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Self-Award of a Master's Diploma

Self-Award of a Master's Diploma

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Published by E S Bourbakia
I am proposing and considering the self-award of my Master's diploma. It is a crazy idea, but here's how it would work, and here's why.
I am proposing and considering the self-award of my Master's diploma. It is a crazy idea, but here's how it would work, and here's why.

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Published by: E S Bourbakia on May 11, 2007
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I am planning to award myself a Master's degree in Computer Science.Here is a description of why:----I have a strange idea in my head. I would like to propose this idea to you, andthe background context in which it originated, in the hope that you might adviseme. You! Whoever you are :)Here is the background.I am very interested in computer science. I started programming in about 6thgrade, on a TI-83 calculator, and progressed from there.By the time I graduated high school, I would rate myself at what mighttraditionally be called "Journeyman" skill level: a person who has enoughexperience (perhaps through apprenticeship) to work usefully in the industry, as aprofessional. At the time I graduated, I had a score of '5' on the AdvancedPlacement Computer Science Test "AB"; for me, the concepts were already routine.I achieved the highest level rating, Master, in the C++ programming language teston Brainbench.com and rated expert in many others. I had outstanding job offersfrom companies based solely on my scores and resume. I did not intend on takingthem, though.Throughout high school and college, I worked on open source projects. Some ofthese were very successful. One project I started is extremely well-known, hasbeen distributed on CDs, and has won awards from well-known software magazines.The project even outlived me, and continues to this day despite my retirement.What I mean to say is that I am *good*. I know that society hates for someone tosay this about herself, but, it is true. It is demonstrably true. Empiricalevidence surrounds me, in the form of successful projects, both business and opensource. I am good at what I do, and I have no humiltiy about it. I also do notover-estimate my own skills. So I believe.When I got into college, I already had a strong idea of software engineering andhow it should be taught. There are many things I learned during college; one ofthem being the difference between Computational Theory (CT) and SoftwareEngineering (SE), both of which I consider in the field of Computer Science (CS).It is superfluous to argue about the meaning of the terms, but, to clarify to myreaders, by CT I mean the study of mathematical and abstract computer concepts;while by SE I mean the study of how to build good, practical software. These arevery different disciplines, with different focuses.One thing that may not be evident to lay readers is the huge difference betweengood and bad software. Like many other machines in our lives, we simply neverrecognize when a computer is behaving properly. This is as it should be. Acomputer is a tool to accomplish a job; the tool itself is not the focus.Accordingly, most people do not want to think about them.The tinkerers who are interested in the workings of computers are the ones we knowof as computer scientists, or engineers. There is a big difference between anengineer and a scientist. Both of them want to discover new things! The engineerwants to discover how to improve the process of construction, while the scientistwants to discover new theories.I have always leaned strongly in the direction of Software Engineering. Like
 
other types of mathematics, the mathematics of CT is very difficult and precise.It is amazing the sorts of things we are now able to formally reason about; youmight call CT the mathematics of things that aren't numbers. We have functions,variables, etc., but they aren't numbers -- they are more complex things, such aslists of numbers. It is even more amazing the sorts of things we have been ableto prove. This is another topic for another time.For unfortunate, essentially non-academic reasons, I have been unable to completemy degree in the Professional Master's Program [1] from [redacted university].That is okay. Sometimes life gives us lemons. I feel that, since college, I haveprogressed from Journeyman to Master in Software Engineering. I have learned agreat deal of CT and would now consider myself a Journeyman. CS is such a bigfield that a Master or even Doctorate in the subject may have a completelydifferent set of knowledge than another. For example, one might focus on SoftwareEngineering (building browsers like Firefox) while another focuses on thespecifics of how numbers are represented in mathematical software (like Matlab orMathematica).Although I am now going to enter the professional population, and spend themajority of my time working as an engineer, I am always interested in personalgrowth. Therefore I am planning to formally continue my studies in ComputationalTheory and Software Engineering. I will learn more about the latter implicitly byworking; the former will be a subject of study.I am therefore planning to pursue a Master of Science thesis [2] in the field ofComputer Science, specifically Software Engineering.One of the things I have learned during my time in University is that politicsdominates academia. Part of this politics is the huge growth of academia is an"industry", with large amounts of money exchanging hands. These aspects ofacademia do not interest me, and I would prefer to avoid them. Most institutionsalso expect a student pursuing higher level learning to work full time, and takeon other roles. I think that some of these things are not essential, or evenimportant, for the learning process that produces a Master or Doctorate.Ultimately, the metric used to determine the award of a Master or Doctorate is(should be?) the work of the student. Traditionally, a Master degree is awardedto a student who has demonstrated full mastery of a field, and PhD to a studentwho has demonstrably advanced the state of research in that field. Thedefinitions have changed over time, unfortunately.It now seems that a Master's degree is something one can now just pay for. I knowmany people pursuing this type of higher-level education whom I have never thoughtwere terribly interested in the subject in the first place. I find that as timegoes on, all of the degrees are lessening in value: Bachelor's is simply expected,Master's is something you can pay for, and Doctorate is something you can pay forwith a few more years. Although the tier 1 institutions are roughly protectingthe Master's and Doctorate degrees, I do not think that the vast majority are.Consequently I have decided that I will independently pursue and develop myMaster's thesis. Independent of any particular institution.I am sure that this line alone shocks you, for many reasons -- and it should.What temerity of a person, to award *herself* a degree? Madness!However, I believe that if one very deeply thinks about the issue, I believe hewill come to the same conclusion that I did, which is that a self-award system mayactually be more critical and significant. I will anticipate your objections and
 
address them below.There will always be crooks who claim to be experts in things they are not. Thesepeople can already get degrees by purchasing them online. Hell, they falselyclaim credentials on their resumes anyway. Declaring that degrees must be awardedby large institutions only does not actually protect anything. It is like a lawthat prohibits stealing: the moral people would not steal either way; the thieveswill regardless.Most people do not consider credentials to be proof of competency; you would notfind that a PhD in computer science is enough to get a job in the field. Otherthings matter much more. What really matters? I think it is the character of theperson herself.If I create an independent Master's thesis, it comes down to any individual toweigh their opinion of me. If I am trusted and respected, indeed, as a person andscientist and engineer, then their respect or trust in me suggests that they willtrust my claim to Mastery.What of people who do not know me? A stranger cannot judge my character. If Ihave a PhD from Stanford U. or Rice U., he may trust me implicitly based on trustfor those names. But nevertheless, this is not trust for me, myself. This istrust for those institutions, which is extended, as a loan of sorts, to me. Ifthis fellow reads my thesis and finds it or the work I perform now to be lackingof what he considers a Master's skill, then the degree means nothing anyway.I believe what it comes down to is a claim: I have this amount of skill andknowledge; I have contributed this to the field. The claim and the actualcontribution are independent of any particular institution. If I make a thesis,it is revolutionary, or it isn't. It's correct or it's not. It doesn't becomemore of anything because I pursued it at Harvard U. We as scientists are beholdento the concept that evidence just is, independent of subjectivity. A diploma fora Master's degree, then, is evidence that the student is a Master in his field.I believe therefore that this type of claim is simply verified by an institution,recognized by it. This is consistent with the ceremonial awards of degrees(which, admittedly, some people object to).There are many questions about whether my work would be truly a Master'scontribution, and how I should judge this for myself. Can a person judge his ownknowledge? I think there are three possibilities for this situation, a person whoclaims to be a Master:1) The claimant is a liar (insincere)2) The claimant is sincere, but misguided about what constitutes Mastery of thefield.3) The claimant is correct about his Mastery of the field.Some might argue that I am #1. The real challenge to the idea of this document isthat I cannot, for myself, distinguish whether I am #2 or #3. In fact, I believeI can. As a student gains knowledge gradually, he must, at some point, be able todecide what Mastery of the field is. He can then decide whether someone hasMastery.We are all biased in favor of ourselves -- it is inevitable. Therefore the properway to compensate is to approach with a very careful and conservative estimate ofMastery. If one must err, err in the direction of knowing much more thannecessary for a claim to Mastery. This is what honorable people will do, for an

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