Paul J Russell Masters Diploma On June 4th, 2009 I graduated from Harvard University with a Masters in software engineering for the field of information technology.

When I started, my naive assumption was that I'd learn little in the process of getting the degree, but it would be good for my resume.  Its' value on my resume remains to be tested, but the many things I learned in the process of getting this degree have been immensely useful.

There is simply no substitute for implementing a SQL parser in C to make you realize that C is the wrong language in which to author a SQL parser.

I distinctly remember a beautiful spring day when Alex and Christine were playing in our front yard and I was having trouble concentrating on that SQL parser code. The lure of fun was very strong much, but I had to get my homework done.  The house was new and we didn't have curtains yet, so I nailed a comforter to the window. There it stayed till I finished the database class. A full time job and a kid (now 3 kids) doesn't leave much time for school.

I lost most of that spring, but I got an A. And despite that rather ridiculous SQL Parser assignment, which was only made worse by the professor's parting comment that they "Probably wouldn't bother with it next year because it was a waste of time", there were loads of valuable lessons at Harvard. The work I did there helped shape the way I think about software and I'm surprised by how well the instincts I developed there serve me every day.

Literally Making Money On Education

I work for Cisco Systems which provided me a great tuition reimbursement program.

Cisco asks that I note the following -"Opinions expressed here and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors, not those of Cisco."

The way tuition reimbursement works, I pay the tuition up front, and as long as I get a good final grade, they cut me a check for the tuition after the class ends. While there were a few side costs such as the $100 printing and binding cost for my Masters Thesis, Cisco basically picked up the tab for my education with the exception of the interest I lost on having the initial tuition cost tied up.

The geek in me couldn't help but figure out how much my degree had cost.

The chart below tracks my out of pocket tuition costs as compared to an identical investment in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI). On July 23, 2009 my final reimbursement check arrived and it contained $328 more than if I had invested in the DJI. That money is already being put to use on

When this all started my hope was to be able to say I went to Harvard for a few hundred bucks in lost interest opportunity. Unfortunately, the recent collapse of the stock market caused me to make money on the deal.  I'm not begrudging the gain of $328 bucks, but I'd trade it to get 40% of my 401k and the world economy back.  Hopefully the Kiva entrepreneurs put that money to good use.


I didn't attend the graduation ceremony, but I did make a trip into campus to pick up my diploma. It was my own personal graduation ceremony. That day the rain came off and on and it was refreshing to be walking around outside on a weekday.

Graduation giftI walked up the 7 flights of stairs to the Dean's office at 51 Brattle Street and a woman I believe was the Dean's secretary presented me with my diploma. She did it with a lot of flair; took it out of the envelope, read a bit, shook my hand and congratulated me.  It was quite a rush.

There was another piece of paper in there that said I made the Dean's list which came as a complete surprise. I was so busy trying to graduate I actually didn't pay much attention to my cumulative grades.

Afterward I stopped by the Coop and picked up a Harvard window sticker for my car, and a Harvard Key-chain medallion to hang on the now empty bottle of Tullamore Dew gifted to me by my grandmother for graduation. That wasn't my first or last bottle of Tullamore Dew, but it was the best whiskey I've ever tasted.