Is Master’s degree the right way to upgrade skills in the IT industry?
8th December, 2021
There is no need to re-emphasize the need to upgrade skills in IT industry. Everyone in the industry is aware that they have to continuously learn contemporary technologies to survive in the industry. The real question that is: How to learn? Which course or degree to pursue? Is it worth? Will it help me in my career?
Few days back, as one of the IITs announced the list of selected candidates for the M.Tech Data Science course, I got a message from one of my mentees –
“Hi Sir, I have secured admission to the IIT M.Tech program. I am one among the 35 students in the class. Over 12,000 students had applied to the course. I am not sure whether to take this up. I would like to have your valuable opinion on this…..”
My mentee is working in the IT industry for 15 years. As a Project Manager, he is working in the Data Science and Analytics domain for the last 8 years, but feels that he does not have the technical depth. This course is for working professionals and it is a part time course that can be completed by the students at their own pace within 3 years. He has B.Tech degree from a private engineering college and an MBA. He feels that a degree from IIT will help him in his career.
The positives of doing this course are many. Formal education in Data Science and formal degree from brand IIT! Many of us have built our career based on formal education and formal degree from reputed institutes. It has paid us well in the past. Based on our past experience, we tend to do it again. We prepare ourselves for the sacrifices that we have to make in terms of money, family time and the extra hours of work. We discuss these with our family and they happily agree to make the sacrifices at their end, assuming it would greatly benefit our career. What we are mostly unaware of, is the opportunity cost. What will we be missing while we are busy pursuing the degree? I have seen many people in my career that has successfully completed part-time degrees, but missed out big time on achieving their career goals.
Opportunity cost will vary person to person. It depends on where you are today in your career and what you aspire to be. There will be lot of change in your organization and in the job market by the time you finish your course. The world will not remain the same.
Despite of all the changes, I see few thumb rules from my experience still valid –
1. The value of a formal degree in IT industry follows laws of diminishing return.
2. Higher you are in your organization, higher is your opportunity cost.
3. Skills are becoming more and more important than degree.
4. Degree introduces you to a new area, practice gives you the skills
5. The brand of your first degree (exception MBA from a reputed institute) and your last project/company matters the most.
However, there are number of merits of pursuing a degree from a reputed institute (even in an online context)
1. One can expect the course structure to be good (lot goes in designing that actually)
2. You can expect quality faculties
3. You get an opportunity to connect with a decent peer group (this is more relevant if the course is hybrid – where you get to physically meet peers)
While it is true that we have more than enough resources/courses online to hone our skills /knowledge in any specific areas, getting through a structured course (like the one I mentioned) would help one to stay focused. If you want to find out, if you should pursue a certain degree, write down answers to the following questions:
1. What will you be able to do, that you cannot do today? Will you sell better? Will you deliver better? Will you innovate better?
2. Do you like to do that kind of work in that phase of your career?
3. How will it change perception of your company/industry towards you?
4. Will it help you in your career progression? What will happen if you use the additional time & effort in your current role, instead of pursuing the degree?
5. Will it help you get better job in the market? Can you not get the job using the additional time & effort?
6. How will you leverage the formal degree from a reputed institute, unless you switch to academia?
Read your answers again and again. Look out for your assumptions. Validate your assumptions by talking to people in the industry / who has completed the course / recruiters. If you find your answers convincing, go for the degree.