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I'm in the following situation. My first 7 months out of college, I worked software job I really didn't like, and then I hopped on to another job I like. I've been in that second job for about a year now, and even though my career is doing pretty OK, I'm thinking about going back to school for a MS and maybe a PhD. I have some concerns about going back to school that I was hoping I could get some insight on.

I didn't get funding for graduate school because I did no research as an undergrad and thus had weak references, but tuition for one of the better programs I got in to is rather low as its a state school and I'm in state ( Umass amherst). I was making a bit over six figures for both of my jobs, and I've saved up more than enough money to cover both my undergrad loans, and pay the entire cost of the master's program + living expenses.

I want to give grad school a try because I've gotten really into computer science these past two years, and I'd like to study it full time for two years while doing research. In college, I was too busy dealing with a deep depression and health problems to excell as a student to the degree I know I'm capable of, and I want to have the academic computer science experience I dreamed of when I was in highschool but was robbed of due to circumstances.

I am, however, concerned about my employability post-MS. I will have had two short stints on my resume - a 7 month job and a 19 month job - making me look like a disloyal job hopper, and I'm afraid that potential employers might be turned off by my over-education should I choose to go back to programming. I'm also concerned that my department might not treat me with respect as a self-funded student. If they thought I was good, they would have probably offered me funding.

How are MS degrees viewed in the industry? Are my concerns valid at all?

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    Whoa. 19 months? In silicon valley that's a paragon of loyalty. You'll be fine. – JeffE May 5 '15 at 10:44
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    Any reason you aren't interested in a part-time MS? There's plenty of professional programs that are designed for people in the industry, and you'd take one or two classes a semester. I finished in a year and a half and basically swapped to a job I enjoyed. – Compass May 5 '15 at 13:32
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One recurring issue I've seen in folks considering a CS M.S. or Ph.D. is a belief that the advanced degree will qualify them to employers as some sort of "super-programmer". This is generally not the case, and I think it's where folks get the notion that an advanced degree can hurt your job prospects. In my experience very few companies are interested in hiring folks with advanced degrees for jobs that can be handled far more cheaply by someone with no degree, but a lot of experience.

Where an advanced degree becomes helpful is in domain knowledge. Somebody with a C.S. Ph.D. may or may not be a decent web site developer, but there is supposed to be some (tiny) area of CS where they know as much as anybody on the planet. If they can find a company that needs that particular bit of knowledge (or something closely related), they have a good shot at a well paying job.

Once you have an advanced degree you shouldn't be looking for "programming" jobs, you should be looking for jobs as an expert in a topic like machine learning, compiler code generation, agile methodology, high-availability databases, etc. etc. There aren't as many of these jobs as there are "programmer" jobs, but there is also a lot less competition for them. Lots of excellent programmers are self-taught, but not so many experts in convex optimization.

  • That works as long as you are able to relocate. – aparente001 May 7 '15 at 0:22
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I would take any advice about your employability post-MS you get at Academia.SE with a large, large grain of salt. Most people here are in academia and are not really qualified to judge your employability in industry.

In fact, your question may well be closed as off-topic here. If so, you may want to flag it for migration to Workplace.

That said, I see your point about having rather short stints on your CV after the MS. I agree that this may leave a bad impression. I'd suggest thinking about postponing your MS until you have two or three years' tenure at your current employer. Anything beyond two years should make it clear you are not a job hopper.

Do you have any colleagues, friends or acquaintances that went back to school after a few years in industry? What do they say? Did they typically have to explain their decision to potential employers after the MS? How did they do? (If you know anyone who was employed, went back for an MS and is unemployed now, buy him a beer and have a long talk with that person to learn anything you need to avoid.)

During your MS, keep your network current. Your current employer may take you on board again, or at least provide references. Make sure they still know you two years later. Think about doing an internship or so.

Or think about staying in academia, if you really find that the academic and researchy side of CS appeals to you.

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    I may be an academic, but I can count recruiters. – JeffE May 5 '15 at 10:45
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    Unlike a few other subjects, CS does offer industry-geared degrees that don't require research, theses, or even a full-time commitment. One of my family members is both a full-time industry professional and a part-time instructor, for example. – Compass May 5 '15 at 13:37
  • I disagree with Stephan. Leaving a job to go to grad school is one of the best reasons I can think of to leave a job. If you have a strong recommendation letter from the most recent employer, you should be fine. – aparente001 May 7 '15 at 0:24
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I can respond to one of your questions:

I'm also concerned that my department might not treat me with respect as a self-funded student. If they thought I was good, they would have probably offered me funding.

Nothing to worry about here. Your professors won't care whether you have an assistantship, and they probably won't even know whether you do or not.

If you decide to postpone starting your degree by one or two semesters, you could register for a class either locally or online. The key is to take it as a "non-matriculated" student, meaning that you won't be taking it as part of a degree program. (You can transfer it later and ask for it to be evaluated for possible partial satisfaction of your degree requirements at the institution where you end up.)

The stand-alone course could result in a nice grade and a nice recommendation letter, if you're lucky. However, the main reason to take it is to start to satisfy your intellectual itch.

I don't know whether you'd have a problem getting employment after the degree. If that does pose a problem, I suppose you could neglect to include the MS in your CV.

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