Finishing One Degree; Starting Another

This summer, I’ll wrap up a computer science degree from Oregon State University. The experience has been rewarding, difficult, and incredibly eye-opening.

After the first quarter at OSU, I was not sure that the program was for me. While learning C++ was a nice wrinkle, the “Introduction to Programming” courses that served as my welcome were underwhelming. In hindsight, this perspective makes sense as someone that was coming in with years of experience managing and delivering web projects for large clients with large expectations. Learning the structure of for loops, classes, and a brief dalliance into recursion was not really what I had signed up for. However, after the fourth quarter I was trying to plot a path to continue my education far beyond the 15 courses that were required to get another bachelor’s.

It wasn’t the fact that OSU continued to underwhelm that drove me to look beyond the program – quite the opposite. OSU provided a window into a world that I didn’t know existed. It’s fair to say that two years ago I did not know what a computer science degree entailed or what it prepared you for. Two years later and I can’t imagine a world where I don’t continue to explore the field.

Unfortunately, my options in Seattle are oddly limited as someone that is not particularly interested in a Ph.D. While the University of Washington has a fantastic graduate program, they lack a terminal Master’s degree. Their Professional Master’s Program is intriguing, but lacks the sort of depth I’m interested in and is prohibitively expensive at just under $40,000. The University of Seattle also has some interesting options, but again the cost is shocking. This time clocking in at just over $40,000. Other options in Seattle are more certificate based, and after watching the bootcamp bubble over the last several years these were not at all attractive.

Ultimately, my quandary was and is somewhat related to the unusual way in which my B.S. in CS was delivered. The OSU program is focused on delivering the core computer science curriculum, with nearly no electives and therefore little opportunity to dive more deeply into a specific area of study. It’s rather rare to see someone with a B.S. in CS and an M.S. in CS in part because a terminal Master’s degree is typically the realm of people coming from a scientific or engineering background without a computer science focus. These individuals use an M.S. in CS to fill gaps, rather than augment existing knowledge. In my case, I’m looking for both.

After exploring my options in Seattle, it was clear that my best path was online. In 2014, Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology), began delivering a relatively unique program. Comprised of 30 classes (10 of which are needed to graduate) the program provides a path to a Georgia Tech M.S. in CS at $7,000. The courses themselves vary greatly, but the program excels in its machine learning and artificial intelligence offerings, which is exactly what I was interested in studying.

There are other online M.S. programs from reputable schools such as Stanford, UT Austin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Some of these programs fall prey to the same issues that brick and mortar programs face – specifically exorbitant prices that feel like money grabs from students with corporate backing. Others, like UT Austin, are so new that it’s hard to jump on the bandwagon. In the end, Georgia Tech (which is in the top ten graduate programs for computer science) hit so many of the sweet spots for me personally that it was hard not to go with what has quickly become the gold standard for an online M.S. in CS.

After hemming and hawing for several months, I applied to Georgia Tech and anxiously waited. Two months later, I got my acceptance letter the day before my 32nd birthday. And now….. it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.