Making the Most of Grad School for Programmers

Another week, another reader question!  I feel pretty good about mostly sticking to this micro-commitment I made a while back.  Today’s question is from a non-US reader planning to pursue a master’s degree in the US.  Here’s the question.

I will be pursuing a 2 year masters in US. I will be using the time to build a solid profile and pursue better opportunities and it would be great to see an article about devs going back to college and how they must use the time and opportunity.

This is actually a subject near and dear to my heart.  I earned a master’s degree in computer science, myself, working a full time job and getting the degree at night.  During that time, I worked on interesting projects for school and got quite used to writing whitepapers and debating academic points.  This blog actually started as a way to fill my time after graduation — I figured I’d just keep going on writing about topics related to software.

Anyway, I really like this question.  It is suggestive of someone being deliberate about their career and a degree.  I must confess that I kind of just went back to school with the idea that I fancied myself a person that should be more educated.  I thought it likely I’d also go get a PhD one day because education.  If I could go back in time, I’d approach the subject more like this reader.

I say this because it’s not particularly clear that earning a MS degree is, in and of itself, a path to money.  There are some employers (especially the ones that do tuition reimbursement) that may confer a promotion upon completion of the degree, but I think this is becoming rarer.  And, frankly, when I’m helping organizations hire or handle staff, a graduate degree doesn’t count for a whole lot these days in determining pay bands, particularly once people have a decent number of years of experience.

The question then becomes, if not salary, then what?  And, is it worth doing?

Well, for worth, I really can’t speak to that.  People may have all manner of different motivations, from vanity (e.g. my motivation) to logistics (e.g. it’s a way to come to the US and get a foot in the door).  But what I can speak to is how to make the most out of your time in school.  And I’ll do that here.


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