Data Science

Is a Master’s Degree in Digital Innovation Worth It?

Is a Master’s Degree in Digital Innovation Worth It?
Master's in digital innovation (MSDi) students dive deep into artificial intelligence, programming and development, automation, and other areas of information technology. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry October 31, 2019

You can specialize in AI, application development, or data architecture—or get a master's degree that gets you up to speed on all of them: the master's in digital innovation.

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Modern business cannot function without the support of robust technology. Billing, customer service, finance, marketing, strategy, research and development, production and distribution: there isn’t an aspect of modern business that isn’t anchored in its tech functions.

As a result, businesses face a rapidly growing need for professionals who understand essential technologies and how they can be exploited to optimize a company’s digital strategy. The master’s in digital innovation (or Master of Science in Digital Innovation, abbreviated MSDi) is designed to help fill that need. It’s a business degree, but one that’s focused almost entirely on integrating technology into organization systems. MSDi students dive deep into artificial intelligence, programming and development, automation, and other areas of information technology to identify problems and formulate solutions.

With a master’s in digital innovation, you’ll understand how to leverage the most advanced technologies for business success—even if you haven’t worked in technical roles previously.

In this guide to a master’s in digital innovation, we’ll cover:

  • The types of people most likely to pursue this degree
  • Possible fields and career paths for a master’s in digital innovation
  • Prerequisites for a master’s in digital innovation
  • Top schools for a master’s in digital innovation
  • Commitment required for a master’s in digital innovation
  • Exams and certifications to complete a master’s in digital innovation
  • Is a master’s degree in digital innovation worth it?

The types of people most likely to pursue this degree

This degree is all about the intersection of business and cutting-edge technology, from Big Data to AI to automation and cybersecurity. You might think that the people most likely to pursue an MSDi would be those with established careers in IT, but in fact, digital innovation programs are often designed for those who aspire to work in IT, not hardcore techies. Some programs include coursework that covers foundational knowledge before moving on to more advanced subject matter.

That’s why Emily Rackleff chose to pursue a dual MSDi/MBA degree. She told the Questrom School of Business: Graduate Student Blog that “the MSDi degree has added credibility and expertise to my career story and helped me pivot into my target role doing technology consulting for nonprofits…. Graduating with the MSDi, I feel much more equipped to manage the technical aspects of a client engagement and know that I can lead a project to make sure both business and implementation needs are fully met.”


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Possible fields and career paths for a master’s in digital innovation

An MSDi can position you for a variety of business roles. Recent graduates of Bentley University (one of the few schools to offer this new degree) have found work in the following positions:

  • Business analysts
  • Business technology analysts
  • Technology consultant
  • Senior business systems analysts
  • Software engineers
  • IT audit analysts
  • General managers
  • Web development team leads
  • Senior associates

Because this is a very new degree pathway, there isn’t a lot of information about graduate salaries out there. However, it’s well known that advanced degree holders typically earn more money regardless of industry. Most of the above positions pay at least $70,000, according to PayScale (and that’s before factoring in the salary-boosting effects of an advanced degree).

Prerequisites for a master’s in digital innovation

To be accepted into a master’s in digital innovation program, you will need to have earned a relevant bachelor’s degree.

You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a digital business-related field to be considered seriously for an MSDi program. Relevant majors include business, computer science, software engineering, data science, data analytics, or information systems. Many programs require a minimum GPA requirement—some set the floor at 3.0, while the most competitive may require a 3.5.

You may not need a technology background to be accepted. On its website, Bentley University notes that it offers introductory tech courses that allow professionals looking to change careers can get a foot in the door. The school considers applicants’ prior life and work experience and learning objectives in addition to previously earned degrees in making its admissions decisions. Knowledge of one or more programming languages can prove helpful but isn’t required by most programs.

You’ll also probably need to submit recent GRE or GMAT score. While not every master’s degree program requires applicants to submit test scores, most do. Some universities will waive GRE or GMAT requirements for qualified students (usually those with significant work experience). You will likely also have to include your résumé, letters of recommendation from colleagues, and a personal statement with your application.

Be sure to read the requirements carefully before submitting any applications.

Top schools for a master’s in digital innovation

This is a relatively new degree option at most schools in the US, so the list of top schools for a master’s in digital innovation is perfunctory. You can find programs at:

Bentley University‘s McCallum Graduate School of Business__

In this program, students learn to use cutting-edge analytics and IT platforms and applications like Python, Java, cloud-based software, mobile application development, artificial intelligence applications, SQL, and source control.

Boston University‘s Questrom School of Business__

This MSDi degree is packaged with an MBA in a full-time 84-credit program. Students achieve functional competence in the core areas of systems architecture, analysis, and design, networking, and data management while also absorbing master’s-level business administration fundamentals.

Brandeis University

This university offers a specialized version of this degree: the Master of Science in Digital Innovation for fintech. This part-time online master’s gives students the tools they’ll use to create innovative technology solutions designed to address the needs of the financial services world.

Cornell University

Cornell University does not currently offer an MSDi, but it does have an online certificate program in digital transformation. This seven-course sequence does not dive as deep as an MSDi program, but it can be completed more quickly, and from the convenience of your own home.

As the IT field grows and evolves, more universities should begin offering this unique degree pathway. For now, make sure you’re reading program guidelines carefully. As you search for more information about master’s in digital innovation programs, you’ll encounter results that look relevant at first glance but actually aren’t. For instance, Temple University’s Fox School of Business offers a master’s in digital innovation… in marketing. Some schools offering master’s degrees in digital innovation are in the UK or Europe.

Commitment required for a master’s in digital innovation

Like most master’s degree programs, the MSDi typically takes about two years to complete as a full-time student. The curriculum in these programs is designed to introduce students to the business uses of:

The end goal is to produce tech-savvy business experts who can apply all areas of their expertise to provide employers a strategic advantage.

“To be leaders of digital innovation, our graduates have to know how to integrate analytical capabilities into organizational systems that enable innovative solutions to business problems,” Professor Wendy Lucas of Bentley University said in an article about the college’s MSDi degree.

In a master’s in digital innovation program, students take core classes like:

  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Software Project Management
  • Managing with Analytics
  • Quantitative Analysis for Business
  • Managerial Statistics
  • Data-Driven Development with Python
  • Data Management and SQL for Analytics
  • IT Strategies for a Networked Economy
  • Cybersecurity
  • Digital Product Build
  • Digital Marketing
  • Designing Systems for Data Management

You may also have the opportunity to take elective courses like:

  • Algorithmic Thinking with Java
  • Cloud-Based Enterprise Applications
  • Data Analytics Architectures with Big Data
  • Artificial Intelligence Techniques and Applications
  • Business Intelligence Methods and Digital Technologies

One thing to consider as you browse master’s in digital innovation programs is that the pace of technological change is growing ever faster. Make sure the MSDi you choose is designed to evolve along with technology and read course descriptions carefully. Will you be learning advanced digital technologies and the most relevant programming languages? Will classes touch on where business tech is headed? The worst thing you can do is enroll in a technology-based master’s degree program only to find out that the tech and strategies being taught in your core courses is out-of-date.

Exams and certifications to complete a master’s in digital innovation

There are no specific exams and certifications required to complete a master’s in digital innovation (outside of any exams required by your university), though there are optional certifications digital innovation students may benefit from.

For example, Boston University offers a Digital Business Certification separate from its degree programs. To earn this certification, you must complete two online Questrom Digital/MicroMasters sequences and one on-campus Questrom digital business course.

You can also pursue skill- or software-specific certifications like Oracle’s database and SQL certifications and the Associate Certified Analytics Professional (aCAP).

Pursuing these and other certifications takes time and money but represents a relatively easy way to demonstrate to potential employers (when paired with higher education) that you’re both dedicated and knowledgeable.

Is a master’s in digital innovation worth it?

Only you can answer that. If you’re passionate about digital innovation in business—so passionate that you want to pursue a graduate degree focused entirely on digital technology and automation—then you’ll get a lot out of an MSDi program. The biggest downside to choosing a master’s in digital innovation is that you may end up having to convince potential employers of its relative value. Specialized programs tend not to get the same respect that the more widely recognized MBA receives.

On the other hand, if you’re not so passionate about digital innovation in business that you’re willing to put in the work to explain your degree in every cover letter, look into MBA programs that offer a digital innovation or a digital business concentration. The value of an MBA, regardless of your area of concentration, is immediately apparent to most employers and may open more doors.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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