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The Value of a Graduate Degree in Industry

Why talk about graduate degrees in a technology blog? A few weeks ago, while at a recruting event for graduate students, a student walked up to my kiosk and stated in distain: "You don't do research, why would you hire a graduate student?"

This question bothered me on several level.

First, the student had decided that my company does not do "research", because we focus on video game development. Yet everyday requires us to solve new problems, several of them similar to problems you would find in a graduate research lab. Although we might not publish our conclusions in traditional peer-reviewed conferences, it does not diminish the complexity of the problems we solve when dealing with the unknown.

Second, the student was issuing more of a statement then a question. The implication might be that video game development is not a worthy profession, or just a protest against pratical approaches to problem solving found in industry. Having been an academic myself for several years, I've often heard : "anything other than pure research is not worth it".

Third, and the most serious of all, is the assumption that a graduate degree can only be used for research. I have always strongly believe that a graduate degree is a diploma in problem solving. When facing the unknown, graduate students are taught to :

  • analyse a problem
  • research the appropriate related material
  • formulate a hypothesis
  • validate or disprove the hypothesis through experiment
  • analyze the result of the experiment
  • iterate through the process until a conclusion is reached

These skills are fundamental to any software development position.

Of course, the topic of any graduate degree will always be specific. As a graduate student, the chances of finding an employer looking that specific specialty is akin to hitting a bullseye on a dartboard, standing 50 feet away from it and wearing a blindfold. It happens, but it is definitively not the norm.

Never restrict yourself to "research" positions. If you have a graduate degree, then you are proficient at problem solving. If your skillset matches what an employer is looking for, you can make an important contribution.

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About Alexandre Denault

Veteran software developer and holds a PhD in Computer Science. Avid computer enthusiast (geek) who has been dabbling with technology ever since his Dad brought home an 8086 computer.