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Ask Dave

Mastering His Career

A master's degree isn't what Aaron needs to get where he wants to go.

QUESTION: Aaron in Texas has an undergraduate computer science degree and is pursuing a job as an ethical hacker. He's considering getting a master's degree because he thinks it helps to pave the way to his dream job. Dave tells Aaron why he doesn't believe a higher degree is required for what he wants to do.

Dave's ANSWER: You can have an income with where you are now. Let's pretend your only goal was to be an ethical hacker, as you put it. You don't have to have a master's degree to work in the securities side of the business. You just don't.

I'm not a tech expert, but I do run a business that has a lot of technology in it. I deal with a lot of folks here in the building, a lot of whom, I don't know what they do. But I've learned some about that side of the business and I grasp the generalities of it enough to say that I haven't seen many people in the field you're talking about where a master's degree is required.

If you were going to be a marriage counselor, then in most states you have to have a master's in counseling in order to be licensed. But in the tech world, as you know, if you wait 20 minutes, it's all changed. It moves so fast. The people that are the most valuable in your world are not the ones who are the most degreed, they are the ones who stay on the cutting edge by reading, studying, and even being thought leaders themselves. That certainly does not require a master's degree.

Do some more research on this and talk to people in the field. But try to figure out what doors would be closed to you because you don't have a master's. I think it would be very few. I think your knowledge of the business and your ability to do ethical hacking is just cutting-edge programming knowledge.

I'm a guy who would hire someone to do that. I have done that. I'm not looking for a master's or a Ph.D. in computer science. I'm looking for someone who is so smart that they're scary–someone who reads like a maniac and is constantly fooling around with this stuff because they can't stop themselves from doing it. Those are the people who are good at that business.

My perception is that a master's is not required to move forward in that career path. I'd go out there and do some more research. Don't just assume that more education opens doors. It doesn't always.