Do graduate degrees matter in IT Security?
August 12, 2009 10:19 AM   Subscribe

This is a 2 pronged question: Are degrees earned online ever worth it? If they are, are they worth it relative to IT?

I am potentially interested in getting an MIS or other graduate degree in IT Security (something like the NSA 4011 designation) or IT more generally. I am skeptical of the value that this would create for me relative to what I'm sure are large costs. Have you or anyone you know benefited from these programs? Do they merit anymore attention than a BA and certs for hiring managers?

In case it matters I have my CISSP and MCSE as well as a BA in an unrelated field. I am kind of stuck at that point where I am ready for more serious engagements but my resume doesn't reflect the experience that would lead people making hiring decisions to hire me for the kinds of roles I am interested in so I am looking for something to help tip the scales.
posted by zennoshinjou to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I.T. degrees are worth about as much as any other degree in the I.T. field, in my opinion. The field being what it is, I find that college curricula fall about 3-5 years behind what's actually 'the bleeding edge.'

You have certifications and a BA, but experience trumps damn near anything in this field (I interview SQL admin/programmer applicants on a fairly regular basis), and experience is what allows you to answer the esoteric questions that don't get covered in the certification courses. Fortunately, paying jobs are not the only way to get that experience. If you want to make some bones, volunteer for an open-source project or two, or find an internship if you're in a position to give up that kind of time for low/no pay.
posted by Pragmatica at 10:33 AM on August 12, 2009

Experience, experience, experience.

Instead of the time and money necessary to gain some certifications nobody cares about, spend the same by volunteering for a non-profit, internship or other unpaid position as Pragmatica (eponysterically) suggests. You need to build that experience by showing that you played a key role on complex, important systems. No number of certifications will help with that.

The only jobs that certs will help with are those (typically gov or F500) that have a certification explicitly listed as a requirement. And even those... well, let's just say that nobody ever checks.

Take courses, training and read books to learn, for your own skillset and your own benefit. Don't do it for the certifications or in the hope of having a better resume.

To have a better resume, add experience.
posted by rokusan at 11:18 AM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: The problem is that without experience I seem unable to get experience. If I need it to be a competitive candidate how does anyone ever get it? There seems to be a hole in the story to me.
posted by zennoshinjou at 11:34 AM on August 12, 2009

You can get the experience through some of the non-paying suggestions above. Volunteer!
posted by rokusan at 12:23 PM on August 12, 2009

I can only answer the "Are degrees earned online ever worth it?" part. I am an on campus student in the Penn State graduate program in acoustics. We have a large distance enrollment (mostly M.Eng. students), and they are getting a great education. The classes here are blended, meaning that the resident and distance students watch the same lectures at the same time, do the same homework, take the same tests, etc.

I was originally skeptical that the "online" experience could rival the on campus experience. I have completely changed my mind. I have graded for a blended class, and was very impressed with the quality of the distance ed students' work. They often ask questions in lecture (by instant messaging) that are insightful and helpful. I have seen several distance ed students transition into on campus doctoral students with ease.

Not all online programs are good, but at least some of them are.
posted by cjemmott at 12:35 PM on August 12, 2009

Personally, I'm doubtful about academic programs that are 100% on-line. I'm willing to bet that employers are too. Why do it on-line? Consider night classes towards a diploma in your city. Check out what sorts of programs are available and choose one that has a work co-op as part of it (for which you'll have to quit your current job, obviously). Then, you'll have some experience. Alternately (or additionally) get yourself a job with a company that does IT security and work your way towards the security side of things over time. You may have to start with the help desk, but you'll get there if you keep at it. It's working for me (in IT, although not security specifically. And BTW, I also have a degree in another field entirely).

Also, pose your question to some local people who work in IT security. Try finding them through LinkedIn or even Craigslist. Find out what the industry standard is and where they completed their education.

Good luck. I think most of the folks above are answering as though your goal is to fast track. I don't doubt that experience is your best friend if you want to turbo-start a new career. But experience is certainly not the only way to get into a new field.
posted by kitcat at 4:09 PM on August 12, 2009

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