Will Getting an MSCS Beef Up Your Career?

Sometimes software engineers ask me if I think they should go on to further their education and get a Masters in Computer Science. Mostly, they want to know if it will improve their career marketability, and if it will help them get higher offers and earn more money.

My feelings on the subject are mixed. Based on years of feedback from hiring managers I’ve worked with, the MSCS isn’t really given a whole lot of weight in the hiring decision-making process.

To be fair, I work with mostly commercial clients (not usually government, higher education, etc.), and much more with startups and smaller companies, not the Fortune 500. Admittedly, my viewpoint may be skewed.

Sometimes I’ll have a client that wants an MSCS, or (rarely) even a PhD. But that’s the exception. 

For one thing, I would say the general consensus is that the admittance standards for Masters degree CS programs are lower than they are to get into a Bachelors. In my experience, there’s more — way more — emphasis placed on what your Bachelor’s degree major was, and where did you go to school for that. Almost never does the MS come into play.

Getting an MSCS is certainly a potentially good idea if your Bachelors isn’t in Computer Science. It’s certainly never going to be an impediment. But, unfortunately, my experience has been that simply adding an MSCS onto your credentials will not do very much for you from a career perspective, at least in the world of commercial software startups. Nor will it do much for you from a salary-increase perspective.

Sure, if you’re interested in the subject matter from an academic perspective, or feel that your undergrad degree was technically light, by all means, especially if your employer is willing to pay for it. But don’t expect that getting it will magically change things — it won’t.

Actually, one of the best things you can do to make software companies eager to hire you is to write lots of software, and put it on GitHub where potential employers can play with it. I’ve had many more VPEng’s tell me that seeing evidence that a candidate does lots of software on the side, and/or participates in open-source community projects, is a major factor for them when it comes to hiring than I ever have had tell me that about an MSCS.

If you want more opinions on this besides mine, you can read an interesting post on StackExchange about it here.