Interested in making a move into the lucrative field of computer science? This guide is designed to navigate the many and varied higher education programs in Florida with technical tracks in computer science, and help local Floridians make the best decision for their education needs.
Florida is home to the nation’s third largest tech industry, generating $6.8 billion in annual wages for employees. Florida’s GDP is up there as the fourth largest in the country, coming in just behind California, Texas, and New York. The broader tech industries in Florida employ over a quarter million of local Floridians, with an average annual wage of $96,831 in 2021 (compared to a mean of all jobs of $55,841). This all lines up nicely with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) from May 2021, estimating a total of 229,040 computer science related jobs at a median salary of $85,540. Very few fields offer such a high degree of job security and compensation.
As a budding IT professional, Florida is an excellent place to set down roots in a well-established career with lucrative job offers in the local area. Of course, these technical jobs do require a fair bit of investment in personal and professional growth. Mastering computer sciences is not a one-size-fits-all kind of process, and understanding the array of options available can save you time, money, stress, and frustration.
A brief overview of the ‘academic menu,’ so to speak, includes undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, PhD programs, bootcamps, and professional certifications. The key distinguishing question to ask yourself is how self-motivated you are, and what level of knowledge and technical capacity you already possess. Assessing your current skill level accurately will be step one in the process, as you need to know where you are now to map out how to get where you want to go.
Let’s take a quick tour through all the options on offer, starting with some master’s degrees in the Sunshine State.
Computer Science Master’s Programs in Florida
For current career professionals with undergraduate degrees already under their belt (in computer science or otherwise), a great way to boost career prospects while gaining critical technical skills is a master’s degree program at one of Florida’s many higher education institutions. While there are quite a few options, a good rule of thumb for saving some money while getting a quality education is focusing on the state schools. Let’s take a look at some examples.
- Florida State University (FSU) has a number of graduate level programs, providing some options depending on student interests and career intentions. An MS in Computer Science at FSU can major in computer science generally, or specialize in cybersecurity or network and system administration. In-state tuition is less than half of out-of-state tuition, so it’s a great value for locals!
- University of Central Florida (UCF) is another great option, with a huge range of specializations under the broader heading of computer science. Whether you have an interest in cybersecurity or financial technology (FinTech), UCF will have a program to match your needs. For locals, these degrees can be obtained at less than $400 per credit hour – which is a real bargain.
- Florida Polytechnic University is another great option for folks looking to dive deep into the technical skill development side of higher education, with programs that emphasize hands-on learning and skill development. There are two tracks, computer size and data science, both of which clock in at $385 per credit hour.
- Last but not least is going to be the University of Florida (main campus), which is the top-ranked option of the bunch. With an incredibly low tuition of $149 per credit hour for Florida residents, this is a great value degree program at the graduate level. There are three concentrations on over, Computer Science, Human-Centered Computing, and Computer Engineering.
Considering the significant discounts captured by in-state residents, Florida offers some seriously affordable graduate degree programs. Working professionals can complete most of these programs part-time, making it a great way to achieve professional growth without sacrificing the full-time gig you’re currently working. Speaking of flexibility, online courses are on the rise in Florida! Let’s take a look.
Online Computer Science Programs in Florida
There are two solid options for fully-online local Florida graduate programs, capturing the advantage of complete flexibility for the working professional. Let’s dive right in:
- Nova Southeastern University: Nova Southeastern University is a highly-rated online MS program in computer science with a total of six concentrations: software engineering, computer systems, data science, information assurance and cybersecurity, real-world computing, and artificial intelligence. Variety is the spice of life so prices are a bit higher in these programs, clocking in at $950 per credit hour.
- University of West Florida (UWF): University of West Florida offers two online tracks within the computer science disciplines, one in computer science generally and one concentrating on data science. The price is right for these online programs, coming at the in-state rate of $385 per credit hour. This is a great value for local Floridians.
This gives two solid options, one with greater variety and a higher price with the other being more centrally focused and affordable. At this point you may be wondering what exactly distinguishes one program from another, and there are a few good starting points here. The first and most important consideration is the maturity of the career services program, which should help link you with a job after you complete your graduate degree. Keep a close eye in particular on university partnerships, such as Florida Polytechnic’s relationship with NASA, as well as projected career outcomes (as illustrated here).
Of course, assessing the coursework required to succeed in your chosen field is also critical to success. Let’s take a little tour of the typical curricula, including zooming in on key courses and expectations at the graduate level.
Computer Science Courses in Florida
Understanding the coursework is the first step in determining which concentration will fit your specific professional objectives, and fill some of the knowledge gaps that will help you get there. While each program is different at the macro level, many of the general courses and conceptual frameworks are similar across the board. Let’s explore a few common courses:
|Computation Theory||Focuses on computational complexity, including randomization, interactive proofs, time and space measures, complexity classes, and quantum computing.||Florida Polytechnic University – COP 5272||$1,155|
|Computer Security||As computing evolves, so too do the threats and associated risks. It is a fundamental requirement to understand and master computing security in most programs.||Florida State University – CIS 5370||$1,440|
|Information Visualization||In the era of big data, a primary challenge is communicating key learnings to strategic stakeholders. Learning how to distill and visualize data is a key success factor in CS.||University of Florida – CIS6930||$450|
|Programming Essentials||Basic coding (PHP, SQL, etc.) are required skills to effectively achieve graduate-level status in computer science. Courses like this prepare users at the essential level.||University of West Florida – COP 5007||$1,155|
|Design and Analysis of Algorithms||Constructing algorithms and conducting analyses of outcomes is central to the role of many computer science jobs, and learning to build these programs is a key component of success.||University of Central Florida – COT5405||$1,155|
There is typically some room to customize one’s own curriculum throughout the graduate degree process, and understanding which courses are relevant to your career goals is an important part of preparing for higher education. It’s a good idea to meet with career services professionals at your chosen university to come up with a game plan that links your goals with the university’s existing resources.
If a university program feels a little too intensive and expensive for your needs, there are also some great shorter-term programs (often referred to as bootcamps) which incorporate these key courses and theories within a 3-6 month accelerated program. Let’s explore some of those options.
Computer Science Bootcamps in Florida
Bootcamps are growing in popularity, mostly due to the rapidly-evolving nature of technical fields. Keeping pace with changes and building on slightly outdated knowledge is an excellent way to boost your career prospects. Without further ado, here are five great options for the aspiring computer scientist:
|Bootcamp Provider||Name of Program||Time||Cost|
|University of Miami||Coding Bootcamp||6 months||$12,245|
|University of West Florida||AI Machine Learning Bootcamp||6 months||$4,275|
|University of Florida||Graduate Certificate in Computer Science||3 months||$1,7888 (in-state)|
|University of Miami||Data Analytics Bootcamp||6 months||$12,245|
|University of West Florida||Full Stack Web Development Bootcamp||6 months||$4,275|
As illustrated above, these boot camps tend to focus on highly concentrated sets of skills related to computer sciences. For folks in need of coding and programming capabilities, there are excellent options available. Other professionals may lean more towards analytics, machine learning, or general certificates in the broader field of computer science. This underlines the primary advantage of bootcamps – namely customizing your certification for precisely what your career goals currently are.
Highly focused computer scientists have on additional option available to them, namely the pursuit of a doctorate (PhD). PhD programs are highly labor-intensive with significant time commitments. In this sense, they share specificity with bootcamps but differ in terms of scope and commitment to a given field. Let’s weigh some options.
Computer Science PhD Programs in Florida
Most Florida-based universities discussed already will offer PhD programs for highly-dedicated and high-achieving students. This is not for the faint of heart, nor is acceptance particularly easy. Doctoral candidates will need to produce and publish a thesis pertaining to their area of expertise, demonstrating not only knowledge of the materials but also the capability to communicate that knowledge in an academic publishing context.
The primary reason to pursue a doctorate is to become a professor in the field, and work within academia more broadly. This could be exclusively within the realm of teaching, exclusively researching, or (more commonly) some mix of both. The programs typically take 4 additional years after the graduate degree, barring postdoctoral employment. Some doctorate programs will provide a salary, while others will not. Do make sure to research carefully and consider your current financial situation.
Without diving too deep into the details, PhD programs are available in computer science at Florida State University, the University of Central Florida, and the University of Florida to get you started. Keep in mind these programs will be customized to your specific research interests, and thus you’ll be required to carefully curate your curriculum with a professor who will sponsor your work. To achieve this, it is best to pursue a graduate degree and build networks with your professors. Demonstrate both an interest in and impressive knowledge of a particular research interest, and commit to contributing to that field through new research you’ll be producing during your doctoral studies.
Of course, a doctoral program and professorship are fairly rare professional pursuits in computer science. There are plenty of in-demand jobs available for established computer scientists in the state of Florida.
Five In-Demand Jobs in Florida
To wrap up this computer science higher education guide, let’s quickly outline some of the best jobs on the market for computer science experts in Florida:
- Database Developer: With 1,400 open jobs at the moment in Florida, a database developer can expect a median six-figure income of $100k/year. This role is back-end development, primarily, linking existing apps and infrastructure at an organization with a well-organized and secure database. High demand and great salary.
- Systems Analyst: With 2,000 open positions in Florida right now, a systems analyst can expect a salary around $77k/year (on average). This role is systems-oriented, of course, which means designing and maintaining hardware and software integrations across an organization’s IT department. Great role for the computer science generalist.
- Front-end Developer: With around 1,000 open gigs available in Florida as of writing this article, a front-end developer takes home an average salary of $102k/year. Front-end developers build the customer and/or client-facing components of a software solution, which includes the fields of user experience and user interface (UX/UI). This role is perfect for the computer scientist with a flare for creative design and customer relationships.
- Data Scientist: With 500 jobs on offer in Florida at the time of writing this guide, data scientists are more of a niche role with an incredibly high average salary over $140k/year. In modern times, this means machine learning and AI capabilities, writing algorithms to pull huge data streams and discern meaningful patterns and relationships within that data. Highly challenging and highly rewarding work for the mathematically-inclined.
While there are plenty of additional job options to consider in computer science, this should be enough to outline both the scope and prospective rewards of a career in computer science. For aspiring computer scientists, the best way to pursue higher education is understanding where you’d like to end up. Using this professional objective as your endpoint, consider where your skills are now and what would need to be added to your technical capabilities to bridge the gap. As you can see – it’s well worth the investment.