A New Journey on an Old Path

Here’s a screenshot of my student portal.  Looks pretty much like everyone else’s; nothing special.  But this journey has been a long time coming.  5 years in fact.  It when I volunteered to teach students at my daughter’s high school through the newly created Cyber Security club.  I started with three students who were competing in the Cyber Patriot competition and grew into the 15 member club we have today.  We’ve expanded to include the Middle School students and are looking for a permanent space on campus so we can expand our offerings from simply preparing for the competition to teaching students pen testing and earning certifications in Microsoft, Cisco, and Linux disciplines.

I originally started teaching as a way to keep my technical skills up to date.  At that time, I was in a management role and did not have as much day to day interaction with technology.  So this was a perfect way to not only continue to keep my technical skills fairly current but to help to teach the next generation of trained monkeys!  Of course, an interesting thing occurred over the years.  As time passed by, I discovered that I actually enjoyed teaching.  I started to look into teaching as a profession and it looked intriguing.  Now, it doesn’t pay anywhere near what my middle management job pays, so I’m not leaving the active tech workforce anytime soon.  But as I looked into it further, I saw second career that would allow me to transition out of the rat race sooner than I imagined.

So about three years ago, I started to seriously plan for this second career.  I started looking into programs that were affordable, would provide me with degrees that would accentuate my current career but also be assets in my second career.  I also thought about what level I wanted to teach, and I’ve settled on the high school and college level.  That’s not to say that I wouldn’t teach younger students, but I don’t think they are ready for the stuff I want to teach.  Perhaps I’ll change my mind one day, but as of today it’s not something I’m considering.  Anyhow, in my research, I determined that the best bang I could get for both the present and the future is to earn a technical master’s degree.  That would allow me to teach at the community college level, and if I want to teach in High School here locally, it’s a prerequisite to have a master’s degree in the discipline I want to teach as well.

With that in mind, I researched both local and online options.  Unfortunately, it would be too difficult to attend classes locally as classes occur during the work day.  So online options became my focus.  Two years and a lot of careful planning later, I settled on Dakota State Online’s Masters in Applied Computer Science degree track.  There were a lot of other colleges in the running, and it was tough to decide between the final 6 schools on my list.  Ultimately, DSU won out with me for three reasons:

  1. Price – DSU was the third most affordable of the schools I was considering.  The three schools that were more expensive were larger and more recognizable among the common person, but they didn’t warrant the expense in my opinion.  One of the two cheaper schools is an online-only campus, which is not an issue for me, but my research led me to believe that degrees from online-only schools tend to receive less consideration when applying for teaching positions.  Online offerings from brick and mortar schools also receive less consideration than those from actual campus offerings, but when paired with a good explanation (like living on an island in the Pacific with few offerings) they will be considered.  The other cheaper alternative was tied to a well known school, but they lost me on the second point.
  2. Continuing path – The other school was a major school with a good reputation in Computer Science, which along with the more affordable tuition made it very tough.  But what broke the virtual tie with the smaller and lesser known DSU is the path to their Doctorates in Computer Security.  While I currently am not anticipating a PhD pursuit, the fact that there is a direct path to it from this Master’s program made it appealing.  The local colleges here are trying to build up their cyber security programs and earning a PhD in that discipline would put me in a good position (along with my years of experience working for different military organizations) to take on a position as a professor in their programs.  Possibly participating in the growing number of research projects are also another interesting possibility.
  3. Format – Finally, the biggest factor in my decision in choosing DSU is their format.  DSU follows the typical college semester format.  Many want to work quickly through their programs and the formats for some of the programs I considered reflected this desire.  One was on a 10 week per class pace, and another was set up where you worked through the material and when you were ready, you could “test out” to pass the class.  Since I’m not in a hurry to earn this degree, my plan is to take two classes per semester which should put me around 4 1/2 years to complete this program.  I’m just hitting mid-career so by the time I finish, I’ll still have time to use the degree to further my career (and hopefully pay it off) and more importantly, have time to find adjunct online or local teaching opportunities.  It also gives me time to decide on pursuing my PhD.

So tomorrow starts my long journey to earn my Master’s degree.  I’m excited to start this journey and can’t wait to log in and go to work.  Hopefully I’m able to keep up with this along with my other commitments, especially teaching my students.  It’s what set me on this path to begin with and I would miss teaching if I had to stop.  Anyone else pursuing higher education?  What will it do for you?  And what programs have you looked at?