What Skills are Necessary to Enter a Computer Science Master’s Degree Program?

computer science graduate
computer science graduate

Your computer science skills are in high demand by employers throughout the world. iCIMS placed this demand in stark relief with a three-year study of tech hiring that concluded:

  • Only 60 percent of tech openings were filled between 2016 and 2019
  • Companies spent an average of 66 days to fill tech vacancies
  • There were two applicants for every opening but not every applicant was qualified

It is important to keep your options open even in a buyer’s market. A graduate degree in computer science can help give you an edge in landing the world’s best tech jobs. You also look forward to creating a high ceiling for your career with an advanced degree.

Before considering post-graduate options, you should understand what computer science skills are necessary to earn a master’s degree. You can get the most out of your graduate degree by entering with the right skillset. Your graduate school application should help demonstrate these computer science skills along with the desire for continued learning.

Computer Science Skills Needed for a Master’s Degree

A graduate program seems intimidating if you don’t know the right foundational skills to succeed. Think back to when you were a freshman in college. You possessed basic skills learned in high school that were essential to earning your undergraduate degree.

You need certain competencies to make sense of graduate-level courses in computer science. Graduate schools also establish a baseline for admissions by requiring certain skills. Building a portfolio of computer science skills helps you get off to a fast start in graduate school.

Learn more about Baylor's Online Master of Computer Science programs

Mathematics and Algorithms

The origins of computer science are interconnected with mathematics. Early programmers and engineers relied on advanced mathematics to stir computing technology to life.

The durability of mathematics principles and their applicability to everyday problems make proficiency critical. Gigantic Software CEO John Byrd explained why he believes “computer science IS math”:

“You need never forget anything you learn in mathematics; it won’t be incorrect in ten years or a hundred. But everything you can read about deep learning today, however, will be old hat in ten years.”

A natural follow-up to Byrd’s quote is to ask, “What math principles should I know before entering graduate school?” Your quest for expert-level computer science skills is simplified when you understand:

  • Discrete mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Calculus
  • Probability theory

The logic and structure of mathematics lend themselves well to an understanding of algorithms. An algorithm is an automated sequence of events that complete calculations or solve problems. Core algorithms like merge sort, binary search, and insertion sort are frequently deployed.

We find algorithms throughout our daily lives, from Google searches and Facebook posts to booking flights and ordering takeout. Your knowledge of mathematics and basic algorithms make it possible to learn additional computer science skills.

Programming Languages

Programming languages provide the foundation for software and networks that we rely on every day. Physicist Stephen Hawking said the following about programming:

“Whether you want to uncover the secrets of the universe, or you just want to pursue a career in the 21st century, basic computer programming is an essential skill to learn.”

No matter your post-graduate career, you need to know multiple programming languages to succeed. Hackr listed the following programming languages as the most important to learn in 2020:

  1. Python
  2. Java
  3. C/C++
  4. JavaScript
  5. Go

You’ll need to understand at least one of these languages and how they interact before starting graduate school. For example, Python works best for web applications while C/C++ is ideal for operating systems. Fluency in a frequently used language allows you to take on complex projects in your graduate program.

Computer Systems

Consumers show faith in their phones, laptops, and desktops to function as long as they have Internet connections. Computing hardware is a system that connects to larger systems that make modern technology possible.

We can look at how a device connects to a cloud database to understand the complexity of computer systems. The connection process includes:

  1. A device connecting to a modem or network
  2. A modem or network connecting to the Internet
  3. A device user logging into and requesting data via an operating system
  4. The requested data filtering back to the device

Your computer science skills should extend beyond knowing the difference between a database and a network. An understanding of why databases, networks, and hardware fail to function helps when anticipating project hurdles. Distinguishing between system designs and hardware types reveals the best tools for your graduate work.

Learn more about Baylor's Online Master of Computer Science programs

Software Development

An in-depth understanding of computer systems has to be complemented by software knowledge. Software brings hardware to life by allowing programmability, customization, and communication with other devices.

You should understand the different types of software before starting graduate school. IBM divides software into three categories:

  • System software: Provides core functions to hardware 
  • Programming software: Enables coding 
  • Application software: Allows system users to complete tasks

Successful graduate students also understand the software development cycle. Your computer science skills are enhanced when following the best practices for producing software. IBM includes the following steps in its lifecycle development checklist:

  1. Gathering requirements from clients
  2. Building software architecture
  3. Design to solve problems
  4. Coding and testing software versions
  5. Track and repair defects
  6. Software deployment to the public
  7. Measuring software and process successes

With these steps in mind, you are ready to make the most out of your master’s projects. Your computer science technical skills and planning knowledge place you in a position to succeed from day one.

Selecting the Right Track for Your Computer Science Skills

A major benefit of completing a computer science graduate degree is specializing in your desired field. Graduate faculty work with students to leverage their computer science skills in high-demand areas.

Software Engineering

The recent emergence of coding boot camps promises a shortcut to software engineering careers. Boot camps might teach specific coding skills but aren’t sufficient if you want a lasting career. A graduate degree in computer science focuses as much on systemic thinking as computer science technical skills.

Software engineer Ian Sommerville drove this point home in Software Engineering:

“Software engineers are not just concerned with the technical processes of software development but also with activities such as project development of tools, methods, and theories to support software production.”

You can tap into a fulfilling software engineering career by completing a master’s degree. Tech hiring firm Hired surveyed engineers and found:

  • 85 percent were happy they chose software engineering as a career
  • 82 percent were attracted to the field by new challenges and continuous learning 
  • 53 percent expressed an interest in learning new systems and languages for the joy of learning.

This survey leaned heavily into programming language fluency as critical to career success. Hired survey respondents listed the following as their most commonly used languages:

  • Javascript (63 percent)
  • Python (44 percent)
  • Java (38 percent)
  • HTML (28 percent)
  • Typescript (22 percent)

Job Prospects for Graduates with Computer Science Skills

You know how to equip yourself not only for a graduate degree but in the post-graduate world. Computer science skills developed in a reputable master’s degree help to unlock a world of promising career options.

Robert Half Technology evaluated the tech job landscape and compiled a list of the most in-demand tech jobs in 2021. Your advanced computer science skills would be put to good use in the following careers:

  • Data Security Professional ($112,500 to $190,000)
  • Cloud Architect ($121,000 to $202,250)
  • DevOps Engineer ($97,000 to $184,750)
  • Mobile App Developer ($112,750 to $189,750)
  • Network Security Professional ($124,250 to $213,000)

Each job title includes a salary range from entry-level to senior professionals. A graduate degree in computer science can help to accelerate your path to higher earnings. Acquiring in-demand certifications and following your specialization into new areas are additional career boosters.

Future Demand for Computer Science Professionals

Strong salary outlooks for those with computer science skills come from a global talent gap. We can draw from multiple sources to analyze how you can get off to a fast start in a computer science field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth for the next decade in hundreds of job categories. The projected overall growth across all occupations is five percent from 2018 to 2028. We can look at projections for occupations mentioned earlier in this post to see ongoing demand for new talent:

CNBC reported some simple math to reveal the U.S. talent shortage in IT fields. There were 918,000 IT job vacancies in the third quarter of 2019. New graduates and work visa holders represented approximately 700,000 qualified applicants, leaving a significant shortfall for employers.

A graduate degree builds from computer science skills to expertise essential to career success. Ncube explains why advanced degrees can be the key to filling these gaps:

“Those with formal education understand algorithms and data structures. They have experience with compilers and interpreters. They are trained in OS theory; they know how operating systems software works, and they understand different architectures. Big companies have firsthand experience of this difference when big complicated things arise. The problem-solving skills and critical algorithms are simply better.”

Building Computer Science Skills at Baylor University

Every computer science degree is not created equal. You need not restrict yourself to traditional classroom settings to develop computer science technical skills. Baylor University’s Online Masters in Computer Science brings a world-class education to your home.

This 100 percent online degree makes it convenient to build advanced computer science skills. As a Baylor graduate student, you benefit from:

  • A curriculum focused on the human impacts of technology 
  • Degree concentration on software engineering 
  • Three student intakes per year 

Baylor University designed its MS in computer science in response to industry needs. Experienced faculty help you enhance your computer science skills with practical projects based on real-world problems. Each course is designed to set you up for success by helping to turn your undergraduate knowledge into high-level expertise desired by global employers.