Exploring Certificate Programs and Advanced Degrees - Getting Your Education - Getting a Web Development Job For Dummies (2015)

Getting a Web Development Job For Dummies (2015)

Part III. Getting Your Education

Chapter 13. Exploring Certificate Programs and Advanced Degrees

In This Chapter

arrow Building your own program

arrow Continuing your education

arrow Learning from Stanford’s example

arrow Getting an advanced degree

Web development is constantly changing. Although it’s true that formal community college, college, and university degrees are very valuable, as described in Chapter 12, they’re not entirely necessary, and they’re not always sufficient.

Degrees are not entirely necessary because web developers are in such high demand, and because the work that you do can be “self-evidencing.” That is, public-facing websites that you’ve helped create or modify, your portfolio site, and colleagues’ recommendations can add up to a powerful argument for your value on a web development team, almost regardless of formal education level.

However, as we mentioned previously, we do recommend getting a college degree. It’s very easy for the people who shuffle papers in the hiring area of a company to only put resumes in the “yes” pile if they list a college degree. Even for relatively savvy hiring managers, a person with a degree is going to stand out over someone without one, all other things being equal. So you stand a better chance of getting the job you want, at the salary you want, with a degree or two in hand.

One difference between web development and a lot of other relatively good-paying office jobs is that a two-year degree, called an associate degree — an associate of arts (A.A.) or associate of sciences (A.S.), which is more technical — is sometimes sufficient for web development careers, at least for getting started.

However, over time, you’re likely to be regarded as more technically capable, to get hired more easily and more often, and to be paid better, if you move up to a four-year degree — a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) or B.S. (Bachelor of Sciences).

But the fact that a degree is necessary, or almost necessary, is one thing. Why might a degree, even a four-year degree, not be sufficient?

Because web development is constantly changing. New tools, new programming languages, and new ways of working are constantly coming to the fore.

There are many ways to learn these new tools. Trial-and-error on your own; articles with tips and tricks; online courses; and live, in-person courses are the major approaches. You can also find a degree or certificate program that wraps a bunch of pieces together, although some parts may be uninteresting or repetitive for you.

One argument in favor of structured courses is that they make you take the time for learning. That is, you might be able to learn something yourself in a few days of trying things — but as long as you’re at work, you don’t get the time to do that. So instead, by signing up for a course, you’re taken out of the daily hubbub and allowed to focus on learning.

There are trade-offs, as well, in online and in-person learning. In general, online learning is more flexible. If you can whiz through a relatively familiar topic, online learning might be the best bet. But in-person courses get more of your attention and focus, simply because you’re physically present. You also may have better opportunities to ask questions and to network with others, both about learning the material and future job possibilities.

With all this in mind, do seek out structured opportunities to learn. Find out which approaches work best for you. Use the things you learn on the job and also in projects for your portfolio (see Chapter 16). By using what you’ve learned, it sticks much better than if you only ever use the new skills in a learning environment.

Building Your Own University Program

Many colleges and universities allow for a lot of flexibility in their degree programs. Others offer the additional option of specialized majors that are expressly designed to let you do almost whatever you want.

When you go looking for a job, it’s easier if you have a recognized name for your studies, such as computer science. If you want to take a cluster of courses in a particular area, such as database design, you might be able to find a major that has that area in its name; otherwise, you can simply tell potential employers that you had an “emphasis in” the area that you focused on.

You can also put together double majors or interdisciplinary programs. If the healthcare area fascinates you, you can do a combined program of some sort in healthcare, biology, or physiology, along with computer science courses.

Web design jobs are constantly changing, and web design touches just about every area of business, government, and the non-profit world. So combined degrees can be very useful ways into a particular area that interests you.

You can also pursue areas that you might not use directly. A minor in literature or philosophy might help you pursue your own intellectual interests without distracting from your major. Even a double major or interdisciplinary program featuring a non-technical major is unlikely to hurt you much: It shows that you have a broad range of interests, are independent, and have “learned how to learn.” (And, as a practical matter, a break from highly intense computer science courses during your college time might be a good thing indeed.)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, management jobs in computer science usually require a bachelor’s degree, and the same is true for web development. So if you want to be a manager, and you don’t yet have your bachelor’s degree, figure out how to get one. What specific courses you take on the way to your degree is probably not all that important, as long as each of the courses help you increase your skills in some way.

Figure 13-1 shows the educational requirements for manager’s jobs in computer science, as part of the overall occupational outlook for this area. To see this page, visit www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm#tab-4.


Figure 13-1: The BLS sees a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for manager’s jobs in tech.

Finally, you can ask about auditing courses that interest you. Auditing means sitting in a class, and potentially even taking the exams, without getting university credit. Many professors welcome auditors, as they are often working professionals who lend a nice balance to the bright, but inexperienced, young things who fill most of the seats in their courses. It’s a great way to learn, to meet people, and to consider your options for further education.

Wonder what kind of requirement’s a major university’s computer science program has? Stanford is probably the leading school in the world for computer science, and it’s famous for birthing start-ups, with Google being only the most spectacular of many examples, so we use it for examples here. Figure 13-2 shows the home page for the Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science at Stanford.


Figure 13-2: Stanford’s course requirements are a set of marching orders for some, but an à la carte menu for others.

Mathematical core courses are outlined in Table 13-1.

Table 13-1 Mathematics (26 Units Minimum)

Course Number

Course Name


CS 103

Mathematical Foundations of Computing


CS 109

Introduction to Probability for Computer Scientists


Math 41 and Math 42

Calculus and Calculus


Two electives



Stanford’s core curriculum in science is shown in Table 13-2.

Table 13-2 Science (11 Units Minimum)

Course Number

Course Name


Physics 41



Physics 43

Electricity and Magnetism





For the core courses in technology in society, you simply choose your own course from a wide range listed in the catalog.

The requirements in engineering fundamentals are outlined in Table 13-3.

Table 13-3 Engineering Fundamentals (13 Units Minimum)

Course Number

Course Name


CS 106B or CS 106X

Programming Abstractions or Programming Abstractions (Accelerated)*


Engr 40 or Engr 40A or 40M

Introductory Electronics or Programming Abstractions (Accelerated)*


Fundamentals Elective (may not be 70A, B, or X)


Table 13-4 outlines Stanford’s requirements for writing.

Table 13-4 Writing in the Major (13 Units Minimum)

Course Number

Course Name


CS 181W or CS 191W or CS 194W or CS 210B or CS 294W

Computers, Ethics, and Public Policy

Writing Intensive Senior Project

Software Project

Software Project Experience with Corporate Partners

Writing Intensive Research Project in Computer Science


The computer science core requirements are covered in Table 13-5.

Table 13-5 Computer Science Core (15 Units)

Course Number

Course Name


CS 107

Computer Organization and Systems


CS 110

Principles of Computer Systems


CS 161

Design and Analysis of Algorithms


Note the presence in the Stanford Engineering course requirements of CS 106X, Programming Abstractions (Accelerated), in case plain old CS 106B, Programming Abstractions, isn’t, perhaps, abstract enough for you.

tip.eps If you do pursue a double major or interdisciplinary program, what you’re doing is likely to be more or less unique. Use your portfolio (see Chapter 16) to create projects that use a wide range of your skills and learning.

You should also consider courses that increase “soft skills,” such as skills in communications and project management. Look for courses where you have to do project work in a team and present the results. Also, some schools offer project management courses that are very career-focused. In some cases, at the end of the class, you can sit for a project management certification, such as the first-level Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate.

Technologists are famously irreverent, and looking at Stanford’s core curriculum for computer science is a good test as to whether you have the “irreverent” gene. To some people, a list like this one instantly raises the question, “How am I going to do all that?” These people instantly go into planning mode.

Rice lays down the law for Stanford prospects

The presence in the Stanford curriculum of tough courses like CS 106X, Programming Abstractions (Accelerated), brings to mind a famous anecdote about Stanford. Some years ago, Condoleeza Rice was provost of Stanford; she later became secretary of state for George W. Bush. While she was provost, Rice was asked if a high school student wanting to get into Stanford should take a regular course, with a good chance of getting an A, or an honors version of the same course, where she was more likely to get a B. She replied that solid prospective students for Stanford would generally take the honors version of the course and still get an A.

Looks like a duck

Sometimes you have a school or work project that would be perfect for your portfolio, but you can’t use it in a public-facing website for various reasons. For school, you might have collaborators who don’t want you to use their work on your site; at work, you might have commercially sensitive information or customer information in a project that your employer doesn’t want to share.

In this case, the most efficient thing to do is to create a “looks like” project for your portfolio site. Create a project with a slightly different user interface, which leaves out specific intellectual property from collaborators and excludes any personal or customer information. But make sure that the portfolio project includes the core functionality of the actual project it’s reflecting; you might even be able to add more functionality to the portfolio project than was in the original.

As an alternative to excluding collaborators’ work, ask them what part of their work they’re willing to let you include. Often, the answer is “quite a bit,” especially if you give them credit.

Creating a “looks like” project is a very useful work around for the common problem of not being able to show your most interesting past work to prospective employers. If you do it soon after the original project, or in parallel with it, it’s not much additional work, and having it under your complete control gives you the opportunity to make it look and work exactly the way you want it to. Heck, the project on your portfolio site might even end up looking better, and being more interesting, than the academic or commercial project that it’s modeled on.

If you have the “irreverent” gene, though, the first thing you might think is, “Well, about half of that looks interesting. The other half, not so much.” And you start picking and choosing interesting and not-interesting courses. You’ll start flipping through the Stanford course catalog, looking everywhere for other courses that might go into a major of your own design. If that’s your reaction, you have the irreverent gene — and a turbulent, but quite possibly highly successful, career in front of you.

Picking and choosing

Negotiation is a valuable skill in life — and not necessarily one that web developers are good at. We come from a world of right and wrong; code compiles, or it doesn’t. A specific HTML tag or attribute works in the latest version of Internet Explorer, or it doesn’t. But education is a people business, and things are not so black and white. Treat a course catalog like a menu in a Chinese restaurant, picking and choosing what you want. Then negotiate for how much you can actually get from what you want. Remember, higher education is a business, and ultimately — even in higher education — the customer is king.

Pursuing Continuing Education

Continuing education is an odd part of the education industry. (If you think of it as an industry, you’ll do a better job of making smart decisions about consuming what it offers.)

From your point of view, as the consumer, continuing education can be a time and money sink, taking a lot from you without giving you much in return. On the other hand, it can be a very powerful force in opening up new pathways for your future.

It takes a lot of forethought, creativity, and hard work to make continuing education pay off for you. But it can pay off very well indeed, whether in new knowledge, professional achievement, personal satisfaction, or a combination of those.

Figure 13-3 shows the home page for a web design certificate program offered in North Carolina. It’s a fairly complete 13-course program, with the technical side represented by a JavaScript course called JavaScript for the Non-Programmer. Check it out atwww.oshr.nc.gov/psp/webdesigncert.html.

Should you take online courses?

This is an easy one. Take in-person courses when you can. You tend to learn more, the networking is better, and more prestigious programs have more of their courses and degree programs available in-person than online. Then take online courses to fill gaps, to pick up a new technology quickly when you don’t have time for an in-person course, and to make up for living someplace that isn’t convenient to the type of courses you want to take. Should you do an all-online course? If you can’t find time, energy, money, or geographic convenience for an in-person course, sure. It’s probably going to be less prestigious, but easier and less expensive to complete, and it’s still likely to be worthwhile.


Figure 13-3: This web design program covers the basics and then some.

Investigating the strange case of Stanford Continuing Studies

Stanford’s Continuing Studies department is a great example of the pressures faced by major university continuing education programs — and of the rewards possible for students, despite the pressures.

If you look at the website for Continuing Studies at Stanford, you won’t find a single computer science (CS) course. CS is the crown jewel of Stanford’s curriculum, both in terms of its academic reputation and its revenue base; Stanford isn’t going to let people get the rewards of CS courses by, as it were, coming in the side door.

Figure 13-4 shows the website for Continuing Studies at Stanford. Check it out at http://continuingstudies.stanford.edu/courses/courses-by-department.

Especially note the online courses, which you can take from anywhere in the world. Then check out the offerings at colleges and universities in your area, as well as ones you’ve attended previously.


Figure 13-4: Stanford Continuing Studies lists most of its web development-related courses under Technology.

But look through the listings carefully, and you find hidden gems. On Stanford’s site under Online Professional and Personal Development, you’ll find Tame Data to Drive Big Insight: An Online Course. If you click through to the description, you’ll find that this is a course in the area of big data, which is one of the hottest areas in technology, and directly relevant to web development.

In that same heading is another course, Beginning Programming (PHP): An Online Course. PHP is a very popular language for web development, and it also has a big data aspect to it.

Finally, under Technology is a treasure trove of web development-related courses, including website design, WordPress, and JavaScript. The courses mentioned previously as appearing under Online Professional and Personal Development appear here too.

When you take courses as a regular Stanford student, a lot of nice things suddenly appear on your resume. But you can get a lot of cool technology names, plus the Stanford name, on that resume really quickly and easily through continuing studies courses.

To MOOC or not to MOOC

A big new thing is Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. The idea is to take popular courses and make them available online for free.

Stanford is a big participant in MOOCs, with several of if its computer science and programming-related courses available. You may even be able to get a certificate of completion for a small fee, but be aware that this option is changing fast across MOOCs as we write this.

At this writing, you can’t get college credit for MOOCs. They’re great for learning, for trying courses to see what you like and can handle, and for preparing for regular college work. This is all really valuable. But until MOOCs offer credit, you can’t use them toward a degree.

Do take MOOCs, work hard, learn the topic, and put the experience on your resume, though. Be ready to answer questions about what you did and what you learned during a job interview. (The fact that you’re talking about Stanford and you in the same sentence can only help, unless of course you already have a degree from there.) This is a new alternative that you can get some mileage out of if you put the effort in.

How Smith got Stanford on his resume

One of the authors (Smith) was able to add Stanford to his resume in a fun and worthwhile way. Smith took two web design courses at Stanford — a school everyone has heard of — after graduating from the University of San Francisco, a school far fewer people have heard of, particularly in computer science. The courses put the word Stanford on his resume, as well as adding credibility to his burgeoning web-related work experience. Ten years later, Smith graduated from a master’s degree program at the London School of Economics, further strengthening both his knowledge and his resume.

Tips for continuing education

Continuing education is, by its nature, highly flexible, and everyone’s educational background and work situation varies. So we can’t give hard and fast rules as to how to work the continuing education game.

tip.eps Entrance requirements for continuing education programs, as well as for graduate school, are often surprisingly low, and can often be negotiated. They want to take your money! So consider yourself empowered to get into, or talk your way into, any program you’re interested in. Take a “no” to mean “not today.” Ask the admissions office what you can do to turn a “no” into a “yes.”

Here are a few tips, though, that will help many people in many different situations:

· Choose big-name schools: Where possible, use continuing education to get the name of an impressive school onto your resume. If you already have impressive schools, this doesn’t help much, but if you can take a single course at Harvard to add luster to your community college–heavy education, do it.

· Consider taking certificate programs first: Getting a certificate, or some other recognition of completing a program of some sort, can be similar in its impact to a degree. A certificate program can also serve as the first part of a full Master’s degree program. Look at certificate programs and see if any of them make sense for you.

· Go small or go big: For resume purposes, either take one or two courses to add a bit of luster to your resume, or complete a program of some sort. Four or more random courses don’t help your resume much more than one or two do.

· Pick big-name technologies: Take a course in the latest hot technology and put that course, and perhaps one other, on your resume. You probably will just clutter things up by listing more courses than that.

· Build toward a degree: Some continuing education courses can be used toward an advanced degree. Others can’t be counted directly, but are about as good as the regular course. Choose those if you can.

· Mind your connections: Taking classes toward a certificate is a fantastic networking exercise, one that can easily lead to new jobs. Do well in your courses, speak up in class at least a bit, and make a point of getting to know your fellow students. Try to hire talented students into your company as well as looking for a new career yourself.

· Quality over quantity: Spread your courses out over time and do well in each one. This is not so much important for your academic record as it is for networking and for effectively being able to use your new knowledge in your career.

· Watch out for executive education: High-priced courses and programs, often called “executive education” or something similar, are designed to be paid for by your company — not by you directly. You can drain your checking account in a big hurry if you pay for such courses yourself. (They can still be pricey even if you pay for half of them yourself, as some companies require. You can negotiate this with your employer as well as with educational institutions.)

· Remember that continuing education is not magic: If you don’t get along well with colleagues, are having trouble completing assignments on time, and so on, adding continuing education courses won’t fix it. Ideally, you can do a good job, get along well with colleagues, and take continuing education courses as a plus.

remember.eps You’re perfectly free to take many continuing education courses as you’d like for your own growth and development. But you’ll only want to put one or two courses, or one or two certificates, on your resume. Beyond that, additional courses won’t build your credentials much.

tip.eps When in doubt, talk to friends and colleagues about their experience with continuing education. Try to include friends who’ve done hiring, or ask around on LinkedIn. The education industry can take a lot of your money without giving you very much direct benefit, so caveat emptor.

Many of the advantages of an advanced degree also apply to a bachelor’s degree, and vice versa. Read both this section, about bachelor’s degrees, and the next section, about advanced degrees, to get a well-rounded idea of the advantages of all kinds of higher education in web development jobs.

Getting an Advanced Degree

In a field where hiring is driven by your portfolio and your connections, and where the need for a bachelor’s degree is controversial, what about advanced degrees? Isn’t an advanced degree completely unnecessary?

There are three kinds of advanced degrees for most web developers to consider:

· Master’s degrees: Master’s degrees come in two types: an MA, or Masters of Arts, and an MSc, or Masters of Sciences. An MSc degree is more technical and likely to bring somewhat greater financial rewards. Either distinguishes you from people with a bachelor’s degree or less.

· Doctorates: A doctorate only comes in one type, the PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy. Most people who get a PhD get an MA or MSc on the way to the PhD. A doctorate strongly distinguishes you and positions you to be a senior manager or thought leader in your field.

· MBAs: Many technology company leaders have engineering degrees at the bachelor’s level and an MBA (a master’s of business administration degree) on top of that.

If we had to answer the question, “Do I need an advanced degree?” with a simple yes or no, the answer, for many web developers, would indeed be no. You can have a long, successful, and lucrative career in web development without an advanced degree. And there’s a good case to be made that working longer hours or taking on a side project could well be more lucrative over time than taking courses.

Is it tough to get into an advanced degree program?

It’s always tough to get into advanced degree programs, except when it isn’t. And it often isn’t. The requirements stated in college course catalogs are often intimidating, but university departments often have a lot of discretion in individual cases, like yours. There are also advanced degree programs that are specifically designed for people with work experience; keep an eye open for those.

Universities like to fill their programs, and if an incoming class isn’t full, they can be quite flexible. (Especially when they’re trying to launch a new, specialized program that’s a bit different from what they’ve had before.) Universities also like to add working professionals to programs full of smart, but unseasoned, younger students. Figure out what you want to do and ask. If a given program says no, ask where there might be openings — in other programs at the same university, or at other universities. You’re likely to get good, and useful, advice.

However, a longer answer would cite some advantages of advanced degrees that are hard to get any other way:

· Personal satisfaction: It feels good to master complex material and to get recognized for doing so, with a lot of hard work and some personal sacrifice required to get there. Pieces of paper do mean something when they’re granted by credible institutions and recognize years of hard work. It feels good, forever, to have achieved everything represented by an advanced degree. It feels even better when you’re able to use your knowledge in a meaningful way at work.

· Prestige: People have at least some understanding of what goes into getting an advanced degree, and that can translate into a certain degree of respect, an advantage when applying for new positions, and the ability to teach others in a university setting if you choose to do so. We don’t suggest pursuing an advanced degree with prestige as the main reason, but don’t be afraid to enjoy it a bit once you get there.

· Pay: Studies reliably show that more education results in a higher lifetime income. One can easily see this happening within web development, where it’s easier for your resume to float to the top of the pile, easier to land that speaking engagement, and easier to get that raise you’ve been pushing for when you have an advanced degree.

· Structured knowledge: Sure, you can learn how to do PHP programming out of a book, or using a stand-alone online course. The cool thing about degree programs is a combination of the information in them and the structure in which the information is delivered. This meta-information is valuable to deep understanding of the material itself, and for learning something about the institutions that deliver information in this particular way. Learning about the institutions helps you understand the value of what they have to offer, so you can make better decisions about which teammates to seek out, and whom to hire when you’re the one making the decisions.

· Truly incredible networking opportunities: If you want to start your own company someday, for instance, there’s a very good chance you can find your cofounder in a degree program, or through one. Advanced degree programs are good ways to find your next job — or your next new colleague at your current job — as well. The teaching, speaking, and alumni activity opportunities that come with your degree are all networking opportunities as well.

Different advantages of an advanced degree matter more or less to different people. The key is that, in web development, unlike in other careers, an advanced degree is not always an unadulterated plus. Pursue one for your own reasons, and don’t pursue it if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it.

tip.eps Because technology-oriented people tend to be irreverent and disrespectful of authority and tradition, it isn’t helpful to put on an air of superiority if you’re pursuing, or achieve, an advanced degree. Tech people respect competence. So think of your degree as something you achieved while learning things that you really wanted to know, both for the sake of knowledge itself and to be able to do more cool things at work. And don’t expect anyone to give you anything — a job, respect, even winning an argument — as a result. Instead, use the skills you learned in getting the degree to get what you want.

Is It tough to afford graduate degrees?

Private universities can be very expensive, and executive programs even more so. However, your work is highly likely to pay half of your tuition and book costs, student loans are available for the rest, and you’re quite likely to make back whatever you invest in a few years from a higher salary. Finally, in-state tuition for public universities is often quite reasonable. So yes, it’s expensive to get an advanced degree. It’s a big investment of time and money — but you can usually figure out ways to reduce the amount that you pay yourself and to get a good return on your investment.

LSE? Yeah, you know me

One of the authors (Smith) is a late bloomer educationally, but a successful one. Smith left the University of California at San Diego a couple of years into a computer science degree program to work. He got his Bachelor of Arts in information systems management from a program at the University of San Francisco at age 30 while working for Apple Computer. Nearly 20 years later, while living and working in London, he was accepted to the London School of Economics (called “the LSE” by graduates, staff, and professors) for a new program in information systems. He received his MSc (an MSc, rather than an MA, because of three tough statistics courses) and graduated at age 50. The new degree helped him get hired by global banking giant HSBC, Visa, and others.