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I have almost completed my masters degree in computer science. I have interviewed at a lot of companies, where they told me that they don't think a Masters degree is necessary for a software developer.

They don't give any special preference to a Masters degree holder: in their eyes we have the same value as a software engineer with a bachelors degree. I thought the advanced degree would improve my pay, but I am getting the same pay as Bachelors students.

How can I use my masters degree to get a higher salary?

EDIT:I should add that I am currently a software engineer and I develop iphone apps(Hence the name).Means I am currently working in the industry and "not out of touch of the current technologies "as some people are commenting

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    Your degree doesn't matter. Your skills matter. – poitroae Mar 18 '13 at 17:47
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    Frankly many developers with Master's degrees don't measure up to a developer who's spent the same time in the business world instead. The business skills of being a developer or consultant are often very different than the more science and academic focused skills found in the academic environment. Having academic training can help with difficult problems, but many jobs don't include solving incredibly difficult intellectual problems, those are often avoided or worked around. Though sometimes there is no route but through a difficult problem, in which case academic training might help. – Mark Rogers Mar 18 '13 at 18:33
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    as an fyi. my bachelor's is in english. then i went back and got an associates in computer programming. now i work as a programmer. got my first job by doing a small project for someone and then getting hired after they liked what they saw. the degree really didn't matter at all. – nathan hayfield Mar 20 '13 at 0:49
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    @Jim If you remove the comments, you must have the decency to copy them and save them to the chat or any other place. – Chani Mar 20 '13 at 4:41
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    @RitwikG - Unfortunately, that doesn't scale very well. But members of our community can crowdsource these efforts by dropping [chat] links strategically and corralling extended discussions into The Workplace Chat. The [chat] macro automatically turns into a link, making it easy to drop these links where appropriate. Hope this helps! – jmort253 Jun 2 '13 at 2:52

11 Answers 11

58

I've generally found the following strategy useful:

  1. Apply to jobs at a higher pay grade. You won't get paid more if you don't ask for more.

  2. Be sure to put the master's degree on your resume.

  3. When asked about projects you've done in the past, be sure to use your dissertation as an example. This helps show the worth of your degree: it's given you valuable experience that you can apply going forward.

For example, my dissertation was on lexical clustering of abstracts of academic papers as a technique to refine search results. I often use the story of how I found all the wrong ways to go about it as an example of learning from failure -- my conclusion was that none of the techniques I used provided results that were acceptable. I also use it as an example of working with unfamiliar libraries, or an example of rapidly gaining domain knowledge (I was not particularly familiar with statistics or various semantic parsing techniques before I began research). Of course, it's also a good example of a difficult problem solved in Java (the language I'm most familiar with), or of using a web-based API (which I did to pull in search results in the first place), or any of the other techniques I employed in the finished product.

  • This is the answer that OP wants. – anvd Mar 18 '13 at 20:08
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    +1 Perfectly said, "You won't get paid more if you don't ask for more." – DustinDavis Mar 25 '13 at 3:55
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Applying to the same sort of jobs that Bachelors grads apply to, and expecting them to offer X dollars a year more because of your degree is not a viable strategy. Don't expect to be paid for the initials. But DO expect to be paid for your skills. Apply to jobs that need capabilities you have that a fresh grad does not, and show up to interviews ready to show these skills. The fact that you gained them by earning a Masters is not relevant to employers. The fact that you have them is, but you will need to demonstrate them.

I don't know you or your program, but I would guess the skills you have above a fresh grad are:

  • you can plan a multi year project and get it done on deadline, with minimal support or constraint from others. (This would not apply to a course-only masters.)
  • you can write well on complex topics
  • you can explore poorly documented or understood areas and synthesize a large amount of information that you discovered yourself, and explain that to others later
  • you have the confidence and drive to keep going when things are not simple
  • you may have gained public speaking or training skills

Make a list of your own that details what is great about you that is not great about a typical Bachelors grad. Put these bullets on your resume or in your cover letter. Practice answering interview questions in a way that proves them. In this way, you will gain a job that values these things: a job a typical Bachelors grad would not gain.

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    +1 for focusing on what a Masters gives that a BS doesn't which is of value to more mundane employers. – Dan Neely Mar 18 '13 at 19:07
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    @KateGregory - just wondering, how does a master's degree demonstrate capability for being able to execute multi-year projects on deadline (that seems like something only raw work/project experience would provide?) And tangentially: how much value is placed on CS degrees in terms of salaries, and how much value is placed on self-motivated solo projects demonstrating abilities in languages/self-motivation/"problem-solving" etc.? Thank you very much if you get the time to see this! – HC_ Mar 10 '14 at 18:34
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    A course-only masters wouldn't. But in many places a masters has a project and a thesis and the student is expected to manage those over a period of a year or two. I really can't speak to salaries, those are highly dependent on your field, your geography and time. I don't keep up to date on salaries all the time. – Kate Gregory Mar 10 '14 at 18:36
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Outside of academe, you are in an industry that does not put a premium on degrees or certifications (Of course this varies from company to company).

An undergrad specializes in being able to retain the information provided. A graduate student should know how to find, consume, analyze and communicate their understanding and interpretation of the knowledge.

Some companies want employees who can communicate well. For others, they just happy if an entry-level person and sling some code.

You're going to have to wait until you gain some hands-on experience. The combination of the practical and your graduate work should make you a more attractive candidate at the next level. This won't occur because you have a degree but because you can apply your higher skill set. They will appreciate your analytical skills, but not because you have a graduate degree.

Again, not all companies will value some of he soft skills.

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The answer is obvious - find a position where your advanced degree is worth more money.

It won't be easy. Sometimes startups use the credentials of their employees to aid in their search for additional funding. That happened with me once.

You said "I thought the advanced degree would improve my pay." What led you to believe that? Have you worked before, or are you a new graduate?

In general, experience trumps degrees. But sometimes, everything else being equal, a degree can help.

  • It's also a very important question, because going back to that source (recruiter, company, etc.) with the degree in hand could be the answer to his question. – Bobson Mar 18 '13 at 18:34
  • I would tend to suspect that the "reason" is just his own personal assumption, but that's because I've dealt with too many people who think "Okay world I graduated, so now where's my sweet job?" – jhocking Mar 18 '13 at 18:57
  • And some places can be pretty dysfunctional - for a while I worked at a game company where it was believed that an associate's degree focused on "game programming and simulation" was "just as good" as a generalized CS master's degree. (Said associate's degree holder had never even touched a compiler in his life...) – fluffy Mar 18 '13 at 19:09
  • +1 for sometimes startups use the credentials of their employees to aid in their search for additional funding – zzzzz Mar 19 '13 at 5:21
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    @iOsBoy alas, experience is the name of the game in this industry. I'd say expect to enter the race at the same pay-grade as everyone else, but hopefully your added education will help you keep ahead of the field and climb the corporate ladder a bit faster. – DA. Mar 19 '13 at 8:56
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As a manager with significant hiring responsibilities, I wanted to offer my 2 cents for you. This is not a direct parallel as I am in a different industry, but the simple fact is many companies, especially those hiring for a specific project have a set job and a fixed price (or at least a small salary range).

I often have to offer positions to individuals at rates below what I think they are worth, simply because the project they applied for cannot afford the salary that I think they deserve.

This is especially true for people without much experience and only hold graduate degrees. Regardless of the degree, if they don't have relevant work experience, I still have to spend time training the individual and they still take time learning what it is like to be in the real world. Maybe their degree gives them some more insight into the skills required, and let's them pick up the work faster, but that doesn't change the timelines or budgets.

That's not to say your graduate degree isn't worth anything, but in general it is helpful in getting the interview or getting the job, and not necessarily in determining what you get paid, unless the job specifically requires more in-depth knowledge in the theory of a subject.

6

Unless you are going into research or academia, a Master's degree in this field is just a waste of money. They are counterproductive, especially if you get one before getting experience in that companies see no need to spend extra for someone with no experience and a Master's degree, when they don't even require a degree at all.

If you want to use your Master's go for a company that is doing research, or apply for government jobs. But ordinary web development or Enterprise application jobs? Nah, they don't need or want to pay for your Master's degree.

  • 11
    -1: While I understand and partially agree with this sentiment (specifically "always investigate the value of titles before paying for them"), when someone's asking how to parlay a degree into a higher salary, the response "Son, you done gone screwed up there" is not helpful. The second part might be helpful, but would these positions offer more than the positions he's turning down? – deworde Mar 18 '13 at 17:54
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    While your statement may be true in your opinion it is not constructive as an answer. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 18 '13 at 18:20
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    It is helpful in that it warns people thinking about getting a master's in CS. – Jim Clay Mar 18 '13 at 19:18
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    @iOsBoy did you pursue your masters for the sole reason of getting a pay raise? If so, then yea, it may have been a waste. But I assume you also pursued the masters for many other reasons. Many of which may be hard to peg into direct dollars out of the gate. – DA. Mar 19 '13 at 8:52
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    @iOsBoy It depends on how you look at it. No, it wasn't a waste. There are the things you learned and, perhaps even more importantly, the knowledge that you have the ability to tackle and understand difficult things. That knowledge will serve you well when things get difficult at work. From a purely monetary standpoint, though, yes, it was probably a waste. – Jim Clay Mar 19 '13 at 11:16
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Not knowing the specifics of your program, I would argue that you start looking for jobs that are specific to what you studied for your masters degree. Looking for a standard, run of the mill programming job would be a waste of your effort and time (and money) in getting your Masters.

Some research programs will accept advanced degrees (although I would assume most are looking for PhD). Look at the openings with Microsoft Research to see if there's anything right up your alley.

You've drilled deep into the field. There are fewer jobs that require your expertise but also fewer people who are qualified. You should zero in on those opportunities like a laser.

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Unfortunately you will find that people such as myself who have no formal degrees will also be making just as much as you. A degree in this field only seems to be good to get your foot in the door. It may also become handy when applying for management positions. If I were to go to school.. It would more than likely be on a topic more related to business or something else I enjoy because there is no way I could make the money back for a degree. Certification are even iffy but they at least give the added benefit if they are Microsoft Certs they can help your company become a partner which they may find value in.

You can probably give yourself more of a pay raise by participating in some open source/side projects utilizing skills you feel a future employer would desire then going back to school to learn a bunch of material you will more than likely never use.

  • 2
    Hi Tony, the problem is that the asker has already received a Masters degree, and there is no undoing that. Hence, how can the asker use his masters degree to get a higher salary? I'm not 100% sure you've covered this. Could you edit your post to clarify? Thanks and good luck! :) – jmort253 Mar 19 '13 at 2:15
  • I guess I'm confused as my answer gives other options he can use to help give himself a raise. It may not answer the question directly but neither do half the current answers. If my post doesn't make you happy than feel free to flag/delete it. I stand behind what I said I am sorry if you feel it was not good enough. – Tony Mar 19 '13 at 17:07
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There is a low probability of a Masters degree being relevant to any particular programming job and an advantage over a Bachelor's degree. That's why Master's degrees don't confer a salary advantage over a Bachelor's with 2 years of experience. When I was a software development manager, there was no difference in the performance of Bachelor's vs Masters. I found PhDs to be the best grounded in the fundamentals of the craft, and better at self-directed learning and self-motivation.

To get a Master's degree, you have to do more self-directed learning than you did as an undergraduate, resulting in a higher probability that you have learned how to learn. And that is where your advantage may lie as a Masters graduate. If you want to keep a long career in software development, you need to be learning constantly, and if you have learned how to learn, that is a big help. That is what could help gain a salary advantage.

Having said all of that, the larger the organization, the less able they are in measuring performance and contribution of individual members. They must therefore rely on proxies such as credentials and certifications. In smaller organizations, you could be a high-school dropout or a PhD, but your performance will be clear to all. (And I have seen both terrible developers with a Masters degree and great developers with little formal education). Therefore a Masters degree confers a salary advantage in a large organization.

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I have 15 years experience in a technical profession. I have 2 masters degrees. My opinion is the quality of my work and the quality you rate me at during the technical screen is what should get me the higher pay. Not the piece of paper. If the piece of paper is so valuable, it should show in the quality of my work and how I rate in a technical screen.

I have been very frustrated with HR in the past when I interview someone who I think is great, they don't have a college degree so HR offers them less money and we lose them. This tends to happen a lot with government contracting. The government thinks that pieces of paper make you more qualified. Well I have to work with this person, I just want them to produce. When you do a technical profession for a while and you give a lot of interviews (and I job hop a lot so I take a lot of interviews too), you know what to ask. You know the kind of responses you are looking for.

If I am interviewing someone and I ask them technical questions and they talk about their Harvard Graduate degree (this has happened), it is a big downgrade. Answer the question. Show me what you can do.

That being said, I am pretty confident my masters degrees help me get more money. I don't make the rules, I play by them. I think its silly. I think how good I am is what should get me more money.

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A bachelor's degree means someone who has a strong foundation in the field. Master means someone who has more than just the foundation and can maneuver through more complex things. PhD would mean someone who has specialized and a unique skillset.

Unfortunately, the software industry changes every few years, so it's likely you've mastered something obsolete. There is also an assumption in the industry in which people who do more degrees and have more certifications are actually less capable and less motivated than the ones who just have degrees. The software industry values people who do things and looks down on those those who learn too much theory. You will have to look more humble to avoid the stereotype.

The easiest way is to just bite the bullet and take the lower pay they're giving. If you've learned anything from the Masters, you should have a higher skillset, better aptitudes, and should rise quickly in pay scale and rank.

However, Masters are capable of performing better and more disciplined research than someone with a Bachelor's. As mentioned, you can go into academia. Private research institutes are also often looking for researchers, especially in things like optimization.

As the CS industry does little specialized research, look for jobs in electrical, telecommunications, other forms of engineering. If you specialize in databases and such, look for back end IT jobs in companies like Kellog's, Target, or hospitals which require a lot of data collection and logistics.

In most IT companies, researchers are promoted, not hired, so you'll have to work your way from the ground up if you choose that direction.

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    so even if I am working as a full time developer in the industry,I dont have a strong foundation in the field just cause I have a masters degree? I have mastered parallel programming.I dont think its obsolete yet. – zzzzz Mar 19 '13 at 10:22
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    If you are doing research based work,things change far more quickly than you can expect.As opposed to industry work. – zzzzz Mar 19 '13 at 10:23
  • Did you even read the second sentence? I said someone with a masters degree has a stronger foundation. If you're doing parallel programming, the ideal would probably be going into the electronics industry. The bulk of IT companies focus more on getting simple things completed and modifying/fixing code of seniors rather than optimizing them. – Muz Mar 19 '13 at 10:47

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