Friday, November 18, 2016

I'm Going to Grad School

I'm going to Grad School! For me, in my mid-thirties was the last time I would have expected to be doing this. After over 8 years at my job, I realized that I needed to learn new technologies and also revamp my skills. One might ask why not use Coursera or some other free tools to learn new skills (and I will talk about those in a separate post). In particular there are three items that I am trying to address with grad school:

1. Name Recognition/Degree
Currently I hold a Bachelor's Degree of Computer Science. Unfortunately, the school I went to is a well regarded liberal arts university where only BA degrees are offered. In my field, many people want to see a BS. And I personally understand why the difference matters. My education certainly had plenty of theory and programming, but being a liberal arts degree (a double major with a foreign language), I feel strongly that this puts me head and shoulders above many people who are poor communicators in IT, but behind those with a degree from a well known university or those with a more technical degree in Engineering or a other types of BS degrees.

2. Networking
Unfortunately due to the amount of time that I have spent in my current role, my network has somewhat shrunk. And while I can certainly do better in reaching out and staying in touch with people as they move on, I wanted to largely make sure that I am working to do a better job by building some camaraderie with people I am in a class with etc.

3. Skills and Competition
Obviously, when you start to consider the amount of time that many of us will work, it stretches into multiple decades. I have no idea how long I will actually live, but I certainly believe that there is a huge amount of time left in front of me. And if I continue to work in the field of IT for the remainder of my life (I do), then it makes sense to go back to school to get a sense of what new grads are learning.

But why now?

Over the past few months I have recently transitioned in my company to a new role. And in this role I realized that the demand would be much higher on several skill sets that I continued to lack. In particular in the previous role I worked largely on ETL processes (which for those who are not in the IT field, stands for Extract, Transform, and Load). In short, ETL deals with processes that move data around in files and databases converting it from one format to another.

In the new role, it is clear that my responsibilities will be both broader and deeper and that now is a real opportunity for us to develop not just interesting technology solutions, but also have a greater influence on the way things are done in the future. And for this, I am extremely excited because it is an opportunity to do more with technology and also within the corporate culture. Both are things I am tremendously passionate about. So, the first step is to build and accumulate not just the political capital but also the technical skills necessary to be able to make inroads.

But what about the money?

Lastly I would be utterly remiss if I didn't talk about the money at all as that is the focus on this. Since my career is my greatest asset I owe it to myself to continue to make it viable for the future in terms of both earnings and also in terms of competition. That is the first goal of grad school but the second goal is whether or not it will increase my earnings. And I can say that in expectation, I do not expect to earn more in the next 5-10 years because of the degree. However, the additional insurance it provides for the future and also the potential to reach higher levels of management within IT is high. And I am excited to be able to have that credential on my resume.

Fortunately, that credential will not cost me a bundle compared to paying it through other means. I have a firm that provides a tuition reimbursement annually up to a dollar amount. If things go as I expect, I will end up spending about 20K to get a Masters degree and it will take about 2 years. For me, this is incredibly valuable and while I agree that the 20K could be invested etc to make a higher return, the likelihood of that 75-125K being enough to cover my expenses for the additional years where it will be more difficult for me to find work, seems unlikely. So in some sense, the degree is an insurance policy against aging.

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