Monday, July 21, 2008


Every now and then I toy around with the idea of getting a Master's degree in Computer Science. There's a lot to recommend it. I'm the least educated person in my family. My mom has two bachelor's degrees, my dad a BS and MS, my sister two bachelor's degrees and an MBA, and Jessica a BS and MA. I just have my lowly BA. It's not even a BS even though it's CS. Rice didn't offer the BS until my junior year, at which point changing course would have required at least another semester, which, at $10,000 a pop, was a bridge too far.

There are a number of important topics in computing where either my initial degree was weak, or the last 8 years has allowed my earlier knowledge to atrophy. Compilers, for instance. It's a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg problem with learning those things on the job, as jobs that use those skills require you to already know them. To some extent I can learn those on my own, but I would benefit from a more structured program for some of the more challenging and/or abstract subjects.

UT has a Software Engineering Master's degree program. I went to an information session for that a few years ago, and concluded that I'd rather have a proper MS CS. The SE Master's is a lot more vocationally-oriented, and the covered material either things I've already learned or could more easily learn on my own than the harder-core MS CS material.

On the other hand, there are lots of reasons not to attempt the degree. The most significant is the opportunity cost. It would take at least 3 years and $35,000 (at 6 credits/semester), at a time when my presence at home is pretty important. I don't think it would grant me a whole lot of earning power directly, though I should not discount the opportunities made available to me by knowing what I previously did not.

I would definitely like to have the knowledge, but it's not just about what I want anymore. My time and money are limited and already spoken for. It will probably be easier in 5 years, but it won't be as valuable then. That's one of the things I've realized. Getting older means that the opportunity costs of changing direction go up and the benefits go down. When you're young, opportunities multiply as time passes. At some point around age 20-25, things change. Now the passage of time means more doors close than open. Maybe it reverses yet again later when the kids get into (or leave) college, but that's a long time from now.

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Blogger Rich said...

I've struggled with the same concerns. Not surprising, given that we coincidentally ended up at the same info session.

I determined that a Masters in CS was way too expensive and didn't really net anything. Heck, a Bachelor's in CS is hardly worth more than enough experience.

My thought is that a Master's degree is really only valuable to me if it's in something substantially different than my Bachelor's degree.

July 21, 2008 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger Bill Smith said...

My advice: don't expect a financial advantage from it. The only company I know of that insists (or at least used to insist) on advanced degrees is Schlumberger, and they're no longer in Austin. If you want to be a chemist or a physicist, you need a PhD. In CS a PhD doesn't do much for you in terms of salary.

July 29, 2008 at 9:07 PM  
Blogger Ketan said...

If I did do it, it would be for the sake of learning. Money is a factor only because I'm not looking out for #1 anymore. That magnifies the opportunity cost.

July 29, 2008 at 9:51 PM  

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