How to Get a Master's Degree in Technical Management
Management can be summarized by three elements--people, things, and money. In the case of technical management, the challenge is heightened by the fact that the "things" are generally systems that are complicated, expensive, sensitive, and of critical importance. If you feel ready to meet this challenge, then consider a master's degree in technical management.
One thing that technical managers get used to is dealing with multi-factor decisions, because that is the nature of their work. Similarly, deciding on whether to pursue a master's degree in technical management is also a multi-factor decision. You have to apply the same skill sets--being able to compartmentalize thought into a variety of specific areas, while working through each of those areas in sequence so they all work together toward a productive outcome.
As you contemplate obtaining a master's degree in technical management, consider the following steps:
- Examine the relevance of a master's degree in technical management. Do you really need a master's degree? Your bachelor's degree may have given you a good foundation of skills, and you might already have started your career. Still, a master's degree in technical management could help take your career to the next level, and this guide explains some reasons why.
- Find information about programs offering a master's degree in technical management. A master's degree in technical management program could encompass a Master of Science (MS) in technical management, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in business technology and management, or a variety of other related titles. This guide can help you understand what to look for, and where to find information about relevant master's degree programs.
- Work through the criteria you want to use to evaluate graduate technical management programs. From traditional master's degree programs to online master's degree programs, you can find a wide range of choices. This guide can help you determine a list of evaluation criteria that can help you narrow your choices.
- Complete the application process for graduate schools in technical management. When it comes to the application process for graduate schools, you have the best chance of meeting all the deadlines and making a good impression if you are properly prepared. This guide can help you know what to expect.
- Act on career tips for technical managers. Beyond earning your MS in technical management, you can do other things to advance your career and this guide concludes with some suggestions about that.
Think of this decision process as an opportunity to demonstrate the project management skills that could make you a good technical manager. The first step is to consider how a master's degree in technical management might be relevant to your career.
The Relevance of a Master's Degree in Technical Management
Almost all major organizations need technical managers these days, be it corporate, not-for-profit, academic, or government. They might work with electronic, communications, or computer systems--the major pillars of modern infrastructure.
With technical jobs so prevalent, you might be wondering why you need a master's degree. Even though a bachelor's degree might help you get a foot in the door of the profession, a master's degree in technical management can increase your chances of earning a management job.
What's In It for You?
First, you have to ask yourself if a management career is what you really want. Many people are perfectly content with technical careers that focus on the technology itself, with no peripheral responsibilities. Still, there are benefits to taking on a management role, including:
- The opportunity to advance your career. Naturally, management careers tend to pay more than staff positions, and there may be more job security if you're one of the people calling the shots.
- The ability to affect real change in an organization. Have you ever questioned your organization's choice of systems or its way of dealing with people? Taking on management responsibility can give you a say in those decisions, and put you in a position to improve things.
- The chance to help others develop their careers. Managers can have a profound effect on the people working for them, so while earning a management position can help your career, it can also put you in position to help the careers of others as well.
What Skills Does a Master's Degree in Technical Management Help You Develop?
If a management role sounds good to you, how can a master's degree in technical management help? Well, the reality is that senior management is likely to look on people with advanced degrees as more suitable for management roles. In addition, a master's degree in technical management can really round out your skill set.
Assuming you have a bachelor's degree in some technical field, you may have all the background you need from a technical standpoint. Still, as fast as technology is changing today, it can't hurt to update and deepen your skills. Beyond that though, managers require additional skill sets that may not have been addressed in your technical education.
For example, managers often have some level of fiscal responsibility, from cost-benefit analysis to full-blown budget oversight. A master's degree in technical management can introduce you to some basic accounting and finance concepts that can help prepare you for these responsibilities.
Managers also have to deal with personnel issues. From motivational techniques to performance metrics to employment law, there is quite a bit to learn about managing people. A master's degree in technical management can help you add these areas to your knowledge base.
In short, a master's degree in technical management can help with how you are perceived as a candidate for management roles, but its benefits go far beyond mere perception.
What Types of Degrees Are Relevant to Technical Management?
Given the potential benefits of a career in technical management, what types of master's degrees should you be considering? Your choice may be as straightforward as an MS in technical management, but a number of variations on this type of degree include:
- MS in management of information systems
- MBA with a concentration in high technology management
- MS in business & technology management
- MBA with a concentration in Information Technology Management
- MS in information technology project management
- MS in technology management
- MS in information technology management
Degrees in technical management don't always fall under the same title, so keep an open mind about degrees with similar names. For the sake of simplicity though, this guide refers to this type of degree generically as an MS in technical management.
Information About Programs Offering an MS in Technical Management
You may have a traditional campus program in mind, or you may intend to earn a master's degree online, but in either case you shouldn't make any final decisions before you have considered all the possibilities. To help you do that, look at some key information sources:
- Online guides to master's programs. Whether you plan to earn a master's degree online or on campus, an online directory like WorldWideLearn.com helps you start an initial list of relevant schools. WorldWideLearn.com can also help you with other topics related to pursuing your MS in Technical Management, such as financial aid and preparing for standardized tests.
- The U.S. Department of Education Web site. This is a good source of information on a variety of educational topics, especially accreditation status and how to apply for federal financial aid.
- Published reviews and rankings. Publications like US News & World Report and Kiplinger's regularly release extensive reviews of college programs.
- Specific college and university websites. As you go further into your search, you can explore the individual web sites of specific schools you are considering.
With the information you need at hand, you can start to sift through the different master's programs to identify those that are the best fit for you.
Criteria for Evaluating Graduate Technical Management Programs
As you assemble information on master's programs, what is a good way to work through that information to arrive at some decisions about where to apply? Simply make a list of relevant criteria, and then as you work through each criterion in succession, you can start to eliminate programs until you've arrived at a short list of target schools.
Criteria for choosing a graduate program might differ, but here are the top factors to consider:
- Accreditation status. The degree you earn is only marketable if it comes from a school that meets generally-recognized accreditation standards. The U.S. Department of Education is a key source of information on accreditation status.
- Cost. For most students cost may be a factor, but be sure to check out your eligibility for financial aid before you make any decisions based on cost. Keep in mind that you can earn a master's degree online and/or attend school part time if cost remains an issue.
- Admissions standards. Compare data about grade point average and test score standards with your qualifications to make sure you concentrate your search on schools where you have a reasonable chance of being accepted.
- Convenience. Location and scheduling are important issues for many students, especially those with work or family obligations. You may find a school nearby that fits your needs, or you could earn a master's degree online to overcome location and scheduling barriers.
- Faculty quality. Look at the educational, professional, and publishing histories of faculty members to see how accomplished they are, and also consider quantitative facts such as the student/teacher ratio.
- School reputation. Find out what you can about how a school is regarded by technology firms, and also look at job placement statistics for the program's graduates.
- Campus environment. You might be looking for a specific type of campus experience, such as a large or small campus, a sports school, or one highly focused on academics. Alternatively, you can earn a master's degree online to neutralize environmental factors.
The idea of this selection process is to narrow your short list down to about two or three serious possibilities.
The Application Process for Graduate Schools in Technical Management
With the field of possibilities narrowed down, you can now give the appropriate amount of attention to each school's application process. Naturally, the specific requirements of each institution might differ somewhat, but in general, here are some things you can expect to need:
- Application forms. The ability to download these or even complete application forms online has made the process more convenient, but you still need to put time and care into your responses.
- Academic transcripts. Review your final transcript from your undergraduate alma mater before you make it available to graduate schools. If you find errors, get them corrected.
- Financial aid applications. Because financial aid applications often have strict deadlines, you want to leave yourself plenty of time top gather financial information and fill out these forms. Considering the amount of money involved, that time is well worth it.
- Standardized test results. Make sure you have time to take (or retake) any required standardized tests.
- Letters of recommendation. Be considerate by giving your recommenders plenty of time to complete these letters, and help them out by giving them some thoughts to what information might be most relevant to each application.
The application process is an exercise in time management, especially if multiple schools are involved. Start by making a calendar of deadlines so you can complete each requirement on schedule.
Career Tips for Technical Managers
You may feel that you've gone a long way toward securing a successful career by pursuing an MS in technical management, but there are other things you can do to further improve your prospects. Here are some suggestions:
- Read trade and technical publications. Stay abreast of emerging developments in both technology and management practices.
- Build and diversify your experiences. The ideal candidate for a technical management position would have both hands-on technical experience and some management experience. If your previous job experience lacks one of these dimensions, do what you can to round out your background while you pursue your master's degree, even if it means working part time, working as an intern, or as a volunteer.
- Join a relevant industry association. Relevant organizations include the Association for Information and Image Management, the Association of Information Technology Professionals, and the Society for Information Management. There may also be local organizations along similar lines. These organizations offer not only the opportunity to share experiences and ideas, but also the possibility of making good career networking contacts.
Coping with the challenges inherent in both technology and management can make for a rewarding career, and earning a master's degree in technical management can be excellent preparation for that career.
- Johns Hopkins University
- Mercer University
- National University
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Society for Information Management
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics
- US Department of Education
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