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Should you get an advanced degree in computer science?

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In some jobs, like medicine or law, graduate degrees are a minimum requirement. Computer science is such a wide-ranging and fast-growing field that all kinds of qualifications can meet an employer's needs. Some people have master's degrees or Ph.D.s, while others never finished college (industry titans Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs come to mind). So should you get an advanced degree in computer science?

The short answer is maybe. The longer answer depends on several factors. Below, a few things to consider:

What type of graduate degree are you planning to get?
All graduate degrees aren't created equal, of course. A master's of science in computer science will enhance your technical skills. If you're interested in becoming a technical specialist in an area like security, database administration or software design, an MS is one way to prepare. A master's of business administration, on the other hand, will ready you for information technology jobs that also follow a business-management track. Getting a doctorate is of course a prerequisite for working in academia, but it's also required for many high-level research jobs.

What kind of job do you want?
Ask 10 IT professionals whether an advanced degree is a good idea, and you're likely to get 10 different answers. There's really no consensus about whether it's worth the time and money, but some experts agree that you should go into your graduate studies with a specific career goal. For example, do you want to work as an enterprise architect (an IT pro who uses technology to help implement business strategies)? Start talking to enterprise architects to find out whether they have advanced degrees, and whether they recommend that you get one. Doing some advance legwork can ensure you make a smart choice about whether to go to school and what to focus on once you get in.

What did you study in undergrad?
If you got a bachelor's degree in something totally unrelated to IT (like philosophy, English literature or chemistry) a graduate degree might help convince an employer that you're serious about your career. Of course, if you're a killer programmer or a software genius with no formal training, some companies will be glad to take you on anyway. Others, especially those with human resources departments not staffed by tech-savvy people, might want to see an academic credential along with real-world projects that demonstrate your skills.

Are you willing -- and able -- to pay off your student loan debt?
Consider that Americans' outstanding student loan debt topped $1 trillion last year, which is even more than we owe in credit card debt. An advanced degree in computer science can be a good investment, but consider carefully how much money you'll lose -- in salary, tuition and other expenses -- if you go back to school. If your company will foot the bill for your schooling, or you can get into one of the Ph.D. programs that pays students to attend, so much the better.  

Are you itching for intellectual challenge?
Graduate school will certainly provide it, and it may open doors for you professionally. On the other hand, there's lots of real-world learning you can do on your own.


Last Updated: 20/06/2012 - 11:22 AM

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