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Ask HN: Is getting my CompSci degree worth the lost work experience?
6 points by rcharles on Nov 7, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 8 comments
In college, I majored in Statistics. However, I decided I would much rather work in software development. At first I thought that no employer would give me any chance with no work experience and no degree in Computer Science. So, I decided to try and get a graduate degree in computer science. Mid way through the application process, however, I managed to find a job in web development, which involves a lot of programming, and I have been enjoying it so far. I started my graduate program 2 months ago, and I am having second thoughts about this program because the coursework seems to be both time consuming and impractical. And since it is time consuming, it has been getting in the way of having time to do real work for my job. Recently I found out that place where I live, despite being an off campus apartment, may force me to either move out or become a full time student. Now, I may be able to find another apt without this restriction, the the combined circumstances have me reconsidering the entire process.<p>My main question is, will my graduate degree be worth the effort even if I have to give up lots of work experience to get it? I graduated college just after the financial crisis, so I am very skeptical of the value of education.

Not everyone works for funky hipster startups that judge potential employees by their github profile. If you want to work for a large corporation or government you won't even get shortlisted without the right education/degree, regardless of your real-world experience or 1337 hacking skills.

I went through a similar debate fairly recently, but with slightly different circumstances. I was fortunate enough to get a development role out of college (MIS degree), but had very little formal CS knowledge. As I progressed through my career I always thought the lack of a formal CS education would be viewed unfavorably, which is why I started looking at a similar programs as you.

During the review of the program curriculum I slowly started just consuming as much material online as possible (ex. google "The Algorithm Design Manual Second Edition 2008 (Skiena).pdf"). I focused on data structures, algorithms, and design patterns. Before you know it I felt I had a decent grasp of the concepts, could intelligently have conversations with my CS friends, and hopefully could write better code.

In the end, after thinking about the time commitment and financial costs, I eventually decided against the idea for two reasons. 1.) I had taken the time to simply read to understand and practice the concepts, 2.) it wouldn't have helped me in my career (no Google or Facebook aspirations for me) so it would have just been for personal knowledge. And since I took the time to read and understand on my own, I felt I had achieved quite a bit of personal knowledge for free.

Hope my 2 cents help.

I hate to recommend doing something you don't really like, but in this case it might be worth it to make your life easier.

smegel is right, all recruiters and most hiring managers will filter resumes based on easily quantifiable criteria, and the school and degree are at the top of that list.

Also, to get through interviews at tech companies like Google, you need to have understanding of fundamental computer science concepts if you are applying to be a developer.

The web has gone through fits and starts- your job may seem stable now but how much warning will you get when demand shrinks for web development and your employer can't afford to keep you on?

Furthermore, getting that graduate degree in a real discipline is the surest way to tenure at whatever career you pick. That tenure translates to hundreds of thousands of dollars over your career.

As someone who hasn't been able to finish their degree...it has been one of my biggest regrets in life. Graduate school will only expand on your opportunities. I urge you to continue to go to school before you join the workforce. You have until you're 65 to retire, that's a very long time to work.

What programming language are you writing in? That heavily matters with regards to whether you should finish your degree.

Professionally - Ruby and JavaScript.

I have some experience with other languages such as C, C++, Java(Java seems to be my school's favorite language), Python and a few other more obscure languages(Common Lisp, Haskell), but I have not been paid to write anything in those yet.

I realize potential future employers will probably only give me credit for Ruby and JavaScript unless I create some amazing open source projects in one of the other languages and that employer considers open source projects in their hiring decision.

You're probably in good shape then. Some languages can pigeon hole you into bad roles, but with Ruby specifically you can have a lot of mobility.

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