American scientist Neil Degrasse Tyson said, “There is no greater education than one that is self-driven.” That couldn’t be more true than in the fields of software engineering and computer science today. While an undergraduate degree often opens the door to an entry-level job in a chosen field, a higher degree like a Masters or PH.D. will arm its holder with deeper knowledge, a broader skillset and greater career opportunities.
Undergraduates learn the fundamentals of software design and architecture, while Master’s candidates, who already have the undergraduate degree, get to delve into more exploratory directions and address more real world problems. According to Mohammad Abu Matar, associate professor in the College of Computer and Information Sciences at Regis University, “Undergraduate students learn how to solve problems, specific to the software engineering or computer science field. They learn algorithms and how to design solutions to meet specific needs. When they get into the master’s program, we equip them with research and development skills.” He points out that the big jump is the ability to tackle ambiguous problems and come up with designs for them. He describes the problems at the master level as much more open-ended than in the undergraduate level. “So they are a bit vague, because they basically are similar to what a customer will be requiring in the real market.”
Abu Matar says the M.S. can be completed in 24 months, although it took him about 3 years. If someone wants to be aggressive, he says it can be done in a year and a half. The Regis master’s program is comprised of 36 credits and costs $750 per credit, which maps out to around $27,000 without scholarships. That’s not inexpensive, but there are over 200,000 software engineering job openings to be filled paying up to $140,000.00 according to glassdoor.com, making the investment in the software engineering M.S. compelling.
Careers can dovetail
Degrasse Tyson believes, “The cross pollination of disciplines is fundamental to truly revolutionary advances in our culture.” Years ago, people went to work in one field, doing one thing for most of their life. That’s not the case anymore. As technology transforms the culture we live in, it’s commonplace to see someone switch career paths. Abu Matar says that an M.S. can open doors to opportunity in other fields like computer science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. “Because software engineering is so popular right now, we have a lot of students who are switching their careers. In the last two years, I’ve seen students who have accounting backgrounds who decided they wanted to change their careers, so they came to us for master’s degree.” Regis has a bridge program that consists of a three class sequence that students with no prior engineering or computing background, must take to enable them to get into its master’s program. Abu Matar describes two candidates who came with no software engineering background; one’s background was accounting, the other’s psychology, who finished the program and found jobs before they finished.
Software engineers, developers and DevOps people already have a handle on the industry. The benefits of going back to school for them are on the one hand, financially driven and on the other, more esoterically motivating.
Nowhere is the bump in pay grade more evident than when it comes to government and military personnel. Abu Matar says he has students who are currently in the Air Force, and many students who work for military contractors, like Lockheed Martin, working on their M.S.
For the passion
In addition to greater remuneration, another benefit of an advanced degree is placement at world-renowned research and development institutions where innovation is a way of life. He points to companies like IBM in the private sector who have huge R&D programs that require at a least a master’s, and even better, a PH.D.
Degrasse Tyson again puts it succinctly saying, “Everyone should have their mind blown once a day.” The people who have been supporting legacy systems and existing customers for years come to mind. Their chops with the technologies they’re exposed to daily are excellent, but their understanding of new trends and architectures isn’t up to speed. Attaining a master’s degree modeled on what the industry requires now is a perfect way to build skillset and yes, make more money too.
Having a master’s degree or a higher graduate degree is a challenging journey with many rewards. Abu Matar adds, “My own personal experience opened a lot of doors and gave me the confidence that hey, I could do anything; solve problems and take in new challenges.”
Content provided by SD Times and Regis University