Monday, September 8, 2014

What College Degree for DevOps?

My son is a senior in high school and we are in the thick of college visits and trying to figure out what degree he might pursue. He has a strong aptitude for leadership and organizational dynamics. (He just finished a year as Senior Patrol Leader in Boy Scouts and loved the challenge of figuring out how the organization worked and leading people in such a way that they want to actually work instead of just goof off all the time.) He is not interested in a degree with heavy math or science, but he is a good problem solver and likes to puzzle over problems and pull pieces together to make a solution. His verbal is better than is math scores. He took a Java class in school and enjoys programming but doesn't think he wants to be a career programmer. On his own he came to me and said he thinks he might like something like a career as a system administrator. As a dad who is a system administrator that made my heart proud. That got me thinking about what would be the best degree to foster a DevOps mindset. The degree should create a person with a well-rounded technical background (some programming and some systems) as well as knowledge of the business and the context around the product. In the vein of the original liberal arts degree, teach the student how to think and problem solve, how to navigate the context of their problem space, and let the job fill in the details. The following is what I have learned so far. I am inviting feedback to challenge or validate the assumptions I am making below. I would love to hear from people with experience with the degrees and from hiring managers if my thinking is correct.

First assumption: I am searching primarily in the Southeast US and primarily Georgia because the HOPE scholarship is so good. Feedback from other parts of the country will be useful to the discussion by may not help me specifically.

The MIS Degree

I started off with the only thing I knew that combined business and technology: the MIS degree in the business school. I looked, and the degree seems to be very strong in Business with a few technology classes. It looks to me geared toward large corporation back office technologies. One school's highlight is getting SAP certification. Other schools tout their job placement in consulting companies. As I looked at these the first sinking feeling came. They sure looked like their 100% job placement guaranteed you a job working on a large ERP project at some mega-corporation. My career has been at small-ish technology companies and on the dotcom side of the world, I didn't like the feel of the job prospects for an MIS degree. I would like for my son to get a degree that would help him get a job at a company with a DevOps culture.

First question to the community: How many companies with DevOps cultures are hiring college graduates with MIS degrees for Ops positions? Is that an appealing degree for you for a system administrator? Would you hire an MIS grad on the production side of the house (ops or dev/product)?

The IT Degree

Next, I discovered the degree called Information Technology. This degree is a Bachelor of Science, typically in the engineering school. It appears to me to be an "applied" computer science degree. I think it may be the closest thing to a degree for system administration. Georgia Southern describes IT as: "The IT program at Georgia Southern University prepares students to hit the ground running in specializations in information management, networking and datacenter management as well as web and multimedia."

Two schools (among many) in Georgia with this degree are: Georgia Southern and Southern Polytechnic (oddly not Georgia Tech or UGA) and there is even an ABET accreditation for that degree.

This looks like a great degree, but it is very technical and has little focus on business and leadership. Also, if you are looking for a degree from a big-name university, this program is not offered at many top-tier universities.

Question two: Would companies with a DevOps culture be drawn to a candidate with a BS in IT for an Ops position?

The CIS Degree

Then I found the degree called "Computer Information Systems". The content of the program varies between schools and it does not have any accreditation. The two that caught my eye were at University of South Carolina and Clemson. (The CIS programs in Georgia either resemble IT or are in the Business Department and are not a BS degree) As I read the description it seems to be an IT degree with a minor in business. From SC "The CIS major combines computing courses (software, databases, networks, and hardware) from the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) department with a minor in Business Information Management". From Clemson "The B.S. in Computer Information Systems is a combination of cores computer science courses and courses selected from management, marketing, finance, economics, and accounting."

This sounds like the ideal degree for my son. It is a BS which should appeal to tech companies, but gives him a rounded education so that he can understand "The Business" and quickly move into a leadership position. The downside is the variation of programs from school to school so that when you say "I have a degree in CIS" no one really knows what you know.

Question three: Would companies with a DevOps culture be drawn to a candidate with a BS in CIS for an Ops position?


Added bonus. After I did all of the above research I found this site which sums up the degrees fairly well.

What I am going to try first is to see if the Information Technology degree at Georgia Southern can have all the electives tailored for business. That will give an accredited IT degree with a strong business background.

Feedback? Please.

Update: I've started collecting feedback in this new post.


  1. The more i think about it, the more I am convinced that what you are looking for is an Operations Research/Industrial Engineering program. These are programs that companies will take seriously in the field of DevOps. Remember that most of the DevOps theory comes out OR/Industrial Engineering.

    Most IT/MIS programs are ridiculously weak in quantitative analysis and surprisingly weak in teaching actual technology skills.

    i studied Computer Science myself and found it immensely useful in the areas of "IT" and "DevOps."

    To be valued by a business whether for DevOps or another purpose, he'll need really strong writing skills and the more math the better.

  2. fwiw, a computer science degree is immensely valuable even if you never write a line of code after graduating. There are whole avenues open to you in sales, marketing, operations, because you have deep knowledge in the area of programming. This is actually true of any engineering degree. The MIS tech courses tend to be faddish and shallow imho, teaching knowledge that has very short expiration dates. Whatever your son chooses, I hope he doesn't look back and wish he had studied _something_harder_.