If you’re a software developer with an undergraduate degree, you might have considered pursuing a graduate degree at some point either to get a different job or further your current career (maybe for a pay raise or promotion). I’ve thought about this a great deal during my past 3.5 years of my first “career” job out of college.
Back in 2008 (holy crud) I took the GRE (it’s like the SATs or ACTs for graduate schools) because I intended to go to grad school for a PhD in Computer Science (CS) in 2009 after graduating with my undergraduate degree in CS. Plans changed, and I ended up getting a full time job as a software developer instead (spoiler alert: I’m at that same job today). When I started my job I had 9 credit hours of graduate CS classes. I worked full time for a year, all the while keeping in the back of my mind that I wanted to get a masters degree at some point.
Should I Get a Masters in Computer Science or an MBA?
As a software developer specifically, or any skilled person in a field who also works in business, you might wonder if you should pursue a degree in business or computer science (or whatever your field is). Consider that many (but certainly not all) CS programs are full-time. Meaning that you could not work full time. No way, no how. I knew I wanted to work full time while going to school part time, but since some schools allow part time CS work, I still had a choice to make. So I continued on by asking myself these questions:
- What will you study on your own time? What skills will you learn more easily and naturally in your job — without a structured classroom environment?
- What do you want to sit in class to learn about for hours each night after a full day of work?
- What impact will a specific degree have on your current job or job prospects?
[Special note: If you want to go into academia, you should probably get a specific degree.] I waffled for a long time, but I ended up going for my MBA. The reason being that I study CS almost everyday in my job as a software developer. I have to learn new tech skills in order to do my job well. But business skills? Not so much. And I want to know the business side of things. So an MBA was a clear choice for me when I laid it out that way. I’m 1.5 years into my 3 year program, and I haven’t regretted the decision once. I believe that an MBA makes me more “well rounded” as a computer scientist.
If you’re a software developer, consider the way that a CS degree looks on paper. There are a lot of stereotypes associated with the subject. Developers are often thought to have poor social skills. If you do end up going for a high level CS degree, be sure to develop the other parts of your resume (read: your personality). Make sure you can work well on a team! If you want a “corporate” type job, you’ll have to be able to play nice with others. If you get an MBA, your resume will more easily communicate that you have those skills. Either way, you will have to fight those heavily-ingrained stereotypes.
Tests: GMAT and GRE
The first step to getting into a school is to consider what tests are required to apply for admission. Most all graduate schools require the GRE, and some CS programs require the CS specific GRE subject test. Many business schools require the GMAT rather than the GRE. Since I had already taken the GRE, I was hoping to not have to take the GMAT because these tests are all expensive and time consuming…and who likes to take a test? I discovered that the business program I wanted to attend had recently begun accepting GRE scores where previously it had only accepted GMAT, so I took advantage of that and I didn’t bother taking the GMAT at all. The risk involved is that your application may not be as strong without the GMAT, since its tailored for business school.
I went to a respectable undergraduate school, but it’s not one that is famous. I had a good experience, but school is really what you make of it. Work hard, and you will do well no matter what school you go to. However, now I go to a school with a somewhat recognizable name. I do not really like to admit it, but it makes a difference. You will be in class with a higher percentage of quality students (and teachers). The teachers are paid better, and they work harder. I know with certainty that had I gone into the graduate school I chose without a job, I would have one now. Connections are important, and better connected people go to better schools. These are things I do not necessarily want to be true, but they are things that I have experienced.
Pick your school wisely, create a strong application that shows your personality, and try to land an interview. Then be nice, be interested, have a mission (be able to explain why you want to be there), and ask questions.
Any masters degree will come with a pretty hefty price tag. Consider how much you could increase your salary with the degree you’re working to earn and consider the time value of money. The earlier you’re earning a higher salary per year, the faster your money will compound with interest. So if you’re considering school, do it now. I would not let cost stop you. I do not take out loans because I choose to live simply and pay by the semester. Be sure to factor in any support your work will provide. Some companies have some (albeit limited) tuition reimbursement programs. If your company pays for your degree entirely…what are you waiting for? You’re too busy? I always say there are more hours in the day. Whenever I push myself to do more, I can always find more time. You will too if a graduate degree is truly something you value. You can always take one or two classes per semester instead of three (full time).
I hope this helps anyone searching the web with a similar dilemma in their careers. Whatever you choose, be sure to leverage your decision early on. You will not be handed a job or a promotion upon graduation! Always seek ways to improve yourself and do better work. Good luck, and contact me if you have a specific situation you would like to discuss further.