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A Second Degree for Your Tech Career?

Think you want another degree? Join the club. Many techies decide to pursue graduate degrees as a way to advance their careers, hone an area of expertise or switch specialties.


Years ago, graduate program choices were limited, with many students choosing between an MBA and a master's degree in computer science, depending on whether they wanted to seek a management job or maintain a technical career track. While those choices are still popular, the possibilities for extending education beyond a bachelor's degree have expanded as jobs for tech professionals have become more varied and multidimensional.


This means game programmers are pursuing educational technology degrees to leverage their experience into a new industry, database pros are pursuing MBAs to show off their management acumen and network engineers are studying multimedia to make a wholesale switch in a technical specialty. So techies need to start thinking about an advanced degree by sorting through the options.


The Old Standbys


* Computer Science: Graduate programs in computer science offer a research-intensive environment for students to pursue specialties such as human-computer interaction and information networking. A master's may be required for top-notch positions at leading tech companies, while a PhD is usually required for academia. Graduate programs in computer science are known for being challenging and rigorous; a bachelor's degree in computer science is typically required.


* Educational Technology: Master's degrees in educational technology offer students the chance to gain expertise in the use and theoretical foundations of technology to support learning.


* Electrical and Computer Engineering: Students seeking a master's in electrical and computer engineering delve into areas such as semiconductors, signal processing, microprocessors and digital system design. Students will typically need an undergraduate degree in the field.


* Information Systems: Graduate programs in information systems (or sometimes information systems management or information technology) emphasize the use of IT to tackle business problems with coursework on topics such as e-commerce, information security and knowledge management.


* Library Science and Information Studies: Though far from a traditional technology degree, techies are increasingly drawn to studies involving information architecture, knowledge management and content management.


* MBA (Master of Business Administration): The MBA gives techies the chance to develop their business skills with coursework in areas such as entrepreneurship, finance, marketing and organizational behavior. With companies increasingly interested in well-rounded techies with business acumen, the degree is often a top choice among techies seeking to move beyond purely technical roles.


The New Guard


* Techno-MBA: The techno-MBA combines traditional MBA coursework with studies on the integration of IT in the corporate world. Techno-MBA students often take courses dealing with information systems, IT design and architecture and telecommunications.


* Computer Animation, Graphics and Multimedia: These cutting-edge graduate programs typically focus on the skills and expertise required to work in areas such as film, TV and Web production. The programs may be offered in different settings; some may be part of a graduate school of arts and sciences, others might be in fine arts programs or film schools.


* Telecommunications: Advanced degrees in telecommunications offer students the chance to explore areas bridging the business and regulatory realms by studying media policy, wireless networks, and communications systems and their development.


Which Is Best for You?


Before you decide on a program, consider your goals. Techies seeking another degree are often motivated by boosting their salaries, positioning to enter management, developing an area of technical expertise and/or switching from one specialty to another.


Once you know what you want to achieve, you will have an easier time deciding what sort of program is for you. Unlike undergraduate programs, graduate programs don't usually give you much time, if any, to roam from one interest to another. You will likely get the most out of the program if you enter it with a clear sense of what you want from your studies -- and from your career after graduation.

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