Graduate degree in AI while working

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Graduate degree in AI while working

Post by kurious »


Thank you in advance for your feedback and guidance. I am looking for formal and structured education in Artificial Intelligence while keeping my job.


I work at a tech start-up that works in some aspects of AI such as knowledge representation. In five years, I have evolved to become an architect as well as a manager. However, I consider my technical competence and understanding of the discipline of AI shallow. Recently, a client fired me from a project that I was leading for a year because they had to appear to be making some changes to keep the project alive. I know this because they said this to me in person. My employer does not blame me for this situation. However, I feel like I could have done better. I gave this project every ounce of my being for a year and am burnt out anyway. Unfortunately, my best was not good enough.

At the same time, this failure has fired me up to get as good in my craft as possible. I am thus considering getting formally educated in the discipline.

No debt. NW of about 430k across retirement and investment accounts. I am 34 and DW is 32. Planning to have a child in the next year or so depending on what the Heavens decide.

Ideal graduate program

I am looking for a graduate program that will help me learn the following:

- The technical and business underpinnings of Artificial Intelligence
- The requisite math
- The ability to specialize in some sub-field (such as NLP)
- Operationalizing AI in the field (distributed architectures, containerization, Ops practices, etc.)

Graduate program attributes desired:
- In-person evening classes (I don't have the discipline to follow through with online classes. I have started and failed completing MOOCs at least a dozen times)
- Preferably in the Boston area. I can move to another location and work remotely if needed.
- Cohort where peers are employed full-time

About me:

I am "consultant-type" i.e., articulate with both the written and oral word, big picture thinker, have effective client relationship skills, can deconstruct problems into reasonable chunks for solutioning, divergent thinking is more of a strength than convergent thinking. Also intensely dislike making PowerPoint slides and IT stuff (LDAP, infrastructure monitoring). Not naturally gifted at math and programming, but a recent convert to "growth mindset". I want to make an honest-to-God effort to either good at these or fail utterly but with my sincerest effort.

I also have an insatiable appetite to read. Since being removed from the project, I have immersed myself in books. Reading helps me keep my balance. Primary interest is polymathy spanning computers, microeconomics, game theory, basic sciences, psychology, etc.


1. Should I be looking to pursue formal education or look for opportunities with my employer? I work for a hi-tech product start-up.

2. If a graduate degree makes sense, should I be willing to spend money out of pocket?

3. If I am really serious about learning, should I not peruse the free resources on the web? If I don't have the discipline to complete them online, will I realistically be able to complete an in-person program?

4. Are my motivations sincere, or is this just the aftershock and reaction to failure? Something that will fade in a few months

5. Or should I just stick to what are evidently my natural strengths? Personally, I find "consultant-type" jobs hollow and devoid of meaning. I used be one back in the day and found making slides a tremendous waste of time. I'd like be able to build useful things myself and/or lead teams that make useful things for other people.

Thank you for your feedback.

- kurious
Last edited by kurious on Thu May 06, 2021 12:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Graduate degree in AI while working

Post by Hayduke »

There are a lot of MS in Data Science programs popping up that you could look at. Given the density of universities in Boston I'm sure you could find a local program. Would likely need to pay your way for a MS, RA/TA support is usually reserved for PhD students.

Coursera has some great classes on AL/ML/deep learning. A great way to start is just to get cracking on GitHub with some fun personal projects that involve AI to start building a portfolio you can showcase. Or maybe you can identify an obstacle for at your current company and use it as an AI skill building exercise. We hire plenty of self-taught AI/ML types if they can show they know the material and have code somewhere that I can look at.
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Re: Graduate degree in AI while working

Post by market timer »

You have described a vast amount of course work in your post. Have you made a list of the courses that would get you where you'd like to be? You might find it takes several years of full-time work to complete.

When I read your post, I get the impression that you want to be able to do everything. In my view, it is important to know how you fit into a team. I spent ages in school doing a PhD, and still understand only a fraction of what is needed to build something useful. We have to rely on others to build great things.

Based on what you describe, I wonder if you'd be best suited to a Product Manager type of role, where you have ownership of a product, would use your communication skills to align stakeholders, but leave the technical details to people who have them, but who might not see how they all fit together.
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Re: Graduate degree in AI while working

Post by anoop »

In order to complete such a program you would pretty much need to let your job take a back seat. An in person program is going to demand significantly more time than an online class.

I think MOOCs could be implemented better by providing more accessible reference materials instead of having to go to the videos to review a concept that would have taken a few seconds to lookup in text. I completed 2 MOOC courses in economics and one in web design. I found that while I enjoyed the subject matter, the difficultly of accessing reference material quickly was a pain. For the economics courses, I used to pause the video and manually do a screen capture of each slide and paste it into a word doc!
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Re: Graduate degree in AI while working

Post by adestefan »

anoop wrote: Thu May 06, 2021 2:34 am In order to complete such a program you would pretty much need to let your job take a back seat. An in person program is going to demand significantly more time than an online class.
It’s not as bad as you make it out to be. I completed my MS in Computer Science about 15 years ago in a part-time program with only in-person classes. The key is to realize it’s going to be slower. Take only one class at a time; I tried to cram in two once and it was miserable. Go year round since a lot of required classes are in the summer and they’ll let you shuffle around things. Realize you might not be able to do everything you want with as a part-time student. As a part time student there was no real cohort of people working together. I had to fit in things where I could and didn’t do too much within the school outside of just getting my school work done and meeting professors when needed. Overall it took my four years to finish. I did work part-time the last semester to wrap up things up, plus I was getting married at the same time.

If you’re going to do it, do it now while you don’t have kids or they’re younger. About 4 years ago I was going to get my second masters in applied math. I was accepted and started, but about half way through the second semester I was done. At the time my oldest was 7 and started to get into some after school activities. I decided being there for my daughter was more important.

If you don’t care about doing a thesis there are plenty of online, in-person class programs where you do 8 or 10 classes and call it done. Most of those have set progressions where you include around 5 elective classes at the end. They’re not MOOCs where you watch videos, but instead are live classes that you attend remotely. A good example is

For the financial aspect you should talk to your employer about paying for it. I don’t know anyone that went to school while working full time and didn’t have their employer pay.
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Re: Graduate degree in AI while working

Post by kleiner »

Georgia Tech has a very highly regarded online masters program in CS. It will allow you to specialize in AI. Take a look here:

I do know a person who took this course and he said that it was very intense, especially since her had a small kid. However, the payoff was good - he got an excellent job after completing the course.
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Re: Graduate degree in AI while working

Post by econalex »

First I wanna say I'm in a very similar but at the same time decidedly different situation as you OP. Hopefully I can briefly describe my background, concerns about my situation and that could be potentially useful for you.

Similar: Age, gender, consulting job, come to data science/AI work without a CS background, feeling burnout & underemployed, considering school again, also in Boston (working remotely for now)

Different: Economics & Math major in college, Econ master and Operations Research (basically applied math) master degree; and the big one, I'm on work visa (H1b).

What prompted me to think about school (again)
I have been working for the same small consulting company in Boston for 4 years after graduating with my 2nd master degree (Operations Research). The company used to do more (1) economic consulting work (expert witness in litigation) but recently pivoted to more (2) data science project/contracts for other companies and federal agencies. Personally I actually like both (1) and (2) but can't help to feel I'm underemployed (and yes underpaid) in both. I have been looking to switch for many years but in economic consulting they really don't hire from outside for junior positions and for mid-senior positions you have to have PhDs. I have also been looking for data scientist jobs (and such positions seem to be widely available or at least advertised), but what I realize (more like I come to presume) is these positions either don't sponsor work visas (think traditional industries, and (non-IT) consulting more or less) or ask for really high level of both math & coding capabilities ( Amazon etc.).

I'm secure at my current (underemployed & underpaid) position but can't help to feel like I'm left behind by my peers, who have been holding mid-level positions at big techs, n-th yr associate at big laws, managers at consulting firms, AVP/VPs at finance, faculty at universities etc.. So basically that's why it has recently become tempting for me to go back to school. Not considering PhD since I dropped out the first time (Economics). But MBA is expensive, and coming from more of a science (is Economics a real science tho?) background, I mentally resist this sorta thing and the whole system behind it. Oh one last concern, I'm Asian from a particular country which I have no desire to ever go back to, mainly due to personal political beliefs. However, international students from said country are well-represented in all graduate program in US. While I hold the same passport, my personal political belief is not shared with 95% of them; hence I have come to realize it's excruciating for me to socialize with them.
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Re: Graduate degree in AI while working

Post by il0kin »

What problems could you better solve at work utilizing AI?

It's a hot word but it's not as sexy as you may think and the data science market is becoming saturated with the rapid proliferation of university programs and the technical tools are becoming better every day (see MLOps).

The real data scientists that command large salaries typically hold Ph.Ds in mathematics or statistics. NLP, modeling, etc comes easily to them. (not me, personally, though I work in data)

Data is really messy in the real world and I think a lot of data scientists would tell you they spend a lot of time cleaning up data before they can even work on their models.

Take a community college course locally on Python or R and see if it is interesting to you. Make sure it involved pulling data from APIs and shaping/transforming it. If you like it, you might like data science (AI is a sub field) work.
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Re: Graduate degree in AI while working

Post by gips »

i have an ms in cs, worked in technology, worked as a technology consultant and a mgmt consultant. for me, moving from tech to mgmt consulting was much less stressful as i didnt have to manage tech risk. i did miss working with technology and once i retired, decided to teach myself cloud arch and consult pt. coincidentally, i’m working on an ai/ml project.

i see some red flags in your OP, i suggest waiting 6 months and revisiting your idea. i’ve been in the same place, extreme burnout after a client project failed (client ceo went to jail for fraud, company went bankrupt) and i needed about six months for my head to clear. if you can, try to lay on a beach for a couple of weeks...

good luck!
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