The first new graduate degree offered at Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus will prepare students for competitive jobs in the computing industry — and it can be completed in about a year.

Virginia Tech will offer a master’s of engineering degree in computer science and applications at its future campus in Alexandria, Virginia. This program, pending approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, will begin in the spring of 2020. Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors approved the program during its June 2-3 meeting.

“We are excited about this new degree program because it provides rigorous computer science graduate coursework that will further advance successful careers in the computing field,” said Julia Ross, dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. “This advanced educational training will fulfill a great need in Virginia and in other parts of the country that lack this kind of talent to fuel the pipeline.”

The new degree will feature courses in software development, communication skills, ethical issues related to computing, and applied research and development. It is designed to prepare graduates for mid-level and advanced positions in industries related to computing technology.

Professionals with these skills, in particular those at the master’s level, are lacking in many parts of Virginia and throughout the country. The university’s 1-million-square-foot Innovation Campus is the centerpiece of the state’s plan to drive technology and research, transform Virginia’s innovation economy, and accelerate the development of top-notch, work-ready talent. The campus will offer education and research in computer science and related fields for master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral students.

There will be even more demand for this kind of technology talent once Amazon opens its second U.S. headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, this year.

Virginia Tech currently offers research-oriented master’s and Ph.D. programs in computer science. But its first Innovation Campus program will focus more on software development, with an emphasis on entrepreneurial, hands-on learning through a capstone course for which students work in teams to complete a software project’s life cycle.

“It is more focused on practical skills and topics that are necessary in industry,” said Cal Ribbens, who heads the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech.

The new degree is designed to turn out graduates faster than traditional research-based programs. Full-time students could reasonably earn a degree in about a year.

“It does allow people to more quickly improve their skills so that they can contribute to the workforce,” Ribbens said. “Employers like that.”

The requirements to enter the program are more flexible than those for a traditional computer science graduate degree. Rather than requiring students to have completed courses equivalent to a minor in computer science, students can enroll in the Innovation Campus program after completing a second semester programming course, offered at many community colleges and undergraduate institutions.

Full time or adjunct Virginia Tech faculty in the Department of Computer Science will teach courses in the new program. Nine faculty already teach computer science courses for Virginia Tech in Northern Virginia.

That number will more than double within six to eight years, Ribbens said.