McAfee received his BS in mechanical engineering in 1988, his MS in management in 1990, and in 1999 his Doctorate from Harvard Business School, with a thesis titled The impact of enterprise information systems on operational effectiveness: An empirical investigation, where he also taught, and completed two Master of Science and two Bachelor of Science degrees at MIT.
His research investigates how IT changes the way companies perform, organize themselves, and compete, and at a higher level, how computerization affects competition, society, the economy, and the workforce. He was previously a professor at Harvard Business School and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
He is the author of Enterprise 2.0, published in November 2009 by Harvard Business School Press, and co-author of Race Against the Machine with Erik Brynjolfsson. In 2014, this work was expanded into the book The Second Machine Age.
He writes for publications including Harvard Business Review, The Economist, Forbes, The Wall St. Journal, and The New York Times. He speaks frequently to both academic and industry audiences, most notably at TED 2013 and on The Charlie Rose Show.
McAfee coined the phrase “Enterprise 2.0” in a spring 2006 Sloan Management Review article to describe the use of Web 2.0 tools and approaches by businesses. He also began blogging at that time, both about Enterprise 2.0 and about his other research.
In the July / August 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review, McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson published “Investing in the IT that Makes a Competitive Difference,” a summary of their research investigating IT’s links to changes in competition. This work was the first to reveal that competition began to heat up in the US in the mid 1990s – to become faster paced, more turbulent, and more winner-take-all – and that this acceleration was greater in industries that spent more on IT. This research continues, and continues to highlight that technology appears to be significantly reshaping the landscape of competition.
McAfee's first book, Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization's Toughest Challenges, brings together case studies and examples with key concepts from economics, sociology, computer science, consumer psychology, and management studies of how leading organizations are bringing the web's novel tools and philosophies inside.
His second book, Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, co-authored with Erik Brynjolfsson, brings together a range of data, examples, and research to show that the average US worker is being left behind by advances in technology.
In September 2014 he co-authored the book "Leading Digital – Turning Technology into Business Transformation", together with George Westermann (MIT) and Didier Bonnet (Capgemini Consulting).
In 2008 McAfee was named by the editors of the technical publishing house Ziff-Davis number 38 in their list of the “100 Most Influential People in IT.” He was also named by Baseline magazine to a separate, unranked list of the 50 most influential people in business IT that year. In 2009 he was the only non-executive in the Everything Channel’s group of the 100 most influential executives in the technology industry.
McAfee’s blog is widely read, becoming at times one of the 10,000 most popular in the world (according to Technorati).
Along with Erik Brynjolfsson, he was awarded the top prize in the Digital Thinkers category at the Thinkers 50 Gala on November 9, 2015.