IT grad schools for those with no IT background?
November 26, 2008 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Is there any Master's degrees for students pursuing an IT field with no background in IT?

I'm interested in a career in Human Factors/Human-Computer Interaction, but have a degree completely unrelated degree to that field. I've been looking at options to get into that field, including having considered getting a second bachelor's degree (which is mostly what my previous AskMe question was about).

To get into various HCI programs (I'm particularly interested in the Carnegie Mellon program), I'd need at least some extent of programming background and/or some cognitive psychology background. So I can either work and teach myself at the same time, or go to school... and honestly my current degree won't get any good jobs anytime soon so I prefer the school route.

One option I discovered recently was UPenn's Master of Computer and Information Technology (MCIT) program. It's a Masters program designed for people with no IT background trying to get an IT education. Do you know of any other programs that are like it?

I've tried Googling/doing internet research to find similar programs, but haven't been able to come up with anything. It would also take quite a long time to individually look up every school that offered computer science graduate programs. Thanks for any help.
posted by NeoLeo to Education (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
by "no background" do you mean that you have no related degree, or that you have no related experience? many of the best programs in anything would take someone with some related experience with an unrelated degree and a good portfolio over someone who just has a degree and student portfolio.

p.s. you might want to investigate sva's new mfa in interaction design program, which starts up in fall 2009 and is currently taking applications.
posted by lia at 3:42 PM on November 26, 2008

I got my master's degree in Human-Computer Interaction Design from the Indiana University School of Informatics. My undergraduate degree was in psychology, but there were people from many different backgrounds in my class-- business, journalism, etc. I also have a friend currently attending Carnegie Mellon whose degree is in music. The field is pretty open to people with all kinds of backgrounds, and I suspect most of the grad programs are as well.
posted by christie at 3:54 PM on November 26, 2008

At least for the university I attended and worked for, getting into a CS Master's without experience is painful bordering on impossible. I've only heard one story of a student who came in unprepared (they had a degree that turned out to be more akin to "Installing Software") and leaving with a degree; this person ended up taking an undergraduate degree's worth of courses in "deficiencies". This is in contrast with several students I've met with dubious backgrounds who couldn't pass even the deficiency courses they were assigned, let alone grad work building on that knowledge. Fortunately, we don't run an HCI program and are very engineering focused, so your mileage may vary here.

If you're interested in this for the pursuit of good jobs, I highly recommend to survey right now the qualifications employers are looking for. Apple, for example, has no UI designer job openings for people who can't program. Adobe is working on an algorithm to come up with UI automatically that works quite nicely. And the average IT department at a company doesn't budget for HCI. Basically, someone with this sort of training needs a portfolio and ability to sell their skills to people who have no idea they need it.
posted by pwnguin at 7:32 PM on November 26, 2008

It's very important to point out that HCI and IT have basically nothing significant in common. If you really want to do HCI, you may not like IT at all.
posted by secret about box at 10:29 PM on November 26, 2008

Response by poster: - lia: no related degree AND no related experience, though I've always tinkered with computers and basic programming for most of my life, just not to an extent that is professional enough to have a portfolio
- christie: the indiana school was also another program I was interested in. it seems like the majority of people in HCI are from a psychology/cognitive science/computer science/computer engineering background, but i HAVE heard/read about people of different backgrounds, though they are clearly the minority (maybe less than 10-20%?). for those people you know with a variety of backgrounds, what skills/experience did they have before they joined the program? it is because of these people with a variety of backgrounds that i may just consider taking courses at a community college.
- pwnguin: I've looked at jobs involving human factors and HCI for the past few months and the majority of them require HTML/DHTML/CSS/Dreamweaver/other web-related stuff, along with Photoshop/Illustrator, and maybe Visio. this is usually in addition to at least a basic foundation of programming along with a bachelors/masters degree in human factors/HCI. this is partly why i decided that pursuing HCI would be a more viable career option than focusing on human factors, because i rarely find any human factors job that do not involve IT/web.
- Mikey-San: They both have nothing INCREDIBLY in common, but it seems that I need at least some background in IT to get into an HCI program (like, 1-2 years related experience or a related degree) -- correct me if I'm wrong. I just felt like a program like UPenn's would allow me to get an IT-related degree done in a short amount of time to have my applications for HCI programs to be taken more seriously. Ironically, my second and third degree choices were psychology and computer science.
posted by NeoLeo at 12:53 AM on November 27, 2008

I don't remember the specific skills and experience the students I attended school with had, but I know that my friend who is currently at Carnegie Mellon had no programming or design experience prior to enrolling. He was a professional musician. Carnegie Mellon actually plans for that, I believe, by having some sort of preparatory course before the actual degree courses begin for the students coming in with no design background.

But it'll probably be helpful to clarify what sorts of jobs you are looking to get after completing your degree. You can really take an HCI degree in all sorts of directions. You mention the "IT field", so I'm assuming you probably don't want to go in an academic/research/teaching direction. Do you want to explore how people interact with technology (user research/usability testing/etc.)? Do you want to design how that interaction will occur (interaction design/information architecture)? Do you want to design the aesthetics (graphic design/visual design)? Do you want to construct websites (HTML/CSS/Front-end coding)? Or construct software (programming/development)? Do you want to do more than one of the above? Your interests will probably help determine a program that would best support you. And help focus the conversation when you talk to recruiters or admissions personnel at each school.
posted by christie at 7:07 PM on November 27, 2008

Response by poster: - christie: Ahhh, you're correct about not needing to fulfill every prerequisite. I initially misread the website for CMU's HCI program thinking that they would only have a preparatory course for their design prerequisite, but it seems they have a prep course for all three prereqs. As for which direction I'd like to go with HCI, I'm currently not strongly interested in academics/research/teaching, but I am currently pretty interested in user research and interaction design. Also interested in aesthetics/virtual reality, also a bit interested in web/software design.

Perhaps I am looking into getting a degree/education for programming before attending an HCI program because of a perceived need of security (such as, the ability of falling back to a software engineering/web design job if things don't work out somehow). My family is giving me a lot of crap about my decision to pursue this because they haven't heard much about this field (human factors or HCI) and one family member in particular can't comprehend the need for companies to hire such people (when I feel absolutely convinced that this field will blossom in the near future). I've heard that part of what human factors/usability/HCI specialists have to do when working with small companies is selling the whole idea to the company first before getting any real work done.

But anyway, maybe I'll just try to go straight into CMU's or another HCI program without pursuing another degree. Might save time and/or mucho money.
posted by NeoLeo at 10:37 PM on November 29, 2008

Best answer: By the way, I've found another program at the University of Chicago.
posted by NeoLeo at 11:14 PM on November 29, 2008

Best answer: Have to throw another one out there, this one was found by looking at a list of colleges in California at Wikipedia and visiting every one of their websites.

This one is at Mills College, which is a undergrad woman's university and coed grad school. Apparently all programming done there is in Java.

UC Berkeley also used to have a program, but was closed down because of a state proposition prohibiting public schools having programs targeting specific genders/ethnicities (the program was focused on bringing women graduates with no background in CS to pursue CS education).
posted by NeoLeo at 5:42 AM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: Another program, at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside.
posted by NeoLeo at 1:27 AM on December 2, 2008

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