Leaving my Second Masters degree at the Halfway Point

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated. It’s been an extremely busy period of my life both professionally and personally but that’s not why there’s been a dearth of updates. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I had anything meaningful to say. It’s only looking back that I could synthesize why I left the program and what this means for my career and for my personal life. For those that don’t know, I was working toward my second graduate degree while working full time at a semiconductor company as a CPU/GPU power architect.

I was about halfway through the Computing Systems specialization at Georgia Tech’s OMSCS before I stopped registering for classes. I had gone through an especially busy period at work. For those of you familiar with the semiconductor industry, it was when we received first-silicon. For those unfamiliar, this is when we get our first manufactured silicon die from the fabs and we are tasked with making them fully operational. This is typically a time intensive push that lasts from several weeks to several months followed by a slow taper to normal working hours. I simply could not handle coursework and the demands of first-silicon at the same time.

By the time this busy period at work ended it was time to register for the next semester but I was completely burned out. Intense sustained frenzies of work tend to have inertia that sticks around for a while. I didn’t register for the second consecutive semester and by the OMSCS policy two semesters off and you are out of the program That is how my journey in the OMSCS came to an uneventful end.

Looking back, I think the following questions and answers help metabolize my decision to leave the program:

Why was I doing a second masters degree?

Like it or not, take it or leave it, I have a type A personality and I derive confidence and self-worth from my achievements. Doing a second masters degree in a challenging subject was a way of bolstering my achievements. I think this is something I began to wrap my head around just recently. Secondarily and more practically, I took a year off from work and doing a masters was a nice way to fill a gap on a resume. I’d say that my motivations we not driven by necessity or curiosity, rather, by a need to boost my ego.

What do I think about the program?

I have positive feelings regarding the quality of education and think the value proposition is outstanding. I’d say the education is 85% as effective as a traditional masters degree at just a fraction of the cost. The rigor and quality of the coursework was superb throughout my experience but the lack of student professor interaction is where I dock the program a bit. The communication via message boards is nice and somewhat effective but does not replace person to person interaction.

What was the expected practical outcome from the OMSCS?

I had nothing to gain materially aside from the education. My career was already established and on a strong trajectory. I was not making a career pivot. I was literally just doing it to get the degree and stay grinding. Had I had a need or educational gap to fill, I think my decision would have been different but this was not the case.

What did I gain by leaving the program?

As I mentioned before, during my time away from the program, I gained insight that I derive self confidence from work and achievement. While this sounds like a positive thing, I have a tendency to over work and over stress myself. I am not good at resting and this is harmful because resting  is important to my health and the quality of the work that I do produce. Furthermore, I gained back some time in my day that I was able to focus into other activities like my long standing passion of street dancing or my new passion, jiu jitsu. I find that it’s been helpful to rebalance my life toward physical and social activities. When I was taking coursework my time was consumed with my career or my coursework and moving away from this paradigm has been a healthy life choice. The picture in this post is from a grappling competition that I was able to train for and compete in. I only came in second (story of my life), but the point is I don’t think there would be room in my life for these new endeavors had I not made the hard decision to leave the program.

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