Why I Chose to Get My Masters in Computer Science Online

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BY Nicole Gull McElroyOctober 31, 2022, 7:26 PM

The Vanderbilt Commodores logo outside Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. (Photo by Matthew Maxey—Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Going back to school for a master’s degree is often a way to move into higher paying roles. In computer science, a graduate degree can open the door to six-figure salaries, and that extra degree leads to a $30,000 pay raiseon average, as Fortune Previously reported. Money isn’t the only reason people choose to continue a master’s degree in computer science, however.

For Sam Hays, the idea of ​​taking the time to connect with others who shared his curiosity about technology and the role it plays in business and innovation was appealing. After more than 20 years working in information technology and with a long-established skill set as a computer scientist and systems architect, Hays enrolled in the online master’s program in computer science at Vanderbilt University in 2020.

“I value education, and there are always new things to learn,” says Hays. “I had been thinking for a long time about a master’s degree, then maybe a doctorate.

The program’s online format was also a big factor, says Hays, who lives in Colorado Springs with her family. Signing up for a more intimate program meant more opportunities to connect and collaborate with her cohort.

A relatively small program is intentional on Vanderbilt’s part, says Jules White, associate dean of strategic learning programs at Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. “At the beginning, our goal was to expand the Vanderbilt model,” he says. “We’re not looking to have 10,000 people in the program that we haven’t met. We have a really stellar body of students right now.

For Hays, this aspect of the online model only reinforced the benefits of the program and helped him better inform his decision to enroll in Vanderbilt. “I was interested in meeting other people who are big fans of this kind of computing,” he says. “I’ve worked in a lot of places. The number of people you could have a coffee or a beer with after work and talk about real cutting-edge issues was really limited. For me, that’s the love of science…I wanted to work with people who had the same interests.The people who chose to go back and do more schoolwork were probably those people.

Hays sat down with Fortune share a little more about his experience and offer his best advice to students interested in a similar path.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Time Commitment for an Online Masters in Computer Science

Fortune: What was your schedule like while studying at Vanderbilt?

Hays: I was a software engineer when I started. I was writing software all day. I have two children, one of whom, however, is in college. When I started he was studying data Science, but then it went to psychology. Some of my evenings were spent discussing his work with him. I [also] did some tips on the side. It was quite a busy schedule.

Fortune: What was your course load like?

Hays: When I joined the training two and a half years ago, you had the choice of one, two or three courses. I ended up going with two classes. The counselor was pushing for three, but I didn’t think, given my obligations, that I could reasonably do that. I would say that at the heaviest workload, I could have put in 20 hours a week.

The Value of a Cohort of Masters Programs

Fortune: How has your membership in the Vanderbilt community influenced your career and life?

Hays: At first glance, I would tell you that everything was as if I more or less expected it. I took a bunch of online courses through Coursera and MIT. I was used to the cadence of this stuff. The material was good. There were teachers that I found quite exceptional.

There are definitely people in the program who seem to be there for the love of the game. These are people I’ve become friends with. Certainly, the faculty; I have good relations with the faculty. And I’ve now built a relationship with Vanderbilt, in general. I now teach a cybersecurity course there. I build good relationships.

Fortune: How would you characterize your cohort?

Hays: There were some pretty young people who maybe worked for a few years. There were people like me with 20 years of experience; lifelong learners. I remember having side conversations, especially people who came without a degree in computer science and instead maybe math degrees. There’s a lot of supposed knowledge in the program, and they had to catch up. I did not expect that. It was quite a wide range. There were people who were a bit overwhelmed, and I’ve seen a lot of them change that.

Career Impact of a Masters in Computer Science

Fortune: How did your time at Vanderbilt influence your career path?

Hays: Recently, I ended up taking a new position as a systems architect at another company. Now, I’m still developing software, building systems, and helping to push the technology stack of this company forward. I am also actively working on my PhD. now. Maybe when I do that there might be something that I look to change in my career. I also teach. I have been in the cyber security space for a long time and now I teach at Vanderbilt.

See how the schools you are considering fared Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s programs in data science (in person and on line), feeding with milk, computing, cyber security, psychology, public healthand business analysisas well as the best doctorate in education MBA programs and programs (part time, executive, full timeand on line).


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