Do I Need A Master’s Degree In Computer Science?

"I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, but I have not been able to get a job. I don’t understand this, considering I have heard estimates that there are tens of thousands of unfilled jobs for computer programmers out there. I admit I have only been searching in my local area for a job, and maybe that is part of the problem. But I am really frustrated. Should I be considering a master’s degree? Would that even make a difference, or will I just be wasting my time and find myself in the same situation in another two or three years?"

asked by Jose from Alameda, CA

There is a wide range when it comes to education and computer programming jobs. There are people who get jobs with a bachelor’s degree in computer programming, and others who don’t even have a degree. Still others go on to get master’s degrees or doctoral degrees. Part of the reason there is so much variance is that experience is extremely important as a programmer. An experienced programmer will usually have a much easier time finding a job in the future, even if he or she does not have a higher degree in the field.

A degree can help you launch a new career though and find that first job. And a master’s degree can help you to cut in front of the competition when you are applying, particularly if the HR staff at a company does not understand the details of the job and is just hunting for someone who looks solid on paper.

Many programmers will tell you a master’s degree is most helpful if you have under 5 degrees of experience, and that sounds like you.

If you are applying for programming jobs in companies that have academic products or services, then the master’s degree can really look good. It makes you a better match for what the company creates and sells to customers who are in the field of education.

If you are financially in a viable enough position to get the degree, I would say go for it. There are a few other things you can also do to try and increase your chances. One is to widen the geographic scope of your job search.

There are more programming jobs in other cities, and some of those employers will be more than happy to pay qualified candidates to come out for an interview, and may even assist with relocation expenses. Try focusing your search in cities where there is a need for programmers (like Washington D.C.).

The other is to build up your experience on your own. Do you have a portfolio of work? Programming in your spare time gives you an opportunity to create more applications which can show off your skills. While you are working on building up your portfolio, you also might consider getting some additional certifications if you believe that it would help to learn additional programming languages. I think it’s most important though to showcase the skills you do have and market them effectively to potential employers.

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