Many students come to MIT Sloan not because of the business school itself, but because they want to be part of the MIT community at large. I was one of those students, and I wanted to apply what I learned in the classroom by working side by side with outstanding engineers on bringing new technologies to market. To me, that seemed like a great way to prepare for and anticipate the future evolution of business and society, as opposed to treating business school as just a springboard for a job.
But once I set my foot on the campus, I quickly discovered to my chagrin that MIT doesn’t quite conform to the image of an embracing union of businessmen and engineers, an image so actively promoted by the school. Engineers and businessmen at MIT represent two very distinct cultures and mostly keep to themselves. What’s more, a business student’s literal interpretation of Mens et Manus — i.e. actively exploring the campus, its labs, and the work done by MIT’s technologists — could be frowned upon by engineers and even seen as a disguised attempt to take advantage of someone else’s work.
This barrier is a downer for many students who discover it, but after three months at MIT, I’ve come to believe that it will change. For one, many students take active steps to bridge the campus, instead of receding into their distinct spheres. The MIT 100K competition is the mothership of this movement, but there are many other initiatives, such as IdeaStorm at the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, for example, that also bring and engage students from different departments together. Many engineers take the New Enterprises (15.390) class offered at Sloan and, finding it valuable, they generate excellent word-of-mouth for the cause of cross-campus collaboration. Thanks to these activities, the campus as we see it today won’t be the same tomorrow. Sometime soon, a company that emerges from one of these initiatives will become really big and famous, and its example will compel a serious departure from the divided atmosphere that reigns today.
Finally, no matter how difficult it may be for students to operate in this barrier-ridden environment, it may actually come to be really useful. After all, most technology companies probably have some form of a cultural tension between engineers and the rest of the company. For those planning to be a part of innovation-based businesses, it should be valuable to experience this tension, understand it, and finally overcome it and use it for creative purposes. So enjoy it while it lasts!