As our digital world expands globally, hundreds of thousands of new computer science positions flood the market. There is a deficit of professionals qualified to fill them—in 2015, for example, US employers posted 600,000 unfilled high-paying tech jobs.
Computer science and data science are essential not only in the tech industry but also across a wide range of sectors, including healthcare, education, and transportation. While it's possible to work in computer science without a master's degree, there are many reasons to pursue a part-time Master of Science in Computer Science.
What is a Master of Science in Computer Science?
A master's program in computer science equips you with the skills needed to develop sophisticated algorithms, new approaches to gathering and managing data, and new computer hardware and software systems. It will also introduce you to various specializations in:
- Artificial intelligence
- Computer engineering
- Data science
- Machine learning
- Software engineering
What is computer science?
Computer science professionals create and maintain novel technologies and systems used in an extraordinary range of industries that include medicine, communications, manufacturing, business, and science. There are many different degree programs and career paths in computer science, but across fields, the discipline is based primarily on computing theory and practice.
What jobs fall under the category of computer science?
Jobs in computer science are listed under many different titles. Here are a few examples of high-paying jobs you might pursue with an MSCS:
- Computer and information research scientist
- Computer network architect
- Database administrator
- Information security manager
- Information systems manager
- Software development engineer
Do I need a master's to work in computer science?
You don't need a master's degree to work in computer science—you might not even need a bachelor's degree. But it certainly doesn't hurt to have one. The ultimate value of a master's in computer science is a widely debated question. Many experts assert that you can learn almost everything you'd learn in a computer science master's program through self-study. You can ascend the ladder of success in computer science without a master's degree in computer science. However, you will absolutely climb more quickly with an MSCS.
While taking time off from working to pursue graduate study can potentially decrease your lifetime earning potential, it can also set you up to pursue more lucrative positions that require a master's degree in computer science, quickly offsetting the temporary loss of income. Plus, if you decide to pursue your master's degree in computer science part-time instead of full-time, you'll be able to continue earning as you're learning.
Do I need a doctorate to work in computer science?
Not unless you want to become a university professor, a lecturer, or a research professional. A PhD is not necessary for general jobs in computing and IT, and some employers might even consider you overqualified if you graduate from a doctorate degree program.
What will you learn in a computer science master's program?
A computer science master's program should provide a foundation in computer science theory and programming practice. Students who attend an MSCS program will develop a familiarity with challenges and research problems involved in creating novel computer software. They'll also develop implementation skills in the following areas:
- Computer security
- Database systems
- Discrete mathematics
- Machine learning
- Models of computation
- Networks and protocols
- Programming languages
- Software engineering
Unexpected reasons to get a part-time master's in computer science
There are plenty of reasons to get a master's in computer science. Here are some you may not have considered.
1. You'll be forced to develop skills you might otherwise ignore
Work experience can go a long way in helping you get a job in computer science and advance in your career—however, plenty of people who work in computer science develop a narrow set of skills pertaining to the job or industry that they work in. They have little time or motivation to pursue a deeper understanding of other areas in software engineering and theoretical concepts that feel irrelevant to their current occupation. This can be limiting when a computer scientist decides that they want to switch industries or focus areas.
A computer science master's program can ensure that graduate students develop a comprehensive and detailed understanding of multiple complex areas of computer science, affording a versatility you couldn't possibly develop were you to spend your entire career advancing in one company or industry—and versatility is incredibly attractive to employers. Why choose a candidate who graduated from an undergraduate computer science program when you can choose a graduate of a master's degree program?
2. You'll network with faculty and fellow students
Earning a master's degree in computer science is challenging and time-consuming, whether you attend your degree program full-time or decide to work while attending your degree program part-time. You'll have to forgo some social and even career opportunities.
However, you'll also have the opportunity to network with talented faculty and graduate students you may never have even met had you not decided to pursue graduate studies as a computer science graduate student. The relationships you form and the connections you make are sure to help you in your future professional pursuits. Studies show that anywhere from 50% to 80% of jobs are obtained through a personal connection.
3. You'll develop a deeper understanding of computer science principles and theory
Bachelor's in computer science programs cover topics like algorithmic analysis, assembly language, calculus, discrete mathematics, computer architecture, data structures, programming, statistics, and theory of computation. Part-time and full-time computer science master's degree programs expand and build on this undergraduate training, with a primary emphasis on computer science's real-world applications through student-led projects. Master's degree programs in computer science also allow (or require) students to choose specializations like big data and data mining, cybersecurity, game development, network systems, software systems, and many others.
4. You'll discover new computer science fields that may change your professional goals
You may think you know what you want to do for a living, but in a field as complex, vast, and perpetually developing as computer science, it's certain that you don't know everything (or even most things) about every possible field you could potentially pursue. You might realize that while you enjoy being a programmer or IT professional, the right career for you is actually that of a computer and information research scientist—researching, testing, creating, and generally putting the "science" in computer science. On the other hand, you might realize that you were already pursuing the best field for you, but you're now able to become more specific about your goals and what kind of positions you're most interested in. You may realize you'd like to be a UNIX system administrator or a mobile application developer, for example, rather than just a general IT professional.
5. You'll distinguish yourself in the job market
Because part-time and full-time master's programs in computer science give students the opportunity to specialize in different disciplines, you'll be able to develop your skills in niche professional areas like artificial intelligence, embedded systems, computer graphics engineering, and cryptography—none of which you'd be able to gain a deep, comprehensive understanding of in a more generalized bachelor's program in computer science.
6. Your employer might pay for it
This one depends, of course, on your employer. Some companies won't pay for your degree at all; some will only pay enough to get a tax break from the IRS. Generally, if your company pays for part of or all of your full-time or part-time computer science master's degree program, you'll be contractually obligated to continue working for that company for a specified number of years after you obtain your master's degree in computer science. Here are a few companies that have been known to help their employees pay for both part-time and full-time master's in computer science degree programs, either through direct payment or tuition reimbursement:
- Lockheed Martin
- Time Warner Cable
7. You'll open up new and unexpected career opportunities
While open positions in computer science are abundant (and rapidly pullulating), there's a deficit in computer science professionals able to actually fill many of these positions. This is because many of the positions opening up demand niche skills that vary widely depending on the requirements of the industry. A four-year degree isn't long enough to provide students with the breadth of foundational knowledge they need to get their start while also equipping them with the specialized skills employers seek in their computer science professionals. Earning a master's degree in computer science will expand your qualifications exponentially.
8. You'll give yourself the option to pursue a PhD someday
Even if you're primarily interested in computing and IT positions now, you likely have decades left in your professional life. It's possible you'll eventually want to become a college professor or enter a highly specialized field of computer science—for these pursuits, you'll likely need a doctorate. A full-time doctorate in computer science usually takes four or five years to complete (part-time degree programs vary in length) and builds on prior experience and education. While it's possible to be accepted into a doctorate in computer science program with just a bachelor's degree, master's degrees are largely preferred.
9. Attending a part-time master's degree program in computer science will make you happier
According to the Earth Institute's World Happiness Report, a lack of formal education is correlated with lower happiness levels. The happiest people are those who are educated to a post-graduate level. As education increases, the correlation of living standards and education to happiness also increases.