Meet the Software Engineer Looking to Be a More Competitive Job Candidate

Written by Amanda Wicks • Updated on

Rachel Washington already holds a master’s degree, but she felt that earning a master’s in computer science was an important next step in becoming a more competitive tech candidate.

[Featured image] University of Colorado Boulder student Rachel Carson.

In-person graduate programs in the US tend to have set admissions cycles. Applications are due in December and applicants find out a few months later whether or not they’ve been accepted. But that timeline doesn’t always work if you’re ready to get started right away. 

Rachel Washington was working as a software engineer when her company went through layoffs and she lost her job. “Since I got laid off that quickly, I didn't have time to apply to [master’s] programs,” she explained. Washington had been thinking about earning her master’s in computer science to be a more competitive job candidate and she didn’t want to wait. “Computer science degrees are very common. Not having one puts you at a competitive disadvantage. It adds credibility to your skill set.” 

Washington learned about the University of Colorado Boulder’s Master of Science in Computer Science, offered through Coursera. The program doesn’t require a traditional application. Instead, with performance-based admission, Washington needed to take and pass three initial courses to gain full admission. “You just have to prove yourself,” she said. “You don't have to go through this lengthy application process. It was really convenient.” 

Earning a second master's to stay competitive in tech

Prior to shifting to computer science, Washington had earned her bachelor’s in chemistry and her master’s in computational chemistry. She’d done some coding in high school, but it wasn’t until her first graduate program that she discovered how much she enjoyed problem-solving and thought a career in software engineering could be a good fit. 

To sharpen her coding skills, she enrolled in a bootcamp, which eventually helped her get her first software engineering job. When she was laid off, Washington could’ve applied for similar roles, but she knew having formal training—and the credential to back it up—would be useful in what can often feel like a crowded job market. “When you're competing against other people that have a degree [in computer science], they're going to pick the person with a degree, not the person without one,” she said. 

A rigorous graduate program

An online degree simply describes the way a student learns—it doesn’t mean a program is any less rigorous. Washington found Boulder’s computer science master’s program comparably challenging to her computational chemistry degree. “I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that this isn't a legitimate degree,” she said. “But it is. It requires as much work as an [in-person] master’s degree.” 

Washington started by enrolling in Software Architecture and quickly ramped up her course load from there. “I did struggle a bit with the first few courses because I don't come from a computer science background, but the course facilitators made it doable,” she said. “They were really awesome and they helped me a lot.”  

Washington took advantage of office hours to make sure she was fully grasping the material. “You can ask questions and you can ask them for advice,” she said of the course facilitators. “I was doing a final project and I was getting really bad results from my data set. Then, the course facilitator was like, ‘Maybe you should try this model,’ and that worked way better. Just having them there to bounce ideas off of is really helpful and they're really nice, too. They're really kind.” 

Staying ahead through machine learning and AI

Besides learning foundational computer concepts, like algorithms with Professor Sriram Sankaranarayanan, Washington has been enjoying courses on machine learning and AI that she feels are “future-proofing” her education. “Those classes are really beneficial for my future,” she said. In her machine learning lab, the course used real-world data to emphasize the subject matter’s relevancy. “We looked at election data and whether certain things were statistically significant in that data.” 


As with many students who earn their degrees online for the flexibility, Washington has to balance competing responsibilities, like work. “I struggle with it to this day,” she said of managing her time. “The best way, I’ve found, is to figure out how many hours it will take me to do something.” She also uses the daily planner app Structured to input her different tasks and get a clear idea of when she should work on what. “I find if I don't do that, the work just doesn't get done.”  

Washington has been dedicating most of her time to her coursework so that she can graduate in December—a year and a half after starting. She hopes to journey to Boulder, Colorado, and walk in graduation. “One thing I really like about the University of Colorado Boulder is they treat us like we're Boulder students,” she said. “They don't treat us like an afterthought.”


Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

SEO Content Manager II

Amanda Wicks has developed and produced content for New York University, University of North Carolin...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.