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Hypothetcial value of a Masters Degree?

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I didn't know which forum this would fit into best so I decided this one would do. Also... This question is geared toward people who are familiar with the US education system.... Lets suppose there is a person who, through a series of poor life decisions, obtained a bachelors degree in a field as mundane and ordinary as say, basket weaving. Now a few years later this person hasn't gained any real work experience in anything other than menial jobs since the basic entry level basket weaving job requires at least a ph.D. But this person has been given the oppurtunity to return to University and pursue a second degree. He decides at this time to go for the BS in Comp Sci like he should have done the first time. He starts taking classes and things are going swimmingly until one day he finds out from his advisor that by taking a few comp sci and math classes he can use his previous bachelors to get into a pretty decent comp sci masters program and complete a master in only one more semester than the second bachelors would take. So why on earth would this person, who has no experience doing anything relevant to anything want to burden themselves with a Master degree? I imagine the hypothetical person showing up for the first day of work, the bosses expectations are high, because, hey this guy has a MASTERs in comp sci!!!! He must really know his sh*t! Only to discover the person doesn't know much of anything; he can't even use the vis c++ ide because all his course work was in a unix environment! (of course this is an exageration, mostly....) Anyone have any thoughts on this/advice? I know alot of people debate getting a bs in comp sci at all, let alone a ms. Does an MS even mean anything in this field? Thanks in advance for any insight/comments. [edited by - nonnus29 on July 23, 2002 11:27:14 PM]

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As someone without a degree, this is what I see: A degree is seen as proof that you can follow through on something large. If it''s in computer science, it means you probably have a pretty solid knowledge of the theory behind computing etc... (of course if I were interviewing, I''d still want to test that for myself). Beyond that, you''re not going to be expected to be a wiz because quite honetly, you''ll be lucky to start out at anything more than entry-level work in whatever field you choose.

As a developer, you''re going to start as a junior to mid level programmer. They don''t give senior or lead developer positions to people fresh out of school. These positions require experience and a confidence that you can do the job.

So if you want to get the masters, get the masters. If you want to get the bachelors, get the bachelors. Either of them will mean about the same thing, though you might be able to command a slightly higher salary with the masters. Degrees still add 5-10k a year to base salaries in most places. Maybe not with the job market being as bad as it is, but most of the time.

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The expectations for a Masters are higher. The pay is higher too. I would go for the masters--no question at all. The game industry is a little different by what I surmise by the posts here, but if it ever becomes like other programming-related industries, you''ll want that masters.

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...and it is funny to know that some Com. Sc. bachelors (or even masters) didn't even know how to partition a harddisk... or even installing single-boot Windows.... not to say differentiating RDRAM and DDR-SDRAM.

[edit] But employing masters, they would 'crank-up' their image by saying "hey! I got xxx masters here"... and masters means you generally have wider/deeper 'experience/knowledge' of the subject. Stoffel is right! That's the market.

[edited by - DerekSaw on July 24, 2002 1:01:46 AM]

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I worked as a pc tech, then a QA engineer, then a SW engineer prior to getting my degree. It was a long progression with low pay. I went back to school for a CS degree with 8 years of experience. I finished my degree, and learned a lot that being "self taught" I never would have bothered with.

DerekSaw commented about how some people with degrees can''t even partition a hard drive. Well, there are people who cheat their way through school in every field. And there are some crappy schools too. I''d say that most people with degrees will have a leg up on those who don''t. In both knowledge, and job opportunities.

A master''s degree is nearly useless for a programmer. If you want to do management, get an MBA instead. Leave the master''s for those that want to do teaching. If you wanted to be an independent contractor, then maybe a masters would lend more credibility. Experience works as well if not better in most cases. Bachelors is definitely beneficial, masters is limited.

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Thanks for the replies everyone. To clarify, I''m not looking to go into the games industry necessarily. I would like to get into an area where I can finally start making some real money. Don''t get me wrong, I''d take a gamedev job in a heart beat. And maybe I can do something for a masters project that would look good in a portfolio. One good thing about grad school is that I would be able to take all the upper level AI and graphics courses!

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I would go the Masters route. You will be done sooner and take far more interesting classes than working towards a BS. There’s no doubt that a degree in CS will give your resume a little more weight, but you also need industry experience in order to land a good job. (So don’t think a degree is all you need.)

There are some dangers ahead if you go for the Masters. Most grad classes require that you know the basics (like mathematics, discrete structures, OOP, etc) and will not slow down for you. If these topics are unfamiliar then you might consider taking some undergraduate classes to catch up.

I think Masters degrees are important in CS because the subject is just too broad to cover everything in detail during a 4 year BS program. Graduate classes let you really dig deeper into certain subjects that would not be possible in more survey oriented BS classes.

I don’t think you generally get a Masters in CS to earn more money. The extra year of working is often more valuable. I think you get it to learn more. (But that might make you more valuable to a company which could get you a better salary, but that’s hard to say.)


[edited by - sblanch on July 24, 2002 12:29:04 PM]

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Masters degrees or Ph.Ds in Comp Sci are usually in demand for R&D oriented work. You won't find these guys (usually) writing business apps to spec, you'll find them writing and designing the OSes, libraries, and database backends that everyone else makes use of. Much more so for the PH.D's then for the master's guys.

The pay is generally higher, but that's because the work is usually more demanding.

Also, the higher level your degree, the less practical experience you're really expected to have! When a Ph.D doesn't know how to set up the MSVC IDE, it's actually almost expected.

Remember how some of your math professors could integrate a complex equation in their heads but tended to do long division really slowly on the blackboard? Same effect. The more you are specialized, the less you're expected to know about the practical details.

A LOT of people use a master's degree just to change in focus, though. Having a BS is something like biology (for example) and a master's in Comp Sci is generally looked at about equivalently to a dual BS in Comp Sci and Biology.

[edited by - cheesegrater on July 24, 2002 12:57:59 PM]

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quote:
Original post by sblanch
I don’t think you generally get a Masters in CS to earn more money. The extra year of working is often more valuable. I think you get it to learn more. (But that might make you more valuable to a company which could get you a better salary, but that’s hard to say.)



Statistics show that lifetime earnings go up for just about any field when you acquire a Master''s degree. The degree is worth more than the extra two years of work experience.

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Keep in mind the differences between computer science and software engineering as well - it will matter in the work force. If you get your MS in computer science, you''re looking at theory and the indepth study of a particular area of computer science. Typically, you get a job in the area you chose for your master''s. Now consider a master''s in software engineering. In this you study processes, techniques, design methodologies, and so on. In my opinion, it''s overall better preparation for the work force. Of course, I am a little biased.. I have 12 credits left for my master''s of software engineering.


Kevin "Khawk" Hawkins
CEO and News Director, GameDev.net
Author, OpenGL Game Programming
Developer Diary

And for this poster, we're not talking extra years--he said he can get the masters with just one more semester (1/2 yr). My only reservation on my original post was if he were going into the games industry it might be a little different. Since he isn't, this is truly a no-brainer.

Also note that if you decide to go for a masters later while you're employed, it's very difficult. I'm halfway through my masters after two years (e.g. it's taking me twice as long as normal) because I work full-time and can only take one class a quarter. Financially, I didn't think it was possible for me to continue straight into my masters after my BS, but looking back I probably should have made the sacrifice.

[edited by - Stoffel on July 24, 2002 1:10:11 PM]

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Well... I myself am currently studying for my masters in computer science. And the way I see it is that it is all a load of crap! (well... maybe that is put a bit too harsh) I am currently in the beginning of year 3 and still have 3 years to go... so I might revise my view in time. But as far as the stuff we did till now... ok... it is like this: I have about 20 people on who I will base the next thing.

Of the 20 people about 10 do not know much about computers... well they know how to make it go on and install some software but that is about it. If those 10 people about 2 even can''t do that... it is amazing but it is a sad true fact. The other 10 people... well they know something about computers... There are about 4 who can program a bit and the other six not...

But lets get to the point I want to make... When studying... about 18 of the 20 people DO NOT GIVE A F#CK about what the subject is (I even have a friend who is good at everything he does... but he is not extremely good... he just manages to get descent grades at everything... another friend just gambles correcly every time... he doesn''t even know why he always gambles right!) I am deviating again... but the point is this. Up until now of those 20 people about 17 didn''t actually learn something from it... for example... we just had a 3 months lasting course about operating systems and related stuff... but if you ask those 17 people what scheduling of tasks in a multitasking system means... they say... ohhhhh... I don''t know..

My point is this: I really think that many people who have their Masters really do not know anything about the subject (well at least for CS)... I do not say that no-one knows a lot about his subject when he has his masters!! But in my opinion, just in case I get to hire people in the future, I would rather employ a enthousiastic hobbyist than a Masters owner!! They really do not give a damn... the only thing they can is remember things quickly and loads of information. And to me it is of no use how much stuff you can remember... Just use a copy of MSDN... there you go... 2.1GB of my own memory freed up!!

But as a sad fact in life... people do not hire you just because you are enthousiastic... and know a lot of your thing too... most people rather hire a Masters owner who doesn''t care and doesn''t know... that is the sad fact of life... so just get your Masters... because if you already know a lot of the computer related stuff... you really won''t learn many new things there! At least... I didn''t see anything which I really didn''t know yet! Well that is not entirely true... the MATH has been helpfull.. but that is about everything!

-- Sorry for this angry text



ICQ: 130925152
Email: e.j.folkertsma@student.utwente.nl

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Dark, ''Master''s Degree'' means something very different in the US than it does in the netherlands.

The US equivalent to the netherlands master''s degree is the ''Bachelor''s degree.''

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quote:
Original post by fingh
A master''s degree is nearly useless for a programmer


I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology for Computer Engineering. They have the average starting salary for a CS major with a Masters degree as about 10k/year higher than one with a BS degree. Over the course of working 40 years, that''s $400k. I''d hardly consider that useless.

I don''t think that your statement is accurate though, and I''m sure you are misspeaking. A masters degree is very valuable to a programmer. You are correct in saying that if you want to go into management that you should get an MBA. But if you want to be a programmer, having a Masters degree in Comp Sci is very valuable.

A Masters degree lends credibility to anything. The main reason employers want you to have a degree is because it shows you can follow through on something long term. If you couldn''t finish high school, what''s to say that you''re going to finish 6 months of working for the company? They don''t want to dump valuable training and money into you if they aren''t going to see a return on their investment.

Because your BS degree is in something menial, getting a second degree in Comp Sci will be valuable to you. A Masters degree is better than a BS degree, hands down. I know employers who look through resumes and have three piles. One is for ''Not a chance'', one for ''Maybe we''ll call'' and the other is for ''definately call for an interview''. They take people who have a Masters and put them all in the ''definately call'' pile. On the other hand, there are also employers who will see a Masters degree and say ''No way, we don''t want to pay that much''. I think there are far fewer of those kinds of people. Nobody wants to hire inferior people for important jobs.

Now to comment on experience. To let you know up front, experience matters. Period. People will hire a 19 year old with 6 years of solid experience doing difficult projects with something to show for it and no college degree over someone with a menial BS degree, an MS in comp sci, and no experience. Why? Because it is practical. A company can get away with paying less to the non-degree person because he doesn''t have one. But he can definately do the job because he has the experience.

I''m telling you, go for the Masters degree. You won''t regret it, especially if it''s only one extra semester. For the first few years, people will lump you in with the recent college grads because you have no experience and the fact that your first degree is not a technical one. After the 3-4 year mark of experience, that will change dramatically. Change jobs once or twice during that time and you''ll see a marked improvement in your salary. You will need to switch jobs to see that improvement though.

For two years while in college, I worked at a wireless internet access company, writing software for them and their wireless radios. When I graduated, I was expecting a large salary increase because I figured hey, I have a degree, they have to pay me better. WRONG! I was insulted at the raise they gave me. I told my boss I was going to start looking for a new job. Within 24 hours, I had an interview. Less than 6 hours after the interview, I was asked to come back for a second interview a week later. Within 3 days of the second interview, I had an offer letter for more than 90% more than what I had been making.

That is a huge increase, I don''t care what anyone says. And the reason I got it was because I switched jobs and had the two years of solid experience. Your salary won''t go up nearly as much if you don''t change jobs, but you need to be careful to not switch jobs too often. If you have a very long employment history, employers frown upon that because it shows you don''t have corporate loyalty. Just be careful about how often you switch jobs and you''ll be fine.

As for the people with Masters degrees or PhD''s in CS who don''t know how to format a hard drive, well, I don''t blame the schools. I blame those people. It means that they didn''t learn on their own the things that they should have. When you''re in school getting a degree higher than a BS, especially in a field that you don''t have a background in, you need to push yourself, because you''re going to need to back that degree up with practical experience.

It''s one thing if you walk into a company with a PhD and say you want someone from the IT department to format your hard drive and repartition it because you don''t have time or your time is too valuable to be wasted on something like that. It''s another to not know how. Personally, I''d fire someone like that in a heartbeat. It means they''re book smart and they spent a lot of time in school for no particular reason kissing up to their professors.

Yes, you need decent grades. They don''t have to be stellar. But if you back decent grades with a little bit of practical experience and a broad base of self taught knowledge, complemented with a higher education degree, you will go very very far.

Having gone through the process of getting my Masters degree, I can tell you from experience that it will be what you put into it. If you are a slacker, it will show in your first year on the job and you will have difficulty getting promotions within the company and your references will not be all that good. On the other hand, if you work hard, and take the time to learn more about ANYTHING that you don''t fully understand, you''ll have a one way ticket to anywhere you want to go. Good luck.


Looking for an honest video game publisher? Visit www.gamethoughts.com

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Edit - I said "previous poster" but there were a bunch of new posts already when I posted, I meant Dark's post.

Dark has a point though

I took an applied programming post-degree program. Half of my class were computer scienece grads who were trying to learn applied programming skills, the rest didn't have a Comp Sci degree. I'm not going to go into detail, but I was not impressed at all with them. Having a Comp Sci degree doesn't necessarily make you a good programmer The two best students in our year were both self taught programmers - they were always finishing the exams in half the time, came to class half the time, and were always getting perfect grades. One of them had only a high-school education, but somehow had managed to pickup the standard comp sci background somewhere. Some of the Comp Sci students were disgustingly clueless when it came to actually programming something, or even using a computer.

Having a M.Sc. myself, I would have to say that people with Master's degree are definitely a step above B.Sc. people. I think a Masters degree shows you can work independently and can educate yourself when you need to. You actually have to do something and be interested in what you are doing to finish your Masters. I guess it depends on the Masters, though. Some are just coursework, others last 2 years and can require a massive thesis of original work.

I think I know why IT recruiters make a big deal about always hiring someone with experience now - there are lots of clueless people with degrees out there. Also, as someone looking for a job as a programmer, I would say definitely go for you Masters CompSci degree if you can - it will open a whole lot more doors for you. And I ultimately have to agree, university degrees can be a lot of BS, but when you're looking for a job, thats what the recruiters are going to be looking for. *shrugs*


[edited by - Z01 on July 24, 2002 1:53:10 PM]

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hmm i cant remember a class that actually showed u how to partition a harddrive. a cs degree isnt supposed to teach you how to rebuild your computer when your system crashes.

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quote:
Original post by omegasyphon
hmm i cant remember a class that actually showed u how to partition a harddrive. a cs degree isnt supposed to teach you how to rebuild your computer when your system crashes.


And you probably never will. That''s something they teach at a trade school for people who want to work with computers, but aren''t smart enough to learn actual programming.

But put yourself in the shoes of a manager. If you were hiring for a position, who would you hire? Someone with an advanced degree who couldn''t do it, or someone with a Bachelors degree who could? I know who I''d choose.


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This is definitely an interesting topic...here''s my 2 cents.
I''m currently in 3rd year computer engineering, and I love it!, but I look at some people in my class, and they (AFTER 3 years) are still fairly computer illeterate! Mind you some are simply electronically inclined, and prefer the low-level hardware aspects of computers. Personally I like both...but there are still some people who are in my class because they had HIGH marks in high school...not because they love computers, or an industry dealing with them. It''s money, pride, and some other crap I''ll never understand.

I want to do a masters, a PHd and what have you...but only to continue to learning for the hell of it. But to be honest, I think (and know) it won''t help me at all when competing for certain jobs, but will definitely come in handy in others. Imagine applying to NASA or JPL, or to a gaming company like ID. The former will give a damn, the latter will want to see your skillz.

I say...fuq money...do what will make ya happy!

--> this brings an end to this after-school special

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Bashar, Computer Engineering is a lot different from Computer Science. At least at RIT it is. I''m not sure where you go to school or what it''s like. I loved my program too. It was known to be one of the most difficult at the school, and with an 85% dropout rate, there''s a reason. If you didn''t know what you were doing, you were gone.

We never learned anything specifically about how to use computers. Windows, Unix, Visual C++, nothing. I mean we did take several quarters worth of programming classes, Operating Systems, etc. But it was all low level and very generic stuff. We were just expected to be able to know how to apply all of the theory that we were taught, and that''s a lot of what we were taught was theory. But if you couldn''t apply it, you were never going to make it through the end of the program. I know several people who had to take their senior project classes more than once. Some of them more than twice.

Normally I''d say yes, do what makes you happy. But knowing what a difference a Masters degree can make from a Bachelors, and knowing that it would only take him a single extra semester to get it, he really should get the Masters. It''s only a few months of extra work, and he''ll have a lot more opportunities available to him.

Incidentally, and I know this is off topic a bit, but where do you go to school Bashar? I''ve always been curious as to how my program stacked up against the kind of things people do in other Computer Engineering programs, since there aren''t too many of them.


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In my unfortunate experience most CS degrees don''t guarantee anything about a prospective employee. He/she might or might not be smart, might or might not know how to partition a HD, might or might not know how to find an angle between two vectors. I have seen uber-programmers with PhD''s and uber-programmers without a high-school diploma. Same goes for the worst programmers.

Nothing wrong with studying CS, don''t get me wrong. Just don''t confuse it with the "real thing". Academia and "the industry" are two very different environments.

Best,
M

P.S. Btw that question about angle between vectors for some reason really stumbles most people on interviews. Then ones that can answer it usually perform very well overall.

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"And you probably never will. That''s something they teach at a trade school for people who want to work with computers, but aren''t smart enough to learn actual programming"

I feel insulted by that. I went to trade school to work with computers, but it was called COMPUTER SYSTEMS. Very different from COMPUTER PROGRAMMING, which was another degree they had. And going to a trade school to learn Computer Systems does not mean that you aren''t smart enough to go to a university to learn Computer Science. If that is the case, Gee, I wonder why am I at the University of Pittsburgh right now working on my CS Degree. Hmmm, I guess this 3.0 doesn''t mean jack, since I''m obviously not smart enough to learn programming.

And they teach an equivalent of "partition hard drive, rebuild computer" stuff here at the university. It''s called Information Science.

don''t assume only "stupid" people go to trade schools, cuz you know what happens when you assume? Yep, you make an ASS out of U and ME.

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lukeyes, I apologize for saying that. It''s not exactly what I meant and I probably should have reread it before posting but I just wasn''t paying attention. Let me clarify.

Just concentrate on the part where I said "for people who want to work with computers, but aren''t smart enough". I didn''t preclude people from going that route because that''s what they wanted to do or weren''t sure what they wanted to do. I changed my major twice in college, not because I couldn''t hack it, but because I didn''t know what I wanted to do.

A 3.0 at the University of Pittsburgh? Let me put that in perspective for you. I think that''s pretty good. But are there people in your classes who you feel are absolute idiots who have better grades than you do? What about the reverse? Are there people with worse grades who you think are smarter? Think about it. Something else. Did you find that the work you did at the trade school was particularly difficult? If you''ve got a 3.0 right now at UP, my guess is that you probably weren''t particularly challenged.

I think you''ll come to realize eventually that grades mean one thing. You''re dedicated to your schoolwork. I learned a lot more outside of my classes than I ever did inside them. I think I stated that in one of my earlier posts. Maybe you read that. So don''t take too much offence to what I said. I apologize if you took it as a personal affront. Look at the big picture though.


Looking for an honest video game publisher? Visit www.gamethoughts.com

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Thanks for all the comments everyone. What it boils down to is I have to take the two intro to comp sci classes, a hardware class, and two upper division comp sci classes to be eligible for the Masters program. (Calc I-III is also required but I already have those....) I was lucky my gpa from my first time around was just over a 3.0 because thats also the cut off. So I''m looking at 3 years to a masters and 2.5 to a bs.

Looks like about 15 for the masters and 2 against. I don''t have to make a decision anytime soon but, really, thanks for all the input.

BTW - I thought khawkins was AWOL around here; good to hear from him again! (and i''ll definitly look into software engineering when I get to that point....)

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quote:
Original post by nonnus29
BTW - I thought khawkins was AWOL around here; good to hear from him again! (and i''ll definitly look into software engineering when I get to that point....)


Nah, just laying low and taking care of other aspects of the site.


Kevin "Khawk" Hawkins
CEO and News Director, GameDev.net
Author, OpenGL Game Programming
Developer Diary

A comp sci. BS degree is geared towards people who know NOTHING about code or algorithms.
If you already have a BS degree (sounds like a BS in chemistry?), get the masters in comp sci. Then, at least, there's a possibility you'll learn something.

The only slightly negative side-effect, is that you may be screened from jobs which do not require master's-level knowledge in any way, because the empolyeer doesn't want to pay for knowledge they don't need. But you wouldn't want that 30-40k job anyway.

[edited by - Magmai Kai Holmlor on July 24, 2002 6:39:47 PM]

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