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Does getting a Ph.D. negatively impact your career in the software industry? I have heard from several people that Ph.D.'s are considered "Over Qualified" for software development or management jobs and are not even called for interviews. On the other hand, I have seen a few very senior managers (CEO's and Directors) with Ph.D.'s. If you want to continue working in the industry then is it a bad idea to think about getting a Ph.D.?

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    This depends on what you want to do. If you want to work with startups, a PhD is a lot more beneficial than if you want to work at an entry level coding position. – enderland Jul 17 '13 at 13:15
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    @samarasa for technical fields like software/engineer, a PhD generally does not pay off long term financially unless someone really wants to go into R/D (or does not do a MS before it, going straight BS/PhD). Otherwise, taking 4+ years of your earning career off, even if technically making some money as a PhD student, is not in your long term financial interests. – enderland Jul 17 '13 at 18:47
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    Oddly enough, we just had this same question on Academia.SE earlier this week. – eykanal Jul 17 '13 at 19:35
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    @enderland, I agree with you regarding the point about the "money" in most cases. But some people measure "success" in terms of "happiness". I mean that with PhD, there is a "high" probability of getting a job that aligns with your interesting areas. – samarasa Jul 17 '13 at 20:53
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    If you want to work building "Joe Schmoe" type applications then I could certainly see a PhD being a detriment. After all, you spent an extra 4 years in school, one would hope that during that time you figured out your areas of interest and developed some expertise in those areas. You should certainly be looking for more "intellectually demanding" development positions. If not, one would wonder why? Do you have no ambition/initiative? IME, while manager types seldom require higher level degrees, those who want to stay technical seldom get to the upper echelons without PhDs in bigger companies. – Dunk Jul 22 '13 at 18:47
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Can a phd degree have a negative impact on your career in the industry?

Absolutely.

A stigma attached to PhD's (right or wrong) in software development is that they have trouble actually writing code. Much of the PhD path is mathematics and writing papers describing the mathematics, which (except for a few niche positions) is largely useless in the world of software development. In the corporate world, the ability to infer problems from clients and creatively solve them is vital - something that the PhD track does not involve a lot of.

Further, a candidate with a PhD will often have far less job experience than undergrad candidate at the same age. Beyond that, there is another stigma that the PhD candidate will demand higher salary than their similarly aged undergrad equivalent.

Personally, I have found that the latter stigma is mostly incorrect. PhD candidates aren't often demanding right out of school due to the same ignorance that makes undergrad candidates not as demanding right out of school.

On the other side, more than half of the programmers with a PhD I've worked with over the years have been horrible programmers. They were enthralled with esoteric languages/concepts that were impractical/unmaintainable. Or the methodical approach that works well for a thesis was incompatible with the high speed development environment of the company. Or they couldn't grasp the needs of our customers. Or they simply were bad at coding because it didn't interest them at all.

I don't think it's necessarily bad to get a PhD if you want one, but realize that many interviewers (myself included) will be more demanding to make sure that you can actually produce software. Having a number of practical open source projects or even blog posts about non-ivory tower subjects would help quite a bit.

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    For some jobs in the industry PhDs are almost always good. If you want to be a quant developer in finance, a PhD in math is rarely a detriment. But my personal experience is inline with yours - the PhDs I dealt with on the most part produced crappy code. It's almost like the difference between scientists and engineers, scientists don't build stuff. – MrFox Jul 17 '13 at 17:39
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    I love this - it's my experience too. I'll add that the times when a PhD is a benefit is when you are firmly targeting a particular problem domain - then a PhD in that area can be great branding. For example, a PhD in cryptography when developing encryption systems. – bethlakshmi Jul 18 '13 at 22:38
  • 'Further, a candidate with a PhD will often have far less job experience than undergrad candidate at the same age. ' --> So? In the first place why would a fresh grad, PhD or none, apply for the same job as the person with several years of work experience? If they are both applying for an entry level position, I think the latter is overqualified. – BCLC Aug 12 '15 at 19:14
  • @BCLC - because often, the new PhD assumes that their doctoral work counts as experience enough for those jobs looking for a few years of experience. – Telastyn Aug 12 '15 at 19:19
  • Telastyn, your entire argument seems to be based on the case of putting a fresh grad with a PhD who finished bachelor's 6 years ago against a someone with 6 years of work experience. Of course the latter wins, right? I think putting a fresh grad with a PhD who finished bachelor's 6 years ago against someone with 0-1 years of work experience is more worthy of discussion namely with OP saying 'I have heard from several people that Ph.D.'s are considered "Over Qualified"'. In such a case, we might ask things like if the phd person has been in academia too long, is too old, etc – BCLC Aug 12 '15 at 20:04
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> Does getting a phd negatively impact your career in the industry? >

No.

I have completed a PhD in CS a couple of years back and received very good offers from very good software companies. Now I am enjoying my job life to the fullest and also getting above average salary package. PhD is not just a degree. You will learn several skills during your PhD education. First question you have to ask is why someone want to do PhD. Personally I think that if you would like to become an expert in a specific area then PhD is one of the ways to achieve that.

That being said, getting a job in the industry is somewhat different. Typically, software companies give preference to "experience" compared to "education". However, I don't see any problem in getting an entry level "development/coding" job position with a PhD. But most of the software "development" companies look for aptitude and programming skills compared to research skills. It doesn't matter whether he/she has a PhD or a MS/BS degree.

However, once you are in a job, your PhD skills might be helpful to add a great value to your employer and thus for getting promotions quickly. Between, PhDs get more money than MS/BS (with more or less same work experience). Furthermore, academia, research labs, and some R&D companies prefer PhDs.

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    Compared accepted answer, this one, and few others, it seems that consensus is: PhD will make you overqualified for crappy jobs, but PhD in complicated technology in demand could be required. Big NoSQL data, cryptography, modeling for Wall Street - yes. Replaceable Java hacker - Not so. Getting into PhD program is also best way to meet other incredibly smart people with whom you want to found a startup. Exhihibit A: Google :-) – Peter M. May 2 '14 at 13:35
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Executive Summary

Given two candidates of the same age, same background, and same experience, but one has a PhD and one doesn't, I see no reason that any company would take the one with fewer credentials (all other things being equal).

The Drawbacks of Higher Education

The issue with a PhD is likely not that you have a PhD (which is a good thing), but rather that you had to sacrifice something else (work experience, etc.) to get it. So rather than looking at two people with identical skills, it is more likely that they're looking at a 26 year-old with a PhD and no work experience vs. a 23 year-old with one year of work experience (or something of the sort).

Selling Education

A PhD in and of itself means very little. The question is how will having a PhD help out the company over someone else without it but with relevant work experience? You need to be able to explain to the company why your PhD is valuable to the company. This goes with just about any sort of experience, work or otherwise, that you have.

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    Personally, I don't think it is a good sign for a candidate with a phd to be just as good as the other candidates. I'd expect them to be better. – user8365 Jul 17 '13 at 12:39
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    I see no reason that any company would take the one with fewer credentials - you've never heard of a candidate being deemed "overqualified" ? – Carson63000 Jul 18 '13 at 4:01
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    @Carson63000 I have actually never seen someone turned down as 'overqualified' for a position in the field of a degree they have. If you have a PhD and are looking for a temp job doing data entry, I can see it, but looking for a CS job with a PhD in CS? I fail to see where this is going to cause an issue. – jmac Jul 18 '13 at 4:07
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    @JeffO I would expect them to have benefits from the PhD, but in reality usually the PhD was a tradeoff with more hands-on experience in the field, so equal but different isn't a bad aim to have. There are far more developers with 3 years of experience than developers with PhDs out there after all. – jmac Jul 18 '13 at 4:10
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    @jmac - it's a problem because people in the trenches actually doing software day to day are VERY leery of folks who have their heads so far up in the clouds that they can't do useful work. PhD's have a LOT more theory under their belts than the average programmer. This leads to the impression (right or wrong) that the PhD is more likely to an architecture astronaut, failing to get the job done in a reasonable time because they are too busy looking for a more elegant solution. – Michael Kohne Jul 22 '13 at 19:27
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As someone who does alot of software interviews and has 2 Masters degrees (one technical and an MBA), plus I job hop alot..., it will only hurt you for the crappy jobs. You will frequently get asked in interviews why you want to work here with a PhD. I think they are silly questions. Its just a degree. Basically say 'I like what I do and so on'. They will bring up silly research stuff. The goal is to deflect this fast and get them focused on what you can do for them. Interviews are a sales pitch and you have a short period of time to convince them you can do the job.

As far as over-qualified. Yeah this can happen at crappy jobs that don't pay well and want long hours. They are worried you will quit like the last batch of people they hired.

I have worked with people who are PhDs (worked with one of my professors) and worked with people without degrees. I can care less about your degree. The technical screen will tell me if I think you can produce and when I meet you I can tell if I can put up with you and if you bath. I have had issues in the past getting people in the door who don't have degrees. My opinion is that people are paid to get stuff done. If the degree is so useful, then I should be able to tell from the technical screen that you know what you are doing.

That being said, there are times my degrees get me more money and for some silly reason people are impressed. The MBA hurts sometimes because I get asked 'uh do you want to go into management, we need a tech'. No I don't. Then I usually tell the tech the truth that MBA is pretty useless and I did it back in my contracting days when I was self employed. They usually like that answer and can identify with me.

Your goal in the interview is to try to get them to hit you with as many good technical questions as possible and sell them on your ability to produce. If you let the interview get bogged down on your degree odds are you won't get the job.

1

Can a phd degree have a negative impact on your career in the industry?

Sure, it is possible for there to be additional points to consider if you have this in your background. How well it does though likely depends on what kinds of roles one seeks with a Ph.D.

Does getting a phd negatively impact your career in the industry?

Not necessarily. The key question is how does one use this as part of their background. If one is going for entry-level software development jobs, then the Ph.D. may be a hurdle to work around as the position could be seen as being too low to do by HR and others. Thus, one has to recognize that some jobs may be removed from consideration by having the credential and a perceived expectation of wanting to be paid more.

If you want to continue working the industry then is it a bad idea to think about getting a phd?

No, thinking about getting a Ph.D. is a fine idea. Be aware of what advantages and disadvantages this has, how will the tuition be paid, what kind of Thesis is one planning on doing, and how does this fit into one's career progression. Actually going through with it, that's another story though you didn't ask about execution, merely pondering it.

I just have my Bachelor's and have no desire to go get a Ph.D. though I can imagine for some people it isn't that bad of an idea to get the Ph.D. if there is some branch within Computer Science that appeals to them to study and work within that area. For a lot of basic IT roles, a Ph.D. would likely be seen as making one over-qualified.

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PhDs in the computer science world are for academics. If you want to be a professor you will need a PhD. If you want to be the head of a Computer Science department you'll need several.

However, in the business world an undergraduate degree is often a requirement, but after that further degrees don't help much. Some exceptions might include managing a state IT department, or some kind of Wall Street quant operation. However, in the latter case the thesis would have to be on the quantitative analysis. Some employers look particularly carefully at degrees, and tune out people that seem to be more focused on what school they went to than what they've done.

Some research labs will want PhDs. However, they also want publication. Therefore, if you aren't showing up in the journals the PhD by itself is useless. What you're doing overall is painting yourself in a corner - you're restricting your job opportunities to high powered labs.

  • This is actually a rather good answer. Can't see why it was down-voted. As a generalisation a PhD is the first step along the path of training to become a professional researcher. Outside of that domain, the value varies. For example, if you are a licensed plumber I wouldn't want you to be fixing the wiring in my house. – CyberFonic Aug 2 '16 at 5:58

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