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I know there are a few questions already about getting a Master's degree in Computer Science, but my question is a bit different. I've started programming when I was quite young. I did receive a BS in CIS at Cal Poly Pomona over 4 years ago. Since then I've made a good living as a programmer for both Boeing and Disney (where I currently work). I feel that I've made very good progress as I quickly became a Sr. level developer in both companies within a year.

I had considered getting a master's for a couple of years and finally started it a few months ago at Claremont Graduate in their MSIS program (http://www.cgu.edu/pages/201.asp). I've only taken a couple of courses but already I'm feeling like I already know this stuff and work with on a daily basis. I'm even wondering if it is worth me getting another "IS" degree and if I should look at a Computer Science degree instead.

I had a couple of reasons of not going to CS in my undergrad, 1) I'm not great at math 2) I wanted to have a business degree to open up my options. I feel I'm a very competent programmer though and can work in a variety of languages, understand the software development process, etc. I'm just trying to figure out if I'm wasting my time with the current program I'm in.

Sorry for the lengthy post, but I wanted to give some back story for better understanding.

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I never though a taught MSc was worth much (Just a compressed BSc). But an MSc by research I consider worth it (but I am biased). –  Loki Astari Jan 18 '11 at 7:20
You mentioned that you work at Disney, why not look for a master program in which you can specialize for computer graphics? Would require some math, but see it as a challenge :) –  Nils Jan 18 '11 at 12:37
Heh I used to do graphics when I was younger and I was filling the role of both web designer and web developer. However, since then, I've decided I have a stronger passion for the computer sciences ;) –  Kyle Hayes Jan 18 '11 at 15:26
@Kyle I suspect Nils was referring to computer graphics rather than graphic design: 3-d transformations, ray-tracing, polygons, splines, etc. It's very math intensive, so it might not be a good fit for you. –  Charles E. Grant Jan 18 '11 at 17:32
oh haha, you're absolutely right. That's exactly what he was referring to. Interesting you mentioned that though there is one division here that uses a combination of Python developers and 3D artists with Panda3D to create some pretty awesome stuff. –  Kyle Hayes Jan 19 '11 at 1:03

7 Answers 7

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Maybe not

Education for educations sake is not necessary for programmers in my opinion (it might be different if you wanted to become a doctor). It all depends on what kind of programming you think you'll be doing.

If you're going into really hardcore algorithmic development or things like AI then perhaps it's useful. For most programming however you can learn things as you go along. Experience is crucial for programmers and the years you're spending just studying is years you're not getting experience.

Getting good at programming is about continually expanding your toolbox. The learning you do by experience is so much more worth when you can put it into context of a problem that really needs solving rather than just pure theoretical research.

You don't need to know everything in detail, that's what Google, StackOverflow and Wikipedia is there for. You do however need know the existence of different tools and methods to realize they're usuable and applicable to your situation. You also need to get the experience of knowing which tool that's best to apply.


From a pure economical standpoint masters are seldom worth it, esp I would say for programmers. The salary you get while working will offset any potential higher salary you get from your education.


Some companies, like google, do seem to value formal knowledge (personally I think their attitude is a mistake which leads to a monoculture which isn't healthy). So if your dead set on working in a company like that you might have to get the education. There are thousands of cool companies however where you're experience and accomplishments will be enough.

Networking and making friends

One benefit of studying though is that you're meeting interesting people and making new friends, some for life. Having a good professional and social network can be a great boon

In the end i would ask myself: what do I think would be the most fun? instead of "what should I do", and then do it.

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In a situation like Google where it really helps to have a deeper understanding of search theory and algorithms, it kind of makes sense. Same thing with litigation happy professions such as supporting medical systems--at least a bachelors is required to keep lawyers at bay. –  Berin Loritsch Jan 18 '11 at 15:18
these very thoughts have crossed my mind which is what lead me to pose this question in the first place. I've also been told the latter point of your response is one of the most valuable things about grad school. At this point my concern is perhaps I'm not associating myself with the people I should be for the work I do. Something else I've not decided is if I wanted to be a programmer for the rest of my professional career or move towards management of technology/technologists. I'm thinking the latter, but I love programming so much ;) –  Kyle Hayes Jan 18 '11 at 15:31
+1. A very practical answer. –  Karthik Sreenivasan Jan 27 '12 at 9:54

I finished my Masters in Computer Science in December 2009 and got my first job working as software developer for Boeing (where I am still employed). My Masters program was almost entirely a rehash of my BS Computer Science degree except without all the math despite going to a different college. I think I learned more about software development in two months working at Boeing than I did in my entire six years of college, but that paper did get me in the door.

Having the paper is never absolutely useless as it can still open more job opportunities in the future even if you have the experience. I notice a lot of defense contractors in my area are seeking people with graduate degrees and experience.

If I were you, what I would do is go look up the generalized degree program off the school website then go look up some of the class' syllabus or email professors and have them send you one and see what material they are covering in a little bit more detail. From there you could see if it is beneficial for you since you didn't explain why you were looking to go back in the first place.

I hope this helps you somewhat.

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Defense contractors can charge the government more for people with a graduate degree. That said, if you have enough experience to cover the lack of a degree it won't stop the company from hiring you. –  Berin Loritsch Jan 18 '11 at 15:22
what do you mean by looking up the generalized degree program? Are you talking about the MSIS from CGU? –  Kyle Hayes Jan 18 '11 at 15:34
@Kyle, like the MSIS link where it tells you at a very high level what is needed to get the degree, but for the CS degree at the school(s) you are looking at. Once you get the course names or numbers you can use a Google search to find the syllabus or sometimes even materials that are used to teach the class (like PowerPoint slides). If you get the syllabus, they usually have the name and ISBN of the book that is used in the course. From there you can look it up on Amazon and use the Look Inside feature to get the most detail about what is covered by the class and make an informed decision. –  dboss Jan 18 '11 at 22:25
@Berin, I am not entirely certain about that. I have seen a couple where they want 7-10+ years experience and want to see your official transcripts to make sure you have taken certain classes in your degree program. I have no doubt about defense contractors getting more money out of the government with higher educated employees though. –  dboss Jan 18 '11 at 22:57
Those positions are going to be rather specialized. I.e. not for someone with general experience. –  Berin Loritsch Jan 19 '11 at 1:31

As you're finding out, an MS in Information Systems is going to be, largely, a re-hash of your BS in Information Systems. Quite a lot of people w/o any knowledge of IS go into those programs, so they are designed to accommodate those people.

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Your response is what I relate to the most—which is my primary concern. I noticed this after I met my fellow classmates for my first semester last Fall. Many of them had come from a business or other backgrounds. Would you suggest a CS degree? –  Kyle Hayes Jan 18 '11 at 14:51
CS would definitely be more challenging. If I were to go back to school, I would want something that would teach me something new. The only thing keeping me away is life. –  Berin Loritsch Jan 18 '11 at 15:20
Kyle - it largely depends on your goals. An IS degree is sufficient for quite a lot of jobs. If your motivation is career-related, then see whose job you want in 5-10 years, and make your decision based on that. If it's just general knowledge, then follow your passion. –  red-dirt Jan 18 '11 at 22:17
I completely see my undergrad CIS degree (since its headed by a BS in Bus. Admin) is a good thing to have and I feel my experience is strong. At this point, I'm really leaning towards looking to jump right into the PhD program at CGU or look at software engineering (as opposed to CS) degrees at other schools. I do have a great passion in development and would like to learn some higher level concepts to not only prepare me for now, but to prepare me for the future when I would like to manage a team of technologists. –  Kyle Hayes Jan 19 '11 at 3:28

Analyze what you want to do.

Master's in IS is probably more of a sysadmin/manager path.

Master's in CS is more of a hardcore coding/research path.

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I got my masters in IT about 8 years after I finished my degree. I mainly did it at the time because i felt my brain was not being taxed enough and, to an extend, the masters helped address that.

Since then, the masters has added roughly $0 to my income but it did help me land jobs I may not have otherwise got. In several interviews the masters seemed to be held as a sign that I was interested in further learning and not lazy about picking up new things.

In short, for me it was worthwhile.

Keep in mind that I got my masters in Australia so the course probably cost me around $4000 in total.

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If you have any interest in getting a PhD, then a Master's is usually required as well (not always, but usually).

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You're right it usually is required, but it is not something I'm interested (at this time). –  Kyle Hayes Jan 18 '11 at 15:28
When I was evaluating whether PhD would be a right fit for me, I think every program I looked into offered a dual MS/PhD program so all you needed to enter the PhD program was an appropriate Bachelor's. –  MIA Jan 18 '11 at 16:37

If also depend where you want to work. If you are a man of travel and would like to live and work in a different country, then an ms could be over board.

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