Successful engineering managers view projects in several ways. “When engineering management is done right, you’re focusing on three big things,” Jessica MacKellar, founder and CTO of Pilot, told First Round Review. “You’re directly supporting the people on your team; you’re managing execution and coordination across teams; and you’re stepping back to observe and evolve the broader organization and its processes as it grows.”
Engineering management can look like a straightforward amalgamation of people and project management, save for one detail. To achieve this delicate balance of direct support and overhead execution requires the right blend of technical and leadership abilities. Any management master’s degree program can teach an individual contributor to organize and lead teams and keep projects on track. Only technically focused engineering management degree programs, such as Stevens Institute of Technology’s online Master of Engineering in Engineering Management (MEM) program, blend critical business fundamentals with advanced technical instruction applicable in disciplines as different as industrial engineering and chemical engineering.
As Stevens instructor Dr. Carlo Lipizzi puts it: “You cannot manage a highly skilled team and complex engineering projects without knowing the language of engineering.” Engineers who want to step into management positions or leadership roles in technical organizations often enroll in MBA or master’s in management programs, but there are several distinct benefits to choosing a tech-intensive engineering management master’s program.
5 Reasons to Choose a Technology-Focused Engineering Management Master’s Program
There is often a significant overlap between MBA programs and engineering management master’s programs. However, the most significant difference between the two is that engineering management degree programs present advanced management concepts in an engineering and technology context. The curriculum teaches financial management, project management, operations research, technology management and more to an audience of skilled and experienced engineers. Choosing between an MBA and an MEM is often simple and primarily involves carefully assessing one’s professional experience and career goals.
Pursuing an engineering management master’s degree is the first step in a longer journey. There are many on-campus and online master of engineering management programs in the United States — each with a distinct focus. Some prioritize business management courses or engineering project management. Others, including Stevens’ online engineering management master’s degree program, provide students with a strong understanding of the technology involved in engineering projects and the management process through which the technology is applied.
Programs that focus on both the technical and business aspects of engineering projects attract engineers who want to:
Further Their Engineering Careers
General graduate programs in management prepare graduate students for a wide range of jobs in the business world and do not require that applicants have technical work experience. In contrast, engineering management degree programs are better suited to technical professionals preparing to lead the teams that design and build machines, software and structures. Engineering management jobs exist in many sectors — StevensOnline graduates have titles such as architectural and engineering manager, process engineer, industrial production manager and technical manager.
Stevens Institute of Technology ranks on Princeton Review’s Best Value Colleges list for “Best Career Placement.” Graduates of the School of Systems and Enterprises’ engineering management program work at notable organizations, including BMW, Lockheed Martin, Exxon and IBM. Competition for engineering management roles at these companies can be fierce, but engineering managers at these and other organizations are well-compensated.
Learn Engineering Analytics and Informatics
Modern management techniques increasingly integrate data analytics and informatics. Some researchers have even argued that intelligent data analytics will profoundly change engineering management practices. For example, data can help engineering managers track the progress of sustainable supply chain management goals. Data analytics can also help managers better understand organizational behavior and quickly assess large projects with many moving parts.
Yet despite the potential of data analysis to enhance engineering projects, management degree programs have been slow to add analytics and informatics coursework to curricula. Even programs that include related courses typically do not focus on applying Big Data in engineering or relevant data handling tools and techniques.
The StevensOnline MEM program curriculum purposefully includes courses such as Data Science and Knowledge Discovery in Engineering Management, Forecasting and Demand Modeling Systems and Data Analysis and Visualization Techniques for Decision Making, plus training in the Python programming language. For future engineering managers, it’s advantageous to practice these skills as they relate to engineering, rather than learning them as general business skills and making the leap to engineering applications on their own.
Study Alongside Other Engineers
MBA and other graduate programs in management draw applicants from a vast pool of undergraduate majors and career paths. However, most Master of Business Administration candidates want to study the “business of business” and entrepreneurship in general terms because they want career versatility. Very few MBA candidates — only 10% by some estimations — come from engineering backgrounds, while nearly 50% have business undergraduate degrees. Technology-focused engineering management master’s programs meet the needs of engineers committed to advancing in engineering.
There are several reasons engineers benefit from studying alongside other engineers. For example, learning with other ambitious engineers helps students build broad networks that lead to future opportunities in industry, research and entrepreneurship. Technically focused engineering management master’s programs also allow engineers to collaborate on projects relevant to their careers and share perspectives on emerging trends and technologies. Stevens’ students are innovators and often work together on projects with real-world impact.
“Leader development is all about learning and growing from experience,” said Stevens faculty member and leadership researcher Dr. Peter Dominick. “Getting feedback and reflecting on what that feedback means in the context of what’s important to you is an integral element.”
Learn Leadership Skills Specific to Engineering
Some leadership skills are applicable across industries, but excelling in STEM fields requires additional competencies associated with engineering project oversight, such as data-informed operations management, technical implementation and collaborative innovation.
Engineering managers must communicate broad organizational goals to their technical teams and help stakeholders understand the capacity and needs of those technical teams. Leaders in engineering fields must furthermore understand data, systems and processes as well as an organization’s mission and what impacts the bottom line.
Technical leaders must think like technicians and business managers simultaneously, considering risk analysis, optimization and resource allocation while troubleshooting design challenges and production hurdles. Engineering leaders must use predictive analytics and forecasting to set plans for teams that align with organizational needs. Additionally, engineering teams tend to operate and communicate differently than teams in business settings, according to Rachael Byrne for PagerDuty. “It sometimes feels like engineering and business teams speak different languages and work in completely incompatible ways.” Engineering managers can learn to bridge the gap in engineering management degree programs that are interdisciplinary in focus.
Network with Engineering Insiders
A 2020 LinkedIn report found that 76% of respondents thought that knowing the right people and having the right connections are keys to professional success. While many assume network building is the business professional’s domain, success in engineering management is also influenced by “who you know.”
School of Systems and Enterprises faculty offer mentorship based on years of engineering industry experience that also shapes the cutting-edge curriculum. Stevens’ online master’s degree candidates also benefit from the university’s relationships. Industry collaborations between Stevens and companies like Autonomous Healthcare and Lockheed Martin have led to research and technology innovations supported by students and faculty. Electrical and computer engineering associate professor Zhuo Feng led a team in creating software to simplify microchip design, a breakthrough that could save future engineers time and money. Even when students are not directly involved in projects, this level of research in a college of engineering creates a stimulating learning environment. It provides opportunities for students to connect with leaders in their engineering fields.
3 Skills You Will Only Learn in a Technology-Focused Engineering Management Degree Program
Engineering management programs with a technology focus teach specialized skills necessary for future engineering managers. These skills are less likely to be covered in more general graduate programs in management or less technical master’s in engineering management programs.
Engineering Project Management
Project management, which encompasses the design, planning, oversight and delivery of engineering projects, is the third most in-demand specialized skill for engineering managers, according to employment market analytics firm Lightcast. In 2022, 16% of relevant job postings specifically requested this skill.
Engineering managers must be familiar with the breadth of technical skills necessary to engineer products, processes and systems — and how to scrutinize related data for insights. StevensOnline MEM candidates learn how to use computational tools for project coordination and management in Project Management of Complex Systems.
“As an engineering manager, you need to be able to gather context and understand the challenges your team is facing at a technical level,” writes Shopify senior engineering manager Hasitha Pathiraja on Medium. “Doing this requires keeping your technical skills up to date.” One increasingly critical management skill is programming — typically in Python, one of the most useful programming languages for extracting insights from data.
Advanced engineering management degree programs like the StevensOnline MEM build on programming fundamentals, teaching students to leverage programming in managerial roles — e.g., to sort, visualize and analyze data with code as part of strategic decision-making — in courses such as Informatics for Engineering Management and Data Analysis and Visualization Techniques for Decision Making.
System dynamics, a modeling methodology used to frame and analyze complex challenges, is integral to success in engineering. Engineering projects are collaborative, but managers always have the final call because they have the skills and perspective necessary to be strategic in their approach to making decisions about elements of complex systems.
In the StevensOnline engineering management master’s program, core courses such as Engineering Economics and Cost Analysis, Systems Modeling and Simulation, Decision and Risk Analysis, Multi-Agent Socio-Technical Systems and Forecasting and Demand Modeling Systems teach students how to use complex systems modeling and data analytics to overcome challenges in engineering projects.
Do I Need an Engineering Management Master’s?
Pursuing a graduate degree is intelligent if you have leadership aspirations because a bachelor’s degree can only take you so far. MBA programs offer a respected credential, but their content typically doesn’t align with the technical responsibilities of engineering managers.
Organizations creating and nurturing engineering teams in the face of evolving technological demands want more than just high-performing business leaders. Organizations look for managers who blend technical know-how with solid decision-making and interpersonal communication skills to keep pace with developments in increasingly complex engineering fields. These leaders make decisions based on data and expertise, not intuition. Enrolling in a master of engineering management program shows you are serious about professional development.
The online MEM program at Stevens Institute of Technology is ideal for engineers who want to blend technical skills in engineering with business and leadership fundamentals. The university stands apart because it is the only institution in the U.S. with a separate School of Systems and Enterprises. “It’s an interdisciplinary school that brings together people from industries such as healthcare, space systems and transportation,” said Dr. Alparslan Emrah Bayrak. “It isn’t easy to find such a diversity of expertise in one school.”
This is important because engineering managers work in manufacturing, product development, human resources, information technology, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and more. The diversity of Stevens’ program allows them to excel in whichever sector they choose after graduation. Stevens’ engineering management graduates continue to work in technology or engineering while enrolled in the program and are ready to transition into management and even executive roles at completion.
“Few other schools have anything like it,” said alumni Cecelia Kaido. “It checked all the boxes for me: online, part-time, easy credit transfer and it aligned with my interests… All of the students are professionals working full-time jobs. We’re all in the same boat, and it’s been enriching to talk to other people, learn about what they’re doing and see how that real-world experience enhances conversations during lectures.”
A technology-focused Master of Science in Engineering Management degree program provides students who want to be technical leaders with the right blend of advanced technical and leadership fundamentals. Stevens’ 30-credit hour online program takes just one and a half years to complete. No GRE is necessary to apply. Financial aid is available.