Pennsylvania has the sixth largest economy in the United States, and is packed full of high-performing industries ripe with job opportunities for the tech-savvy computer scientist. While the Keystone State is no Silicon Valley when it comes to tech startups and venture capital, Pennsylvania is home to highly mature business sectors in business services, trade, transportation, energy, education, healthcare, and construction.
Getting a great tech job isn’t about finding a technology company, per se, but instead finding organizations in any industries which require technological expertise. Virtually every company in the Fortune 500 has a Chief Technology or Chief Information Security Officer (CTO/CISO), and this is for a very good reason. Technology is widely integrated into nearly every modern business operation, and that means computer scientists are in high demand for their skills and knowledge.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and mathematical occupations account for 163,020 jobs in Pennsylvania alone with a median salary of $87,530. This is a great opportunity for local Pennsylvanians, either for career progression or a career change. Of course, getting a gig in computer science starts with building the technical skills to succeed. This isn’t a field of soft skills, but instead tangible competencies which can be learned, mastered, and certified.
This guide is designed to do just that. There are plenty of different paths that should take you to more or less the same place, ranging from graduate degrees and PhDs to boot camps, professional training and certification. Understanding your current skill level, your professional objectives, and your time and financial constraints is a great starting point for picking the right program. Let’s take a look at some common options.
Computer Science Master’s Programs in Pennsylvania
The best starting point for current professionals who already hold a degree is a graduate-level degree in computer science. These programs usually require one or two years of commitment and the accumulation of 30 to 60 credit hours. Upon completion of the program, students should have mastery of the broader discipline, alongside an optional concentration that emphasizes their career goals and primary skills.
Let’s run through some of the best computer science grad programs Pennsylvania has to offer:
- Penn State: As state schools have great discounts for in-state students, this is going to be a great starting point in your search. Tuition is about $660 per credit hour including fees, which is a solid price considering Penn State’s rankings in Engineering in particular. With 30 credits being the requirement for a graduate degree, this is just about as affordable as a boot camp (more on this later).
- Carnegie Mellon: Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science has a slightly different system when it comes to credit hour investment, using units which cost $727 each. To put this into more familiar terms, this will equate to around $1,725 per credit hour. Carnegie Mellon is definitely a premium institution, offering highly reputable programs at the private university price point. They have a partnership with the Tepper School of Business for a condensed and cross-functional curriculum.
- University of Pittsburgh: With the low price for locals of $569 per credit hour, the University of Pittsburgh is a great option for folks pursuing skills on a budget. Take particular note of the internships and coop programs, which are one of the best ways to translate school into a high-paying salary.
- Drexel University: The previous three options are focused exclusively on computer science, which gives Drexel some room to shine. Drexel offers concentrations at the graduate level in computer science, data science, human-computer interaction & user experience, information systems, library and information science, and software engineering. This is a great choose for specializing, but comes at the cost of $1,396 per credit hour.
Consider price, location, scope, and reputation when making a decision, as well as the requirements for your desired role in computer science. For most people, location is going to be a key consideration. Fortunately, the prevalence of online options can simplify this decision quite a bit.
Online Computer Science Programs in Pennsylvania
It’s not always easy to carve out enough time in a day to drive to an in-person classroom, and universities are slowly but surely adapting to fill this need via online degrees. Pennsylvania has plenty of options in this regard, including dedicated graduate degrees in computer science and related disciplines. Here are a few programs worth taking a look at:
- Penn State: Penn State is a leader in technical education in Pennsylvania, which makes it a very attractive option for locals. There are a few Master’s-level professional programs available, ranging from information science to cybersecurity to artificial intelligence. Tuition is a little higher, coming in at $1,007 per credit hour in each program. As these programs require only 33 credits, it’s still a pretty great deal for a graduate degree.
- Drexel University: Drexel online offers online programs for both computer science and cybersecurity. Tuition is essentially the same, and the program duration and curriculum remains consistent with an onsite program equivalents.
- University of Pittsburgh: The lowest cost option by far is going to be the University of Pittsburgh, which offers a similar range of online specializations within the broader computer sciences.
As online programs don’t always capture all of the same benefits, it’s worth exploring what types of career services, experiential learning programs, and internships you can participate in even as a remote student. As an online learner, it’s important to keep the goal of a serious improvement of career prospects in mind. This often means investing some time and energy in networking.
Of course, these programs are more about skill development than anything else. Technology skills are high impact, with serious consequences for mistakes. That means mastered both theory and practice at the graduate level. Let’s map out a few common courses you’re likely to encounter.
Computer Science Courses in Pennsylvania
Now these courses will tend to change based on what area of specialization you focus on in particular (particularly at the higher level). Regardless, it’s useful to orient yourself with the general content before applying, and working out a list of key skills you aspire to develop. Here are a few key courses to get you thinking:
|Theory of Computation||Theory comes first, and understanding how a computer’s design makes it function is a key ingredient to success.||University of Pittsburgh – CS 1511||$1,707|
|Network Security||Computer science is a valuable field, protecting valuable data resources. This means security is front-and-center in importance.||Penn State – CSE 545||$1,920|
|Data Analysis at Scale||One of the primary challenges in computer science is dealing with big data. Understanding basic analysis of high volume data is highly prized.||Drexel University – CS 660||$4,188|
|Computer Graphics||With the many and varied uses of graphical technology, understanding how machines process and produce images is a useful skill.||Carnegie Mellon – 15-462||$8,724|
|Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning||Building machine learning algorithms capable of pattern discernment is a highly lucrative skill in the present tech environment.||Penn State – CSE 583||$1,920|
Exploring course catalogs fully is a very useful step in the selection process. Not all universities offer the same program scope, and the university you choose will likely limit your skill development based on that university’s resources and expertise.
Of course, if you know exactly what you need to learn there are even faster and cheaper options to becoming a certified computer scientist: boot camps!
Computer Science Bootcamps in Pennsylvania
The boot camp is something of a modern innovation in education technology, which emphasizes certification in tangible and demonstrable computer-related skills. There is no ‘fake-it-til-you-make-it’ in computer science, there’s simply learning it and then proving it. Boot camps are the perfect vehicle for this, as it emphasizes learning and demonstrating skill specific technological competencies. Let’s take a look:
|Bootcamp Provider||Name of Program||Time||Cost|
|University of Pennsylvania||Coding Bootcamp||6 months||$12,995|
|Penn State||Cybersecurity Bootcamp||24 weeks||$17,800|
|University of Pittsburgh||Cyber Bootcamp||3 months||$5,500|
|University of Pennsylvania||Penn Data Science Bootcamp||24 months||$13,495|
|Drexel University||Computer Science BSCS||3 months||$16,752|
There are quite a range of options for bootcamps in Pennsylvania, as many of the state-run institutions have already implemented this strategy into their course offerings. Each of these providers has a few other specializations worth checking out, with quite a range in cost and scope depending on which program you decide to commit to. For professionals looking to fast-track the process from education to the workplace, this is going to be the best option for you.
Of course, not everyone is eager to escape the educational system. Indeed, some computer scientists invest in the much longer pursuit of a doctorate in computer science and, typically, a professorship paying those skills forward. Let’s briefly touch on PhD programs before getting into other potential job prospects for computer scientists.
Computer Science PhD Programs in Pennsylvania
First, let’s discuss what a doctoral candidate actually does day-to-day. The centerpiece of their work is the research and publication of a thesis pertaining to their area of expertise, which should both demonstrate mastery of an existing topic (usually one that aligns with their sponsor – another university professor). This highly-specific mastery typically differentiates PhD students from professionals, particularly in this high degree of granularity pursued.
Opportunities for a PhD will largely depend on whether or not you can find a sponsor for your work, someone with the same set of research interests as yourself within the computer science department’s faculty. You can start by checking out Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Pittsburgh. Remember that this is a very long (4 years or more) commitment with a far narrower set of opportunities (albeit often high-paying).
This will be the perfect opportunity for a minority of people, while most others will be eyeing gigs out in the corporate world. Let’s quickly assess the job prospects in Pennsylvania for our newly-certified army of computer scientists.
Five In-Demand Jobs in Pennsylvania
There are three things to consider: what type of work is available, how many positions are open, and what the typical salary looks like in Pennsylvania. Let’s take a look at five of the most common professions for computer scientist:
- Systems Analyst: Systems analysts look at the way in which an organization’s infrastructure functions, seeking ways to maintain and iterate towards higher efficiency. With about 1,500 open positions in Pennsylvania right now, a systems analyst can expect a salary around $82k/year (on average).
- Software Developer: Simply put, some computer scientists have the coding chops to build software applications from the ground up. This is always a high demand position, with over 5,000 open positions in Pennsylvania. Salary clocks in around $87/year.
- Database Developer: Building and maintaining a database is basically building and organizing pipelines for data. With 1,200 jobs available in Pennsylvania at the time of writing, and an average salary around $93k/year, this is a job with a long-term expectation of continued demand.
- Front-end Developer: Have a knack for building websites? Consider front-end development work. This merges the technical with the creative, and is often a very fulfilling kind of work. You can expect an average salary of $93k/year, with over 800 open positions in the state.
- DevOps Engineer: Advanced cloud computing experts can find high-paying roles in DevOps, which specializes in building an automated cloud infrastructure for businesses. Pennsylvania is home to around 300 openings at the time of writing this guide, and these professionals command an average salary of $115k/year. It’s hard work, but it pays well!
Of course, there are tons more positions available to the computer scientist. Consider things like cybersecurity, networking engineering, IT project management, and even executive roles like CTO or CISO. Merging technical capabilities with abstract strategic thinking can make computer scientists extremely valuable executive assets, and is well-worth investing some time and energy in. So what’s it going to be?