What To Expect From a Computing MSc (as a Professional)

Do an MSc if you want help with a well-rounded Computing knowledge; it won’t instantly land you your dream job, but once you’ve got it then you’ll always have it when applying.

I’ve taken a circuitous route to where I am today, but the journey has been fantastic and my Computing MSc was a large part of the enjoyment. Below are my most general points for what to expect, if you’re a professional going back to university.

Learning Curve

My conversion MSc had a non-linear learning curve. In order to get you from potentially no knowledge to MSc level in 12 weeks; expect week 1-4 of a module to be easy, then somewhere around week 6 you’ll wonder if it’s the same module you signed up for. It’s really easy to see who slept through the first month when the curve ramps up!

Part-Time Work Ethic

Being a “part-timer” in most other contexts might imply some lack of commitment or drive. Not so for the part-timers on my MSc. Yes, we spent two academic years doing the same modules, but we also held down full time jobs at the same time. Out of the three part-timers on my course: one finished his final project before he was meant to have started it; another bought a house then had his first child, and I continued to train 10-15 hours a week for Triathlon. All of us chose to code and talk about computing in our spare time.

Living Your Subject Makes It Easier

In line with a decent work ethic, thinking about the course concepts on a daily basis helps a lot. There likely isn’t a waking hour where you won’t interact with a computer, I was always trying to understand how the concepts we were studying fit into them. When you’ve got time, just a small experiment at home can make all the difference. You don’t forget the first man in the middle attack on your own credentials, or launching a denial of service on a coursework application.

Course Content is Just the Start

The biggest thing my MSc gave me, was an understanding of fundamentals you don’t get from short-form courses. It made me jump through hoops I would otherwise have avoided; networking and TCP/IP stack are actually really interesting, but you couldn’t have convinced me of that pre-MSc. Knowing the fundamentals makes it easy to grasp unfamiliar concepts or developments in the industry. RAID is easy to understand when you know how data is stored on disk; and a new JS framework isn’t scary if you learnt native JS, rather than jumping in using a higher level abstraction.

Academic Group Work Still Exists…

…and it is still awful! There will be a group project, the lecturer will insist it simulates how people work in real life; they will be lying. Those close to me know I could (and have) rant(ed) about this for days. Just be prepared to muddle through it with the sane people you’ve got.

An MSc != Golden Ticket

When it comes to finding jobs after the MSc, you’ll interview with more than one person who openly derides your choice to formally study. They “self learnt, everything”, which should be respected, but we all develop in our own ways. Also, be prepared to apply for jobs requiring or preferring an MSc but being offered straight out of BSc money. This is especially irksome if you’ve got several years applicable work experience. My advice is to hold out for jobs that respect everything you have to offer, including the MSc and previous experience.

An MSc is Permanent Though

In 10+ years time your MSc will still count. Because it’s another degree, people shouldn’t to expect you to renew it every two years; like an industry certification or course. Once my experience is deeper, then I’ll already have ticked the “has MSc” box on all the jobs I apply for.

If You’re Excited, it’s Worth it

If you’re excited by computing and are looking for some structure to what you learn over the next 2-3 years, then an MSc is very, very worthwhile. You could learn a lot from any number of blogs or videos online, but if you want help getting well-rounded knowledge, then a conversion MSc could be perfect for you.