writes "After nearly a decade of professional software development, my desire to work on something more interesting than business applications has pushed me toward looking into going back to school. I'd like to go into a graduate program for Computer Science, but I need to weigh my options very carefully. Is a Ph.D. a near-guarantee of a spot in a skunkworks type of job (MS Research and the like)? Is a MS just as good for this? How does the "letter of recommendation" requirement work if you haven't kept in touch with your professors?"