A master’s in software engineering is a great way to accelerate career development. A technical master’s degree like software engineering helps develop the latest industry-leading skills while developing a professional network.
This guide contains info on what to look for when choosing a software engineering master’s program and how to succeed once you find the right fit.
What is Software Engineering and Why Does it Matter?
According to the IEEE, software engineering is the application of systemic, disciplined…and other jargon no one cares about. Okay, so in layman’s terms, software engineering is simply a brand of engineering that deals with developing, testing, updating, and maintaining software applications. Easy enough? I hope so because that’s about where the term “easy” for software engineering ends.
Software engineering is, in fact, a very vast and very complex field, which involves the development of applications in a structured way that allows businesses to have a handle on massive amounts of code. A software engineer doesn’t just build an application and call it a day; they have to develop one that users can easily operate. They need to make it so that they know what’s going on if another engineer works on the application. This is why following a set of rules is crucial—and where a software engineering master’s degree can come into play.
Why is software engineering so important, and how does a software engineering master’s fit in? Well, let us start with the obvious. Would you have been able to tell your uncle off at a family function by proving to him that it is, in fact, LeBron who has more points per game than Kobe without Google? No, you wouldn’t. But Google wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for software engineering. So the quick answer is without software engineers, the world the way we know it wouldn’t exist.
Now for the more thought-out answer…
According to CAST, “Software engineering is important because specific software is needed in almost every industry, business, and function. It becomes more important as time goes on – if something breaks within your application portfolio, a quick, efficient, and effective fix needs to happen as soon as possible.” In other words, without it, these days, you wouldn’t even be able to vacuum your floor.
Finally, for a little bit of history…
Have you ever heard of the Software Crisis? It’s okay; not a lot of people have. The Software Crisis in the 1960s was a dark time when most software projects failed. This was because they went over budget since there was no streamlined process, aka the field of software engineering. As a result, companies were left with huge amounts of chaotic code and unreliable software during an ever-growing demand. Thankfully, by the 1970s, people began introducing software engineering principles and customer requirements to get to the point we are today.
Why Get a Master’s in Software Engineering?
The world of software engineering is a lucrative one. With a 1.4 percent unemployment rate, it’s no wonder people are rushing to make a career change. But with the growing number of alternatives available, such as coding bootcamps, why even get a master’s degree? According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), engineers with even just a bachelor’s have a $110,140 median salary, starting at $63,000.
For starters, many individuals (maybe even including you) might be working in another related field, for instance, electrical engineering. By working at, let’s say, Smart Home company X, you soon realize you enjoy programming these devices and decide to make a career switch. In this case, a master’s in software engineering is exactly what you need to complement your current skill set and help you make the leap.
In other cases, individuals might want to move to more of a management role or gain a salary boost. These scenarios are excellent situations in which a master’s degree would be appropriate. According to stats, software engineers with a master’s degree make 30 percent more than their bachelor-holding counterparts; a win-win all around.
A master’s degree can also be a gateway into another field of engineering you enjoy more. For instance, you might be a front-end developer, but your dream is to create algorithms for AIs. You might technically be a “software engineer,” but to do such a thing would require a whole other set of skills you might not be very familiar with. And if your job is to design and maintain the front-end for an e-commerce site, the shift might be harder to begin with. However, with a master’s, you can hone in the skills and knowledge you want and make the transition smoother and quicker.
Online Master’s in Software Engineering Programs
It is no secret that a seasoned engineer can easily make over $100,000, with many cases seeing that one turn into a two. And as previously discussed, getting a master’s in the field is one of the fastest and most effective ways to get to that point. However, we can now earn degrees online thanks to this very discipline. So what are the similarities, differences, and benefits of taking things online apart from being able to attend class in your PJs?
For starters, even though online, master’s programs are similar to their on-campus counterparts. You still need to hold a bachelor’s from an accredited college, and in many cases, you also need a GRE. And, of course, the prestige or rank of the college you get into depends on your GPA, GRE scores, and previous projects or work experience, among other things. The requirements seem to be a bit less strict regarding online programs, with some even admitting students without GREs.
More good news is that online masters programs can be significantly cheaper than their in-person counterparts. Think about it. With no classrooms and facilities to upkeep, it helps keep colleges’ overhead to a minimum. Therefore, though an on-campus master’s program at SUNY (State University of New York) might cost you $23,000 (out-of-state), the same program online would cost you $13,500 (out-of-state), a fraction of the cost. According to stats, $38,000 is about as high as you’d pay compared to up to $120,000 for an equivalent in-person program.
Let’s take a look at some additional benefits:
- The ability to attend from anywhere in the world. Therefore, even if your job or family doesn’t allow you to relocate to your favorite school, you might still be able to attend online. Plus who doesn’t want to learn about binary math calculations while dipping their feet in crystal turquoise waters somewhere in the Maldives?
- You are able to take a hold of your schedule and even graduate earlier. With access to classes and homework 24/7, you can both graduate earlier and put your laundry on the dryer before it gets moldy. Especially for women who are mothers (and even more so single mothers), online degrees are a game-changer.
- More options. Is the program you are looking into a niche? Maybe you want to focus on cybersecurity for VR/AR but there are only two schools in all of the United States, which have such a degree and they are nowhere near you. Well, you’re in luck because they also offer it online. Phew. Good thing you didn’t have to move to Gravity Falls.
I know some of you might be concerned about missing out on all the good stuff in-person class offers, but I’m here to tell you not to fret. Most colleges have done a great job at making sure the online programs mimic on-campus ones as much as possible.
Here’s an example of how an online program might be structured…
Each program has a unique curriculum. However, you will be required to complete some core, concentration, and elective courses in most cases. These courses are equivalent to the number of credits required to complete the program. Some programs require students to attend live classes, while others have prerecorded ones students can watch at any time.
Oftentimes these programs will have both individual and group projects, which need to be completed within a certain timeframe. Students might either utilize the school’s platform or tools like Zoom and Slack to communicate for group projects. These programs, just like on-campus ones, assign a mentor or TA to regularly check in with you and help out with any concerns. You can also contact professors via a discussion board or other electronic means such as email. And lastly, we have everyone’s favorite: exams. Most exams are also held online through the school’s dedicated platform, though proctored exams might also be required depending on the location.
How Much Will a Master’s in Software Engineering Cost Me?
Here we are. Everyone’s million-dollar question. This all sounds great, but what’s the damage?
Once again, students can pay between $30,000-$120,000 for an on-campus master’s degree and anywhere between $7,000-$38,000 for an online one. However, top-level private schools like Harvard expect the price tag to be significantly higher. These numbers significantly vary depending on whether your school is public or private and in or out of state. In fact, by attending a public school, you can cut costs by 75 percent.
However, with a 30 percent increase in post-graduate salary, the debt might be worth taking. The good news is demand for software engineers is so high (and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon) that there are many financial aid and scholarship opportunities to help fill the need. Another major issue in the field is a lack of diversity, so if you are female, a racial minority, or LGBTQ, there are many additional scholarships available to you.
Software Engineer Career Paths
With a projected 22 percent job growth between now and 2029, no wonder everyone is rushing to become a software engineer. But what does the term entail? Certain types of software engineering are so different from each other; if you had the engineers of each respective field switch places, they’d be as lost as a florist would be if you put them in the same position. For example, a front-end engineer deals with the design and coding what we call the user interface. On the other hand, a cybersecurity specialist makes sure a platform is safe and secure from hacks and cyberattacks. And speaking of Cybersecurity, it seems to be one of the fastest-growing fields, with its demand skyrocketing to 50 percent only in 2019. We all know of the recent infamous hacks at Yahoo and Equifax in 2017 that shook the world.
Check out below the fastest growing sectors in software engineering (in the US):
- AR/VR engineer: 1400 percent growth
- Gaming developer: 146 percent growth
- Computer vision engineer: 146 percent
- Search engineer: 137 percent
- Machine learning engineer: 90 percent
- Cybersecurity: 50 percent
- Data engineer: 45 percent
And here are some examples of average developer salaries and their range in the US:
- Frontend developer: $75,000 ($50,000-$110,000)
- Backend developer: $77,000 ($47,000-$146,000)
- Full-Stack developer: $85,000 ($56,000-$130,000)
- DevOps engineer: $102,000 ($75,000-$138,000)
- Cybersecurity engineer: $81,000 ($52,000-$127,000)
- Data engineer: $111,000 ($75,000-$162,000)
- Test engineer: $84,000 ($59,000-$120,000)
- Tech project manager: $88,000 ($57,000-$134,000)
- Chief technology officer: $161,000 ($91,000-$284,000)
As you can see, the number of software specializations is immense, and it’s only evolving. Therefore, it is very important to do your research to get into a field of study you’re passionate about! Of course, choosing one of the fastest-growing sectors or the ones with the highest salary would be ideal, but in the end, it’s job satisfaction which matters the most.
So should you get a master’s in software engineering? Ultimately it’s your call, but data shows if you don’t, you can’t go wrong. Software engineering is one of the few professions where you can get far ahead without a high-level degree. However, getting one might help you get where you want faster. Whatever you do, best of luck in your future career.