Master of Information Systems for high-tech opportunities

By Gina Pogol

Earned on-campus or online, the Master of Information Systems, or MIS, is one route for career advancement as a computer engineer or IT manager. Job growth should be faster than average for computer and information systems managers from 2008 through 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Important qualifications include specialized technical knowledge, strong communications and business skills, and advanced studies such as those with a concentration in information systems.

On-campus and online Master of Information Systems studies

Also referred to as a Master of Science in Information Systems, Master of Information Systems Management or Master of Information Systems Technology, these programs generally require between 24 and 36 credit hours and take about 24 months of part-time study, or 12 months of intensive, full-time coursework. The MIS degree with its technology focus often lends itself to online study, and programs may be hybrid campus-based and online offerings or completely Web-based coursework.

Before entering a traditional or online Master of Information Systems degree program, students should have earned a bachelor's degree. Many programs also require satisfactory scores on the GMAT exam and/or completion of some technology courses at the undergraduate level. Typical prerequisites include an introduction to information technology and basic programming courses in C++ or Java. Students who have not taken the required courses but have achieved proficiency in the subjects may be able to gain admission by passing tests.

The Master of Information Systems degree may also be offered in combination with a bachelor's degree in information systems--the entire program might consist of 152 credit hours. An MIS degree may also be combined with an MBA or other master's degree in a dual-degree program.

Master of Information Systems: coursework and class formats

Program coursework varies quite a bit, depending on the student's choice of emphasis. Options include management and leadership, information technology in health care, information security, online commerce, forensics, or software design. Most programs offer some version of the following courses combined with more specialized electives:

  1. Databases
  2. E-business technology
  3. Java programming
  4. IT project management
  5. IT structure
  6. Strategy and management
  7. Systems analysis and design
  8. Telecommunications

Traditional and online Master of Information Systems schools may offer electives like these:

  • Advanced database management
  • Data mining and business intelligence
  • Electronic health records
  • Ethical issues
  • Geographic information systems
  • Global e-business strategies
  • Network forensics
  • Planning for an IT startup

Master of Information Systems: career outlook

Graduates of Master of Information Systems programs can seek a variety of careers. Here is a run-down of several, including typical tasks, work environment, expected demand and earnings, according to the BLS. Successful program graduates may find a range of employers and positions:

  • In consulting firms, as strategic technology consultants
  • In IT departments, as systems architects, analysts and senior managers like Chief Information Officer
  • With software vendors, as project managers, programming team leaders and analysts

Information systems managers direct the efforts of software engineers, computer programmers, systems analysts and support specialists. They plan and coordinate installations and upgrades of hardware and software, manage programming and systems design, oversee computer networks and the development of intranet and Internet sites. Chief Technology Officers or CTOs assess the latest and most innovative technologies to determine the value to their organizations and how they might be deployed. IT project managers develop requirements, budgets and schedules for their firms' information technology projects.

Those with Master of Information Systems degrees often work long hours but have opportunity for advancement. Project managers can be promoted to the CTO position, and CTOs can advance to become CIOs. Other professionals may become managers in marketing, human resources or sales departments because high-tech companies demand an understanding of technical issues in those spheres.

Earnings for grads of online MIS programs

The BLS expects an excellent job outlook from 2008 through 2018 for computer and information systems managers. Employment for computer software engineers and computer programmers in general is expected to expand much faster than the average for U.S. occupations. Here are some annual wage estimates for 2010 from the BLS:

  • Computer and information research scientists: from $57,630 to $153,120, with a mean salary of $103,150
  • Information systems managers: from $71,420 to $146,080, with a mean salary of $123,280

Outstanding graduate of a master's program

Famous graduates of master's programs abound in the IT world, and Sergey Brin is one example. Sergey earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland with honors in computer science and mathematics. He went on to receive his master's degree in computer science from Stanford University. While at Stanford, he met fellow whiz Larry Page, and their joint research project, "The Anatomy of a Large-scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine" became the 10th-most accessed scientific paper at Stanford University--but this was only a precursor of bigger things to come. Sergey Brin and Larry Page went on to co-found Google, influencing the lives of millions and earning about $11 billion each in the process.

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