How to approach a Masters in Computer Science
January 4, 2013 9:40 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in going back to school for a masters in something, but probably comp sci. I would like some advice on how to approach this.

Dear Metafilterians,

Here are the facts or things that I know:

- I just turned 37.

- I've been programming professionally for almost 15 years, and finding a job is no issue (yay).

- I like programming a lot and I'm pretty good at it; I want to continue to do it. I still continue to spend a lot of my free time learning about programming, new languages, new approaches, etc.

- My work up until now has primarily been in the web world; back-end and front-end. Like many developers, I've been learning a bit about mobile development too, as that is the way the world is moving. I don't find it particularly challenging but I don't find it particularly interesting either. I want to try something new, some new discipline within computing.

- Bottom-line, I would like to be a better developer, a well-rounded disciplined software engineer who also has a deep(er) computer science foundation, and maybe some specialized scientific domain knowledge. I want to be using more math every day, working on harder algorithms touching realms of computer science that the average web/mobile developer doesn't touch, working on projects which are on a different scale than most small-to-medium web apps I've built up until now, using languages outside the realm of Java/PHP/Ruby/Python (I'd love to be doing some Lisp or using another functional/multi-paradigm programming language with developers who are as enthusiastic about it as I am...). I would love to be in an obscure discipline requiring deep domain knowledge: something like signal processing, scientific visualization, etc. It'd be fun to be working with academic researchers doing cool, advanced work, but I've got no objections to working at a company either; in fact, I'd probably rather be working on products which provide value to a large user base.

- I'm not particularly driven by money, if that's not obvious. I want to be stimulated and make enough to live reasonably comfortably, if not ostentatiously. I don't care if I never make a million bucks in an IPO and buy a Ferrari...actually, I would probably be miserable with that kind of life.

- While I'd love to learn a lot more about the math and programming involved in game graphics and physics programming, I really, really don't want to work in the game industry from everything I've read.

- Speaking of math, my math skills have largely atrophied, but I know I can get back up to speed; I used to love math in high school and I'm willing to push through it as I need to. Granted, that was a while ago but my interest hasn't dwindled, I just haven't needed to use any math in my career, past basic stuff...further testament to the fact that you really need a minimal amount of math in a web development career. But I digress...

- my undergrad is in...wait for performance.

So, questions I'd love to get your help answering:

- any chance some company/school would want to pay for my degree, in exchange for me working for them?

- considering my interests as I laid them out above, what sub-disciplines should I be looking into?

- is a comp sci masters degree the right way to approach my goals? Related to that, can I get back up to speed in mathematics enough to get into a masters degree program, or, what is involved in that? Etc.

- what schools would you recommend? I live in Japan now, and I'm an American, so let's just say I'm pretty open to going most anywhere that would take me...although a less cold climate would make me happier.

Thank you for your advice!
posted by dubitable to Work & Money (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Only a handful of MS programs in compsci will take in a candidate with an ugrad BA regardless of how much work experience you have acquired. I just went through the research on this (i have BA in psychology but have worked in compsci for over a decade now and i too wanted to go back and fill in some of my theoretical knowledge gaps.) So far learning about compsci from the inside out and understanding what is really going on in terms of the algorithms and relational algebra behind programming and database design has been fascinating. I am enrolled in a distance (online) program at the university of michigan (i live in va) that my employer-csc-pays for. CSC is a 97k+ employee company focused on computer science with offices all over the world and tuition reimbursement is a standard benefit for all employees. Many big companies like ibm and microsoft and such offer the same. Other colleges i know that allow entry by BA folks into an MS program in compsci include boston u, walden u, george mason u, univ of maryland college park. Good luck!
posted by TestamentToGrace at 4:08 AM on January 5, 2013

Sent you a memail
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:11 AM on January 5, 2013

I can't speak to your first three questions, but since you are willing to go anywhere, you could consider the University of Bradford. I'm not in the same program as you, but there are a lot of mature students (as in, considerably older than you) who've come back to school to enter new discipline, and from what I can tell it's pretty well respected for computer science.

They will consider you even with your irrelevant undergrad degree.

The north of England is pretty cold, though.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 6:24 AM on January 5, 2013

I have a colleague who got his MS from Tufts in CS, after a BA in Philosophy & Religion. Another colleague is currently pursuing his MS from Boston University Metropolitan College, part-time, and is receiving tuition reimbursement from our employer, which in my experience is pretty standard practice with high-tech companies, even smallish ones. Both these schools have good programs - solidly 2nd tier if not at the top - and you could learn a lot & be challenged by them. And Boston winters aren't what they used to be ...
posted by mr vino at 6:45 AM on January 5, 2013

Check Johns Hopkins. It's for people who know CS well enough to have never been unemployed, like yourself. But, prepare to be institutionalized if you are good. That might mean a PhD and a government/medical job.
posted by parmanparman at 7:32 AM on January 5, 2013

I don't think you would have any problem at all. Get a job as a in-house developer for a university with a CS program you like, excellent tuition benefits*, and an open position for such a developer.

* unfortunately, graduate tuition benefits are taxed after the first $5250 per year, so if the program is inexpensive, so much the better. Otherwise you're on the hook for the taxes on the value of the tuition until you can get it refunded as a job-related expense. How each university deals with that is different.

Then take the GRE (and do well on it), get excellent letters of recommendation (ideally from academic-type people), and apply to the university's CS MS program. I recommend it, for what it's worth-- as a MS student in a related engineering program, the class I took in math foundations of CS was one of the best I've ever taken.
posted by supercres at 8:02 AM on January 5, 2013

I am a 45 year old computer programmer and I have completed one year of a two year masters program at the University of Texas at Austin. I double majored in History and English at a lovely small university some decades ago. My company (AT&T) pays a part of my tuition, in a program that is available after the first year of employment. That doesn't cover all my costs.

The program I"m in is a part-time program, meeting one weekend a month for 16 hours. It's a Software Engineering program, so it is focused on the broader picture of creating software rather than the more narrow-but-more-in-depth computer science programs in the CS department. They're complementary disciplines, although not every school will have the same degree of separation (or even necessarily have both).

Programs like mine have no financial aid, so they tend to have a lot of people who are partially or completely sponsored by their employers.

memail me if you want to know more about what I'm doing there.
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:05 AM on January 5, 2013

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