11 Signs You Need a Master's in Computer Science

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Career dissatisfaction is common. It's so common that one study conducted by the Lumina Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network and Gallup found that more than half of U.S. workers are unhappy in their jobs because they don't feel they have career stability, advancement and growth opportunities, appropriate compensation or purpose. The situation is somewhat different in tech. The Global Knowledge IT Skills and Salary Survey reports that 72% percent of North American IT professionals are satisfied with their jobs. A joint CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness Survey found that 90% of professionals in technology are somewhat satisfied or very satisfied.

Paradoxically, the tech sector is one of the three industries with the highest turnover rates, so if you're contemplating a career transition, you're not alone. A staggering 52% of U.S. workers are considering a job change right now, according to a survey conducted by Harris Poll for Fast Company, and as many as 44% have plans in place to make the leap.

Perhaps in contemplating how satisfied you are and whether this is the right time to make a change, you've asked yourself, 'Do I need a master's in computer science?' It can be a difficult question to answer. Pursuing a Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) involves a significant investment of time and money, and before you enroll, you should be sure a computer science master's will support your aspirations. Fortunately, you can make your decision about graduate school based on your future goals because earning an MSCS doesn't have to involve putting your life on hold. Part-time computer science programs such as Case Western Reserve University's Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) let working professionals continue earning income and accruing experience while preparing for a career pivot or transition.

"An online MSCS from Case Western Reserve can help you pivot in your computer science career so you can spend the next phase of your working life doing something that interests and challenges you."

Why do I need a master's in computer science?

Your reasons for contemplating graduate school are your own, though given the statistics above, it's likely your motivations for seeking out additional education are similar to those of other computer science, IT and technology professionals. Below are some of the most common reasons you might need a master's in computer science.

You hit a career plateau or career ceiling

This is more common than most people realize. Research suggests that nearly half of all people who leave jobs do so because they're concerned about lack of advancement opportunities in those positions. You can be a phenomenally productive worker and highly skilled and still not advance because your company limits hiring for more senior positions to master's degree holders or ties salary to education level. At companies with no official policies dictating required educational attainment for upper-level positions, managers may still consciously or unconsciously promote bachelor's degree holders less often than employees with master's degrees.

If you’re good at your job but your advancement has stalled, earning a master's-level computer science degree can get your career back on track. Having an MSCS on your resume is just one benefit of going to graduate school. While studying at Case Western Reserve, you will connect and collaborate with accomplished peers and world-class faculty in live class sessions, building a stronger network. You can take advantage of robust career support, including interview preparation, career planning and placement services. You can also participate in the university's research endeavors, leading research projects and co-authoring papers in elite peer-reviewed conferences and journals, accruing the kind of experience that will make your resume stand out.

Most listings for the jobs you want include 'master's preferred'

Employers are raising educational standards across industries. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 33% of employers now hire workers with master's degrees for positions that previously went to candidates with four-year undergraduate degrees. LaborInsight reports that nearly four in 10 computer science job listings request that candidates have master's degrees.

If you have the right credentials, there are some compelling upsides to these changes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts jobs requiring master's degrees will grow faster than jobs requiring bachelor's degrees, associate's degrees or other degrees. You may also enjoy more job security once you land one of these desirable master's in computer science jobs because graduate degree holders have lower unemployment rates than workers with bachelor's degrees.

Your professional network is small or insular

Who you know matters. While just 46% of job seekers report finding positions through networks in surveys, some sources estimate that 85% of open positions are filled via networking. Enrolling in an MSCS program will help you connect with experienced software developers and programmers, network engineers and architects, computer systems analysts and managers, database administrators, security analysts and industry leaders—all of whom can be a rich source of opportunity.

As a distance learner in Case School of Engineering's Master of Science in Computer Science program, you can join university, department and student organizations. You'll meet people outside your cohort, connect with mentors and grow your professional network. After graduation, you can continue building your network at Case Alumni Association events designed to help you connect with other remote students and with graduates of full-time on-campus programs.

You want to go into research

If your goals include tackling the world's most pressing challenges by helping to develop next-generation technology, enrolling in an MS program led by influential researchers doing revenue-generating, paradigm-shifting work in computer science is a smart move.

Many students contribute to Case Western Reserve's research efforts, and their work generates groundbreaking inventions, patents and startups. When you enroll in Case School of Engineering, you'll become part of an academic community built around values such as collaboration and innovation that will help you hone the skills and knowledge you need to go on to work at top research institutions such as IBM Research, the Institute of Systems Biology, NASA Glenn Research Center and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

You're bored in your current role or area of computer science

Research suggests 69% of people feel stuck in a rut in their careers. That sounds like a bad thing, but boredom can be a powerful signal that it's time for a change. An MSCS online at Case Western Reserve can help you pivot in your computer science career so you can spend the next phase of your working life doing something that interests and challenges you. Maybe you don't know what you want to do next because computer science is such a broad discipline. Enrolling in a graduate program is an opportunity to explore new areas of computer science.

Perhaps you work in software development or a related field but you're curious about data mining or computational perception, or you work in data science and want to know more about algorithm design and intelligent systems. Case School of Engineering's computer science master's program covers advanced computer science skills in a comprehensive curriculum focused on various areas of the discipline and the real-world applications of computer science so you can expand your knowledge and find a new path.

Everyone in your dream field seems to have an MSCS

A bachelor’s degree plus practical work experience gave you sufficient foundational technical skills to enter the computer science workforce—perhaps as a programmer, systems administrator or web developer. A computer science master's degree can help you take advantage of the shift toward specialization in computer science. There are numerous established and emerging subfields in computer science including Artificial Intelligence (AI), data mining, graphics and visual computing, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), cloud computing, cybersecurity, and computational science. If you've noticed that people who work in the subfields you want to explore nearly always have advanced education, you will probably need an MSCS to get your foot in the door.

You need a master's to apply for a specific doctoral program

Case Western Reserve's computer science PhD program accepts applicants without computer science master's degrees, but the MSCS is a common doctorate prerequisite in science- and tech-oriented programs. If you intend to go into research and academia, pursuing a master's before applying to PhD programs can benefit your academic career in two ways. First, you may be able to apply some of your master's course credits to your doctoral program. Second, the time you spend pursuing a master's degree can also help you determine where your research interests lie. You'll study a broader range of topics in a master's degree program and graduate with a better sense of the kinds of questions you hope someday to answer. Finally, having an MSCS puts a doctoral candidate ahead of the pack when it comes to financial aid—often including full tuition and a stipend to support students throughout their doctoral studies.

Your long-term goals involve managing projects or people

Advancing from a mid-level computer science job into senior leadership roles requires more than technical computer science skills. To join the ranks of managers and executives in technology, you need to understand the work and be comfortable with strategic planning and people management. Soft skills are a vital part of that—so much so that LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report showed that 92% of talent professionals and hiring managers believe soft skills are just as important or even more important than hard technical skills.

Top master's in computer science programs such as Case Western Reserve University's online CS master's teach both in-demand technical skills and the kinds of crucial soft skills that turn talented technology professionals into effective managers. Through collaborative work and in discussion sessions, you'll develop the communication skills, decision-making skills, management skills and intellectual independence that are the hallmarks of strong, effective leaders.

You want to earn more money

The long-term ROI of an MSCS is compelling. Self-reported salary data collected by sites such as PayScale show that the typical computer science bachelor's degree holder earns about $86,000 while the typical Master of Science in Computer Science holder earns over $100,000, which is nearly twice the median household income in the U.S. When Forbes ranked master's degrees by post-graduation salary increase, degrees in computer science offered the second-biggest bump in pay.

However, simply having a computer science master's isn't necessarily all it takes to land a high-paying computer science job. You have to choose a program that sets you up for financial success by giving you the skills, tools and connections you'll need to secure jobs at high-profile companies known for hiring the best computer scientists and for paying well. Case Western Reserve MSCS graduates, for instance, regularly go on to work for top-paying technology companies such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon and IBM, and Case School of Engineering also has a rich history of supporting profitable entrepreneurship.

Everyone around you seems to have one

Master's degrees are more common in some subfields of computer science. According to computer science professionals who share their experiences in online forums, the number of computer scientists with master's degrees is higher in certain fields, such as aerospace, AI, defense and graphics. The same is true at high-profile tech companies. Between 21% and 36% of employees at companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google have master's degrees.

If you're surrounded by people with master's degrees but don't have one yourself, be proud. Your experience, talent and drive earned you a seat at the table, which is no small feat. You should, however, be open to the possibility that not having a master's when they're commonplace in your specialty or company could become a liability. You may need an MS in Computer Science to advance beyond your current role or into senior roles in the future.

You don't feel confident in your position

Imposter syndrome is common in technology, but there are other reasons you might feel less-than-confident in your position. You might, for instance, be feeling the impact of the computer science skills gap. A gap can be harder to rectify than a skills shortage (which can be addressed by adding specific new skills to your repertoire) because the competencies you're lacking may not be obvious to you or your employer.

Skills gaps are more common in computer science than you might realize. HackerRank’s annual developer survey found that bachelor's degree programs don't teach students the hard skills employers need. Newly minted computer science professionals discover that their hard skills are not only out of alignment with the needs of employers but also not scalable. And soft skills are sorely lacking in tech—studies show companies face challenges recruiting job candidates with people skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills and flexibility.

Enrolling in an online MSCS program will give you a confidence boost by teaching you the technical knowledge and soft skills you need to tackle bigger, more complex challenges. Case Western Reserve's comprehensive MSCS curriculum addresses current issues, trends and best practices in key areas of computer science, including AI, database systems and data mining, security and privacy, networking and software engineering, and because the program is part-time and delivered 100% online, you can apply what you're learning in the classroom right away.

What does it take to earn a master's in computer science?

Case Western Reserve's online MSCS prerequisites and application requirements are straightforward. You don't need an undergraduate degree in computer science to apply. Instead, admissions officers look for applicants who are comfortable with data structures, algorithms and other core areas of computer science. Many successful applicants have academic or professional backgrounds in STEM, but what's most important is that you show you're capable of doing the work required to thrive in Case School of Engineering's challenging program.

Once you're accepted, enrolling doesn't mean making a full-time commitment. You can complete Case Western Reserve's 30-credit online master's in five semesters—or less than two years—by taking just two classes per semester. You'll probably spend about six to nine hours per week in live classes, doing self-paced coursework and studying to maintain the required GPA of B or higher. If you encounter challenges, your Student Success Coach will provide personal and career guidance, and you'll receive the same high-touch support from the university as students who take classes on campus.

Do I need a master's in computer science right now?

To answer this question, consider why you're looking into computer science master's programs. Do you feel stuck? Is earning an advanced degree a key element of your long-term career plans? Does your employer seem to favor colleagues with master's degrees when handing out raises and promotions? If your answer to these and related questions is no, don't make the mistake of assuming you don't need an MSCS.

If you feel confident in your role, satisfied with your paycheck and you're on a stable career path with an upward trajectory, an MSCS can still give you increased career flexibility. A Harris Poll study for Fast Company found that managers and highly skilled workers feel more prepared to change jobs and more confident about their ability to do so than their colleagues.

The bottom line is that an MSCS from Case School of Engineering can open many doors, and thanks to the flexible nature of our online program, you can earn this degree without disrupting your life. As to whether you need a master's in computer science right now, only you can decide whether this is the right time to invest in your future.

If you still have questions about the benefits of earning a part-time online MSCS, Case Western Reserve's enrollment advisors are available via email at onlinemscs@case.edu and phone at 216.859.9922 to answer them. Be on the lookout for any upcoming webinars to learn more about how a computer science master's will enhance your career.

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