If you’re an engineer interested in a leadership or management position, then you will not only need to build your professional experience, but also supplement your technical expertise with knowledge of business management and leadership skills.
For many engineers, that path forward has been by earning a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA). Engineers are one of the largest groups of applicants for MBA programs, often representing a sizable percentage. However, despite the popularity of the MBA track, it may not be the ideal choice depending on your career trajectory and personal goals.
The Master’s of Engineering Management (MEM) was developed as a more specialized advanced degree for aspiring leaders in engineering who have a background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). While MBA programs are designed to be more general in their education, MEM programs take a more tech-focused approach to business operations.
Which one could be the right track for you — and are there any alternative options? In this blog post, we’ll compare the degree in engineering management vs. an MBA to review what they cover, what they prepare students for and what their requirements are.
What Is a Master’s in Engineering Management?
The Master of Engineering Management (MEM), known also as the Master of Science in Engineering Management, is designed to instruct students on how to apply business principles to engineering projects. It is a multidisciplinary degree focused on leadership and business fundamentals in the context of engineering and technology.
MEM programs posit that engineering isn’t done in a vacuum, but instead directly impacts — and is impacted by — a company’s initiatives and larger organizational decisions. These programs’ curricula are designed around teaching the same business fundamentals you may see in an MBA program — strategy, accounting, operations management, marketing and finance — but also place emphasis on specific elements of product development, market analysis, emerging technology and supply chain operations.
Graduates of MEM programs are expected to develop their management and leadership skills while furthering their understanding of traditional and emerging technologies and how they may affect operations. Applicants to MEM programs are expected to have a background in STEM in addition to some leadership or management experience.
The time to complete an MEM degree will vary by program, though some can be completed in 12 to 15 months. The programs intend to prepare students primarily for careers in the engineering and technology spaces, though they can also find success in leadership positions in other industries, such as health care and manufacturing. Potential job titles for MEM graduates include:
- Operations Manager — Estimated salary range of $97,349 to $126,096* An operations manager is an upper management professional that manages the day-to-day activities of an organization’s operations. They’re responsible for company policies, procedures and initiatives involved in producing goods and/or services. They will review how the business is functioning to ensure that milestones and goals are met and will provide regular reports to executive management.
- Director of Engineering — Estimated salary range of $173,273 to $212,165* The director of engineering is responsible for overseeing all aspects of a company’s engineering activities. They ensure that all projects and processes are aligned with established policies, objectives and best practices. They’re responsible for overseeing engineer teams, managing department budgets and designing engineering strategies. In some companies, this position is analogous to the vice president of engineering or the head of engineering.
- Chief Technical Officer — Estimated salary range of $258,381 to $339,226* The chief technical officer (CTO) makes all the executive decisions regarding the technological interests of a company. They’re responsible for overseeing the strategic design, acquisition and implementation of all enterprise-wide technology. They outline the company’s technological vision, implement established technology strategies and ensure that all technological resources are aligned with the company’s business needs.
*Salary estimates retrieved from Salary.com in July 2023
What Is an MBA?
The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is an internationally recognized and highly popular advanced degree. Most MBA programs are designed to teach general management and business skills required for careers in business and management. General MBA programs will cover a wide range of business-related subjects including strategic management, accounting, marketing, risk management and business ethics.
One of the advantages of an MBA program, and part of the reason why it’s so ubiquitous, is that its emphasis on general management and business skills can be applied across a wide range of sectors and industries. Many MBA programs will offer different concentrations that students can pursue, such as health care management, information technology, entrepreneurship, international business and enterprise.
Graduates of MBA programs are able to apply their knowledge of business principles to a wide variety of fields. Applicants are expected to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field — including engineering or IT — and may be asked to submit a GRE or GMAT test score.
Full-time MBA programs typically take two years to complete, though some accelerated programs can be done in a shorter period of time. Many MBA graduates go on to work in executive-level roles across different industries. Potential careers for engineers with an MBA include:
- Product Manager — Estimated salary range of $70,624 to $85,607* A product manager oversees the business strategy for a product, deciding what type of products should be developed and managing the research, conceptualization, design and updates. They’re responsible for understanding the needs of customers, as well as staying informed of new technologies, trends in the market and what competitors are doing.
- Project Engineer — Estimated salary range of $80,867 to $100,165* A project engineer oversees an engineering project and is responsible for any and all preparation, scheduling and coordination from start to finish. Some project engineers will manage a team over the lifecycle of the project to ensure that it reaches completion on time and on budget.
- Business Operations Manager — Estimated salary range of $67,614 to $92,849* A business operations manager will oversee general operating procedures, mainly around planning the use of materials and human resources. They’re responsible for ensuring consistency and quality at all times, especially when transitioning to or implementing a new work environment. Operations managers will often work with legal and safety departments to ensure the company’s compliance with laws and regulations.
*Salary estimates retrieved from Salary.com in July 2023
Master’s in Engineering Management vs. MBA
While both the engineering management degree and the MBA can prepare engineers for successful, professional careers as leaders and managers, their points of emphasis differ.
MEM degrees are more tailored to the challenges that managers will face within technical organizations, ones that are highly focused on engineering and technology. This is in contrast to a traditional MBA, which may focus more on general business skills around finance and project management, and may not account for the disruptions in technical fields or the fast past of IT.
Students thinking of attending an MEM program are required to have an undergraduate background in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Some programs may require a few years of experience. MBA programs will accept a bachelor’s degree from a wider array of disciplines, such as communications or marketing, but some programs will require the submission of a GRE or GMAT score, as well as a few years of professional experience.
In general, the MBA has broader applications, preparing students for upper-management positions across many different businesses and industries. Most MBA programs will provide students opportunities to specialize in certain areas, such as IT, entrepreneurship or data analytics. However, MBA programs will always center around traditional areas of business study such as accounting, finance, strategy and operational management.
Comparing the name recognition of master’s in engineering management vs. an MBA largely depends on the industry you intend to go into. The MBA is universally recognized as a sign of business credentials across every field. While MEM doesn’t quite have that level of branding, it is highly regarded in engineering fields, from mechanical and civil to electrical, computer and beyond.
Engineering Management vs. MBA Comparison
|– Accounting |
– Business Ethics
– Operational Management
– Business Analytics
– Strategy Economic Statistics
|– Engineering Management |
– Supply Chain Management
– Product Development
– Marketing Analytics
– Economics and Finance
– Competing Strategically
– Engineering Leadership
– Ethics, Compliance and Sustainability
– Adaptive Planning and Agile Methods
|– Logistics Manager |
– Product Manager
– Project Engineer
– Business Operations Manager
– Purchasing Manager
– Project Manager
– IT Manager
|– Operations Manager |
– Systems Analyst
– Project Engineer
– Director of Engineering
– Technical Manager
– Plant Manager
– Technical Consultant
– Chief Technical Officer
Salary According to BLS.gov
|– Project managers: $94,500 |
– Company managers: $161,720
-Operations managers: $127,110
|– Engineering managers: $152,350 |
– Technical consultants: $156,170
– Technical chief executive: $208,000
|Any bachelor’s degree from a related field||A bachelor’s degree in a STEM field|
|Duration||Two years for a full time program||12–15 months|
|Required Work Experience||Generally a minimum of two years||Varies, from none up to three years|
Choosing the Degree That’s Right for You
Both of these degrees are considered excellent options for engineers who are looking for higher-level, management positions outside of pure technical work. The difference largely lies in which direction you want to take your career and in which industries interest you the most.
Engineering management programs are often designed specifically by and for engineers. They tend to be a better fit for those looking to gain management skills within a technical field or who want to make the most of their STEM background. There are several Master of Engineering Management programs within the U.S. with a variety of focuses and admission requirements.
The MBA is a great option for engineers who want to be able to use their degree in a non-technical setting or who are looking to branch out into a non-engineering or technical field, such as establishing a career in the financial sector. Because there are so many MBA programs, it can be helpful to visit mba.com to find and review different program options.
If you’re interested in a program that combines the focused approach of an MEM program with the higher-level concerns and considerations you may find in a specialized MBA program, then we invite you to consider the University of San Diego’s Master of Science in Engineering Management and Leadership (USD-EML) program.
Learn More About USD-EML
At USD-EML, students are taught how to set goals and strategies that account for an organization’s performance, culture and constraints. You’ll be trained in how to communicate the value of complex product or service offerings to a diverse audience, as well as how to effectively manage dynamic customer and vendor interactions.
Most importantly, you’ll have the opportunity to learn to generate influence and innovation within your team.