BY Meghan MalasJuly 22, 2022, 1:54 PM
View, looking east across State Street at the DePaul Center, \\\ store. (Photo by Interim Archives/Getty Images)
Computer and information scientists are among the highest paid professionals with master’s degrees, receiving a median wage of $131,500 in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. So it’s no surprise that more and more people are gravitating toward the field; 3,200 job openings for computer and information research scientists are created every year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Computing is making a tremendous impact on society and has become an indispensable—if not central—part of society,” says Ljubomir Perkovic, a professor and director at DePaul University’s School of Computing. DePaul ranked No. 4 on Fortune’s list of the best online master’s degree programs in computer science.
A master’s degree in computer science is one promising way to break into the field, or to upgrade your current skills. To find out more about who is best suited for a master’s degree in computer science degree program, and the resulting career opportunities that await graduates, Fortune spoke with Perkovic, and three alumni of master’s degree programs in computer science.
You don’t need a computer science background to get a master’s degree in the field
You don’t need a bachelor’s degree in computer science, or even a background in tech, to pursue a master’s degree in the field. Take it from Daniel Steilen, who spent seven years as an editor for an educational book publisher after receiving a bachelor’s degree in English in 2007.
While Steilen enjoyed his work, he wanted more opportunities—so he began to consider a career pivot. He had been curious about programming for a while, so he decided to try it out on his own by working through an introductory book on the subject.
“The master’s degree helped me move into a new field with both more opportunities and better compensation,” Steilan says. “Even if I had been able to learn the skills by alternative means, I think it would have been difficult to convince employers to take me seriously without a degree.”
Steilan graduated from DePaul University’s master’s degree program in computer science in 2017. Shortly after graduating, he landed a job as a software engineer for a company that makes devices for the telecommunications industry.
And Steilan’s indirect route into a computer science career is hardly unique. “A number of universities have created pathways for students with a bachelor’s degree in a non-computing discipline to pursue a master’s in computing,” Perkovic says. “DePaul University, for example, offers a master’s in computer science that is accessible to college graduates who have never programmed before.”
In this version of the program, students take a set of introductory classes that prepare them for graduate work in computing. And more than half of the 2,500 students who graduated from DePaul’s master’s degree program in the last five years took advantage of this pathway.
That said, it’s also common for students to already have computing experience—and they return to school to update their knowledge and capabilities.
“The program complimented my work experience as an engineer, providing technical skills and concepts I did not receive as a liberal arts undergrad,” says Jake Gerstein, who graduated from DePaul’s master’s degree program in computer science in 2019. “In parallel with my professional work, the classes accelerated my learning of software development and IT functions,” he added.
Gerstein is now a director of cloud strategy and enablement for a financial services company.
Skills learned in a master’s program provide opportunities for multiple career paths in computer science
The steady demand for people with a computer science background also affords professionals with options. “Choosing computing as a career is currently the best way to achieve financial security and a comfortable lifestyle,” Perkovic says, adding that 11 of the top 15 jobs on Glassdoor’s list of the best jobs in America for 2022 are in computing.
Among the common occupations for people with a master’s degree in computer science are data scientist, full stack engineer, software engineer, and more specialized roles in machine learning engineering, cloud engineering, and enterprise architect—which ranked No.1 for job satisfaction on Glassdoor’s list.
And salaries for these types of roles are very high. According to Glassdoor, the median base salary for an enterprise architect, a person who leads the maintenance of a firm’s IT networks and services, is $144,997. For a full stack engineer, it’s $101,794, and for a data scientist, it’s $120,000.
“Most students entering a master’s in computer science program have a goal to become software developers,” Perkovic says. “Many graduates achieve that, with ‘software engineer’ often being their first job title.”
Tech isn’t the only industry where computing jobs are on the rise; employers across all industries are looking to expand their computing capacity. Massive growth in the amount of available data warrants the need for more professionals to manage and create value out of that data. Finally, as Fortune reported in June, cybersecurity is a growing concern across all industries—and more than 700,000 positions still need to be filled in the U.S.
“Every sector of the economy now relies on computing and computing professionals,” Perkovic says. “A master’s in computer science is a pathway for students to make an impact on society, while also providing social mobility and financial stability.”