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Jonathan Andrew Wolter

What is grad school for a consultant (or practicing software engineer)

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Reading time: 2 – 4 minutes

Does it make sense for practicing software engineer to go to grad school? Technologies change rapidly, and so do our clients and projects. So we have constant opportunities to learn and most importantly to apply ourselves in building production systems. Bonus: putting production systems live into the world teaches a lot more than a good grade in an exam.

I once remember in undergrad my friend getting an offer at Microsoft, but he was torn on going to grad school. Basically his sponsor there told him graduate degrees aren’t worth much, and I’d go so far as to suggest that they can be less useful than varied and interesting real project work.

“Sure, go to cs grad school if it makes your ego feel better, but don’t do it for your career.”

Oh?, my friend said, and if my memory serves me, he went on to grad school.

Everyone’s situation is different. However this is something I’ve struggled with for the last several years: does it make sense to step back and do research, and to do computer science-y things instead of day to day project delivery? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve more or less made my decision for now. But every few months the nagging urge comes back.

I found these posts helpful for framing my decisions.

  1. http://jxyzabc.blogspot.com/2008/08/cs-grad-school-part-1-deciding-to-apply.html (the whole multi-part series, actually)
  2. http://www.stanford.edu/~pgbovine/grad-school-app-tips.htm – says how it is all about research, and really Ph.D. applications are a job application, where you are applying to do research, rather than a place to be taught. (MBA, Med School, and other higher education avenues are a place you pay to be taught.) Masters degrees are different, but generally still have the same theme “you’re getting paid, so you better love (your) research.”

Update: Mark Needham commented about two pointed posts from Penelope Trunk’s blog. Worth reading.

  1. http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2008/06/18/seven-reasons-why-graduate-school-is-outdated
    Grad School isn’t needed, and it causes more harm than good. Too much focus. Careers change too much. Experience trumps prolonged childlike academic sheltering. (Note: My opinion isn’t so harsh. Your grad school might not apply, it depends on what you want to do).
  2. http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2009/02/03/dont-try-to-dodge-the-recession-with-grad-school/
    She prefers learning by doing, and suggests a feeling of “being lost” is actually helpful for growing.
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Written by Jonathan

August 10th, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Posted in career, code

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6 Responses to 'What is grad school for a consultant (or practicing software engineer)'

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  1. I read Penelope Trunk’s blog quite freqeuntly and she has posted quite a few times about how she doesn’t believe in the idea of graudate school at all anymore whatever your field.



    Mark Needham

    10 Aug 09 at 8:31 pm

  2. Don’t let school get in the way of your education!


    11 Aug 09 at 6:00 am

  3. @Chris: Yes, I agree absolutely!


    11 Aug 09 at 6:27 am

  4. @Mark: Thanks, those are great articles you linked to.


    11 Aug 09 at 6:32 am

  5. I think the trick is to make your grad school work tie back into what you do for a work. My masters thesis was a writeup of the project I was working on for work.

    Of course it helped that my adviser was friends with some other professors who worked with me.

    Jeff Norris

    14 Aug 09 at 10:46 am

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