Computer science is one of the hottest fields today. Its growth exceeds the average for all other occupations in the United States by nearly double, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and by 2026, nearly 550,000 new jobs in the field will be added.
This is great news for people interested in a computer science career, and even more so for those considering earning a master’s degree in CS along the way. Graduates who earn an advanced degree in computer science see the biggest return on their investment, adding an extra $30,000 to their annual salaries.
“Jobs in computer science are both competitive and not, which can be confusing to understand,” says Ben Hescott, associate dean of students at Northeastern University’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences. “Large companies like Amazon and Facebook are always in a state of hiring and constantly have open positions. But there are also a number of specialized and advanced jobs that go unfulfilled because companies are looking for very specific people with very specific skill sets.”
The Value of a Master’s in Computer Science
An advanced degree in computer science is attractive to—and often a necessary requirement for—organizations hiring for those hard-to-fill positions, Hescott says.
Students who pursue a master’s degree in computer science enroll in a program for two reasons: They either hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science but are looking to specialize in a specific area, or they hold a bachelor’s degree in an alternative field of study and want to pursue a career change.
“[In] Northeastern’s master’s program, for example, we have students who have a computer science background and are excited about specializing in cybersecurity, machine learning, or artificial intelligence,” he says. “Those jobs require advanced degrees and specialized training.”
Careers in data science and careers in cybersecurity, for example, typically require advanced degrees because only a small percentage of colleges and universities offer training at the undergraduate level, Hescott says.
“There just aren’t that many undergrad programs that offer sufficient training in these areas just yet, which is why businesses rely on candidates with advanced degrees in these specializations,” he says.
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Hescott also works with many students who want to pursue a master’s in computer science but hold bachelor’s degrees in an alternative field of study, such as the natural sciences. They may have taken a computer science class or two as an undergraduate and want to concentrate on data science, for example, to reenter the workforce in another discipline.
“We’ve had students who studied political science as an undergrad and want to pursue artificial intelligence to better detect terrorism,” he says. “That’s one of many examples of people who have existing domain knowledge and whose careers can be boosted by learning skills like data analysis.”
For the latter subset of students—those seeking a career change or are investing in computer science skills to bolster their current career—Hescott recommends seeking out a program that caters to them. Northeastern, for example, offers the Master of Science in Computer Science Align program, which provides non-computer-science majors with a direct path to a master’s degree.
“Computer science touches every single industry, and there are more and more professionals who are seeing the value of computer science skills and how they could be valuable in their career,” he says.
Computer Science Career Options
Because computer science is pervasive in all industries, the career possibilities for advanced degree holders are endless. Some common career paths include:
Software Development Engineers
The most popular job that graduates move into is software development, Hescott says. These people code and build software in a variety of industries, either independently at startups or as part of a team within larger organizations, such as at Google or Amazon. There’s a high demand for these professionals, and they’re compensated well, earning around $114,000 annually.
Computer and Information Systems Managers
Individuals in these roles plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities in an organization. They help determine the information technology goals for the organization and are responsible for implementing computer systems to meet these goals. This career requires additional experience beyond a bachelor’s degree, Hescott says, which is why it’s a popular career option for those with a master’s in computer science. These professionals earn an average salary of $142,000 per year.
Software developers create applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or any other device. They analyze users’ needs, then design, test, and develop software to meet those needs. Organizations hiring software developers are drawn to mixed degree-holders—meaning those with an undergraduate degree in something other than computer science—Hescott says. Big pharma, for example, might seek a candidate who has training and experience in pharmaceuticals in addition to an advanced degree in computer science. These individuals earn an annual salary of $105,000.
Information Security Analysts
These professionals plan and carry out security measures to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems. Hescott identifies this role as one example of a career that requires a graduate degree. “We’re starting to see more undergraduate programs in cybersecurity pop up, but generally these roles require a master’s degree,” he says. Information security analysts earn an average of $98,000 per year.
Data scientists design data modeling processes to create algorithms and predictive models and perform custom analysis in a variety of industries. Because data science is a rapidly growing field, skilled professionals are scarce, leading organizations to rely on professionals with advanced degrees, Hescott says. Data scientists make an annual average of $121,500.
Pursuing an Advanced Degree in Computer Science
With jobs in computer science poised to grow in the years to come, people seeking new skills through a master’s degree will be armed with a unique competitive advantage and ample opportunities for career advancement in this field.
“One of the mantras we have in the Khoury College of Computer Sciences is that computer science is for everyone—whether you’re looking to learn new skills or want to make a career change,” Hescott says. “The great thing about a Master’s in Computer Science is that you can specialize in exactly what you like and combine it with nearly any interest you have.”