a technical side and it sometimes gets in the way when I want to look at issues in a broader perspective.

    Just like with any team, you need a variety of players to make the team successful. Successful firms will have both SME’s and MBA’s in their lineup.

    Dan Ryan
    The Human Capital Group

  • 31. Barbara  |  May 8, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Recommending one of these degrees over the other is not a simple A or B choice. It is highly dependent upon the person and their career path. If their pursuit is to have influence on business decisions and manage groups of people within their company, an MBA would definately be more beneficial than the MSCE. However, if they wish to remain technical and make scientific contributions to the profession, an MSCE might be more suiting.

    I do have to disagree with Mr. Barcus in one aspect. He mentioned that an MBA is something that one should pursue after spending some time in the trenches. I believe every engineer should spend some time in the trenches before pursuing either an MBA or an MSCE. There is no substitute for hands-on experience and I believe that an engineer whom has spent some time in the trenches before pursuing their MSCE can make much more applicable contributions to real world problems through their academic research.

    I do agree with the concept of waiting to pursue your MBA until you are on the cusp of obtaining management responsibilities. Not all engineers are cut out to be managers and there is no use in spending an obscene amount of money for an MBA when you may never reach that level in your career.

    As far as the salary issue is concerned, I do see MSCE’s making about 5 to 10 percent more upon initial hiring straight out of college, but that difference tends to dissipate with time and experience. A BSCE with 15 years of experience can make as much as a MSCE with 15 years of experience, barring everything else about the two applicants are equal.

  • 32. Bob Gately  |  May 8, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Hello Matt:

    Engineers need to acquire knowledge and experience in their specialty before they should expect to become engineering managers and/or business leaders. Therefore, an MSCE first, then experience, then an MBA if that is of interest.

    I went directly from a full time BSCE program to a full time n MSCE program because I wanted to be an environmental engineer. When I returned to the office after the MSCE program I was surprised to learn what my BSCE coworkers did not know about environmental engineering even though they had more years of experience.

    Engineers should obtain an MBA for the knowledge it provides. Engineering managers who do not have an MBA do not know what an MBA knows so do not expect to be rewarded for what you know if your boss does not know what it is you know as an MBA graduate.

    Engineering firms ought to identify their future managers and leaders and then send them to the appropriate graduate program such as Engineering Management, MBA, or Executive MBA.

    The MSCE program was very important to me as a professional engineer. The Executive MBA experience however was more interesting and personally rewarding since I wanted to be an effective engineering manager and a future business manager.

    Knowledge may be power but to many engineering managers an MBA’s knowledge is unneeded since engineers know how to be effective managers and business leaders by virtue of their position. Oh my, did I really write that? Please forgive me. 🙂

    • 33. yousuf  |  January 21, 2013 at 6:46 am

      MBA knowledge can never be un-needed. The fact that lessons learnt from MBA courses can be the source to add value and makes effective decision making more possible should not neglected. Yes an experienced engineer with good interpersonal skills can be a good manager and run a business but then even a non-engineer guy(assume a restaurant owner) dont have to have a MBA. Nevertheless a MBA can change the way you approach things and that change is always more welcoming.

      • 34. Bob Gately  |  January 21, 2013 at 2:25 pm

        Hello Yousuf, you are correct and I found my MBA studies a great help in the engineering office.

  • 35. Milo V  |  May 8, 2009 at 6:20 am

    Very interesting topic. Here’s my experience. I’m a US immigrant. To us, immigrants, an MSCE is a required step to be recognized as true “civil engineers” (even if our CE Bachelors degree was more in-depth and exhaustive). An ABET degree is critical for the engineering industry. I completed my MSCE in 2003. It followed years of engineering design in the crowded cube floor until I got enough experience and results, to reach a management position. I attained it with effort and hard work. My mind was (is) full of potential engineering business ideas that would either benefit my company by following an intrapreneurship path or would make me go on an entrepreneurship path founding my own. I decided to pursue an MBA to better round my vision. I wanted to gain not only the basic knowledge required to drive, express, and make those ideas happen, but also give them a global perspective, put them to test; share them with a network of equally eager and ambitious classmates that come from a myriad of industries or with professors that have seen hundreds like me, and are willing to share their knowledge. The full value of this package cannot be obtained by just going to a couple of seminars or hiring someone to do your job. You are in an engineering company…and it happens to be a business. As such you have to understand it as well. If our self-made entrepreneur company founders would have had the means or the opportunity to experience an MBA, I think they would have taken advantage of it. As a matter of fact, it surprised me to find that in my engineering company, the most up-and-coming VP’s had their MBA’s. It’s true that correlation does not imply causation, but I feel that the pursuit of that “perspective” is parallel to the rise in the career ladder.

    On hindsight, I feel that the MSCE definitely helped me to open the doors. However, I also think that a US native with an ABET bachelors may be able to get by without an MSCE. As long as they can fit the experience and obtain a PE, I think they will be fine.

    My MBA exists at a more personal level. The one that challenges both sides of my brain, tickling the entre/intra-preneur area where those engineering ideas can become real business ventures. I disagree with the ones that think that an MBA will help advancing their careers and pursue it with that sole purpose. It may eventually play a factor (as Matt mentioned), but the reality is that it should be pursued for passion (because it’s what you enjoy doing/learning) and personal advancement.

  • 36. Richard R  |  May 7, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    For most of us, the question is not so much a question of when, but a question of which direction to take. Should it be an MSCE? Since most younger civil engineers figure that they are “pigeon holed” into one industry after just a couple of years, it is quite understandable that going after a degree that narrows one’s focus is a little scary. Just ask any engineer wishing to change fields with a half dozen years experience. It ain’t gonna happen.
    The MBA promises a diversification of skills. Of course, most of our employers are selfmade entrepreneurs, who “learnt all there is to know about business through the school of hard knocks”. The great intent is lost, and one needs to move into another industry to feel appreciated.
    I remember a professor once telling me that he thought an MSCE to be worth more than an MBA. I thought he was biased, wanting to entice us to stay for the graduate program. Ultimately, I think he was right; not for more indepth engineering skills, but for the political purposes of a typical engineering firm.
    If you think about it, most civil engineers work for small firms (in the scheme of industry in general). The company is lead by an engineer, who either built the organization him or herself, or by an engineer, who had been rewarded for his or her loyalty in the past. You quickly learn that you have two choices; either stay on and hope that you’ll eventually be rewarded for your hard work, or move on to start your own company. Either way, you’re not in business as a business person, but you are in business to be an engineer. Any business skills you need, you can learn through a seminar or two or by employing someone to help you.
    Matt mentioned a student with a Masters makes 10% more than a student with a Bachelor degree. That does not sound like a good investment to me. Besides the cost of the additional degree, a simple rate of return would mean that it would take the MSCE years to catch up with someone without the advanced degree.


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