Weighing the Opportunity Cost of Going Back to School for CS

In summary, the conversation revolves around the individual's dilemma of wanting to go back to school to pursue a CS degree, despite already having a degree in IE/OR. The opportunity cost of two years' salary and educational expenses, along with potential loss of investment earnings, is estimated to be over $300k. The individual also expresses dissatisfaction with their current job and interest in coding, but is hesitant due to financial concerns.
  • #1
Helicobacter
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I graduated a year ago. I picked the wrong major (IE/OR), so I'm considering going back to get the "right" major within two years (CS). This translates into a opportunity loss of two years of salary (80k post tax for both years) and 20k in educational expenses per year (40k total). And that's assuming 2 years...it could be 2.5 years also. If I invested this amount (120k) could accrue an extra 180k (easily) until retirement. So the real opportunity cost here is >300k.

Is this too big of a price to pay for a career path that makes me happier?

I lose perspective with these big amounts. The reason I want to go back to get a CS degree:
- I like coding.
- I feel my competitive spirit rise when I see others at their coding gigs.
- I don't like any job which doesn't allow a casual dress code.
- My people skills aren't that great.
- It offers a lot of freedom. I can become independent as a contractor or entrepreneur. I could work for a company. I could go into research.

I got the cash (40k)...but half of it is in volatile instruments - so I would have to sell those long-term funds off.
 
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  • #2


Helicobacter said:
I graduated a year ago. I picked the wrong major (IE/OR), so I'm considering going back to get the "right" major within two years (CS). This translates into a opportunity loss of two years of salary (80k post tax for both years) and 20k in educational expenses per year (40k total). And that's assuming 2 years...it could be 2.5 years also. If I invested this amount (120k) could accrue an extra 180k (easily) until retirement. So the real opportunity cost here is >300k.

Is this too big of a price to pay for a career path that makes me happier?

I lose perspective with these big amounts. The reason I want to go back to get a CS degree:
- I like coding.
- I feel my competitive spirit rise when I see others at their coding gigs.
- I don't like any job which doesn't allow a casual dress code.
- My people skills aren't that great.
- It offers a lot of freedom. I can become independent as a contractor or entrepreneur. I could work for a company. I could go into research.

I got the cash (40k)...but half of it is in volatile instruments - so I would have to sell those long-term funds off.

Hi, I am a final year IEOR major too and really wish that I had studied CS instead. I started a thread days ago at: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=550002

I would love to stay in school for another one year or so, to get a second major in CS. But I am already in 30k of study debt and cannot afford to. I have decided to work as an industrial engineer next year after I graduate, and then transition to a software role within 3 years or so.
 
  • #3


I graduated a year ago. I picked the wrong major (IE/OR), so I'm considering going back to get the "right" major within two years (CS). This translates into a opportunity loss of two years of salary (80k post tax for both years) and 20k in educational expenses per year (40k total).

Don't understand this. If you can get a job with the IE/OR degree then I don't see how it was "wrong". If you can't get a job with IE/OR than I don't see why you think you should be able to get a job with a CS degree.

If you absolutely have to have a CS degree, then get a masters. Better yet, get one via distance education so that you can still keep working.

Also I think you need to think about your analysis a bit more. Figure out what your financial position is if you get debt but no job. I think if you run the numbers, you'll find that without a job, then the interest rates will build up so that you are going to have a lead weight attached to you for the rest of your life.

Student loans are really nasty because they can't be easily discharged through bankruptcy.
 
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  • #4


twofish-quant said:
Don't understand this. If you can get a job with the IE/OR degree then I don't see how it was "wrong". If you can't get a job with IE/OR than I don't see why you think you should be able to get a job with a CS degree.

If you absolutely have to have a CS degree, then get a masters. Better yet, get one via distance education so that you can still keep working.

Also I think you need to think about your analysis a bit more. Figure out what your financial position is if you get debt but no job. I think if you run the numbers, you'll find that without a job, then the interest rates will build up so that you are going to have a lead weight attached to you for the rest of your life.

I called the masters counselor and she said that she won't accept me with my current credits. I don't have the CS prereqs..

Student loans are really nasty because they can't be easily discharged through bankruptcy.
I have an IE job but it sucks (it consists of collecting data and data entry- no brains required).

At the end of this year, I'll have 50k (half in short term bonds the other half in stock index funds)...I'm currently down about 2k in the stocks. I've never had debt and i probably won't get any even if i study two or two-and-a-half years more.

The question is whether I should go back to school in January...i was pretty committed, but 300k in lifetime opportunity cost is steep, so I want to run it by some "reasonable" people to see if it doesn't sound too crazy...
ych22 said:
Hi, I am a final year IEOR major too and really wish that I had studied CS instead. I started a thread days ago at: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=550002

I would love to stay in school for another one year or so, to get a second major in CS. But I am already in 30k of study debt and cannot afford to. I have decided to work as an industrial engineer next year after I graduate, and then transition to a software role within 3 years or so.

Your situation is different because incurring debt is worse than losing existing capital and you would only have one year more. I should say that I'm not sure how feasible it is to get a coding job w/o a CS degree. You seem to be much more knowledgeable in coding than me.
 
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  • #5


Helicobacter said:
I have an IE job but it sucks.

In this economy, having any job is something to be thankful for. I don't see how getting a CS degree is necessarily going to improve that.

Also if your problem is life satisfaction, then you need to consider alternative ways of dealing with that. You could buy an expensive car, and then enjoy driving it on the weekends, and you'll still be financially better off. You could strip to your underwear at work, smash your boss with a cream pie, and then spend six months looking for another job, and you'd also be better off financially.

About 50% of coding is relatively mindless. About 40% of it turns out to be political or administrative.

basically the question is whether i should go back to school in january...i was pretty commited but 300k in lifetime opportunity cost is steep so i want to run it by some "reasonable" people to see if it doesn't sound too crazy...

The problem is that if your problem is work satisfaction rather than lack of work, I don't see how a CS degree is going to help. One thing about CS workers is that the boss can use the threat of sending your job to India in order to crack the whip. 300K is a bummer if you don't get anything out of it.

Also, if you are going back to school go for a masters. It will be the same work, and it looks more impressive on a resume.

I should say that I'm not sure how feasible it is to get a coding job w/o a CS degree.

I managed to do it, although I entered the business in the middle of the dot-com. One reason I'm not a big fan of CS degrees, is that in my entire life I've only taken one course in CS, and that course is now online so that you can take it for free.

http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electric...erpretation-of-computer-programs-spring-2005/
 
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  • #6


twofish-quant said:
In this economy, having any job is something to be thankful for. I don't see how getting a CS degree is necessarily going to improve that.

i'm not afraid of job security. maybe its because my school is one of the "big" schools (georgia tech) and even the "poor" students with 2..5-3.0 GPA's tend to find work. i don't state this to brag, just to draw a more accurate picture.

twofish-quant said:
Also if your problem is life satisfaction, then you need to consider alternative ways of dealing with that. You could buy an expensive car, and then enjoy driving it on the weekends, and you'll still be financially better off. You could strip to your underwear at work, smash your boss with a cream pie, and then spend six months looking for another job, and you'd also be better off financially.

LOOL that's an interesting (and accurate!) thought. not having a dress code is worth to me a lot. i would accept a 20k/yr (pretax) salary cut to be able to come to work in a tshirt. comfort is very important to me.

i think with a cs degree the odds of getting a job with a casual dress code improve dramatically.
twofish-quant said:
The problem is that if your problem is work satisfaction rather than lack of work, I don't see how a CS degree is going to help. One thing about CS workers is that the boss can use the threat of sending your job to India in order to crack the whip. 300K is a bummer if you don't get anything out of it.

Yeah, I am afraid of the India problem too. there is negative expected growth in the US in the next 6 years in computer programming (based on the dept of labor). indians can come to the US or US companies can outsource projects there.

twofish-quant said:
Also, if you are going back to school go for a masters. It will be the same work, and it looks more impressive on a resume.

Ive only had about 3 basic cs classes thus far...i don't think its enough...and the graduate cs counselor says that it isn't enough either...
 
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  • #7


Helicobacter said:
LOOL that's an interesting (and accurate!) thought. not having a dress code is worth to me a lot. i would accept a 20k/yr (pretax) salary cut to be able to come to work in a tshirt. comfort is very important to me.

You might consider switching companies or switching regions. Companies in Austin and Silicon Valley tend to be relaxed about this. By contrast, I have a coding job, and I have to go to work in "business causal."

Yeah, I am afraid of the India problem too. there is negative expected growth in the US in the next 6 years in computer programming (based on the dept of labor). indians can come to the US or US companies can outsource projects there.

It gets even worse. Both India and China have recovered from the crash growing at 8% a year so that they can pay competitive salaries to US programmers. Wonderful if you have skills and want to move to India or China. Stinks if you don't.

Ive only had about 3 basic cs classes thus far...i don't think its enough...and the graduate cs counselor says that it isn't enough either...

No one in the industry cares what classes you've taken. They sort of care about the type of degree, but they don't care that much about the major.

Also, does the CS counselor have any industrial experience? I've seen some horrible career advice from people that don't.
 
  • #8


twofish-quant said:
No one in the industry cares what classes you've taken. They sort of care about the type of degree, but they don't care that much about the major.

Also, does the CS counselor have any industrial experience? I've seen some horrible career advice from people that don't.

i was referring to your masters comment...in order to get accepted to the masters program the classes I've taken are not enough

do even the regular office jobs in sf allow casual?
 
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  • #9


Perhaps you could take some courses without quitting your job. Maybe twice a week. Do you live anywhere near a major university. I think you will be better off long term if you keep your job.
 
  • #10


deluks917 said:
Perhaps you could take some courses without quitting your job. Maybe twice a week. Do you live anywhere near a major university. I think you will be better off long term if you keep your job.

the job is 80% travel
 
  • #11


Getting a second bachelor's degree is a waste of time and money.
 
  • #12


whats the alternative in my situation?
 
  • #13


Helicobacter said:
i was referring to your masters comment...in order to get accepted to the masters program the classes I've taken are not enough

You may consider looking at a distance learning degree elsewhere. It's hard for me to believe that no one will take you. (Which is a different issue from whether a masters degree is worth the effort.)

do even the regular office jobs in sf allow casual?

It depends very much on the company, to the point that you can sometimes figure out who someone is working for by how they dress.
 
  • #14


i don't think distance learning programs have much credibility (especially undergrad programs).

admission to MS programs shouldn't be a problem w/o considering CS prereqs -(GPA: 4; GRE: 800/680/5)
 
  • #15


Helicobacter said:
i don't think distance learning programs have much credibility (especially undergrad programs).

You'll be *much* better off with a DL masters and work experience than a second bachelors and a gap.

The people that make the final hiring decisions don't care about the degree. The people who are the initial gatekeepers do, and if you get a masters from anywhere accredited that will get you past HR screening in a way that a second bachelors won't.

Also distance learning programs have a lot of credibility among companies since it means that they can train people without having them skip work. Also, if you have a distance learning masters, that might impress the HR person that has one of those too.

Also

http://www.cseprograms.gatech.edu/csems/faq

Q. My background isn’t in computers, but I’ve worked with them a lot. What types of prerequisite courses should I take to prepare me for the program?

Students entering the program should have developed a proficiency in programming in a high level language. C, FORTRAN and Java are often used in the CSE discipline. Computer science courses in software design and development, algorithms, and data structures would be useful, as well as some introduction to computer architecture. Students deficient in software development skills may still gain admission, but should expect to take some additional coursework.
 
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  • #16


twofish-quant said:
You'll be *much* better off with a DL masters and work experience than a second bachelors and a gap.
Much, much better off.

Helicobacter said:
i don't think distance learning programs have much credibility (especially undergrad programs).
Yes, you can get a masters from FlyByNight Tech. That's a bit of a red herring, though; one can also get a traditional undergrad degree from State Party College. There are a good number of top-notch schools that offer DL programs. GA Tech, UMass@Amherst, and a bunch more.

Your math in the original post is a bit off. Going back to get a second bachelors in CS will set you back for a long, long time. Your salary of 80K after taxes is off scale high for someone with only a bachelors degree. CS majors typically are not paid anywhere close to that. Look at a salary survey or two. A switch from IE/OR to CS may well entail a life-long cost.

Helicobacter said:
the job is 80% travel
That takes the traditional education route out of the picture, but not a DL program. Those nights in a hotel room can get long and lonely, so yet another reason to think about a DL program. It's much better than getting hammered every night in some karaoke bar and singing "Take this job and shove it". (Not saying you do that, but a good fraction of those whose work is largely travel do end up with liver problems 30-40 years down the road.)
 
  • #17


thanks to both of you dh and twofish quant. i only have 2 days left to apply for the second bachelors...i already paid the fee so i might not lose much by sending in the application...it will buy me two weeks of making up my mind

dh, i meant to say 80k for both year combined...40k each year...avg starting slry is 60k for cs and ie/or grads from gt - subtract 33% for taxes, assuming living with parents i end up with 40k/yr (i also don't drink almost never ;-) )
 
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  • #18


cant you go to a cheaper school or transfer some credits?
 
  • #19


2 yrs is pretty short...normally it takes 4 years...all my core junk transfers (liberal arts, calc's etc.)

other places might be slightly cheaper but they are much worse than GT
 
  • #20


Nothing here works for you?

http://www.dlpe.gatech.edu/dl/
 
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  • #21


CSE would be the only one remotely related to what my intentions are and I don;t know how marketable it is w.r.t. to regular software engineering jobs.
 
  • #22


Helicobacter said:
CSE would be the only one remotely related to what my intentions are and I don;t know how marketable it is w.r.t. to regular software engineering jobs.

There are two different people that you have to please:

1) the hiring manager/interview team - None of them are going to care what your degree is. They are going to ask you technical questions, and if you do well, you get the job.

2) the gatekeeper - Who is someone from HR or a headhunter. What they are going to do is to sift through the resumes to give people with the necessarily qualifications to group 1). The important thing about the gatekeeper is that they are usually totally non-technical, and they do not know or care about the difference between software engineers, computer programmers, or anything else.

The reason I think that getting a second bachelors is a bad idea is that the gatekeeper already sees that you have one bachelors and a second is not going to make a difference. It's also not going to matter to the interview team since they don't care what you got the degree in.
 
  • #23


twofish-quant said:
There are two different people that you have to please:

1) the hiring manager/interview team - None of them are going to care what your degree is. They are going to ask you technical questions, and if you do well, you get the job.

2) the gatekeeper - Who is someone from HR or a headhunter. What they are going to do is to sift through the resumes to give people with the necessarily qualifications to group 1). The important thing about the gatekeeper is that they are usually totally non-technical, and they do not know or care about the difference between software engineers, computer programmers, or anything else.

The reason I think that getting a second bachelors is a bad idea is that the gatekeeper already sees that you have one bachelors and a second is not going to make a difference. It's also not going to matter to the interview team since they don't care what you got the degree in.

Am I right in assuming that you are referring to computer related majors in that last phrase (i.e., it does not matter what computer related major you have for a software engineering or programming job)? If not, I will disagree: I think it is tough to find a SE/programming job with a traditional IE/OR degree.

When you and DH both agreed that the second bachelors is much worse than a distance learning degree, were you both referring to the personal financial factor (higher cost and lost opportunity) or it being easier to find a SE/programming job with a distance learning degree+my current job that is unrelated to coding (vs. a second bachelors)?

My ultimate goal is to be in a position where I apply for 25 random SE/programming jobs (with decent pay: around 60k/yr) and I get the highest expected number of job offers - with some logarithmic adjustment as the objective value goes up (to account for diminishing utility returns of a high number of offers).

My options are:
B.S. in CS at GT into accelerated CS Masters at GT (or regular Masters at MIT or Stanford)
Minor in CS at GT into regular CS Masters at GT
Distance learning in CS while working (into CS masters at GT?)
CSE graduate program at GT (free-of-charge if TA/RA)

The question is which of these options maximizes the objective while keeping a "reasonable" tradeoff with the -PV opportunity cost of each of the options (and probably including the respective higher salaries of some of the options). I put reasonable in quotes because I would trade significantly more money for a better chance of finding a regular SE/programming job than a reasonable person would, but at the same time I won't trade 100k for an increase of the objective value from 3.2 offers to 3.8 offers.

Thanks for your feedback.
 
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  • #24


Helicobacter said:
If not, I will disagree: I think it is tough to find a SE/programming job with a traditional IE/OR degree.

We have to disagree about this then.

When you and DH both agreed that the second bachelors is much worse than a distance learning degree, were you both referring to the personal financial factor (higher cost and lost opportunity) or it being easier to find a SE/programming job with a distance learning degree+my current job that is unrelated to coding (vs. a second bachelors)?

Both. There are two uses of a degree a) a piece of paper that gets you past the gatekeeper and b) actually learning something from the degree so that you pass the interview. You can get b) with self-study without the degree. The main purpose of paying cash money to get a degree is to hit a), and a bachelors degree is not going to be useful for a).

Now if you have a degree but don't do anything else, you'll get past the gatekeeper but you'll get hit in the interview.

My ultimate goal is to be in a position where I apply for 25 random SE/programming jobs (with decent pay: around 60k/yr) and I get the highest expected number of job offers

That's a bad goal. Your goal should be to maximizes your changes of getting one particular job. If you do something that increases your chances of getting one position, but decreases the number of job offers, that's a good thing. If you increase the number of job offers, but you decrease your odds of getting a particular job, that's a bad thing.

In particular, you really maximize your changes of getting a particular job if you apply for software coding positions that have something to do with your current skill set IE/OR.

- with some logarithmic adjustment as the objective value goes up (to account for diminishing utility returns of a high number of offers).

The utility of an offer that you don't accept is zero. In fact, it could be negative since going after jobs you don't accept wastes your time.

The question is which of these options maximizes the objective while keeping a "reasonable" tradeoff with the -PV opportunity cost of each of the options (and probably including the respective higher salaries of some of the options).

None of them. Whether you get a job depends on how good your coding skills are and that's an extra factor that's not being taken into account here.

I won't trade 100k for an increase of the objective value from 3.2 offers to 3.8 offers.

You are using the wrong objective function. You can only do one job. As long as you get an acceptable job offer, it doesn't matter if you have 1, 2, or 500 offers.

Job searching isn't an optimization problem. It's a constraint satisfaction problem.
 
  • #25


You don't need a CS degree to get a coding job. I don't have one and have had little trouble finding jobs...at least the problems I've had with finding jobs were not due to a lack of a CS degree. Other factors like experience, economy, knowledge of the particular industry etc are bigger obstacles. No one cares about your degree as long as it is in a somewhat technical area. I've worked with people who have been successful coders with degrees in psychology, engineering, business and chemistry.
My advice would be to keep your job and take a few programming courses over the weekend at your local community college. A lot of them will offer those type of courses geared toward working folks. Its much cheaper and less riskier
 
  • #26


twofish-quant said:
We have to disagree about this then.
Both. There are two uses of a degree a) a piece of paper that gets you past the gatekeeper and b) actually learning something from the degree so that you pass the interview. You can get b) with self-study without the degree. The main purpose of paying cash money to get a degree is to hit a), and a bachelors degree is not going to be useful for a).

Now if you have a degree but don't do anything else, you'll get past the gatekeeper but you'll get hit in the interview.
That's a bad goal. Your goal should be to maximizes your changes of getting one particular job. If you do something that increases your chances of getting one position, but decreases the number of job offers, that's a good thing. If you increase the number of job offers, but you decrease your odds of getting a particular job, that's a bad thing.

In particular, you really maximize your changes of getting a particular job if you apply for software coding positions that have something to do with your current skill set IE/OR.
The utility of an offer that you don't accept is zero. In fact, it could be negative since going after jobs you don't accept wastes your time.
None of them. Whether you get a job depends on how good your coding skills are and that's an extra factor that's not being taken into account here.
You are using the wrong objective function. You can only do one job. As long as you get an acceptable job offer, it doesn't matter if you have 1, 2, or 500 offers.

Job searching isn't an optimization problem. It's a constraint satisfaction problem.

It depends on what you can demonstrate. I can self-study one technology like crazy, be 4 times as productive as a recent CS grad, and the HR gatekeeper won't care. There is no way I can prove how good I am without sounding weird on the resume/cover letter. Even in highly prevalent technologies (e.g., Javascript, or a JS framework) there exists no credible certification; the only example I can cite are the DBA certs for MSSQL.

I have frequently encountered a phrase like "Requirements: Bachelors degree in CS or CIS" in said job postings.

Primarily, I don't want to go back for the second bachelor because of the learning experience. I can teach myself more relevant things in a more efficient manner. Almost all of the curriculum is theoretical in nature anyway. It's about the show-off value, getting me programming/SE job.

But I have to admit, I am much more indecisive than before. I was almost committed before and now I am giving equal value to the distance learning option and the second degree... the deadline is in a couple of days. I have to make up my mind fast while keeping a cool and rational head about it

jk said:
You don't need a CS degree to get a coding job. I don't have one and have had little trouble finding jobs...at least the problems I've had with finding jobs were not due to a lack of a CS degree. Other factors like experience, economy, knowledge of the particular industry etc are bigger obstacles. No one cares about your degree as long as it is in a somewhat technical area. I've worked with people who have been successful coders with degrees in psychology, engineering, business and chemistry.
My advice would be to keep your job and take a few programming courses over the weekend at your local community college. A lot of them will offer those type of courses geared toward working folks. Its much cheaper and less riskier
 
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Related to Weighing the Opportunity Cost of Going Back to School for CS

1. What is opportunity cost?

Opportunity cost is the potential benefit that is given up when choosing one option over another. In the context of going back to school for computer science, it refers to the benefits that you could have gained by allocating your time and resources to other alternatives instead of pursuing a CS degree.

2. How do I calculate the opportunity cost of going back to school for CS?

The opportunity cost of going back to school for CS can be calculated by comparing the potential benefits of pursuing a CS degree (such as increased job opportunities and salary) to the potential benefits of other alternatives (such as staying in your current job or pursuing a different degree). It is important to also consider the time and financial investment required for a CS degree and how it may impact your current lifestyle.

3. What are the potential benefits of going back to school for CS?

Some potential benefits of going back to school for CS include gaining new skills and knowledge in a rapidly growing field, increasing job opportunities and potential for career advancement, and potentially earning a higher salary. Additionally, a CS degree can provide the opportunity to work in a variety of industries and roles, as technology is becoming increasingly integrated into all aspects of our lives.

4. What are some alternatives to going back to school for CS?

Some alternatives to going back to school for CS include self-study through online resources or coding bootcamps, pursuing a different degree in a related field such as information technology or data science, or gaining experience through internships or entry-level positions in the tech industry. It is important to consider your individual goals and the best path to achieve them.

5. Is it worth it to go back to school for CS?

The answer to this question depends on individual circumstances and goals. It is important to carefully weigh the potential benefits and opportunity costs of pursuing a CS degree before making a decision. Factors such as financial resources, time commitment, and personal interests should all be considered. It may also be helpful to speak with individuals who have pursued a similar path or seek guidance from a career counselor or academic advisor.

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