While master's-level curricula in the field vary by school and program, computer science core courses tend to incorporate foundations in algorithms and programming languages as well as principles of computer systems, networks, and architecture.
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Mairead Kelly
Noodle Expert Member

March 18, 2021

From video games and social media to online marketplaces and search platforms, computer science keeps us connected and engaged. It's behind nearly every technological advance in recent memory, and it also drives some of the most lucrative and in-demand jobs out there.

The job market for computer scientists has been expanding steadily for so long that one can be forgiven for suspecting it will soon stop. And yet, it won't, at least not according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), whose data project that computer and information technology jobs will grow by 12 percent through 2028. That's 546,200 new jobs between 2018 and 2028, at a growth rate more than twice that of the job market as a whole. Jobs are growing even faster in the subfields of cloud computing, data science, and information security.

From video games and social media to online marketplaces and search platforms, computer science keeps us connected and engaged. It's behind nearly every technological advancement in recent memory, and it drives some of the most lucrative and in-demand jobs out there.

Still, despite hosting some of the world’s biggest tech companies, the United States has hesitated to support reforms to promote computer science education. With the federal government's latest budget cuts to STEM education (similar to those enacted in previous years), the future continues to look grim. One 2017 report from the App Association estimates 1 million open computing jobs by 2024.

That's good news for you if you’re currently studying computer science or planning to soon. Opportunities for those with training should abound. You can upskill and improve, thereby further enhancing your prospects, through a master’s program in computer science.

Our guide to masters in computer science jobs answers the following questions:

  • What is a master’s degree in computer science?
  • What do you learn in a master’s in computer science program?
  • What can I do with a master’s in computer science—and how much will I earn?

What is a master’s degree in computer science?

Master's programs in computer science are generally designed for students interested in math and logic who enjoy solving problems systematically. Applicants are typically required to have either a relevant bachelor's degree or work experience in the field—or both. At some schools, programs may admit learners from non-traditional backgrounds after earning the necessary credit hours through prerequisite "foundation" courses.

When selecting a program, students often choose from one of two popular computer science degree options. The Master of Computer Science (MCS) track is known for its practical focus; it prepares students to take on leadership responsibilities in organizations that design, develop, market, or utilize computing systems and other new technologies.

Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) programs, in contrast, place a greater emphasis on research and theory. They're usually sought out by students who plan to continue their studies through a PhD in order to pursue a career in academia, research, or a combination of the two.

You can gain an advanced degree in the field through full-time or part-time traditional campus programs. Many schools also offer online and hybrid master's degree programs. These more-flexible options allow students to tailor their education to fit their professional goals and needs.

What do you learn in a master’s in computer science program?

While master's-level curricula in the field vary by school and program, computer science core courses tend to incorporate foundations in algorithms and programming languages as well as principles of computer systems, networks, and architecture. Many programs also provide students with the opportunity to develop their skills in a subfield or specialization, such as:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Computer architecture
  • Machine learning
  • Operating systems
  • Software engineering

Often, the critical differences in students' outcomes depend on the intended application of their degree. Whereas MSC courses cover more technical aspects and emphasize the practical use of computer science principles and skills, MSCS degree programs focus on the theoretical aspects of computer systems and computability.

What can I do with a master’s in computer science—and how much will I earn?

Although many entry-level computer science jobs require no more than a bachelor’s degree, jobs above this level typically require more education. Entry-level jobs are, well, entry-level: low-paying, low responsibility, low satisfaction.

Meanwhile, candidates with a master’s degree are well-suited to seek out senior-level and leadership roles, focus their skills on fast-growing specializations in the computer science field, and command higher salaries. These are just a few of the high demand computer science careers out there—and what they pay:

_Director of software engineering: $148,862_

Professionals with this title typically play both a strategic and a technical role inside an organization. They are primarily responsible for coordinating all engineering activities within their organization—and ensuring those practices are effective, safe, and streamlined. Day-to-day tasks may include:

  • Overseeing front-end and back-end development teams
  • Hiring engineers and coordinating their training,
  • Setting goals, budgets, and timelines for a variety of projects

As leaders, directors of software engineering may also coordinate with executive staff to develop new strategies or modify existing ones to best maximize productivity and support organizational growth.

_Lead computer network architect: $129,882_

Computer network architects design, build, and maintain a variety of data communication networks. They often work closely with the chief technology officer (CTO) or other managers to determine network needs and plan for future growth, which may be as simple as a single connection between a few offices or as complex as a network supporting a multinational corporation with offices across the globe. They’re also tasked with making regular technical upgrades and modifications to networks—and staying informed on the latest network technology and cybersecurity trends to best decide if, when, and how to implement change.

_Software development manager: $123,921_

Software development managers lead teams of software developers working across a wide range of industries. As managers, their responsibilities cover everything from hiring and firing to training and promoting to enforcing deadlines and overseeing their departmental budget. In smaller teams, they may handle some of the coding and programming duties while working with other management-level employees or executives to plan projects and design development processes. In others, they may also work with sales, marketing, and distribution teams on the logistics of software releases.

_Data scientist: $96,009_

Data scientists work closely with organizational leaders to determine how data can be used to achieve goals. They’re experts at gathering and interpreting data by creating algorithms and predictive models to extract relevant data. They also sift and analyze data from multiple angles to uncover hidden weaknesses and/or opportunities. In business, data scientists typically work in teams to mine big data for information that can predict customer behavior and identify new revenue streams.

_Senior computer programmer: $85,688_

Senior computer programmers write the code that allows software programs to run. Whether writing in C++ and Python or another programming language, their skills are especially crucial after a software developer or engineer passes off design specifications for a particular program. Programmers refine the plan and solve problems that arise during coding through troubleshooting. They also continue to evaluate and maintain products that are in use by rewriting, debugging, and testing (and retesting) their code.

_Cybersecurity analyst: $75,866_

Cybersecurity analysts plan and carry out security measures to protect their organizations’ networks and systems in the event of malware, denial-of-service attacks, hacks, and viruses. Day-to-day, their work may involve simulating attacks to identify vulnerabilities, testing new software to help protect sensitive organizational data, and helping employees adhere to new regulations and processes to ensure the network stays safe. They’re valued for their deep understanding of databases, networks, hardware, firewalls, and encryption, as well as their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

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