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Amazon is hiring the most MBAs in tech, and it’s not really close (qz.com)
89 points by peterkshultz 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments

As a recent MBA grad of one of the schools listed in the article I would like to note a few things:

First, Amazon is 3x the size of any of the tech companies it is compared to. Google actually hires more MBA's per capita and Amazon hires about as many as Apple and Microsoft, per capita.

Second, I keep a close eye on these things, and 72% of my class went to finance or consulting. Consulting is still the biggest draw and has been since the financial crisis.

Third, this is good news for tech. See the HBS Indicator for more on why: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/h/harvardmba_indicator.asp I'm not going to defend or bash the MBA degree. It doesn't say much about you except that you are a competent professional that likes money and can play the game. Those traits are often enough to make an employee worth their salary, but many MBAs have additional skills, analytical or otherwise. Sometimes it means you hire somebody a little too slick. This is probably why tech has such a phobia of the MBA. Fair, but overgeneralizing, in my opinion.

Finally, I think the reason you see more MBAs in tech these days isn't necessarily Bezos' finance background or the need for analytics, but that tech companies are maturing and they need middle managers. MBAs tend to be predictable worker bees that do a great job at filling out the ranks of a large bureaucracy. Most business is really about project planning, reporting, managing expectations, coordinating teams and delivering on time. It's not terribly rewarding or creative work, but it's what MBAs can reliably produce.

*edited typo in last paragraph

I'm not an MBA and don't really have the intention to get one - so pardon my naive question, but what does it mean to "play the game?"

His last sentence mostly. "project planning, reporting, managing expectations, coordinating teams and delivering on time. It's not terribly rewarding or creative work, but it's what MBAs can reliably produce."

Aka stakeholder and expectation management. The above sounds easy but requires a large number of "soft skills" to do well in a large organization.

I think it is a vague idiom by intent, but here's one definition: "To behave in a way that is accepted or demanded by those in authority"(http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/play+the+game)

I view this skill as anticipating not just what your boss tells you to do, but also the things they don't make explicit, because you recognize subtle social cues and understand their incentives. It can be nefarious or just empathetic. How it is deployed determines the morality of its use, in my consequentialist opinion.

The corporate game.

Wear a suit (or dress appropriately for the situation), turn up to meetings on time with an agenda, manage teams, hit deadlines, send well crafted emails, give feedback, communicate effectively, lead people, turn up everyday and be consistent, grow

Obtaining proper credentialing, networking, being able to work long hours under pressure, and articulating what clients want to hear via impressive power point presentations and spreadsheets.

The game is do good work, get good schooling, perform well taking care of some one else's business and make money. What's the goal? Money through value creation.

Have a look here at their MBA landing page.


I know that some people love to hate on MBA's but a couple of things:

- Amazon is a pretty data driven company, if MBA's provided no value, or negative value as some HN's readers seem to think, they wouldn't be hiring them.

- Jeff Bezos worked for a well known hedge fund before amazon, he's no stranger to having MBA's around.

- Most of these MBA's seem to be in operations, which makes alot of sense as one of the largest portions of an MBA degree is how to runa company:)

Amazon is also not alone in vacuuming up new MBA grads.


Whether you want to admit it or not, MBA's provide a lot of value to larger organizations, tech or not.

At this point, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Apple have all hired alot of MBA's in the past few years. These companies voted with their cash and made it very clear, MBA's provide alot of value.

> Amazon is a pretty data driven company, if MBA's provided no value, or negative value as some HN's readers seem to think, they wouldn't be hiring them.

Having been the guy whose job it was to collect, analyze, and present data to these MBAs, I can honestly say that 99% of them are dead weight for their analytic capabilities.

MBAs do much better at managing people. And by that, I mean only 70% of them are dead weight. The other 30% were pretty great and are probably the reason I'm not in jail for arson right now.

OP isn't saying MBAs are good at making data driven decisions. He's saying Amazon is good at making data driven decisions and that their decision to continue hiring MBAs is backed up by their data analysis.

you're defending someone who dreamed up something ("Amazon is good at data driven decisions") versus someone presenting a fact ("Amazon does lots of dumb things but got very lucky so far"). why?

I'm not sure why you had to react so angrily but there are a lot of people who would defend Amazon as being a data driven company.

here is one instance. This is not a hard claim to back up by any means.



Here they are being called out for being too data driven



And I hope your day gets better:) We've all been there!!

I would agree with this completely: Amazon absolutely is a data driven company ("too data driven" seems to ring true in some aspects).

But the MBAs are not the reason for being data-driven. It's more like the real data analysis goes on behind the scenes (levels 5-7, and more likely on the engineering or research scientist side), eventually bubbling its way up to the MBAs who use the mountains of data and analysis to stroke their egos.

my point is that who claims amazon is data driven are usually pundits and outsiders.

in this thread the person who (claim to have) worked there said otherwise. and in your second link Bezos also said otherwise.

amazon is as data driven as any other fortune 500.

quit fetichising it.

the reason I'm not in jail for arson right now

Lawyer with an MBA get you off? :-)

I believe the presumption is that the MBA made the decision to replace that red Swingline stapler at just the right time for ancestor poster to decide not to burn down the entire company.

> negative value as some HN's readers seem to think, they wouldn't be hiring them.

HN's negative criticism is that MBAs don't know how to start things, not necessarily that they can't run things.

Yes, it's a master's in business administration not business innovation.

Amazon is the perfect example of where MBAs can be extremely effective. The way Tim Cook helped Apple optimize and improve its operations a great example.

The way Tim Cook Ballmerized Apple into a company coasting on its past success rather than continuing to innovate is a great example of the pitfalls.

Steve Balmer is no Bill Gates. Tim Cook is no Steve jobs.

Not exactly their fault for failing to live up to some of the most impressive founders in history. At least Tim Cook is humble and wise enough to know his limits.

One thing to note about Ballmer's tenure is that Microsoft's stock tanked. That doesn't seem to be the case with Cook.

I think the other criticism of MBAs is that they're taught to take a very narrow view to running a business that is overly focused on growth and efficiency. As much as startups are lionized around here, I like to hope that a lot of us also respect the "lifestyle" approach to business, bootstrapping and other approaches that are less focused on growth.

I have a parent who taught at a top-10 business school. A number of years ago, she had the opportunity to act as the faculty chaperone for the student trip to meet with the leaders of various Japanese businesses and I got to come along. One of the businesses we visited was a Sake brewer that had been family owned since the 1600s. The Q&A period was particularly enlightening to me and it had more to do with the questions that the MBA students asked than it did with the answers they were given. They peppered him with questions about growth, international expansions, taking on debt for advertising campaigns, new product lines that would appeal to a younger demographic. It went on for over an hour. And, to his credit, he patiently answered them all with a variant of the same answer. He wanted to run his company like his ancestors have run it for centuries. He wanted to make the best sake he could possibly make, just as his ancestors had done. He wanted to provide a comfortable life for his family and pass the business on to his children. And he wanted to supply good jobs for his employees since he viewed them as his extended family. None of the stuff the MBAs were interested in interested him. He was happy running a stable, self-sustaining business that didn't need to grow. Life, mastery of his craft and being happy were more important to him. If it had ended with that, I might not have taken such a dim view of MBAs. But on the bus ride home, all I heard from these early-20-something-self-proclaimed-future-leaders-of-America was how stupid the guy was and how he was ruining his business. I couldn't help but think that they'd entirely missed the point of his answers.

A few years later, I worked at a company that served small businesses building a product that handled reputation management and lead sourcing. We tried a number of iterations that ended up failing. It wasn't until we made the realization that small businesses didn't want growth as much as they wanted stability. Too much business could overwhelm them. Too little could starve them. They needed a product that kept them as close to full utilization as possible without ever going over. Even after we made that leap, it took a ton of effort for us to convince our own management to allow us to take the product in that direction. There was something about their own MBA training that made it difficult to accept that this view could be correct.

My own view of MBAs, considering I have a parent that has helped produce multiple generations of them, is that they're very valuable when applied to a somewhat narrow band of situations but that, as a society, we've applied them to many circumstances where they're counterproductive. I think we produce too many of them and the ones that are misapplied end up giving the rest a bad reputation.

Reminds me of the parable about the Harvard MBA who meets a fisherman in Mexico.

"What Really Matters in Life? Mexican Fisherman Meets Harvard MBA" - https://www.wanttoknow.info/051230whatmattersinlife

Amazon is not a data driven company. Like most "data driven" companies they use the data when it confirms their notations when it doesn't they do what they want anyway and in amazon this is called "bias for action". It doesn't matter how many people you abuse (also favored at amazon) it's all about how you play the political game.

I've taught many MBAs and I can attest to their disappointing analytical skills. However, a company like Amazon already has plenty of analytically skilled employees. What they need from the MBAs are their management skills. I suspect Amazon is particularly targeting those MBAs who have experience with operations and supply chain management experience. At Amazon's scale, even a small reduction in costs is worth the cost of hiring all these MBAs.

I would take the other side of this. Not all MBAs have good analytical skills, but I have seen almost no non-technical non-MBAs have good analytical skills. They come with many other things, but if they lack a technical or business background, the odds that they could product a business model is very tiny.

I'd say that the MBA is a good predictor in the absence of a technical degree, but you still have to do a lot of screening post-MBA.

Amazon is a company that clearly lets the strategists actually implement their strategies. That's working reasonably well for them (with some obvious flops, but more than enough success to make up for it and then some).

It's no surprise MBAs want to go there. Strategy jobs are some of the most hotly sought after roles -- my wife went to a top tier MBA program and I regularly have to hang out with people she want to school with. They all either have strategy roles or wish they did (minus the one person in finance -- in the SF Bay Area that's just not as cool as strategy). They also tend (with exceptions) to have egos bigger than big, which seems to line up nicely with thinking that the right job for you is to have the ideas while other people implement them. :)

This is exactly why Amazon is a horrific place to work for engineers and why they are such a complete failure with products.... for every success Amazon has about a hundred failures (Amazon catalogs online, amazon moving listings, A9, etc.) Amazon throws money at ideas and throws ideas against the wall to see what sticks.

AWS was launched as a fraud (using no amazon infrastructure at the time, they claimed it was built on the reliable services of Amazon.com) and became a success.... so long as you have unlimited investor money to burn you can eventually be successful this way.

But it is a terrible place to work, because outside of the AWS organization you end up working for idiots.

Amazon engineer here! I love our culture of strong ownership and autonomy, and that we'll take risks, tolerate failures and give things around 7 years to mature and pay off. It's super rewarding to be able to own things and see them through, and to see things like AWS, Kindle and Alexa go big places. I've had my own projects work out and I've had things abandoned, and both experiences have been positive in the long run, if a little painful at the time.

As for the AWS thing ... I joined AWS pretty early in its history and even then we had amazon.com workloads and it was definitely the same infrastructure (data centers, network, operations, etc) as Amazon.com . My first two years I was writing code and building AWS services, while also supporting retail operations and dealing with the order pipeline - and I worked in Infrastructure; things were fairly integrated.

I agree with rothbardrand@ here, I recently moved from AWS. Amazon is very top-down where developers are heavily managed by their immediate managers (and thats why they need so many MBAs). Our team of 15 engineers had 4 managers, who would push engineers to the edge to meet deadlines. From what I observed, this leads to very high turnover rate, and teams with lot of junior engineers who are asked to assume roles of previous project leads. New hires are brainwashed about increase ownership and responsbility. But after some years, they all realize the game and move over to different company.

5 years at Amazon, almost all as an SDE. I don't really feel like what you've said is entirely accurate.

> for every success Amazon has about a hundred failures

This ratio is off, but even if it weren't it's still not a detracting statement. At Amazon, we're allowed to fail sometimes. Try something quickly, iterate, test, and let it die. Google used to be similar, though they've 'streamlined' a bit more lately.

> outside of the AWS organization you end up working for idiots

Never worked for AWS, can't speak for them. But in my org (Fulfillment) I've worked for incredible managers and a few not-so-great ones but never anyone I'd call an idiot. This isn't a place where smooth-talkin' MBAs thrive. If you bullshit and can't back it up with results, you won't last long.

Most of the MBAs I've met at Amazon were for the Operations world anyways. The Pathways program (https://www.amazon.jobs/en/teams/university-mba-graduate) puts new MBA grads into leadership positions at the fulfillment centers and sees what they're made of. Hard work, but if you do well you go really far very fast.

Haha, I live in Seattle and signed up for a dating app earlier this year. Over half of my matches were MBAs working at Amazon. So I have Bezos to thank for my dating life.

They are male or female? I hope this isn't an inappropriate question

Women. I was on Coffee Meets Bagel which really should have been named Coffee Meets MBAs from Amazon.

The women complained about too many male engineers from the local Seattle companies. I had the foresight to not joke that they were, perhaps, the female equivalent. But I didn't have the foresight to realize some of them knew each other. I learned more about dating this past few months than I had the previous 30+ years. Thanks again Jeff!

Edit: want to add one more part. My college roommate was on the same app and we shared a lot of the same matches. But they picked him over me literally every time because he's taller and better looking. :*(

I currently get about zero matches on Tinder and OkCupid, and I've always thought of myself as an atleast ok looking guy. I don't know where I'm going with this ; you're not the worst is what I'm saying I guess, for whatever comfort that can give you

Height, good looks, and money.

A lethal combination.

> But I didn't have the foresight to realize some of them knew each other.

It sounds like there's a story there. You can't leave us hanging!

Also, harmless curiosity: is CMB as full of Asians in Seattle as it is in NYC?

Any other nuggets of dating wisdom to dispense?

Job search apps around here need an |_| Exclude Amazon checkbox

A couple of cents: 1. Seattle is full of MBAs. A lot of them came out of the Microsoft system and obviously got scooped up by the Amazon system. And a fair share of them are "executive MBAs'. They had some non-business degree and went back to school as part of the management grooming process. UW has one of the top programs in the country for this. 2. A four year business degree on its own is a pretty lousy education for making any impactful business decisions. I would say that an MBA is worth more than the equal number of years in the sales trenches.

Interestingly Amazon doesn't offer any incentives to get an MBA if you're already working there. No tuition reimbursement, raises or promotions. You're more valued as an external MBA hire.

I know I'll sound like a cultist, and I am, but I earnestly pitch to people that working at Amazon is an opportunity to get a free MBA.

People now realize that Amazon has been doing dev-ops for a long long time, but we've also been doing BizDevOps. If you want to, as an engineer, as project manager, as any role really, you can step up and get deeply involved in the business. It's never not your place.

As engineers, we can talk to customers, we can help decide pricing, more than that even - we can think about pricing as a technical parameter that can be used to influence the design of the system, we can choose the service name ("CloudFront" and "Route 53" came from team whiteboard sessions with beer and Chinese take-out). We can write the proposals for products, and so on. Now as a senior engineer, this year I contributed heavily to 3 different organizations strategic plans. No-one stopped me! I've learned a lot about business from our business review meetings, everything from relevant legal matters to how a P&L really works, how marketing works, and more.

Unfortunately companies hire based on things that are easy to verify.

MBAs are easy to verify.

A software engineer claiming to things that mba knows is hard hard to verify.

I honestly believe MBAs suck the lifeblood out of a company. I was at an event for Microsoft Ventures and I was the only engineer there. I had never had so many conversations where the content contained so many syllables and yet had no content whatsoever. The vast majority of these people had product responsibility at Microsoft. I left with the impression that Microsoft simply was overloaded with these people, most of whom understood nothing about technology. In companies I've worked at, these people routinely demonstrate the inability to see and respond to innovation. I've yet to see how an MBA brings value to a tech company beyond a basic understanding of accounting principles.

> Amazon managers often prefer to employ MBAs over someone from a traditional background “because they value the deep analytics and fresh perspective of an MBA hire,” she wrote.

Considering the "deep analytics" and "fresh perspective" MBA managers I worked with and saw everywhere at amazon, I'm surprised anybody who works there could say such a thing. Deep analytics means nothing more than squinting at reports that other people created and pretending to understand, while fresh perspective means to treat every problem exactly the same. It's a hive mind of people who think they are quantitatively intelligent because they know what bps means.

As a former operations manager in multiple Amazon warehouses I completely agree. Out of all of the "Pathways" managers I worked with, maybe 10% could effectively manage their people, shift, and metrics. Most hid behind their laptop and prayed that someone else would take care of the "hard" problems like talking to someone not hitting their rate or making quality errors. Their "deep analytics" knowledge meant nothing when running an operation.

many of the comments here conflate the MBA degree with their perception of the degree holder. that's understandable, but i'll repeat that the educational content of the MBA degree is quite valuable (e.g., yc's startup school present a condensed version of that content).

on the other hand, being overconfident, out of your depth, mistake-riddled, ambitious, and all of those other perceptions are just part of the general human condition. engineers and executives and artisans and small business owners and more all have those failings (if you want to see them as failings--there are multiple perspectives). i'd say it's our duty as humans to do our best to understand the person in front of us rather than rely on these short-circuited, imagined archetypes sitting in our heads.

Sorry but I disagree. The most valuable part of the MBA is the accounting bit. This can be learned by smart people OJT. It's valuable to study cases but you don't need an overpriced MBA for that.

The rest is mostly horseshit. Source: 20 years building technology businesses.

In my view an MBA is good if say you work for a paper towel company and you're trying to decide how many paper towels go in a roll. That's something you don't need the big brains for but you need someone who understands simple P&L.

I can't for the life of me understand why a person with MBA is almost automatically considered "leadership material" at some companies, particularly technology companies.

Does this mean devs are more likely to be reporting to an MBA at AMZN?

No, generally you report to a former engineer, even up to a VP level in most cases, in AWS its usually former engineers until you get to s-level.

edit: those people may have ALSO gotten an MBA

To work off of what saosebastiao said, most developers at Amazon are going to report to a team lead or engineering manager. Both of these are going to be technical people, whether they have an MBA or not (unlikely). So obviously if you move up high enough in the company you'll eventually report to someone non-technical, but the folks writing code for 80% of their day are almost certainly reporting to another developer.

Maybe but probably not. In my experience, amazon clearly distinguishes between the "business side" and the "engineering side". All the MBAs end up on the business side.

They will, however, have a manager whose promotion path depends on how many MBAs can be persuaded to like them.

My understanding (from multiple sources) is that culturally speaking, you basically need an advanced degree (MBA, Exec MBA, etc) in order to reach a certain level of management at Amazon.

Not entirely true. I met a few former Brigadier and Major Generals at high levels within amazon (you can consider that snark if you want).

There's still a wall though at the VP/SVP level where advanced degrees basically become meaningless. You either need to be close friends/confidants with every single person above you (and by that, I mean across the board, not just direct reports), or you need to come from a C-level position from some other public company.

I've heard the military thing about Amazon before. It's got more in common with the army than any other big tech company (so many people!). For the VP/SVP wall, high level decisions at big orgs are always bizarre, it's such a deeply unnatural job for a person to be doing.

Don't senior officers in the US military need advanced degrees anyway ?

Some can and do pursue advanced degrees, but of the handful of generals I've met, most don't. The most interesting exception was a brig who spent his entire career in SOCOM, most of which was literally on the ground with troops, weapon-in-hand. Of course his PhD and 4 post-docs were in Military Science and Military History. He got fired from Amazon for calling an SVP a cunt for not wanting to be seen working alongside wage employees. He went on to start a security contracting firm, which probably was a better fit for him anyway.

No, technically, tho depending on service and specialty, can be a reason for not getting to lt.col. Just need to not be a dumbass for a majors board

The number of MBAs seems related to the number of products for each company. Also, Amazon and Microsoft are focused on operational excellence (do more and more stuff, focus on process), whereas Google and Apple are focused on a strategy (do fewer things, differently from the competition). Operational excellence is MBA-intensive.

Operational excellence sounds like Apple's forte to me.

Who else should they hire for business and administration roles?

This might be the strongest evidence that Amazon is in fact The Evil Empire of our times

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