Advanced degrees

April 07, 2005

JackGanssle-April 07, 2005

Click here for reader response to this article

My biggest source of non-spam email comes from people asking how they, too, can become an embedded systems developer. So many, in fact, that I wrote an article about the subject (www.ganssle.com/startinges.pdf).

Lately, though, many of these requests have been tempered with questions about getting a master's degree. Correspondents want to know which universities have the best programs offering advanced diplomas in embedded systems development.

So I went through all of the recruiting ads that have come across my desk in the last year to see how many require anything more than a bachelor's degree. The number:

None.

Interestingly, every ad, without exception, does require a BSEE, CS, or CE. The olden days when highly skilled but degree-less engineers could prosper are long gone. All also require at least three years experience. Have the entry-level jobs gone overseas?

Why are so many prospective engineers pursuing their master's? Could it be a love of learning without regard for job prospects?

Over the last few months I've visited a number of schools with my son, who will be off to college next year. Though I was dying to get out of the educational system when a student oh-so-long ago, these visits left me dying to get back in. The thought of being a professional student, not trying for a particular degree, studying physics, astronomy, philosophy, and more is really exciting. Bummer about having to make a living. But it's easy to understand why someone would stay in school just out of love of learning.

Perhaps some of these MS candidates are hiding out in college for a couple of extra years to safely stay away from the real world?

I've advised several universities about their embedded systems curricula and understand how difficult it is to stuff so much learning about this ever-more-complex engineering world into four or five years. My list of courses needed to prepare a student for this career comprises 150 or more credits, far too much for a BS degree. So a masters looks, on paper, like an attractive solution.

But companies don't care. Wave a bachelor's sheepskin and the HR people will open the door. It's unlikely, especially for people who have already worked in the industry, that an interviewer will ask for any details of your coursework.

When I've hired engineers a master's degree impressed me only when it was in a different field. That showed some devotion to learning lots of things and suggested the candidate was broader than the typical EE.

No one knows if advanced degrees yield higher salaries. To my knowledge that simply has not been studied in the embedded systems industry. Even in the more general software field there's a dearth of data. Software Development magazine runs a yearly salary survey (www.sdmagazine.com, membership required) that doesn't correlate dollars to degrees. I suspect, though, that once working in the field for a few years a BS commands about the same salary as an MS.

So what is the argument for pursuing an advanced degree? Or for not advancing beyond a BS? What are your thoughts?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He's conducting a seminar about building better firmware faster this month in Austin and Baltimore. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.

Reader Response


It is true that bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement. However, I have seen many ads which says "master's preferred". Moreover, I have also heard/noticed that a master's with no experience is still taken as more experienced and mature as compared to a bachelor's with no experience.

- Jigisha Goswami


It's even worse than that. Not only don't companies care if you have a Master's degree, many aren't even interested in what you learned in a Bachelor's program. I'm still looking for a job where I can utilize more than a small fraction of what I learned in undergrad (not to mention that learned other sources - ESC, books, industry publications). Many places seem to want their engineers to just keep doing things the same way they always have.

- Jason Dougherty


The requirements could be just BS degree (enough, as Jack pointed out) but the MS is all about being on HR's list of "possibilities". Also, if all the R&D staff has MS or PhD, the Embedded SE might as well have one - or better have one!

- Areef Moin


It is probably a function of the business cycle. Masters Degrees make up for the fact that there are no entry level jobs.

People are figuring, if you can't get a job you might as well go to school. And an advanced degree might help you get that first job.

- Jeff Geisler


I am from New Zealand. I got my degree a Masters in Science (physics/electronics) a few years ago because I believed I needed it in order to compete with people who had done an engineering degree (not offered at my local university at the time). I found that after graduating with just a Science degree I would meet the minimum requirements for embedded jobs I applied for, but was not the most qualified person applying, so did not get the jobs, (er... at least that's what they told me). I am moving to London soon and I have found that having "bits of paper" seems to be very important to get an interview there, and then your experience will help you to get the job.

- Tony McKay


"Conventional wisdom" dictates that an advanced degree means more money and job opportunities. It never would have occurred to me to doubt it. Thanks.

My bias is that good students keep going to school, and good engineers can't wait to get out. I've refined it to allow: Research=advanced degree, Development=bachelors.

I once saw a blurb describing the half-life of various engineering degrees. It was an attempt to quantify how rapidly new stuff makes your book learnin' obsolete. Civil engineers half-life was something like 7 years. EE degrees, 2 years. CS degrees, 6 months. With that logic, by the time you get your MSCS, your BS is old news... 'enuf

- Curt Daly


A BSEE MSCS combination makes for an ideal embedded engineer. I think companies don't advertise for that, because it's hard enough finding engineers with a single technical degree (instead of a math or physics major).

- Dave Fleck


I believe it depends on many things. I have talked to many HR-types and they tell me that getting an advanced degree has cache' only if it comes from a name-brand school.

Schools like MIT, UC Berkeley, and Cal Tech have this type of cache'. Lesser schools, I suppose, do not.

In general, I have found that most Masters degree and above, types usually wind up in the embedded firmware/networking arena...or anything that is pretty bleeding edge.

Me?

I have a Masters Degree from UC. Berkeley in Material Science, (not finished my PhD thesis category). Also, I have found that my Masters Degree has opened many doors and opportunities for me. But...I have had to make my own successes along the way, (consulting income, stock etc.)

I have been successfully consulting now for over 16+ years in the Silicon Valley.

- Ken Wada


I can't tell you much about embedded world but I suspect that this is not something very different when it comes to teamwork and software/solution development model. Adding the trend toward the more universal developer and it makes real difference in how much and when the person is trained. If the question is, should I continue with studies right after BS then I agree that it is more likely time for practice and skills. But then I can tell you that, after years as beginner you are supposed to do things for which you are not ready (you may still think you are). In current economy you supposed to work in extreme programming model, more and more behave like project manager and software designer and tester/maintainer and prepare presentations, offers for customers and so on. And after all you earn this $18000/y in Eastern Europe. But earnings are other story.

Maybe it is off-topic a bit but i think "when the person is trained" is quite important question. Look, it is quite common that one and the same sentence means different things for you in very current moment and after ten years. To be a bit more specific: it is hard to explain but at age 27-28 there is a break-point for person (at least for males). You do not think that you are 19 anymore. Yes, it is different in southern and northern countries. I can tell you about North only :). And I think - at age 27-28 - this is the time when one should consider the possiblity to start studies again. MS I mean. Then it goes into "right" place and it really helps to cope with this crazy world of speedy software development.

- Indrek Kruusa


I agree with you, Jack, that a Master's degree does not really matter when it comes to capability to solve a problem. A person with a BS degree who has experience from the field and LEARNT from it (the emphasis is important), can do it better or at least equally well.

- Sreenivasa Chary B.


I have a BSEE and a MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering. I worked in the field for a few years after I getting my BSEE before going back to college (in the evenings) to get my MS. A BSEE today is a very basic degree; i.e. quite broad in scope. I went back for the following reasons: I wanted to focus my study in a particular area (DSP and embedded system diagnostics), I got my employer to pay the tuition, and I thought it would give me an advantage in my career. I believe the last one is true, but no way I can say quantitatively.

- Greg W


People think they need an advance degree to get ahead. It will help, but they would be better served if they get a course in verbal skills. I've noted that people with verbal and yes its true, social skills, are the ones that become managers. Managers these days are not hired from selecting the best of the technical people. Rather, the people who can talk the talk the best get promoted, ie, talk up CMMI, configuration management, software life cycle, validation & verification, etc.

- Phil Gillaspy


Enjoyed the article, Jack.

I too have a son heading off to college in the fall. As you are probably aware, many schools are now offering "a 5-year master's program," where you commit your intentions (and money) early in the program. Maybe the "requirement" to obtain that ME degree is more due to agressive advertising by the schools as opposed to being driven by any need from industry, or desire from the students.

I also want to respond to one comment that you made: "...a master's degree impressed me only when it was in a different field." I have interviewed many engineers as well, and I would like to add that what impressed me was when an engineer obtained his master's degreee while working full-time. To me, this showed someone with determination and follow-through, and who could shift gears after the workday ended. It also removed those engineers from the category of students who stayed in school a few more years because it was simply fun (and Mom and Dad were picking up the tab).

- Rob Clemens


The students I've interviewed with MS degrees seem to fall into 1 of 2 categories. 1) They couldn't land a job after completing their BS so stayed around for an MS, or 2) Had a good financial incentive (scholarship, rich parents)to pursue an MS.

That said, I still encourage recent grads to get their MS as soon as possible. It really doesn't matter as to what discipline. Most employers (mine included) don't have the people to evaluate the merits or relevancy of the coursework taken. All they do is check off the "MS Degree" box. It gives them an easy way to distinguish new-hire candidates, and also an easy way to rank employees when it comes around to merit increaes or cutbacks.

- Steve Shimko


There are several reasons for getting advanced degree. First, whole of Europe is getting standardized to Diplom Engineer / Masters degree, which is 5 year full time study. You can do some search on "Bologna Process". Second, in 20 years time Masters degree will be what is Bachelors degree today. Third, in most of the world you need to have Masters degree to enrol on PhD / Doctorate study. And PhD (at least) is a must if you want to teach at university or do serious research.

As for myself, I enrolled and completed my Masters degree part time, several years after graduation. It did help my career, but it was so hard to restart brain in "student mode".

- Mladen Matosevic


I have a MS in mechanical engineering (1984) with a minor in systems. I don't think this degree directly added to my salary compensation. However, I regularly use the knowledge and methods I gained in graduate school when developing control algorithms. I feel this is what makes me a good embedded SW engineer and has contributed enormously to my success (and compensation).

- Jack Rosenbloom


I would like to address your comment "The olden days when highly skilled but degree-less engineers could prosper are long gone". I am living proof that degree-less engineers are NOT long gone, although I do agree that we are a dying breed. My highest level of education is an Associates degree in Electronics, but I have risen through the ranks over the last 15 years to become a full blown embedded software engineer. I started as a technician and was promoted to a test equipment engineer for five years. When a software engineer position opened in my company, I was easily was hired based on my past performance. I currently have four years experience as an embedded software engineer and have had exceptional performance reviews every year. Not having a BS has had its toll on my career however. Career advancement is much more difficult now without the degree.

I totally agree with the saying "good students keep going to school, and good engineers can't wait to get out". I am a proponent of on the job training because most new grads lack common sense engineering skills. Maybe we should have new BS grads become an apprentice for a year or so. A good engineer learns something new every day by reading trade magazines, data sheets, attending seminars, talking with seasoned engineers, etc. When we stop learning, we need to change our career!

- Rick P


A while ago I was looking through college brochures with my step-son as he was considering what he wanted to do with his life going forward. I asked him what kind of work was interesting to him. His answer: "Who makes the most money?". He also implied that he was looking for the least amount of academic investment. And that's the way many of our young people are these days. They see dollar signs, not a passion for the line of work.

As a manager for development of several embedded and real-time products, I primarily look for talent and skill when hiring new employees. There are plenty of degreed "wannabe engineers" who could not engineer themselves out of a wet paper bag. Candidates having a BS, MS or PhD have little value to me if they cannot explain the underlying concepts of embedded and real-time development and why it is different than other types of development. When interviewing for embedded/real-time developers, I look for in-depth understanding and a sort of unmeasureable "knack" for that type of work that comes from the love of doing it. Candidates must have a macro view of the overall development concepts, as well as a micro view of the specifics that can only come from a deep interest in the subject.

Degrees (collectively) only open the door - from that point the individual must have a strong interest and real-world knowledge appropriate for the level of the position. For candidates fresh out of college, regardless of degree, I look for those who had work/study programs or who served internships with companies doing actual embedded/real-time product development. Theorectical experimentation in a backroom lab to support a thesis does not count for much in real-world product development circles.

- Chuck B


Here, here!

I might go a bit further on the subject of Master's Degrees. By the way, I have one in Computer Science.

Getting a Master's Degree will NOT better prepare anyone for embedded development work. As a matter of fact, when pursuing an advanced degree, the subject matter will become more theoretical and esoteric. Typically, the practical things that are needed for embedded development work are not taught in a Master's program

- Bill Sasina


First, I think you've made some very good observations in your column. I'm a team lead over 6-8 engineers on two continents. I've had a difficult time filling positions (generally backfilling, not growing). It's been difficult to convince my manager to consider recent graduates -- regardless of degree -- as if the first job necessarily teaches a young engineer what he (or she) needs to know. As you noted, the entry level positions seem to have gone away, despite the fact that a new graduate is probably the cheapest qualified engineer you'd find on this continent. If the Master's Degree gets youngsters back through the HR door, that would explain a lot.

I graduated in 1987 -- bad timing as I hit a business downturn. A guaranteed job dried up and there wasn't much available. However, I'd been a lab assistant for two years and had been teaching a freshman-level programming course for one year. Staying on for a graduate degree seemed an economically sensible idea... better than working in fast-food at least. Of course, I did have a change of life -- my undergraduate major was a EE/CS hybrid -- as I joined a department in Civil Engineering for my graduate work, specializing in operations research (shortest path, traveling salesman, you know -- the fun optimization problems). That experience was far more useful to me than my first job (with a start-up) or even my second (with an established, successful company). Was it the course work? No. Certainly the courses I took were interesting and I gained knowledge that has been useful on occasion. It's all of the other aspects of the experience that provided the value.

So what did I learn?

My teaching responsibilities forced me to become more precise with my explanations of theory and practice. I began to learn how to adapt my presentation to the audience.

Working on funding requests, reports, presentations, and the like exposed me to the business aspects of engineering in a way a first job would not.

Working with a small team of engineers developing solutions for our research introduced me to the challenges of team dynamics. Unlike a first job, though, I was a full partner in the project, not relatively cheap labor.

My major professor taught me more about effective management in a rapid development environment than I could have learned in years. He believed strongly in empowerment -- in a staff meeting, after hearing reports on our issues, he trusted each of us enough to say "Spend this afternoon studying the alternatives. Whatever you feel is the best solution at 4:00 is our decision."

Completing my thesis taught me how to present my work in an effective manner. Defending that thesis required me to extrapolate from my work and knowledge to speculate on topics beyond the bounds of that presentation.

When I completed my Master's Degree 18 months later, I feel I had the equivalent of three to five years of field experience. I felt I was more prepared than my peers to act as a lead designer, to plan execution of challenging projects, and to present my ideas -- in short, to be a better engineer.

If you asked me now if a candidate with an advanced degree was a better candidate, I'd tell you that it depends on the person, not the degree. If a student chooses to continue towards a Master's Degree just to take additional classes they're gaining little. If they use the experience to become more than the sum of their coursework, there's value. I'd consider any candidate with co-op or internship experience in the same respect.

- Paul Kurmas (Purdue University, BSE '87, MSE '88)


When I applied to grad schools in the late 80's one of the grad engineering schools mentioned something like: A BS prepares you for the present, an MS prepares you for the future, & a PhD allows you to create the future. I think that this still applies, there are times I wished I went through with a PhD but there is always "lifetime learning".

- John M.


I wish in my youth that I would have realized the importance of getting my BS instead of opting out for the "get to the money faster" path of just an AS, but then, I didn't plan to end up designing embedded systems and writing code for the last 20 years. The BS would have given me the walking papers I need today when applying for jobs. The level of your degree has always seemed to be a screening tool for the HR guy. Unfortunately, in the ad's I see in the Mid-West (USA), this requirement is moving from the BS to the MS level. It may be because of the recent changes in the job market (layoffs, off-shore engineering, etc...). I'm sure this helps the HR guy to weed through the ton of rsum's he has received for a job with entry-level skill requirements and wages. Over the years, I have interviewed many engineers and what impressed me the most has always been the applicants specific knowledge and ability to simply perform the "job at hand". Because of my background, I was never a big "degree" guy. My experience has shown me that in most cases, the general studies and courses you took in college to get your degree probably did not prepare you for the job at hand. Hopefully, what you were able to learn in school was how to solve problems. It frustrates me to see ad's asking for MS's when the emphasis should really be on whether the applicant has the experience, knowledge and skills to simply "do the job". Finding the best applicant for the job takes some effort.

- J Bump


Going to school for a MS degree is not completely about increasing salary. It's about being exposed to new ideas, learning about new fields and skills that I would never have the opportunity to explore otherwise. I believe it improves my critical thinking capabilities and strengthens my skill level in different ways that any career at a company can do. Although I enjoy the embedded field, I plan on using my experiences here in other fields.

I believe that passion in any field will result in success. If you define success as a high salary then going to school for an advanced degree does not guarantee this nor going to college in general. I have heard similar arguments against getting a BS degree usually made by people who don't have BS degrees and did not go to college. Ultimately, getting any degree of any type can not necessarily guarantee you a higher salary - it is how you use your knowledge that will ultimately define your salary and success. A higher degree is a method to obtain knowledge and it is up to the individual to use is wisely.

- Anna Demirgian


From my experience working as an embedded SW engineer for the last 10 years or so, with a BSEE and MSEE, is that the MSEE did help as far as getting my resume noticed by hiring managers. But, the most valuable asset to my career has been the work experience I have gained over the years. I work as a contractor for various firms and have made it a point to continue to learn on the job and off. It is very important to stay current in your field to keep yourself valuable to your employer.

So what's my point?

No matter if you have a BS or MS, we must continue to learn and develop our skills if we want to keep our options open for a satisfying career. We live in a world of a knowledge economy, where knowledge is power.

- Mark Murphy


I was once accused of running from the real world by getting a masters. In the broad sense, you are are right that a masters is not needed. And I know people that see it as drawback, some of whom are employers. But Crenshaw just did a column saying that there is a difference in knowing and KNOWING - and a masters is a huge help there. It took at least 10 years before industry began doing some of the things I studied for my masters, showing how this can help keep you relevant. My masters is a huge help in my technical depth and career, and I don't understand the anti-masters bias. Some kind of perceived elitism? The inverse can be true, but there are too many bachelors-only to be persecuted! I have no problem with only 4 years, but 5 is still a plus.

- Ed Reese


After I finished my BSEE, I was planning on getting a Masters and a PhD. I believed that school was the only place to learn.

The summer after I completed my BSEE, I took a part time job at a local high tech company, thanks to my best friend's father. Over the summer I learned more than in 4 years of school.

When I went back for my Masters, it was like the faculty had become stupid over the summer. Even the best teachers from my undergrad were slow-witted compared to who I had become.

I continued working and went to school part time. By the time I finished my coursework I was completely disenchanted.

The final straw was when my thesis advisor wouldn't allow me to use the minicomputer on weekends or evenings. I was using much more expensive equipment on a regular basis at work, but needed the drum scanner for my thesis.

I said goodbye to school with no regrets.

Twenty years later I am much better than I was in 1982. I can't imagine how frustrated the university experience would be now.

- John Davies


It is very common question: does a particular degree command a higher salary?

Maybe it does not, but is that the right question? A better question is: does a particular degree give you skills that you can use in a job?

Maybe the HR people don't pay that much attention to your skills, but in the long run, you will be judged on your ability to get the job done, and that is where the value of your education becomes apparent.

If you based your career decisions on what would be rewarded with more salary, then I don't see any reason to attend seminars or read articles in the EE Times, or anything else that would improve your skills.

- Carl Spearow


Phooey! I have not seen any difference between engineers with advanced degrees and those without. On the contrary, candidates who went directly to grad school without ever working are even more difficult to bring into the reality of a product producing business than those with only undergraduate degrees. For that matter, not sure what use those undergraduate degrees are either. Its becoming increasingly difficult to find BS candidates fluent in "C" who also have good problem solving skills. I try to stick to candidates who have the word "engineering" in their degree and might actually have (gasp) touched some hardware.

- Nancy L. Blair


I got my first engineering job with a BSCS in '86. At the time I didn't even know that what I was interested in was called "embedded systems". I decided to get my MSCS because:

1 - I needed to plug some holes in my course work to cover low level code.
2 - The company paid for it.
3 - I got an automatic salary bump for having the piece of paper.

I went through the Johns Hopkins part-time program (non-thesis) evenings and weekends for three years (wife, kids, mortgage). I graduated in '92. At the time, they had an excellent set of courses on small-computer architecture & operating systems. Those course are where I learned the basics of embedded systems. They involved bread-boarding circuits to the bus of an IBM AT PC and writing PC programs to control the whole mess. It involved some late nights but I learned a ton. I just checked their course list and the same courses now require knowledge of Unix and Java.

- Mike Gilbert


The question of whether or not a Masters is better than a BS in the embedded software field depends alot on what you're doing or intend to do. If you're involved in developing state of the art DSP algorithms for application X for example, then a MSEE would be appropriate if not necessary. However if you're writing a UART driver for a 8-bit microprocessor, then a MS is clearly over-kill and a BS would do just fine.

- Gbenga


Most students are going for masters because they cannot find jobs. So working on a masters gives them something to do until job market improves, and they probably think a masters will improve their situation. Does a masters really help? It may if you hook up with some professors with a network you can tap into for job prospects or if you can get some experience working for professor doing R&D in a hot area (e.g. VOIP, UWB). Also a MS from big name schools will help (e.g. MIT, Stanford) since big companies like HP and IBM always need good cheap labor. An MS may be required for middle management positions also, although newbies out of school won't get those jobs.

There is still pretty good demand for "experienced" embedded guys in USA but only for experienced guys and especially those with linux experience. The migration to linux, and the huge conversion to digital everything for audio/video has really helped embedded guys during the downturn (if you kept your skills up to date).

A friend of mine from Hong Kong spent a year doing engineering managment in Taiwan. He says lot of embedded jobs are going overseas to India and Taiwan but they lack experienced software people (especially in China and Taiwan because of the language barrier). So they are cranking out a lot of new grads but they are still desperate for experienced software people. They have experienced ASIC guys though. However, after a few more years these newbies will probably have acquired enough experience and then you may see even more jobs go overseas. There could be enough embedded product development work to offset that and keep everybody employed but you never know ...

- Earl Mitchell


I have a M.Sc. in computer science, and have worked in the embedded field for over 20 years. I found that those extra courses & theses for the master's degree gave me additional depth, which is still coming in useful after all these years.

The department head early on in my bachelor's degree made the comment that we were not there to learn, but to learn how to learn. The topics covered at university were not necessarily of use, but the mechanisms were. And the post-grad degree, you were much more on your own, to learn, do, and succeed. The exact skills you need in the work force. All those formulas and proofs could be looked up in books, but if you didn't know how to figure out which one to use, they were of no use.

While jobs mostly don't ask for advanced degrees, they are listing the lowest common denominator that they would consider.

Problem solving is what I see being a really good embedded engineer, and a graduate degree certainly gives you the experience on solving problems.

- Paul Burega


I do have an observation about hiring. A few years ago at a previous job, after two months of advertising, one of my managers received only two resumes for an engineering position. We were buffaloed as to why the poor response. What happened to all the engineers?

When talking to HR about what the problem might be, they said these were the only two filtered resumes that came across their desk. I asked what was a filtered resume. They said they prescreened everyone. I asked how many total responses they received and the answer was almost 200 resumes.

We took the entire stack, looked through them and in 30 minutes and found four potential candidates.

In today's HR world, I can only assume that since virtually all companies (except Adobe and a few others) require a text version of the resume be submitted via the web, they must be machine scanned for key words and rejected if enough matching words aren't found.

-David Lamar


Another provocative piece, as always. Some good points made by Mr Clemens.

I can only speak from personal experience, but the managers at the last two companies I've worked for had the same comment, "We hired you because you took the incentive to go back to school and get your Master's."

I did my undergrad in EE at a prestigious Engineering school, which gave me an excellent background in "learning how to learn", as the saying goes. My MSCS was done at a local school, slugging it out one night a week for five years while I put in 60 hour weeks in the real world.

So far, it has been worth the effort. But I think the combination of EE undergrad and CS grad is the key ingredient.

- Larry Brunson


Well, I think it really depends on the individual. Too many times have I seen highly qualified person ending up doing an averge job. Some people thrive on getting degrees, but degrees does not reflect real life. Engineering is a skill/personal attribute that sometimes can't be learned in school.

- Frank K


I believe there are good reasons for someone to pursue a Masters' degree IF they aren't comfortably settled in their career. All the previous commentators appear to think of degrees in terms of resulting capability, but in my opinion there are more sides to this issue:

1) Big-Dogging: I've been in contentious meetings in which I'm being blistered by big-doggers -- usually from MIT. They see that I'm not wearing a "brass rat" (MIT ring) or the Canadian pinkie-iron (another sign of an outstanding engineer) and go for it. The merits of my technical arguments suddenly aren't of interest; it's more of interest who in the world I am and why I would dare to raise a question. (Ad hominem attacks.) I can usually put a quick stop to this by citing my Master's degree from Stanford. In truth, garden-variety Canadians and MIT grads know *MUCH* more than Stanford grads, but most managers are usually impressed enough to tell their hounds to back off at this point, so we can all get back to the technical issues. (Thank you, Stanford.) But woe be he who has "only" a bachelor's degree.

2) Resumes: Most managers do not want to hire anyone. If they hire someone, they take on an enormous risk! It's better for them to loudly moan that the candidates are underqualified -- have "only" bachelors' degrees, for example -- than be forced to hire.

3) India: Most middle managers want cover for why they are not hiring their software engineers from India. A master's degree attached to an American citizen gives them that cover, and the freedom to trash their thousand Indian-national resumes.

I could go on, but you get the point. Engineering requires knowledge, but engineering companies require credibility. Advanced degrees are the answer.

- Robert Knapp


I am just a 2nd year BS student currently working in the silicon valley as an intern. So far I have met many well educated people with BS and with both BS and MS. One point that is very clear is that you have to have a very broad range of knowledge in order to be well respected. BS only helps in forming a better foundation and MS helps in forming a better structure but to sustain all this one certainly has to keep maintaing (Updating) himself/herself and that's where experience comes into play. If one is interested in pure research work then for sure MS and eventually PHd would help but in terms on job market, experience and knowledge gained from hand on experience counts the most. These days since everyone just seem to have a craze of getting a Masters just becuase they think it will pay them more increases the competition. if everyone is going for their masters then why not you otherwise you will be the last in the race. Also I think MS helps you in getting a better first job after graduation... from there on your experience is what counts the most.

- Aman Sikka

- Garth Wilson


I'm just about to finish a BEng in electronic eng. I did consider a Masters but there is no point. Massive multi nationals want either Batch for grunt jobs and Phd for gold spanner. Many companies (Intel, AMD, Smiths gp) haven't even got a criterion for Masters, they just don't care- a batch will work in the same position as a master. Chartered engineers seem to have some power in commanding attractive saleries, which makes sense because it takes some considerable time to become chartered compared to the one year to get a masters. Also I have seen whats required of Msc computing cohorts and I'm fairly convinced its a lower standard than what I did in second year BEng.

- Dave Plummer


In response to your comments about advanced degrees:

"Interestingly, every ad, without exception, does require a BSEE, CS, or CE. The olden days when highly skilled but degree-less engineers could prosper are long gone."

I couldn't agree more! I have an Associate in robotics and I can't get a job (or an interview) in the computer field at all anymore. I was a Senior Engineer with a company that made handheld computers (mid 90's to around 2002). Got outsourced and had a hell of a time finding work. Did some mechanical design for about a year and now I'm doing carpentry. I love the computer/technology field but I just can't find any work in it. Being in your late 30's is a hell of a time for a career change!

I would love to go back to college. I'd love to be a professional student, there's so many intriguing area's to study. Too bad the real world doesn't allow most of us to do what we'd really like to do.

Anyway, just a quick note to toss in my 2 cents. Keep up the great writing!

- Dave Berkebile


Read your article on how to become an embedded geek and thought my (abbreviated) story might benefit others.

1. Start with BS in Mechanical Engineering and add work experience as Navy Officer.

2. Enter private industry as production supervisor at Texas Instruments and National Semi. Add more experience as a quality engineer at other electronic manufacturing firms.

3. Go back to school part time and take basic CS courses. Apply for entry level embedded software position in my division and get the job. Have to go back three job grades to entry level engineer. No pay cut required, but no pay raises either as I am at the top of the pay scale.

4. Work hard for three years. Read most of the books on your list and any other articles I can get my hands on.

5. Chief engineer won't promote me to mid-level engineer because I don't have enough education. Changes his mind after personally reviewing some of my code - I get a 5% off-cycle raise.

Lessons learned - Don't be afraid to go back to school, be willing to take an entry level job, and work hard.

- Rich O'Hara


Speaking of things for which the days are long past, among them are working for the same company from graduation until requirement.

Another aspect of modern job listing is that beyond the degree requirements, they often have very specialized skill requirements. Most of the time, these requirements are going to be fulfilled by job experience.

However, unless the job you want is very close to the job you already have (and your boss is kind enough to provide you primarily with work that fits your preferences), obtaining skills for jobs you may want might be somewhat difficult to acheive by means of work experience alone. It is harder to get companies to recognize course studies alongside job experience when considering candidates, advanced education is often the only tool you have to shape your career and provide you with mobility.

My former employer spelled out in no uncertain terms that obtaining a MSEE was not going to net me an automatic pay raise (just one of many "cost cutting" measures by which the company "stayed competitive.") But I did get a substantial raise when I took a more lucrative job that involved some skills I learned as part of my masters studies.

headline : Advanced degrees

- A Kohler


As with many things, the short answer is, "It all depends" and in this case it would depend upon the student and the program. In my case my MS degree determined my career path. I majored in Physics and planned to go for the PhD, but at the last moment decided against it. The Physics department had just started a new masters program called "MS in Scientific Instrumentation". It sounded interesting so I signed up. The premise was to take students from a variety of majors and provide them with course work and plenty of hands on experience in solving scientific instrumentation problems. The final thesis was to identify a problem to solve, either in a department on campus or in the community, prepare a proposal including cost, and solve the problem. That experience was the key reason I was able to easily get my first job - as well as my experience interfacing instruments to a PDP-8 minicomputer - our version of an embedded processor in those days. Microprocessors weren't readily available then (1973-4) but in subsequent years most student projects included a micro. My first job included working with Intersil's first micro which duplicated the PDP-8 instruction set. This master's program is not around any more, but I do think it had a lot of value and the graduates never seemed to have a problem getting jobs. Perhaps there are other programs like it and better - I hope so. By being a masters program, students had knowledge in another area first and were able to get more out of the program. The product I am working on currently uses both my Physics background and my engineering experience - and that is rewarding!

- Elizabeth Russell


I have a BS and ME in EE. The only value I found in the Masters was in getting the first job and at a research company where my Masters and 15 years of experience put me on even footing with PhDs with less experience. We published a lot so a BS was a lightweight degree.

In general, I think experience accounts for more. I have been asked many more questions during interviews about the arcade games I repaired as a job while in school than about my master's project. If you can't find a summer job relating to your field, do a big personal project (CNC engraving machine, ICE monitor and diagnostics, stereo amp) and document it. Be sure to finish it. Put it on your resume and be prepared to talk about the difficulties and design.

Also, taking focused courses through the rest of your life can attract the same or more attention as a Masters. I've taken programming, DSP, photography and welding courses. The welding course was very useful when I ended up working on an automated spot welding controller. You become a more experienced person.

- Steve Nordhauser


As far as hiring goes I'm not sure if my Master's degree has opened any doors for me. However, the extra knowledge that I gained in that course of study has made me a more effective engineer, and that effectiveness (plus a willingness to blow my own horn) has led to higher pay and job security over the years.

I would say that if you're looking to get a Master's degree just for a checkmark on your resume then it probably isn't worth it. But if you are looking to expand your horizons and are willing to put yourself forward to use the skills you gain from it then having a Master's degree will be a definite plus.

- Tim Wescott


You go to school to learn how to learn. Some people gain this skill within an undergrad period. Others require more time. Could I have learned what I did in school but on my own? Absolutely! But, I initially needed the handholding and prodding that a university provided.

The key to success is passion and drive for your chosen profession. How often I have worked with engineers who didnt really care much about engineering. It was just a 9 to 5 job. Engineering has not only been my job, but my hobby and passion since a teenager. If you have learned how to learn and arent afraid to think, there isnt alot to hold you back regardless of degree. Formal education is a kick-start. People just need various degrees of kicking. There's this guy named Bill Gates. Probably somewhat lucky but probably more driven and passionate for his work than most. He got a degree in...uh...well...hmmmm...nevermind.

- Randy S.


You made some good points in your article and I would like to add a few more. I have been employed for 16 years and I have seen much evidence of the requirement for a MSEE degree in job postings with major employers. It seems that employers in the EE/CS fields want their engineers to have world class education but once hired, much of this education will go underutilized or unappreciated. There is a tendency to promote managers who micromanage the engineer. Also, projects are dissected into small slices and each slice is given to a different engineer who is required to report out on only his slice. It is hard to get the full sense of product development in this environment. Internally, many job postings require MSEE or MSCS and some even require Ph.D. In reality, a strong BSEE with software development experience is all that is required for most jobs in embedded systems. The Ph.D. is ultimately wasted on project development.

The MSEE or MSCS degree can be a big advantage if the coursework is tailored to the specific objectives faced on the job. Otherwise, the degree will ehnance one's resume without contributing substantially to one's compensation or career potential. Most employers want an engineer who can deliver the goods for the lowest possible cost. The BSEE graduate fills this bill perfectly. The key for the new graduate is to continually upgrade one's skills on the job. In the face of weak job-specific training programs, this is hard to do. I advocate the apprenticeship or internship as the best way for a BSEE graduate to proceed. In almost every other profession, job specific training is part of becoming a professional. However, in engineering, most new grads are left to their own devices when it comes to learning and developing their skills. We need reform in the engineering education process. Nothing should be removed, but many things need to be added. I would add three or four extra courses for engineers to focus on the state of the art of PRACTICAL ENGINEERING. There is enough theory already, but precious little pratical hands-on work that the new grad can immediately transfer to the workplace. The additional coursework can be completed in one extra semester or in the summer of junior year.

As for me, I earned a BSEE in 1989 and I earned a MSEE in 1999 while employed full time. My MSEE gave me personal satisfaction and an enhanced capability to deal with advanced topics, and my MSEE box is checked in the HR department. In reality, I was just as qualified before the MSEE.

Let's face it: anything that a degreed engineer needs to know can be learned on the job through self-study and by diligently researching information. The masters degree proves that the engineer is studious and that he/she can follow through to a goal. If that proof needs to show up in the form of a masters degree, then I was willing to pay the price to earn it.

- James Matthews


Unless is a J.D. or M.D. or D.D.S, it really doesn't matter that much.

- Joe Veasey; BA; BS; MEng


As a recent BSCE grad still trying to find an engineering job. I find it comforting that old salts around here feel a MSEE isn't required for most jobs.

I find it interesting and distressing how many also believes that on the job training is very impornting. Interesting because it should mean that a new grad like myself should in theory be able to do many of the jobs on offer. Distressing because right now it appears that all jobs on offer has the 5+ years experience tag attached.

For me I am looking to apply for at least an MEng next year. Mainly because so far I have had few interviews for any engineering jobs.

- Sebastian Ip


I am taking MSc for the love of learning. It helps me to pick the what I have missed in the BS years. In the past I learn how use a processor and now we are learning how to make one out of FPGA. What's more? It's assembler and C compiler. Cool!

- W.J. Chan

Loading comments...

Parts Search Datasheets.com

KNOWLEDGE CENTER