To Masters or Not To Masters?

June 30, 2018

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“Should I or shouldn’t I go back to school?” If you are a career changer with a degree that is the game changing question. Asking for advice doesn’t help. Everyone has the right answer. “You don’t need a degree to get the job.” “They’ll teach you how to do it.” Or my favorite, “Just get a foot in the door and they’ll pay for any education you need.” I’ve heard it all. You’ve heard it all. But none of that matters. What matters is what’s best for you? And for me? My journey is a winding, bumpy road that started with sage advice and ended with my decision to go back to get a Masters because it is best for me.

I graduated with an Art History degree, which means I’m proficient in research and seeing how things connect. The first ten years after college, I was flexible about my career because I had no passion. All I desired was a moderately challenging position at a company I could grow-in.  Not tied to a position, I focused on companies that did meaningful work. Eventually, I would want to move-up in my position. At which point I would try the free sage advice I had been offered my whole life.

Taking Advice

I tried the “they will pay for your education” method where I learned continuing education funds are rare. Not every company invests in continuing education for employees. Most medium to small companies either have limited or no budget for professional development. There can also be years in service or subject requirements. Most importantly, policies change the company could aid one year and none the next. There is no guarantee that funds will be available.

I, also, tried “switching departments” which taught me that the size of the company/department matter and it is not easier. The opportunity and ability to move around depends on the size of the company/department and some office politics. Managers don’t like to piss off other managers by taking their employees. And being internal only means competing against internal candidates, not a guaranteed in, hiring managers only want the best candidate.

And I even tried, “You do not need a degree, just a certification.” Recently I completed an Android Development certification program. The bootcamp was successful in teaching me how to do, but not the why. But when it came to my job search, my lack of additional technical experience and education were the biggest hurtles in my job search. This piece of advice is very specific to the person, company, position, and industry.

At every single company, I tried the “They will train you.” This one kills me. Of course, they will train you, everyone does training. But they aren’t going to teach me computer science or information science theory, logic and design of writing code, or high-level math. Concepts important to understanding any programming language and makes it possible that a company can train you. Do you think someone with no computer science understanding could create Facebook or the google search engine? No.

Finally, after years of trying various pieces of advice and watching others try them, I realized there is a certain amount of luck and timing involved. And when I saw luck I mean right boss and right time at the company/department. Where I went wrong was believing it was applicable to everyone and everywhere.

Decision Time

Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all path to changing careers. So, what is a girl to do? I decided to take a bold and dangerous move and enrolled in a bootcamp for Android development. While the program covered a range of concepts related to computer science, java, and android development my gaps in knowledge left me insecure.

So, this past winter I started courses in math and computer science at the community college. The experience has been both empowering and rewarding. The bad memories from undergrad math have been overshadowed by current positive experiences. And the technology classes expanded my knowledge and encouraged my curiosity. Allowing me to dream beyond android development. I’ve decided my next step is a Masters in Computer Science.

My Advice

As this journey continues, I look forward to my adventures in graduate school because I know it is the right decision for me. In my opinion here are questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to attend a bootcamp, get a certificate, Bachelors, Masters, or self-study route. While I previously characterized my decision to go back to school as bold and dangerous there was great deal of self-reflection.

 

  • Do you believe in higher education?

Seems like a stupid question, but people do things they don’t believe in all the time. Do you believe that school is a worthwhile endeavor?

  • What is your academic or experience background? Do you have the math or science needed?

Understand the technical fundamentals needed to build on. Recently, I spoke with a previous classmate that acknowledged the difficulties in working while trying to learn the fundamentals.

  • How much time do you have to invest?

Going back to school is time consuming and requires sacrifice.

  • How much information do you want on the subject?

General knowledge – bachelors. A lot of information on a specific topic – masters. Highly focused on a topic – certificate.  Are you highly self-motivated with a specific skills you want to acquire – self-study route.

  • What type of company do you want to work for?

Browse LinkedIn to see which programs, certificates, schools your ideal employer hires from.

  • How much money do you want to make?

Review job board posting to see salary ranges or Glassdoor to see specific salaries

 

In conclusion, my decision to career change is fueled with years of mixed emotions around my career. As I’m sure your does too. The purpose of this piece was to share my experience with you about my decision to decide to go back to school. There is a plethora of articles about career changing written by people who are not in that position. I hope my story adds a new perspective to the list and reminds you, you are not alone. You can and will make the best decision for you.

 

 

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