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master's degree + employability

Hey folks. Longtime lurker, first-time poster here. I've got kinda of a weird question. I'm nearing the end of my junior year of college (CS major) and am trying to figure out what to do post-graduation to maximize my future employability.
Originally, I was thinking of doing a one-year master's program in CS (perhaps specializing in networks or info security, both of which I've been interested in for a long time). But then, I became aware of a one-year MBA program offered by my school. After that, I began to wonder if an MBA might be a worthwhile thing for me to consider. This occurred to me largely based on several posts I've read here on the JoS forum, that seem to indicate that it is impossible to sustain a lifelong career as a programmer without eventually going to management.
Anyway, I was just wondering if I could get some input from anybody who might have an idea as to the value of either or both of these kinds of degrees.
Thanks much.

babs
Sunday, April 11, 2004

If you don't think four years of college makes you employable, what makes you think five years will?

I strongly advise anyone who asks against going straight into a graduate program after getting their bachelor's degree.
1) You're spending a year spending money instead of earning it; even working a minimum wage internship would be fiscally better
2) In general in IT, an MSCS doesn't really add value. An MSCS with no work experience would be effectively worthless.
3) I feel that I got a lot more out of my law degree for having had real-world experience. I cannot imagine absorbing all those concepts meaningfully at 21.
4) Examine why you want an MSCS - I suspect quite a few people get their master's directly out of fear of the real world. Might as well face it now, it's cheaper.
5) If you find out that you hate programming, you've really wasted some time and money.

Personally, I think if academic institutions were intellectually honest, they wouldn't accept Master's degree candidates that had no work experience. Of course, that would hurt profits...

Now everything has an exception, and this is no different - if you've got a genuine once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (Rhodes Scholarship, apprenticeship with a significant member of the community, unique learning opportunity) then go for it. But if we're talking about the idle musings of a college senior, get out there and get a job. :-)

Philo

Philo
Sunday, April 11, 2004

Same here. While the thread I opened before makes me look like a bit of an idiot I do know that getting yourself educated without some real life education is useless.

RP
Sunday, April 11, 2004


Well, as someone who regretted not having more education, I would lean more towards going after the masters.

If you're having to choose between a masters in CS or an MBA, then I would recommend giving the MBA serious consideration. A person with strong technical skills that understand business principles is still a rare find these days.

I agree with Philo that no amount of education can replace real world experience. It's still the best teacher. But that isn't to say that more education is a bad thing.

Mark Hoffman
Sunday, April 11, 2004

Possibly the best thing you can do to make yourself employable is to get employed - get an internship or co-op and get involved with a company delivering a solid product. 

As far as an MBA versus a Masters in CS - most discussions here have come the general conclusion that a masters in CS isn't really worth the time and money invested - it's experience that tends to matter most.  As for the MBA - it is entirely possible to have a long career as a programmer and not get into management - however you'll likely be involved as a project lead or put in charge of a project at some point.  To that end getting exposure to some project management and general managerial education is likely beneficial.  Your options here include getting another BS in Industrial Engineering, Management (even a BA would be adequate in Management), or even a BS in MIS.  It's the generalist business background that will allow you to take your CS education and capitalize on it in the job market (at least that's my experience).

Lou
Sunday, April 11, 2004

MSCS only helps if at least one of the following apply:

- Your bachelor's degree wasn't in CS.
- The MSCS program provides the opportunity to work on very specialized, innovative material, such as natural language translation or cryptography.
- You plan to do a PhD in CS.
- You live in a country outside the US where the MSCS is respected more than a BSCS.
- You plan to teach CS at the college level (a PhD is not always required).
- You went to a no-name school for your CS bachelors and have been accepted to a big-name place for your MS, like MIT or Carnegie Mellon.

T. Norman
Sunday, April 11, 2004

Thanks for the comments I've gotten so far. Several of you have said that an MSCS is worth very little. What I'm curious about is, are you saying that any master's in CS is worthless, or are you only referring to a "general" MS degree in CS? For example, if I were interested in working in the area of network security, might it be advantageous if I were to obtain a master's in that specific discipline, which I've seen that several schools offer? Or would I be somehow limiting my options in doing that?
Thanks again.

babs
Sunday, April 11, 2004

Babs,

While I agree with Philo that no amount of education can replace real world experience, I believe it is a lot easier to pursue your educational goals when you are young and not working. My advice to you is to stay in school and pursue your MBA. If feasible seek out an internship as well so that you have something else to put on your resume.

One Programmer's Opinion
Sunday, April 11, 2004

I have never regretted not getting an MS in computer science.

I do however, kick myself daily for not getting an MBA.

Canuck
Sunday, April 11, 2004

An MBA directly after a BS is generally worthless, but an MSCS isn't.  If you're interested in a particular field to specialize in (networking or security) that's exactly what an MSCS is good for.

If you're concerned about employability in general, what others have said above is generally true.  But if you specifically want to target your job search to security, for example, then getting the MS would be helpful.  If you live in the US it would be more beneficial if the MS program was recognized by the NSA as a center for academic excellent in information assurance: http://www.nsa.gov/ia/academia/index.cfm

If you want to switch over into management, then work for 3-5 years before pursuing the MBA.  Getting an MBA when they switched career tracks has given a lot of people I know a "bounce".

Despite what some people have said above, I have seen a lot of job ads in the last few years that say MSCS preferred or required.  That said, you may be screened from other jobs that don't want to pay for someone with an MS.

But I truly believe that in the long run, more education is beneificial in the job market.  As the IT field gets more mature, I would expect more organizations to be more demanding of their candidates - especially if legal liability becomes more of an issue.

Nick
Sunday, April 11, 2004

"I believe it is a lot easier to pursue your educational goals when you are young and not working"

All the more reason for an employer to value it less. ;-)

An interesting side-effect of having work experience while taking graduate classes is that a) it's easier to get good grades, and b) it's easier to thresh the wheat from the chaff in the material.

MSCS in robotics or crypto vs. someone who's been working for two years in the robotics or crypto industries? I'll take the latter every time.

If you really, really, really want an MSCS, then graduate, get a job near a good university that offers an evening MSCS program, and get it at night.

If that's not appealing, question how badly you want the MSCS.

Philo

Philo
Sunday, April 11, 2004

But Philo ... someone without significant experience may find it impossible to get entry into the robotics or crypto fields without an MSCS.

T. Norman
Sunday, April 11, 2004

An mba without working experience is worthless.  Only the lowest ranked mba programs will accept candidates with no work experience.

blah
Sunday, April 11, 2004

Philo is right. Somone with a MSCS and no experience is a wanker who expects too much pay. Probably not literally true, but that is how employers will view you.

A PhD is usually worth little too except when you yourself initiated substantial and important research and published in the leading journals.

Of course you can publish in the same journals without a pHD and its a lot cheaper and is worth just as much. Main difference is when you are done YOU own your invention and not the university. that puts you in a good position.

This is all US. Outside of North America in almost all teh world a masters is equivalent to an american bachelors and a foreign bachelors is equivalent to an american community collece certificate. If you don't believe me, you haven't interviewed people with these degrees

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, April 11, 2004

T Norman highlights something very interesting - that a Masters in CS is useful only if your first degree wasn't in CS. 

It might not be so true now, but there was a time when the only people doing MSCS's were people without talent. They needed something extra to get a job. To me, a masters still has that feel if it's not backed up by a PhD.

If someone really is a good researcher, he or she will have the PhD, or equivalent projects at some company. If they have a masters, they lacked the talent to get a job.


Sunday, April 11, 2004

The best thing to do is to contact the career services office of the schools you are thinking about attending and see what their placement rate is like.  I would also contact some professors and get names and numbers of recently graduated master's students who had a concentration in network security.

Data from the career services offfice and info from recent graduates will be much more helpful than random, generic chatter from a message board.

dino
Sunday, April 11, 2004

I am getting a masters in CS part-time while working. I think it's a great way to go, especially if the tuition is paid for by your employer.

Scott
Sunday, April 11, 2004

I got my BS in CS (w/Business minor) in 1988 from Northern Illinois University.  Since I had had two internships, I sorta had a good idea of what the typical jobs in the Chicago area were like at the time.

I decided to stay on at NIU and get my MS in Computer Science (it took a summer, fall, spring, and summer).

Why did I do it?

1)  They knew me and were willing to waive my tuitition (I still had to pay fees) and give me $xxx a month in exchange for working 20 hours/week.
2)  I still knew tons of people on campus, so it wasn't like I had to move to a strange town and be socially isolated.
3)  I knew the CS program and exactly what to expect.
4)  I didn't have bills that you tend to sign up for (i.e. car payments, etc.) once you start working.
5) I wanted to "differentiate myself from the crowd".

and the most important,

6) For the knowledge.

No one I work with knows I have an MS in CS (or BS for that matter!).  There's no need to tell them and I don't think they really care.

I am completely happy with my decision to stay on and get my MS in CS at that time.

I had the "momentum" from my BS to make the MS experience very smooth.  (Notice I didn't say "easy".)

Steve Forest
Sunday, April 11, 2004

Your entire post is invalidated by this:

"1)  They knew me and were willing to waive my tuitition (I still had to pay fees) and give me $xxx a month in exchange for working 20 hours/week"

You got free tuition, a stipend, *and* work experience. I'd call that a damn good reason to stick around. (which see: my exceptions above)  ;-)

Philo

Philo
Sunday, April 11, 2004

"It might not be so true now, but there was a time when the only people doing MSCS's were people without talent. They needed something extra to get a job."

It's still true.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, April 11, 2004


Philo,

Top schools like MIT Sloan and Harvard do not accept grad students to their business schools without prior work experience.

my2c
Monday, April 12, 2004

Good to know - thanks!

Philo

Philo
Monday, April 12, 2004

Dennis, I'm getting a Masters. I left my job for it, although I have a reasonable chance of getting it back when I finish. I had 4 years of experience in software development before I joined up.

For several reasons:
I wanted to learn more about a specific area of Computer Science, in more depth than my Bachelor's degree offered.

I wanted to test the waters for a PhD, I am doing a Masters by research. I can't afford to spend three years of my life in a school at this point in time. One year, I can manage.. and afford, just barely.

I think getting a Masters is like getting a certification. For some prospective employers, it's meaningless, but for others it can get your foot in the door. If you're genuinely interested in learning more about CS, then good for you, you should probably join up, but don't expect automatic pay increases or riches because you have it.

It may or may not help you do well, but you (hopefully) learn something you might not have otherwise, and people can take your wealth and possessions away from you, but they cannot take away your education (no amnesia jokes, please ;)

deja vu
Monday, April 12, 2004


My Advice:  An advanced degree from a non-big-name school without experience is very very "blow-off-able."

Three suggestions:

If you want to go to a non-big-name schooll (Some place less recognized than Notre Dame, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, and Carnegie-Mellon) first get a day job and get your employer to pay for the classes.  In 3 to 5 years you've got the degree, work experience, _AND_ no student loans.  That is exactly what I did; I graduate in august.  It gets REALLY hard once you get married and have children.

If you want to go to a big-name-school, the MS route might work for you, especially MBA.

Third, the MS is less imporatant than what you do with it - getting published and teaching classes are things you can do at night while you have a day job.  The MS will open these opportunities for you greatly.  With a little effort, you can even re-purpose some of your MS work toward publication.

Good luck,


Matt H.
Monday, April 12, 2004

"This is all US. Outside of North America in almost all teh world a masters is equivalent to an american bachelors and a foreign bachelors is equivalent to an american community collece certificate. If you don't believe me, you haven't interviewed people with these degrees"

Hmmm... as an Oxford undergrad I ran into an American woman who was there doing a second BA because she said it was the equivalent to a Master's in the States. Maybe true, maybe not.

Are you referring maybe to no-name universities outside North America? What specifically about the interviews led you to this conclusion?

Fernanda Stickpot
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Oxford is an exception to the rule, as are a handful of others.  It's well known and has a long-standing global reputation.

Others have good reputations and name recognition mainly just within a given sector -- for example IIT in the tech crowd, Sorbonne in the artsy-fartsy crowd, and the London School of Economics in the finance crowd.

From my experience, people in the US are sceptical of non-US degrees for several reasons:

1) Lack of university name recognition.
2) Many of us have worked with people with degrees from East European and Asian universities who turned out to be clueless. [Note: this certainly isn't always the case, but once bitten ...]
3) Most non-US universities require 3 years of study for a Bachelor's degree and 1 year for a Masters, whereas US universities require 4 years Bachelor's and 1-2 years for a Masters.  Add to that, most engineering degrees require 10-20% more credits to graduate than non-engineering degrees.

Nick
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

"Add to that, most engineering degrees require 10-20% more credits to graduate than non-engineering degrees."

?

What school was this? I don't recall ever seeing a BS, BSxE, etc, requiring more than 120 credits.

Mind you, between engineers being chronic overachievers and the difficulty of engineering classes acting as an anchor (so you stay for another semester or two and pick up some extra "easy" credits), a lot of BSxE types *end up with* more than 120...

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Even if a school doesn't directly require 130+ credits for an engineering degree, you may be forced to end up with a 130+ total in the process of fulfilling the general education requirements in addition to the extensive engineering requirements.

NoName
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

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