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What level degree is needed in computer science?

I am unsure of what level of degree to pursue in computer science. Should I pursue a PhD and will it be worth the extra schooling? Or should I aim for a Bachelors Degree?

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Daniel’s Answer

Needed for what exactly?

A job in industry? Just a B.S. is fine. The ceilings are the same for BS/MS/PhD as far as promotion, comp etc go. In fact, given that a PhD may take you 5 additional years, you could easily be ahead by going BS -> straight to industry.

A specific job, say semiconductor chip design or VR? Then you might start needing a PhD in the specific field. Some areas can be extremely picky about who they hire.

Teaching at a University level? Can probably be done with a BS, but pay will be low (maybe that's ok for you).

Research? (Including academic tenure track stuff, or most industry research-heavy positions). Probably needs a PhD.

Transferring into management track to do career ladder climbing stuff at most normal companies? Then you might want to look towards business degrees (MBA or whatever) after a BS + some industry experience.

The specific answer to your question varies.

But generally if you just want a decent job in industry, all you need is a BS in comp sci, as far as degrees go. (Obviously you need to also learn how to write code, etc)

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Leon’s Answer

I just retired after 50 years working in Information Technology (IT). I have an AS in Science/Math and a BS in Management Information Systems (MIS). During my 50 years I worked for many companies, commercial and military (with a Secret DOD and NATO clearances), and executed many different IT assignments. Also, I took many courses each of the companies offered during the lunch hour, etc.

In my later years working IT I have seen Computer Science (CS) grow into many many specialties. When I worked as a Release Engineer there were many employees with CS degrees that specialized in different areas that didn't exist 50 years ago.

I am adding a link about some young people that are working in CS today ""

Before you go to college you should go on the Internet and learn some of the programming languages (there are many free online courses) since every CS degree requires some programming skills.

Also, you may want to look at degrees where CS in the major and another discipline is your minor.

So you need to start at the bottom: AS, BS, MS, PhD and work your way up. But remember college education is very expensive these days and you will need the money or take out loans to achieve you goal.

Many years ago I knew a married couple. The husband's goal was to get a PhD in Organic Chemistry. When he started working on his BS degree, a PhD in Organic Chemistry was a degree not many people had and there was a great demand. His wife work as a bank teller and he taught classes at the University. During this time they lived in a married campus housing facility and put off raising a family. After he finally received his PhD in Organic Chemistry the demand had cooled because there were many new PhD's in Organic Chemistry, etc. So he had to accept an Research Assistant position at a University.

The moral of the story is that any college degree take time and money. But my advice is to explore the many areas of Computer Science and make sure you select one you REAL enjoy because you may be working 50 years at that specialty. Good luck on your search.

Leon recommends the following next steps:

Take a free online computer programming course. Take another programming course in a different language.
Review on the Internet, what other young people think about the CS specialties they are working after graduation.
Find colleges or universities that specialize in the area of CS you want to study.
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Steve’s Answer

If you're looking for a career in software engineering/development or a related area, a BS in Computer Science is just fine for 95%+ of the jobs available. Once you have some work experience, you can always go back to school and get a Masters in a more narrow area to specialize (e.g. database, AI, etc). Plus, many employers will provide financial assistance for advanced degrees in your field.

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Ana’s Answer

Short answer is, if you are not into research do not get a PhD. A Bachelor's in CS will suffice. Once in the field, you can always specialize in something.

Example, myself: I got a Bachelor's in CS, then a year later I got a Master's in Digital Forensics while working.

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Zachary’s Answer

I'm a Senior GIS Specialist for an oil & gas company in SW Pennsylvania. I graduated with a BA in Geography (Concentration in GIS & Emergency Management) in 2008, and I went back to school from 2013-2015 for an AAS in Computer Science. GIS in many ways is a subset of Computer Science. However, most schools these days treat GIS more as a Geography degree. GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems; it is an information system that also holds information about spatial location and/or shape. GIS allows users to create, query, manipulate, and analyze spatial information. In enterprise environments, a GIS will typically have a SQL database (Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, Oracle, etc) as its database. If you get deeper into GIS administration, you may often have to deal with web servers and other elements of a web-based mapping system.

I say all of this because I consider myself an IT professional by way of GIS. I always knew I was interested in computer technology, and I took several courses in computer math in high school. Unfortunately, my school, California University of Pennsylvania, did not have a friendly schedule available to those who wanted to study both GIS and computer science. Schedules overlapped, so it was essentially pick one or the other.

After several years in GIS (part in DoD intelligence, the rest in oil & gas), it became apparent that the key to a successful career and very good compensation in my chosen field of GIS would be with the addition of computer science skills. So I went back to school and got that associates degree.

While I often think of going back to school for that associates degree as one of my most important career decisions, it's certainly not the be-all and end-all. Diversifying my skill set opened the doors to GIS database administration and systems analyst responsibilities, and I feel like I'm not far off from being able to call myself a GIS and/or IT Manager. However, once you get into the workforce after college, you'll want to seek out opportunities to become a subject matter expert in more than just computer science.

For instance, if you get an entry-level IT position in oil & gas, your customer has very specific needs related to oil & gas. It would be important to learn the ins and outs of oil & gas, whether it be pipelining, drilling, marketing, measurement, or something else, absorbing those details over time will help you move into higher up systems analyst type roles. Understanding your client's needs is key to understanding how you can help them with computer science.

For your education, unless you have the means to afford (or have scholarships to) an elite school, I would strongly recommend starting off at community college. I spent far more money than I needed on my first two years of university, especially on gen-Ed classes like English, math, etc. And many community colleges have solid computer science programs because it is a skill that is in demand. I will say, I had several great computer science teachers and classes at community college, but there were occasional duds. However, I can say the same about some of my gen-Ed classes at university. If you can, take the more affordable option your first two years, and use the third and fourth years to specialize your college education. The money you save at community college may make it more affordable for you to spend the last two years at a university who has classes you find yourself more interested in.

Zachary recommends the following next steps:

Shop around for computer science programs at nearby community colleges.
Shop around for the computer science programs at some universities of interest, so you know what's out there, but also so you can get an idea of why and how your first two years at a university may not be any more beneficial than had you spent your first two years at community college instead.
Take at least one GIS class in college or university. If you can minor in it, even better. Specialized GIS IT positions are often hard to fill, and often pay quite well as a result.
Try to become a subject matter expert in whatever industry ultimately hires you for your IT/Computer Science skills.
Bonus Step: Join professional organizations related to your industry and/or occupation, even in college. If there's a GIS Club, or Programming Club, or Computer Club, seek them out and attend their meetings. If there are conferences (there are plenty of GIS conferences around the world), seek them out and attend. We even have GIS conferences related to energy, with a strong focus on oil & gas, called EnerGIS (