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MSc Anonymous


I know it's very heretical, BUT...

I am one of only four developers on the planet who think that getting a degree (provided the curriculum is right for you) is one of the many things that can help to make you a better developer.

Going out on a limb, I would even say that some of the alleged "world-class" universities actually are good.

Would the other three developers please step forward? I'm getting lonely.

Fernanda Stickpot
Monday, October 20, 2003

When I started my MSc, my motives were highly cynical.

My reasoning was that if some employers are stupid enough to required higher education, then I had better satisfy their requirement.

I have since discovered just how beneficial formal learning is, and it has certainly made me a better developer.

Ged Byrne
Monday, October 20, 2003

It depends on the audience.

For people without a college degree, I will absolutely recommend they get one. There is a lot that college has to offer, and (IMHO) you'll improve your opportunities by a factor of ten by simply having the piece of paper.

For hiring managers, I'd say that a college degree is a factor, but not essential. The old argument that someone with four years of good experience is worth more than someone with a college degree and no experience still holds.

If we're talking about a Master's degree, then again, it depends on what your goals are.
- To learn more about the field? Do it.
- To put another piece of paper on the wall? Um, okay.
- To improve employability? No way. Bad move.

The big problem is that in the IT field, universities seem painfully behind the times. When I was looking at an MSCS in the early 90's, I couldn't find a curriculum that offered C++ - it was all COBOL, BASIC-8, Pascal, and FORTRAN. These days I'd be interested to find a mainstream college course that *mentions* XML or application scalability.

I think CS degrees tend to be too far on the esoteric side - almost as if they refuse to be practical. Though I would love to be proven wrong. :)


Monday, October 20, 2003


Add one more to your group for a total of five.  If you want to hear some real heresy, I may even consider a doctorate in CS (If I can get my company to pay for it). 

I think the whole "anti-education" attitude in IT may stem from the current weakness in the curriculum of CS departments.  Many of the professors (but not all) I have encountered have no real world experience in the IT field.  It's kind of hard to raise the bar in professional development when those who are in charge of education have no real knowledge of the IT field. 

National Technological University has an interesting distance learning program:

Lil Guy
Monday, October 20, 2003

There is an option to do XML on my curriculum. As for scalability, there are several courses that might cover that, but I'm not sure as I haven't found the actual word 'scalability' in the blurb.

The course directors explicitly say that, although there's a place for theory for theory's sake, they are definitely *not* planning to teach us anything that is not of immediate practical value.

Fernanda Stickpot
Monday, October 20, 2003

Fernanda, sounds like a good school then. :-)

Add one more to my list for reasons to get an MSCS, since it's the reason I'm considering it:

To teach.


Monday, October 20, 2003

Philo, MIT doesn't "offer C++" --- do you think they're behind the times?

Monday, October 20, 2003

The last thing I would want to learn about in a MSc course is "XML." Don't you get enough of that shit at work? As far as scalability goes, just add more RAM. It is cheaper than programming.  I'm pursuing a PhD in philosophy. Nearly as useless as a MSc in CS, but much more interesting.

Monday, October 20, 2003

I live in Bucharest, Romania, and I have a college degree (BS in computer science, 5 years) from the Politechnic University of Bucharest - the best university in the country.

This is the situation in my country:

A college degress improves employability a lot. As a college graduate, you will probably have higher wages.

However, from a pure knowledge point of view, it sucks:

- most of the courses have very outdated material (15 years old courses)

- teachers are extremely poorly paid, so the ones that are any good leave to work for the industry

- lots of teachers with personality problems

- lots of loser teachers

So, did I learn anything? Yes. I consider myself a very good developer.

But I am a very good developer because I learned a lot in my spare time. I bought books, and learned a lot.

My university colleagues fall in 2 cathegories:

- the ones that buy books and learn a lot on their own - these are very good

- the ones that rely on the university for teaching them something - these are usually very bad programmers, and have little appliable real-world knowledge

However, most programmers here have a strength: mathematics is most of the times still taught at an excellent level - so they know mathematics.

It's an useful skill, but there are lots of other useful skills which are MISSING from their bag of tricks.

So - is university worth it?

The answer is: Depends on the country.

Monday, October 20, 2003

I am finishing up my Masters, I am changing my stance, previously I used to rant (here) about curriculum, etc. But I have really improved on quite a few fronts. Joel’s site also played a major part in this effort.

-More than anything I am really confident that I can pick up any technology and start working on it in a very short span of time
-Can look at more than one solution to a problem
-Think of the big picture
-Lots of other things

I can see myself really adding value to an organization, in comparison to where I was after I was done with my BS.

The other good thing is you get quite a bit of time to do well whatever you want.

Prakash S
Monday, October 20, 2003

Fernanda, yes, getting a degree is one way of improving ability, but the emphasis must remain on it being only one of several competing methods.

Contention around this topics has centred on claims that it's the only, or superior, way of achieving or demonstrating capability. Clearly it's not.

In previous times, many people did post-grad degrees because they couldn't get development jobs based on their own ability to learn. In my experience, those peope were often less capable than the self learners. This situation has changed with the current economic situation.

Secondly, many faculty were inexperienced in modern development, and indeed still are. Speaking as someone with a visiting appointment at a university.

Monday, October 20, 2003

I am also in the group who thinks that formal education is beneficial.  If you expect it to perfectly prepare you for the working world, you'll be sorely disappointed.  But it's very useful for other reasons.  I'm certainly glad I got my degree.

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Monday, October 20, 2003

XML should be taught in a seminar and not part of the core curriculum.  It is a data format.  I don't think a C.S. education should provide classes on every data format that comes in fashion.  The point is to give the student a well rounded education, so they can adapt to the times. 

When I was in school, there was no XML.  Does that mean I am not capable of understanding it, or learning it on my own?  Of course not. 

That's like getting mad at a university for not teaching VB 6 two years ago, but do you blame the university?  VB 6 isn't even supported anymore. 

When looking the education the professors need to look at reoccurring themes in computing, and teach the basics. 

For instance, I didn't see MS's EnterCriticalSection(), but I learned about the dining philosophers problem.  Long after the Win32 API is dead, dining philosophers will live on. 

MIT has taught lisp for years, even if the real world applicability is limited.  They didn't wanted introductory students that had already seen a procedural language to think outside of the box.  I think this the whole point of a education.  To get you to think differently about problems you thought you understood.

christopher baus (tahoe, nv)
Monday, October 20, 2003

make that "they wanted new students to think outside the box" 

I need an editor...

christopher baus (tahoe, nv)
Monday, October 20, 2003

Why the discussion about which programming languages gets taught.

Truthfully I am not sure it matters at all. i just finished my degree and we covered about 6 or 7 languages, at no time was the 'lanaguage' the poitn fo the course, it was more that 'this particularly language helped explain the concept best'. Ie for HCI we used VBA, AI we used Scheme, General stuff we used C++, for OO they taught us Java.

I am sure the choice of language was based on what had been taught last year, what the lecture preffered and what the market was using.

I spoke to a lecturer about it once, he said "the point is to learn what programming involves, the languages can be learnt".

True. It is easier to learn a language at home using the Internet and chatrooms, then it is to learn about data strutures, Big 0, and other 'concepts'.

Aussie Chick
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

"Contention around this topics has centred on claims that it's the only, or superior, way of achieving or demonstrating capability. Clearly it's not."

It's interesting that that's been your experience - I've really had the opposite experience, and was starting to think that formal study was pretty well universally disparaged. I'm encouraged by the positive reaction here.

I certainly wouldn't go to the extreme of saying it's the only/best way to show your strength. Indeed it would hardly be in my interests to say that, being self-taught and having four years' experience.

When I was figuring out how to pay for it I sought the advice on another newsgroup, along the lines of "shall I make this sacrifice or that sacrifice to come up with the dough". I guess a money-management group was not the best place to ask that question, since the goal of that group seemed to be to go through life without paying for anything if they could help it. But I was still dismayed at the overwhelmingly negative (from my point of view) response to my plans.

Despite the fact that I clearly stated that I wasn't asking whether or not I should do the course, many people said "don't do the course". Despite my clear statement that I wasn't doing it solely or mainly to improve my earning power, many people said "you won't earn any more, because I don't earn any more than I would without mine" (even though the majority income on that newsgroup was at least twice what I earn, insofar as that's relevant). Despite my clear statement that I understood that a glittering career might not await, many people said "it won't help your career" and some even told me it would hurt my career, and put people off hiring me (well, what doesn't).

I also got many helpful overviews of the idiocy of looking for work with a degree but no real-world experience (hello, I said I had been programming for 4 years), the parlous state of the contracting scene (ditto) and how unimpressive these famous universities were in reality (ahem, I did mention that I'd done my first degree at that same university, so I do actually know what it's like there). The most positive suggestion was "join the BCS, they're better than any poxy university" (which may be true, I don't really know them well enough to have an opinion).

The overwhelming consensus was "why don't you just read a book?" Nah... I've read a book... it had five cardboard pages and a wipe-clean surface. As if I didn't know that books are a popular method of enhancing knowledge!!! Duh!!!

And I got pretty much the same reaction in 3-d discussions with other programmers. It's a meaningless piece of paper, it tells me nothing except how rich you are and what size house your parents owned, they don't teach you any skills worth having, and people will think less of you, and you know Murgatroyd made the very interesting and insightful point the other day, that what's really needed in IT is problem-solving skills, which universities simply can't teach, so all this degree business is rather meaningless. And software engineering is just a body of knowledge, and a body of knowledge is unchanging, so how can one university be considered "better" than another?

It's a shame that so many people seem not to understand what I'm trying to achieve, so I'm glad that some others here seem to get the point, as I see it, of what education is supposed to be about. I'm talking about the value, not just the price.

Fernanda Stickpot
Tuesday, October 21, 2003


>> It's a shame that so many people seem not to understand what I'm trying to achieve, so I'm glad that some others here seem to get the point, as I see it, of what education is supposed to be about. I'm talking about the value, not just the price.  <<

You're not really talking about what education is about, or supposed to be about. You're talking about what education is about for you.

My suspicion is that the average developer personality (say an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs test) doesn't respond very well to a formal learning environment. His (or her) intellectual capacity is very results-focused and internally oriented, and his likely lack of good social skills doesn't help either.

For example, I'm at the extreme end of this spectrum, and I *hate* formal education. But my wife is almost at the other end of the spectrum, and really loves formal education.

Neither of us is wrong. We have both instinctively chosen the form of education that fits our personalities.

Author of "Comprehensive VB .NET Debugging"

Mark Pearce
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

"You're not really talking about what education is about, or supposed to be about. You're talking about what education is about for you."


Interesting what you mention about the INTJ thing. I'm supposed to be an INFJ - wonder if that makes a difference?

Fernanda Stickpot
Tuesday, October 21, 2003


I would expect an INFJ, with her empathy and personal understanding, to be much more receptive to formal education (especially its social aspects) than an INTJ.

Hmm...I wonder if an INFJ is the female equivalent of an INTJ?


Mark Pearce
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Well i'm a female INTJ and I definately get a lot of crap for my lack of traditional female traits, so there are actual female INTJs!!!

Monday, June 7, 2004

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