5 Career Pivots You Can Make With a Master's in Computer Science

Two coworkers sit at a table in a conference room.

Everyone daydreams occasionally about how they might have chosen a different path. If you find yourself doing it often, it may be time to make a change. That change doesn't have to be a drastic one. Career pivots, which take workers in new directions related to their previous positions, are relatively common. According to one U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey, adults change jobs about 12 times in their professional lives. Some of those transitions involve major changes in field, title, responsibilities and pay, but more are lateral moves driven by a range of factors.

In technology, burnout inspires some workers to look for opportunities in other specialization areas. Others recognize that artificial intelligence, automation and emerging technologies are replacing human workers in many positions—including positions people think of as hard to automate—and want to preemptively avoid obsolescence. There's also the fact that having a long, lucrative career in tech has always depended to some degree on workers' willingness to reinvent themselves via reskilling and upskilling as technology evolves.

Pivoting isn't easy, however, because it's not always clear how to make a lateral move. One LinkedIn survey found that 47% of professionals ages 35+ aren't sure what their career paths should look like. If that strikes a chord, be aware there are steps you can take right now to prepare for a career pivot in technology even if you don't have a well-defined long-term plan. Earning an online Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS), for instance, is one way to kick off an opportunity- and salary-boosting pivot in computer science, or CS.

The MSCS is a very versatile degree, and programs such as Case Western Reserve University's online CS master's teach in-demand technical skills and crucial soft skills. It prepares students to succeed in roles at high-profile companies known for hiring the best computer scientists and in emerging tech fields such as machine learning, as well as to ascend into the upper ranks of technology. So, what exactly can you do with a master's in computer science from Case School of Engineering? The answers—plural—may surprise you.

What are the advantages of having a CS master's degree?

The advantages of earning a computer science master's are numerous for career pivoters, career switchers and CS professionals. Earning a master’s degree shows you’re dedicated to building your expertise and have high-level theoretical and practical knowledge in your field. Employers in and out of technology recognize that graduate degree holders have enhanced abilities, specialized knowledge and in-demand skills. An MSCS will make you more competitive in tough job markets; consider that companies such as Google and Microsoft reportedly receive 2 million applications per year.

You also may qualify for more senior-level positions with evolving requirements. More employers across industries are seeking out job candidates with advanced degrees. According to one study, 74% of employers have raised educational standards over the last several years—an especially important consideration if your goal is to work in places where master's degrees are common, like Silicon Valley, Boston, New York and emerging tech hubs such as Columbus, Ohio. The good news is that jobs geared toward master's degree holders may be some of the most stable. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs requiring master's degrees will grow faster than jobs requiring bachelor's degrees, associate's degrees and other degrees.

Professionals who pursue CS master's degrees, whether on-campus or online, tend to be high earners because the ROI of the Master of Science in Computer Science is considerable. When Forbes ranked graduate degrees by salary increase, the computer science master's offered the second-largest wage premium of any degree evaluated. Computer science bachelor's degree holders earn an average salary of about $86,000 per year, while the typical computer science master's degree holder earns an average salary close to $104,000 per year.

Be aware, however, that the aggregate value of a master's degree in computer science may hinge on the reputation of the university that confers it and the stature and accomplishments of the faculty, students and alumni behind a program.

How an online CS master's from Case School of Engineering will benefit your career

Choosing the right degree program at the right university can be exceedingly challenging when your goal is to make a career pivot. You'd like to enroll in a highly ranked program offered by a top university, but you also need flexibility. You're an experienced professional looking for a part-time program that will challenge you intellectually and help you grow in the areas of computer science you'd like to explore.

At Case Western Reserve, you can earn a CS master's degree online without sacrificing income or work experience. As an online student, your experience will be top-notch because the university doesn't differentiate between its in-person and online programs at the graduate level. In the online CS master's program, you'll take the same core computer science courses as on-campus learners, and you'll study with the same professors and instructors.

You will join a professional network every bit as broad and strong as those of your on-campus peers. You'll spend just under two years pursuing your master's in computer science, during which time you can join student groups and take part in the university's research efforts. Your classmates will be accomplished developers and programmers, network engineers and architects, information systems analysts and managers, database administrators and security analysts—and the relationships you forge with them will lead to new and interesting opportunities down the road. After graduation, you can participate in Case Alumni Association initiatives and events designed to help distance learners connect with other online students and with graduates of the university's related programs.

Most importantly, employers know Case School of Engineering has a reputation for excellence spanning 140 years and has spawned major innovation in areas of computer science such as robotics, smart technology and data science. An MSCS from CWRU lends instant credibility to your resume.

What can you do with a master's in computer science?

A graduate degree from Case School of Engineering will open new avenues of opportunity. After completing the online CS master's program, you can:

Launch a career in computer science research

If your goal is to pivot into a role in which you can tackle the world's most pressing challenges by helping develop next-generation technology, enrolling in an MS program led by influential researchers doing paradigm-shifting work in computer science is a smart move. Case School of Engineering has a reputation for incubating inventions, patents and startups. University research has led to licensing agreements with organizations such as the computer engineering firm Roadprintz, the mechanical and aerospace engineering firm Hemex Health and the materials science firm Edifice Analytics. MSCS alumni go on to work for top research institutions such as IBM Research, the Institute of Systems Biology, NASA Glenn Research Center and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. After graduation, you might:

  • Become a computer or information research scientist, inventing and designing new approaches to computing technology or seeking out innovative uses for existing technology in related fields (median pay: $127,000)
  • Pursue a PhD or another doctoral degree in a computer science- or technology-focused program

Pivot into a higher-growth area of computer science

Computer science skills are in demand across subfields of this discipline, but some areas of CS are growing more quickly than others. For example, 80% of enterprises will shut down their traditional data centers by 2025 and move to cloud infrastructure and distributed systems. Demand for cloud computing specialists is already booming. Meanwhile, 75% of financial services organizations are creating new jobs related to fintech and many have already fully incorporated fintech into their operating models. Zero trust security is another area of computer science where demand will increase over time. The market for perimeterless platforms and professionals who can work with them will grow from $18 billion to $66 billion in the next six years. Case School of Engineering's leading-edge, experiential MSCS curriculum aligns with industry demand and can give you the skills and knowledge you need to become:

  • An information security analyst, planning and carrying out security measures to protect organizations' computer networks and systems (median pay: $104,000, projected growth: 31%)
  • A software engineer, creating complex applications and systems (median pay: $110,000, projected growth: 22%)
  • A mobile developer, building applications and systems for mobile hardware such as phones and tablets (median pay: $104,000, projected growth: 30%)
  • A machine learning engineer, creating learning algorithms (median pay: $113,000, projected growth: 40%)

Qualify to work in niche and emerging areas of computing

If you want to pivot into work that is specialized or involves emerging technologies, such as high-performance environments, edge computing, robotics or Artificial Intelligence, an undergraduate degree plus experience likely won't be enough to get your foot in the door. When you enroll in the online CS master's program at Case Western Reserve, you will work with exceptional professors in innovative niches and get the experience you need to make a lateral move into emerging areas of computer science. You'll study the concepts underlying intelligent systems, algorithm development, computational perception and other groundbreaking areas of computer science. After graduation, you can become:

  • An Artificial Intelligence specialist, creating or configuring AI-powered software and hardware systems (median pay: $163,000)
  • A computer vision engineer, designing vision algorithms that can identify images and patterns (median pay: $117,000)
  • A blockchain engineer, building systems that enable secure digital transactions (median pay: $93,000)
  • A digital forensics analyst, working in cybersecurity with digital data related to criminal and cybercrime investigations (median pay: $93,000)

Advance into management roles in technology

Many companies require that candidates for management and senior roles have an advanced degree such as an MSCS. Employers have such exacting standards because people management isn't easy and often requires the kind of human skills that otherwise talented technology professionals don't necessarily have. Top computer science graduate programs such as Case Western Reserve's online MS in Computer Science teach not only in-demand technical skills but also communication skills, decision-making skills, intellectual flexibility, problem-solving skills and reporting skills—essential if your goal is to become:

  • A software development manager, coordinating teams building software systems (median pay: $126,000)
  • An information technology director, overseeing the implementation and management of IT infrastructure for an organization (median pay: $121,000)
  • A senior solutions architect, designing applications or configuring services to solve specific business challenges (median pay: $137,000)
  • A software engineering manager, overseeing the development of software applications (median pay: $141,000)

Step into the highest-paying roles in computer science

The financial ROI of an MSCS is clear. Case School of Engineering MSCS graduates frequently go on to secure high-paying jobs at prestigious organizations such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon and IBM. To pivot into the highest-paying roles in computer science requires keeping your skills fresh. Case Western Reserve faculty members understand what employers look for when hiring for high-paying roles, and they adapt the state-of-the-art computer science curriculum quickly when demand for certain computer science skills goes up. With an online master's degree in computer science from Case School of Engineering, you might become:

  • A Chief Technology Officer (CTO), leading technology and engineering departments (median pay: $163,000)
  • A director of software engineering, managing the software development process (median pay: $151,000)
  • A principal technical program manager, handling the overall development of technical project processes (median pay: $161,000)

Do you need a CS master's degree to pivot in a technology career?

Though there are compelling success stories involving self-taught computer scientists, the vast majority of true innovators and researchers in the field have undergraduate degrees—and among the most successful, many have advanced computer science degrees. In fact, about a quarter of professional developers have master's degrees, and 21-36% of employees at high-profile tech companies including Amazon, Facebook and Google have degrees such as the MSCS. That's who you're competing against when your goal is to pivot away from basic 'software developer' roles or to do something more interesting than QA or IT. Additionally, nearly four in 10 computer science job listings request that candidates have at least a master's degree, according to LaborInsight.

Choosing the right master's in computer science program is key. It's up to you to identify the competencies you'll need to pivot and to find a graduate degree program that will give you the knowledge, skills and resources to make that change. To do that, think carefully about what kind of career pivot you want to make, and then ask a manager or mentor about how getting a master's degree in computer science will support that transition. You should also talk to people you know in your field and the fields you're interested in joining about their degrees—and how they earned them. Finally, connect with an enrollment advisor (onlinemscs@case.edu or 216.859.9922) at Case Western Reserve to find out what types of jobs students typically get after graduation and how Case School of Engineering's online CS master's curriculum helped them accomplish their career goals.

No computer science career pivot is out of reach, provided you have the determination and drive, the right prerequisites and experience and a degree that makes employers sit up and take notice. What can you do with a master's in computer science from Case Western Reserve? Whatever you put your mind to. Apply now or register for an upcoming webinar to learn more about computer science careers, MSCS prerequisites and admissions, tuition and financial aid or the application process, and to get answers to any other questions you have.

What to Read Next

A woman works from home on her laptop.

Should You Get a Part-Time Master's in Computer Science? How to Decide.

Soumya Ray, faculty member of CWRU’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science program.

Soumya Ray: How Can Artificial Intelligence Improve Medicine?