Master in IT or self-education: which is more useful

Is it worth going to a master’s program and, if so, to whom and why, and how does it affect the salary.

Vadim Tsesko, chief engineer of the VK technology platform and head of the master’s program “Distributed Web Services” VK Education and ITMO – about what the master’s degree in IT gives, in what cases it is useful, and when you can choose other education formats.

The Russian system of higher education has become two-stage relatively recently. Graduating from a master’s program is an optional step: obtaining a bachelor’s degree is perceived as a full-fledged higher education, which is quite enough to enter the market as a specialist in the chosen profession.

The IT industry is no exception. A bachelor’s degree can provide the necessary foundation for a successful career start. But further options are possible. And there are cases when it is the master’s degree that can become a real springboard and open up new career opportunities.

Self-education: personal program and your deadlines

When a person has been working in one area for some time, sooner or later he hits the ceiling. He can perfectly know some technology, frameworks, libraries, programming language in which he writes. But in other areas it does not develop, so the career stands still.

At this moment, an IT specialist, if he has career ambitions, is at a crossroads. You can make a choice in favor of self-education: study articles, take specialized online courses, attend industry conferences, develop your own projects, and so on.

For most people in the IT field, self-learning is a common thing: according to HackerRank research, 65% of student developers received at least some of their knowledge in this way. There are many educational materials in the public domain on almost any topic: from open courses on online platforms to the analysis of specific questions on StackOverflow and Habré. You can create your own learning path.

There are pros and cons to this approach: in order to create a training program for yourself, you need to clearly understand what knowledge and skills are needed at each stage, and independently comb the Internet in search of them. But there is a chance to delve into only selected topics – or make a plan for yourself in areas from completely different areas that usually do not converge in curricula. Self-learning also works well when you need to learn a specific technology or master one skill.

Another point is the lack of formal deadlines: you can study on your own in a suitable mode and at a convenient time. The downside is that when there is no deadline, the “right time to study” can be delayed for months.

The main difficulty of independent learning is the lack of feedback. “Good, but you can do better if you fix this and that”, “Here again the mistake you made a month ago – return to this material”, “Have you heard about this approach?” – all this is not enough if you work alone. Self-learning will go much more efficiently if you find someone to play the role of a mentor.

Master’s degree: “touch hands” the best that is in the industry

The second path that an IT specialist who wants to move up the career ladder can take is a master’s degree. Studying in a master’s program is an opportunity not only to deepen knowledge in your specialty, but also to expand it, for example, through team management skills that are difficult to acquire if you write code around the clock.

According to McKinsey research, managers called soft skills relevant for development by IT specialists – data analysts, web and mobile developers, and so on. Soft skills also often become decisive when moving up the career ladder.

A master’s degree can be useful for those IT specialists who want to change their profession, for example, move from development to machine learning, or master a new direction in addition to their own, in order to become a sought-after T-shaped specialist.

Having chosen the right program, you will be able to work on real cases and technologies in the master’s program for two years. This is an opportunity to “touch with your hands” the best that is currently in the industry. Master’s programs are especially rich in practice, which are implemented jointly with business, based on the specific request of the employer. Companies are interested in attracting qualified specialists who do not need to be trained and adapted for a long time on the spot – for example, VK Education develops its programs at universities in such a way that masters can immediately work with practical business cases. Such programs for 70-80% consist of material close to real work.

For those who go to the master’s program immediately after graduating from the bachelor’s degree, this is also an opportunity to understand why everything they studied for four years is necessary, that is, to make theory and practice friends.

Masters and bachelors: about the chances of an offer and salaries

Master’s degree, among other things, allows you to determine the point at which a person is at the moment, and see opportunities for development, get acquainted with industry trends, best practices and solutions, understand why they have become such, what tasks are not being solved yet and how to solve them step up.

In many cases, when choosing between a master’s and a bachelor’s degree, employers will say yes to the first candidate. Simply because bachelors often have general knowledge, while graduates of applied master’s programs have deeper and more specific knowledge, which allows them to find non-obvious and technological solutions to problems.

This is also confirmed by the statistics. results research The Higher School of Economics showed that the share of employed masters in computer and mathematical sciences in Russia is greater than the share of working bachelors: 83% versus 78% (as of autumn 2021). The higher value of masters in this area is also evidenced by salaries: on average, they are 21% higher than those of bachelors.

Of course, no one guarantees that immediately after receiving a diploma, a master’s degree graduate will step to the top of the career ladder. But the acquired knowledge and skills will give the potential for self-realization in the near future.

Programs on real cases

Today, graduate students have a wide choice: depending on their career goals, they can go to a scientific, industrial, entrepreneurial or corporate program. There are more and more of the latter in the educational market: companies are striving to train specialists that meet the needs of the business. If we talk about the experience of VK, we have been launching educational and career projects for students for many years. 90% of the teachers in them are company employees: they share their experience and introduce them to real cases and technologies. One and a half thousand graduates of VK Education educational programs have joined our team.

For students, the advantage of corporate master’s programs is that they provide not only knowledge and skills from experts, but also direct contact with a potential employer. Business, in turn, achieves its own goal: it gets specialists who do not need additional training, that is, not interns, but at least junior developers. And if we talk about masters with work experience, then, perhaps, middle-developers right away.

Where after a bachelor’s degree – to a master’s program or work

To the question “When is it better to go to the magistracy?” there is no universal answer, if only because all undergraduate graduates are different.

Let’s say that while studying, a person worked in his specialty, and by the time he received his diploma, he had already formed an idea of ​​\u200b\u200bthe profession and gained experience. Then it makes sense to enroll in a master’s program right away, because after a break it can be difficult to get involved in the educational process again.

If, however, a student has devoted four years of his bachelor’s degree to study, and he has no work experience, it may be worth trying yourself in the profession. With a year or two of working experience, it will be easier to decide how to develop further. And if after that a person decides to return to the university, he will come already more motivated, with an understanding of what exactly he is interested in.

Motivation is generally one of the most important aspects. Master’s studies take a lot of time and require discipline and self-organization. Therefore, the best results are obtained by those who know what they came for and what they want to get from training.

How to know which learning format to choose

  • If you completed your bachelor’s degree while working in your specialty and want to increase your value in the market, a master’s degree can help you with this.
  • If you want to change your specialty or gain skills in a new direction, this can also be done in the magistracy.
  • If you work and want to learn a specific technology that is needed in your career, it will most likely be enough to take additional online courses. Bonus to efficiency – if you find a person for the role of a mentor.
  • If you have completed a bachelor’s degree, but you do not yet have working experience and a clear understanding in which direction you would like to deepen your knowledge, it makes sense to first train or work, and then decide on the further development trajectory.

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