Computer science is one of the hottest fields today. Its growth exceeds the average for all other occupations in the United States by more than double, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and by 2029, more than 531,200 new jobs in the field will be added.
This is great news for people interested in a computer science career, and even more so for those considering earning a master’s degree in CS along the way. Graduates who earn an advanced degree in computer science see the biggest return on their investment, adding an extra $30,000 to their annual salaries with some of the highest-paying computer science jobs.
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“Jobs in computer science are both competitive and not, which can be confusing to understand,” says Ben Hescott, an associate dean at Northeastern University’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences. “Large companies like Amazon and Facebook are always in a state of hiring and constantly have open positions. But there are also a number of specialized and advanced jobs that go unfulfilled because companies are looking for very specific people with very specific skill sets.”
Computer Science Career Options
Because computer science is pervasive in all industries, the career possibilities for advanced degree holders are endless. Some common career paths include:
1. Computer and Information Systems Manager
Average Salary: $146,360 per year
Individuals in these roles plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities in an organization. They help determine the information technology goals for the organization and are responsible for implementing computer systems to meet these goals. This career requires additional experience beyond a bachelor’s degree, Hescott says, which is why it’s a popular career option for those with a master’s in computer science.
2. Computer and Information Research Scientist
Average Salary: $122,840 per year
These professionals design new technology and investigate ways that existing technology can be repurposed to solve modern problems. Computer and information research scientists apply theoretical concepts to design new software and computer architecture, invent new languages and tools, and conduct experiments to test the efficacy of the technologies that they design. If you have an interest in how technological advancements can solve complex problems, this type of role might be for you.
3. Software Development Engineer
Average Salary: $114,125 per year
The most popular job that graduates move into is software development, Hescott says. Software development engineers, also called SDEs, code and build software in a variety of industries, either independently at startups or as part of a team within larger organizations, such as at Google or Amazon.
4. Data Scientist
Average Salary: $113,309 per year
Data scientists design data modeling processes to create algorithms and predictive models and perform custom analyses in a variety of industries. Because data science is a rapidly growing field, skilled professionals are scarce, leading organizations to rely on professionals with advanced degrees, Hescott says.
5. Software Developer
Average Salary: $107,510 per year
Software developers create applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or any other device. They analyze users’ needs, then design, test, and develop software to meet those needs. Organizations hiring software developers are drawn to mixed degree-holders—meaning those with an undergraduate degree in something other than computer science—Hescott says. Big pharma, for example, might seek a candidate who has training and experience in pharmaceuticals in addition to an advanced degree in computer science.
6. Information Security Analyst
Average Salary: $99,730 per year
Information security analysts plan and carry out security measures to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems. Hescott identifies this role as one example of a career that requires a graduate degree. “We’re starting to see more undergraduate programs in cybersecurity pop up, but generally these roles require a master’s degree,” he says.
7. Database Administrator
Average Salary: $93,750 per year
Database administrators, also called DBAs, ensure that organizational data is properly stored and organized so that it is both secure and easily accessible to data scientists and data analysts. These individuals develop new databases and maintain existing databases, making changes as needed to boost efficiency. Database administrators are expected to be proficient in common database management software and database languages such as SQL and need to possess strong analytical and problem-solving skills.
Computer Science Salary and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for all computer and information technology occupations is $88,240, which is more than double the median annual wage of all occupations. Seeing that this figure includes entry-level jobs, the average salary for master’s degree holders in the field is significantly higher at about $103,000.
In addition to higher salaries and increased career opportunities, computer science graduates also enjoy job stability as the demand for qualified computer science professionals grows. The BLS predicts that computer and information technology-related jobs will grow by 11 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is significantly higher than the average of 5 percent for all occupations.
As the number of available computer science-related roles grows, so does the need for qualified individuals to fill them. Individuals hoping to enter the field should consider pursuing an advanced degree to further their technical knowledge and gain the relevant skills that employers are looking for.
The Value of a Master’s in Computer Science
An advanced degree in computer science is attractive to—and often a necessary requirement for—organizations hiring for those hard-to-fill positions, Hescott says.
Students who pursue a master’s degree in computer science enroll in a program for two reasons: They either hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science but are looking to specialize in a specific area, or they hold a bachelor’s degree in an alternative field of study and want to pursue a career change.
“[In] Northeastern’s master’s program, for example, we have students who have a computer science background and are excited about specializing in cybersecurity, data science, or artificial intelligence,” he says. “Those jobs require advanced degrees and specialized training.”
Careers in data science and careers in cybersecurity, for instance, typically require advanced degrees because only a small percentage of colleges and universities offer training at the undergraduate level, Hescott says.
“There just aren’t that many undergrad programs that offer sufficient training in these areas just yet, which is why businesses rely on candidates with advanced degrees in these specializations,” he says.
Hescott also works with many students who want to pursue a master’s in computer science but hold bachelor’s degrees in an alternative field of study, such as the natural sciences. They may have taken a computer science class or two as an undergraduate and want to concentrate on data science, for example, to reenter the workforce in another discipline.
“We’ve had students who studied political science as an undergrad and want to pursue artificial intelligence to better detect terrorism,” he says. “That’s one of many examples of people who have existing domain knowledge and whose careers can be boosted by learning skills like data analysis.”
For the latter subset of students—those seeking a career change or investing in computer science skills to bolster their current career—Hescott recommends seeking out a program that caters to them. Northeastern, for example, offers the Align Master of Science in Computer Science program, which provides non-computer-science majors with a direct path to a master’s degree.
“Computer science touches every single industry, and there are more and more professionals who are seeing the value of computer science skills and how they could be valuable in their career,” he says.
Pursuing an Advanced Degree in Computer Science
With jobs in computer science poised to grow in the years to come, people seeking new skills through a master’s degree will be armed with a unique competitive advantage and ample opportunities for career advancement in this field.
“One of the mantras we have in the Khoury College of Computer Sciences is that computer science is for everyone—whether you’re looking to learn new skills or want to make a career change,” Hescott says. “The great thing about a Master’s in Computer Science is that you can specialize in exactly what you like and combine it with nearly any interest you have.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2019 and has since been updated for accuracy.