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Gradudate School

Hey all -

So what is the value of a graduate education in computer science? Like many (I suspect), my job and career came from the boom and my undergraduate degree is not in computer science.

I've spent a lot of time studying various aspects of CS (Data Structures, Languages, and so on) as a programmer for personal and professional enrichment but I wonder if I'm missing out on a lot.

I've thought about just going through the carriculum on MITs Open Courseware (http://aka-ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/) and staying a professional rather than going back to school. Only problem is I don't want to be relegated to boring problems - it would be cool to do programming that was more sophisticated than business/database development.

But I'm sure there are some here who have either gotten their graduate degrees w/ out the undergrad background or spent time thinking about it. Any conclusions? Is it worth it?

David Seruyange
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

It's definitely worth it if you want to work in research and development - the ph.d is like a r&d bus ticket, you need one to get on that particular bus.

devinmoore.com
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I got my Master's in CS from Johns Hopkins on a part-time basis.  It has been very helpful in getting jobs, and in increasing my credibility in software development.

I studied applied Software Engineering principles -- "Structured Analysis", "Compiler Design", "Embedded Programming", "SW Dev under Unix", "Database Design", that sort of thing.

I definitely wanted a degree that included skills, not just theory, and Hopkins delivered that.  Since it was part time, I kept my full-time job, and the classes were paid for by my employer.

I still run in to the catch-22 of software work, where if you don't have 5 years of experience in exactly the pigeon-hole your new employer is interested in, they won't hire you.  Still, Hopkins gives me credibility.

AllanL5
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

It depends what you mean by graduate school.  Do you mean a master's or a PhD?  My sense is that most CS master's programs (especially at non-elite universities) are geared towards foreigners (Indian and Chinese) with undergraduate degrees from their home countries who are getting a master's either on their government's dime or as a way to get a leg up on the immigration process.

I have a buddy who is a prof in the CS department of a selective university (you'd recognize the name) who told me their master's program is basically a tool for squeezing enrollment dollars out of foreigners, with little in the way of real pedagogy.

Point being, I'd think long and hard about getting a CS master's on my own dime.  I've never done grad work in CS myself, of course, but my sense is that as a credential, the MS doesn't get you much professionally, and you probably won't learn anything you couldn't teach yourself faster and cheaper.

PhD is a different story, but that's a whole other can of worms.

dave
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Of course, I missed Allan's post above....if I could get an employer to pay for it, I'd do a master's in a heartbeat.

dave
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I earned my PhD while working full time over the course of 9 years. I did it primarily because I'm interested in teaching as a pre-retirement career, but I'm staying in industry for the nonce.

PhD programs are geared toward doing research. Ideally, the program will teach you how to do it, but your milage varies between schools. Having a PhD, though, is not an immediate 'in' to the research world, just a prereq. Top tier schools require a great deal of publication and proven results before considering you. Middle tier less so, teaching schools don't -- but they also don't have money to fund research.

I was happy and pleased to earn the PhD. I think it may have helped me in my industry career and certainly holds the door open on some other career options. But it is a lot of work to get. If you're interested more in just advancing your level of knowledge and not necessarily in research, an MS might be better. Note that you don't need to be doing "research" to be working on more interesting products...

Jeff Kotula
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I'm finishing up my MS, to be complete next year. I'm in it to expand my knowledge and also for helping me up the career ladder, especially when some high level positions at some companies require an MS. In any sense, it definitely looks good on a resume. If you're planning to do research, then I would suggest a Ph.D. instead.

If your employer will help pay for it, it's definitely a bonus. Unfortunately mine won't pay unless the courses can "be immediately applied to be job", whatever that means. My previous one was to chicken-shit to pay for anything. Just don't go into debt over it - it's not worth it. I know people I went to undergrad with 10 years ago who are still paying off their education.

Erik
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Gradual School:

"Oh! Well, Gradual School is where kids go and then gradually realize that they don't want to go to school anymore." -- Robin Williams (as Garp -- The World According to Garp)

Seems to sum it up for me!

Sgt. Sausage
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I thought it's where they go when they don't know what they want to do in life.

Ron
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Ron, I see a lot of that too!

Sgt. Sausage
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

If I could find a way to get my employer to send me to Johns Hopkins for a Master's in CS, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, being a consultant means a lot of travel which eliminates the option of a program like that.

I think Dave is right in saying that many programs are designed for enrollment dollars. I am not American (my passport is Ugandan) and I would therefore have to "demonstrate" the ability to pay for the program up front. When Americans themselves can't pay for grad school upfront (ie. lots of loans/federal aid) how in the world can Africans and other "Third World" students hope to? I guess if their fathers are dictators or corrupt government officials this might be the case but unfortunately that's not all of us.

I guess that's the summary eh? Do it if someone else is paying for it or if your immigration so inclines you. As for the PhD stuff, that would be fabulous but it's a bit further along I think.

I always laugh when I hear people talk about "real world" stuff versus academia. I've just been given the task of writing a specification for a file import process. We argued over correct "CSV" formats.  I'd rather be building robots.

David Seruyange
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

what are the best schools for a Masters? 

Voodoo
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I just graduated with a degree in CS and am now going on to do a MSc at LSE in London.

The course seems quite general but I guess I am mainly going for their reputation and the better job prospects that LSE graduates undoubtedly have.

If anyone is interested I can keep you posted.

Postgrad Student
Friday, September 03, 2004

http://is.lse.ac.uk/course/default.htm

Postgrad Student
Friday, September 03, 2004

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