Mastering IT: Choosing Between an Immediate Job and Higher Educat1 | 2 |
A Graduate's View
Jorgen Hesselberg, a senior project manager at a small IT consulting firm in Chicago, graduated from Northwestern University with an MSIT last year.
For him, it was well worth the effort.
"It really depends on the role you play in IT," Hesselberg said. "If you are going to be a database administrator or someone who is only dealing with networks, I would agree that a master's degree may not mean as much. A high-quality, highly respected certification may mean more. But for me and in the consulting industry, a master's degree is really helpful."
Hesselberg explained that his master's degree gave him a fundamental understanding of engineering concepts and a solid understanding of the strategic business initiative. "As a consultant, you really have to have a foot in every camp," he said. "You need to understand the business, what makes the business grow and how can you use IT to enable [businesses] to go to that next step."
According to Hesselberg, those who are interested in IT or business management might consider the possibility of getting a master's degree. Although a master's degree may not be a necessity right now in the IT industry, he sees it becoming more of one down the road.
"IT melts into the other functions of the business," Hesselberg said. "It's not so much just IT as a separate function or a separate practice. Often now you see IT in marketing; IT is an integral part of marketing. Same thing with finance; you can't really [operate] any substantial financial systems without having an IT understanding as well."
This situation has the potential to create employees who are working in IT without that being officially recognized.
"You may actually work in a marketing department or a finance department and technically not be IT but still have an IT function within that department," Hesselberg said. "IT skills are always going to be important. [But] having a broad understanding of IT through a master's degree gives you a mixture of both the business and the technical skills [and] in the long run is more advantageous."
Even though getting a master's was the right
decision for Hesselberg, it was not a decision he took lightly because of the expense and time commitment involved. Hesselberg worked while obtaining his master's at Northwestern, and the time commitment outside of class was as many as 30 to 40 hours.
"It's expensive. It's not something you do for a few thousand dollars," he said. "It certainly hurts a
little bit when you pay those student loans, although I have to say that my salary has increased dramatically from where it was when I started and where it is now. There's certainly a correlation there. Would I do it again? Definitely, and I would not hesitate."
Unfortunately, if a company doesn't have a tuition assistance program, there aren't a lot of opportunities out there for master's degree scholarships.
"People offer scholarships to undergraduates and assistantships to Ph.D. students. Nobody supports master's students, except [in a] few rare cases," Haddad said. "But at Northwestern, we don't offer any. We assume that our students would rely on student loans or employer contribution. Some of our employers pay 80 or 90 percent of the tuition."
Is It Worth It?
A master's degree could mean getting a pay raise, rising to a new, more creative position or assuming more responsibility, all of which could help lessen the drudgery of graduate school bills.
"Based on what our alumni tell us, some of them got a jump in salary; some got a new, more interesting job," Haddad said. "Like any other educational program, it's expensive and you have to weigh: Is this going to pay? From what [alumni] tell us, it seems to be worthwhile for the majority of those who graduated."
Another perk is that an IT professional who graduates with a bachelor's degree gets routed to entry-level positions, whereas master's candidates may go to lower- to mid-level management, according to Leone.
"Bachelor's degree kids start at entry level," he said. "They rarely will be above entry level. They will be in the trenches doing power computing. Almost invariably in the IT arena, those students who are getting their master's degree will have had some industry-level experience, so they will go back into a variety of lower- to middle-level management-type positions."
- Lindsay Edmonds Wickman, firstname.lastname@example.org | 2 |