Having a master’s degree doesn’t necessarily set you apart from those with a “lowly” bachelor’s degree…and it certainly doesn’t entitle you to automatically better treatment.
by Amber Shah
It’s graduation time again, and that reminds me of a particular experience as a hiring manager for a company that was small and highly technical. The structure was pretty flat: there were only a few managers in a company of 30-ish developers, and they wrote code everyday, too. It was an extremely productive environment.
We were looking for people who were bright and could either write great code, or learn quickly. The pay was good. We had people with bachelor’s and advanced degrees, with no experience to 20-plus years’ experience. Basically, if you could make it past the gauntlet, you were in. And, like most coding shops, we were constantly hiring.
I found out that the local university was holding a job fair for their computer science department, so the Operations/HR person and I packed up some banners and things from their trade show materials and went over.
We stood at our table along with other companies as the soon-to-be-graduates made their rounds. The people graduating with their bachelor’s were as expected (overall bright and motivated), and we pinpointed a couple to do callbacks.
For some odd reason, there were more people who were graduating with a master’s degree than a bachelor’s there. Not sure if there were more master’s graduates than undergraduates (really weird!) or whether the MS people were just having a harder time finding a job (my guess).
I watched one exchange between an MS graduate and our HR person:
MS Grad: “So, do you have any jobs for master’s degrees?”
HR: “Absolutely! We hire people with master’s degrees or with bachelor’s degrees. We don’t really care so long as you can write good code.”
MS Grad: “Oh… “ [wanders off]
That disinterested and entitled attitude mirrored my own conversations with the MS grads.
Being the technical of us two representatives, I would talk about how we had a great flat structure, how we were given the freedom to write great software and how gratifying it was to work with other smart people. MS grads, in turn, would ask about management positions and architect positions.
They expected that since they had a master’s degree, they would automatically be put in charge of the lowly bachelor’s degree people. And from my brief technical discussions with them, they were not nearly up to even working with us, much less managing. The lowest, most junior developer at our company could out-code and out-design them any day of the week.
Now, if we would have hired an MS grad, they most definitely would have received a higher offer than their bachelor’s-degreed counterpart. And they would have been thrown onto a moderately complex (read: interesting) task without as much, or any, mentoring as a completely inexperienced junior person would receive. And honestly, having the advanced degree probably would have allowed them to move up more quickly into management than someone else. The workplace was progressive in some regards, but old habits die hard.
But based on their general lack of impressiveness, not a single MS grad of the many, many that came to our tables got a callback.
When I discussed my experience back at the company, someone mentioned that maybe it was because it was a local university instead of a top school. But I don’t think so. The undergraduate students were a reasonable pool of candidates, and we found a few possibilities—and they were better than the MS grads.
I’m sure that there are plenty of very smart and very innovative MS grads out there, but I think it makes sense that they would be snapped up before having to make the rounds at a career fair.
The reality is:
There is no shortcut to being a manager, and certainly not a good manager.
There is definitely no shortcut to being an architect or technical lead.
And there is no shortcut to being a decent programmer.
What is an MS in Computer Science worth? The knowledge you take from it, of course, and not a penny more.