July 25, 2011, 12:24 PM —
Two years ago I graduated from college with a degree in computer science from a great engineering school. Now that I have a couple of years work experience under my belt, I want to begin a part-time master’s program. Should I get an MBA or a Master's in Computer Science?
My answer to you is that it depends on what you want to do professionally long term. My rationale, is that rather than looking at an advanced degree as an end in itself, look at it as a means to an end. Namely, first decide your desired professional direction and then tactically decide which advanced degree has a higher potential to get you there.
As an example, if you would like to move into the IT management ranks, an MBA may be a better route because it teaches you about leadership, budgeting, marketing, and other business/management related topics. If, however, you would like to continue on a technical path, find a degree program that expands your technical knowledge in an area that excites you, for example, database design, data security, or other specific technical area.
The reason for suggesting that if you go the technical route you should specialize, is because like it or not, we are in a world of specialization. Becoming a true technical specialist in a high demand technology can give you an enormous advantage in the job market and command higher pay for your specialized skills.
It may sound counterintuitive; I know it was to me. But specializing in an area of ongoing need, such as database administration, enterprise system architecture, and data communications, can actually make it easier to find a job than if you were a generalist with average knowledge in various technologies.
When I decided to get an MBA, I went into it with the idea that having an MBA may not necessarily help me, but not having an advanced degree would hurt me. This may sound like a terrible premise to spend the time and money required to get an advanced degree and you would be right. That said, I believe it to be true. When looking for a new job, not having an advanced degree puts you at a disadvantage when competing against people with equal experience and an advanced degree. The other side of that coin is that don’t expect you will automatically get the job just because you are the one with the degree. You still have to prove yourself.
Let me leave you with one last thought. I’m very glad I earned an MBA, I gained very important knowledge that truly helped me professionally. It also unlocked doors for me that would have been permanently sealed. My MBA, however, only unlocked the door. I, like all others, had to then work very hard to open these unlocked opportunities.
If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at
eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.