The Top Data Science Certifications For Your Career

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Data science is about seeking new knowledge from existing information. It requires curiosity, an inquisitive mind, and the willingness to take on a challenge. Mastering new skills and considering new perspectives all the time is what it takes to succeed in this field.

Think of professional certifications as something you can use to bridge the gap between academia and actual industry practices. They also provide tangible, third-party proof of your skills and allow you to position yourself strategically for your next job, promotion, or career move.

Wherever you are in your career, you’d be smart  to stack up a few certs relevant to the kind of work you’re doing, or the kind of work you want to do. In the world of data analytics where professionals are measured in terms of how far ahead of the game they are, any time is a good time to think about certification.

The Benefits of Certification Are Clear

Big data vendor certifications accomplish a number of things, all of which benefit you and your career in data science. Data science certifications…

  • Help hiring managers know that your skills are up to par with industry standards and that you have met vendor-specific benchmarks.
  • Serve as proof of your commitment to continuous learning.
  • Provide you with a way to distinguish yourself from you peers and stay one step ahead of your competition.
  • Keep your skills marketable and solidify your value to your current or future employer.

 

Important Considerations When Choosing a Certification

What you’re sure to notice first is that there are many data science vendor certifications available and more being introduced all the time. Are some certifications better than others? Do some hold more weight than others?

To find the answers to these questions, you have to have a clear idea of what career path you’re going to follow and what technologies you hope to specialize in. More than almost any other computer science specialty, data science positions tend to be heavily specialized from firm to firm, with the unique legacy data structures and coding conventions that have grown in place taking precedence over general or even industry-standard toolsets.

On the other hand, the list of available certifications for data science has not yet exploded in the way that some other specializations have. There remain a handful of significant tools and languages that are broadly applicable to data science, and the certifications specific to those tools remain the most important in the field in general.

In addition to considering which technology stack you want to specialize in, you also have to consider what stage of your career you are currently in and what industry you plan to work within.

A discussion among colleagues or a quick search of the latest job listings often sheds light on some of the hottest certs employers are looking for. Employers often encourage their data scientists to pursue vendor certification in specific areas, and many more pick up the cost of the program and exam.

Some of the biggest vendors in data science certifications include some familiar names: IBM, SAS, and Cloudera, although there are plenty more to choose from.

Here, we look at your best certification options from several different angles, breaking down the high percentage plays by career stage, specialization, and overall demand.

 

Our Take on the Best Certification Options By Career Stage

The certification you choose as a wet-behind-the-ears graduate is, and should be, a lot different than the certification you choose as an experienced and engaged data scientist with a few years under your belt.

Here we look at your best options as you start out, and as you progress through the course of your career.

 

Best Early Career Certification Options

Although data scientists are in demand, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy field to get into. Your qualifications and expertise will be carefully considered at any position you apply for. When it’s your first position, you might find that it’s a struggle to prove your bona fides without a track record in the industry.

An entry-level certification can help you get your foot in the door when you don’t have work experience to speak for you.

 

Dell EMC DECA-DS

Cost: $200

Dell EMC has just the ticket in their Data Science and Advanced Analytics Associate Certification (DECA-DS). The product-agnostic, technology-focused courses have a stack qualification track that allow you to take basic, core-level certification exams early on in your career (the Associate level) and then build on it later with more advanced training the achieve the Specialist designation later in your career.

Because the DECA-DS focuses on conceptual and logical aspects of big data and analytics work, it’s generally applicable to whatever stack your future dream employer may be using. At $200 per test, it’s a great value that you can continue to build on throughout your career in data science.

 

MCSA: Various SQL/Data Engineering Options

Cost: $165

Microsoft’s Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) in Data Management and Analytics is a valuable certification for organizations that use Azure or SQL Server as their data stores… which is a lot of the market. But to get an MCSE later in your career, you need to start out by earning a qualifying MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate) certificate. Doing so both lays the groundwork for an eventual MCSE and also gives you a solid understanding of the basic technology that is underlying your high-level queries and data operations. Knowing how SQL Server functions at an operational level is a big plus when you’re trying to design efficient query structures and storage schemas as a full-fledged data scientist.

The low cost also makes the MCSA a good option as an early-career certification. You have some options available, too. Any of these MCSAs build to an eventual MCSE: Data Management and Analytics:

  • SQL Server 2012/2014
  • SQL 2016 Database Administration
  • SQL 2016 Database Development
  • SQL 2016 BI Development
  • Machine Learning
  • BI Reporting
  • Data Engineering with Azure

 

Best Mid Career Certification Options

Mid-career is when you want to build on what you already know to establish a solid base and reputation for yourself. You may also have some idea what sort of specializations you want to take on, and certifications are always a good option to help you solidify those choices.

If you took the suggested options for early career certification, easy choices for you in mid-career will be the natural extensions of these two credentials:

 

Dell EMC DECS-DS (Advanced Analytics Specialty) – $200

Microsoft MCSE Data Management and Analytics – $165

Both options provide additional expertise in data analysis, although Dell’s credential remains largely platform-agnostic while Microsoft’s will make more sense if you are operating in a primarily Azure or SQL Server shop.

But at this point in your career you probably also want to spread your wings a little and dive into more advanced subjects. These certifications will help you with that.

 

Certified Analytics Professional (CAP)

Cost: $695

Although it requires both advanced education and on-the-job experience, CAP remains largely platform-neutral, so you will pick up advanced data analytics techniques without being completely committed to a specific technology.

 

Best Late Career Certification Options

You can never stop learning as a data scientist, and as you advance in your profession you need to increase your degree of specialization. Or, you can shoot for a more comprehensive perspective on data and data analysis. Either way, certifications will pave the way.

Later in your career, you’ll probably have settled on a particular vertical or technology platform as your specialty. There are likely certification options for you specific to those topics (see our list, below) but you also have the option of taking a deep dive into the theory of data science to hone your general skills and thinking.

 

Data Mining and Applications Graduate Certificate

Cost: $12,600

If the cost made your heart sink, that’s because this Stanford University program is a full-on graduate certificate, not just another industry certification. In addition to the twelve large, you can expect to take 1-2 years to complete the program.

In return, though, you get a certificate that is broadly recognized in the industry as one of the most comprehensive and well-taught available, with some of the foremost instructors in the field today.

 

Analysis of the Most In-Demand Certification Options For Jobs and Skills

There are different ways to look at how popular different certifications are among employers. The most obvious may be simply looking at how many instances a particular certification is mentioned in job listings…

  1. Oracle Business Intelligence
  2. Microsoft MCSE: Data Management and Analytics
  3. MongoDB Certified Developer

But this might actually say more about the job listings than the certifications themselves. All three are platform-specific, and, as it happens, correspond closely to the most popular database platforms overall. So it makes sense that there would be more employers looking for candidates with those credentials than any other.

But it doesn’t tell you much about popular skillsets around or beyond those platforms. Rarely do data scientists only work on one database; their talents in tying together disparate data sets and analyzing them reaches into a different range of skills, which may be covered by different certifications entirely. What are they?

One of the great things about data science, as an industry, is that if you have a question about a subject that can be quantified or analyzed in some way, you don’t have to wait very long before one of your fellow data scientists crunches the numbers and breaks it down for everyone.

That’s the case with analyzing job listings for the most in-demand data science skills, which Data Science Weekly started looking at in December 2014 and Datanami brought up-to-date in January 2016.

Not surprisingly, SQL comes in near the top spot in both surveys; no matter how outmoded the 1970s-era language might feel in the era of big data and aggressively non-relational data stores, the fact remains that Structured Query Language remains the lingua fraca of the database world.

 

2014 2016
R SQL
SQL Hadoop
Python Python
Hadoop Java
SAS R

 

But, notably, there is very little churn in the rest of the list—SAS and Java are the only skills not on both lists. So any of the remaining skills are likely to be in-demand for quite some time.

How do those results break down into certifications? We take the top skillsets and map them to the most popular certification options that cover them to give you the list that employers are most likely to respond to in a resume.

 

SQL

Microsoft Certified Solutions

Microsoft isn’t the most popular SQL server vendor, but it is the one with the longest and strongest certification program. Any of it’s SQL-specific certifications will be helpful for learning and developing in Transact-SQL.

  • MCSA SQL Server 2012/2014
  • MCSA SQL 2016
  • MCSE Data Management and Analytics

Oracle

Interestingly, the best certification for the most popular SQL data store, the free and open-source MySQL, is a company that makes a different data store entirely: Oracle. But the official MySQL project certification recommendation is through Oracle University: MySQL Database Administrator.

 

R …

There are no major vendor certifications for R, despite that language’s popularity in the field of data analysis. But Microsoft does offer an exam in their implementation of R (R Server and SQL R Services) that can be counted toward your eventual acquisition of an MCSE.

 

Hadoop …

Cloudera

Cloudera remains the go-to option for Apache Hadoop Certification. With four solid options covering a range of development and administration skills, Cloudera is one-stop shopping for your Hadoop certification needs.

  • CCP Data Engineer
  • CCA Spark and Hadoop Developer
  • CCA Data Analyst
  • CCA Administrator

 

Python …

As with R, no major vendors offer a Python-specific certification, let alone one focusing on data science applications. But Microsoft, once again, offers an exam, Introduction to Programming Using Python, that can apply toward an eventual credential through their certification system (a Microsoft Technology Associate [MTA], which does not build toward the more-applicable MCSA or MCSE credentials, unfortunately).

 

Java …

Oracle

Once again, Oracle pops up as the best option for a non-Oracle database technology—the company acquired Sun Microsystems, the creator the Java language, in 2010. It continues to offer two different levels of Java programming certification.

  • Oracle Certified Associate Java SE 8 Programmer
  • Oracle Certified Professional Java SE 8 Programmer

 

Our Findings on the Best Certification Options By Industry Role

It’s difficult to separate data science specializations from industry verticals in many cases. Retail industry data scientists will often be heavily focused on analysis; finance industry data scientists will be pushed toward automation and tool integration.

But it’s never entirely that simple; every industry and almost every data scientist will have to dip into every available skillset at some point or another. You can never completely discount the basics of the business even as you may dive heavily into one particular specialty.

We’ve identified four common archetypes of data science roles and the most applicable certifications for each type of position.

 

Exploration

The pie-in-the-sky data science role, these jobs can be found in almost any industry vertical but may be more common in technology companies and be more focused on cloud-computing applications. They invent ways to model and visualize language and dive into apparently unrelated datasets to come up with amazing and informative results.

R and Python might be the most popular tools for these individuals, for which no major certifications exist. But cloud computing is also usually important, so these individuals benefit from:

  • Microsoft MCSA Data Engineering with Azure
  • Amazon AWS Big Data
  • SAS Certified Data Scientist
  • Dell EMC Data Science Associate

 

Analysis

Analysts may go unicorn hunting for unusual relationships or inferences in big data sets, but more often they are tasked with developing specific reports or analysis of data. They also rely heavily on R in many cases, but SQL and Hadoop are common tools, which makes these certifications solid investments:

  • Cloudera Certified Associate – Data Analyst
  • SAS Certified Advanced Analytics
  • INFORMS Certified Analytics Professional (CAP)
  • Dell EMC Advanced Analytics Professional

 

Architecture

Designing data stores so they can both store data safely and securely and be used later to generate useful reporting is a job that makes every other data science role easier. And making the architect’s job easier is the role of these certifications:

  • Hortonworks Data Flow Certified NiFi Architect
  • Dell EMC Data Center Architect
  • Microsoft MCSA SQL 2016 Database Development
  • Microsoft MCSE Cloud Platform and Infrastructure
  • Amazon AWS Certified Solution Architect

 

Engineering

Building and running databases and the code that maintains them is sometimes a thankless job, but data engineers make important contributions when it comes to implementing the schemes devised by architects and running the processes needed to keep the stores in shape for production use. These certificates build those skills:

  • Cloudera Certified Associate – Administrator
  • Microsoft MCSA SQL Server 2012/2014 OR SQL 2016 Database Administration
  • Mongo Database Administrator
  • Oracle Business Intelligence Certified Implementation Specialist
  • Cloudera Certified Professional – Data Engineer
  • Cloudera Certified Associate – Administrator

 

Directory of the Most Recognized Data Science Certifications and Vendors

Amazon

Amazon is a relatively new player in the data science certification space, but considering their dominance in the cloud computing industry and the increasing importance of cloud-based data stores, they are definitely one to watch.

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certification family is not entirely concerned with data management. But these certificates offer skills valuable to data scientists working on AWS-based stores and processing systems:

  • AWS Solutions Architect (Associate/Professional)
  • AWS Certified Developer (Associate)

You must pass an 80-minute, multiple choice exam to get the certificates. The cost is $150.

With either of those, or another role-based credential, you are eligible to apply for the specialty credential, AWS Certified Big Data. It also requires 5 years of data analytics experience and passing a three-hour multiple choice test. The cost is $300.

 

Cloudera

Cloudera is a vendor of Apache Hadoop. This software leader caters to a wide range of markets, such as government, university research, financial services, energy, and telecommunications.

The main Cloudera certification is the Cloudera Certified Professional: Data Engineer (CCP: DE), designed for data scientists who can design and develop scalable and robust solutions for production environments. Candidates must be able to design and develop data science solutions on a live cluster with real data sets and pass the following exams:

  • Descriptive and Inferential Statistics on Big Data
  • Advanced Analytical Techniques on Big Data
  • Machine Learning at Scale

The company also has three foundational skill certificates that it calls Associate level certificates, each addressing a particular role in the Hadoop ecosystem:

  • CCA Spark and Hadoop Developer
  • CCA Data Analyst
  • CCA Administrator

Cloudera certifications do not expire.

 

SAS

SAS specializes in business analytics software and services, offering a number of credentials in programming, advanced analytics, business intelligence, and information and data management for programmers, administrators, and data analysts working with the SAS platform.

SAS Academy for Data Science offers three bootcamps in data science resulting in certification:

Candidates may take the above certification exams without enrolling in the bootcamps if they already have the requisite skills.

 

Dell EMC Corporation

EMC Corporation, acquired by computer manufacturer Dell in 2016,  is the go-to company for data storage systems, as well as cloud computing, visualization, and analytics. Their certification program, Dell EMC Proven Professional Certification, features 12 different certification tracks and multiple credentials.

One of most popular certs remains the EMC: Data Science Associate (EMCDSA), especially for new data scientists.

The EMCDSA is rich in big data analytics (including framing the business question, the analytics lifecycle, and applying analytics tools and techniques, among others), requiring candidates to pass an exam that covers the following topics:

  • Role of the data scientist
  • Data analytics lifecycle
  • Initial and advanced analysis topics on theory
  • Methods
  • Technology
  • Tools
  • Operationalizing in analytics project and data visualization techniques

Ready for an expert-level data scientist cert? EMC has that, too, with the Advanced Analytics Specialty certification, designed for data scientists looking to evolve and expand their skillsets in areas like:

  • Hadoop
  • Social network analysis
  • Natural language processing
  • Visualization methods

EMC also offers a host of other associate-level certifications in areas like backup recovery, cloud infrastructure, information storage and management, and services and content management, as well as higher-level certifications like:

  • Cloud Architect (EMCCA)
  • Cloud Administrator (EMCCAD)
  • Data Center Architect (EMCDCA)
  • Storage Administrator (EMCSA)

The CMCDSA certification is good for life, although EMC recommends updating certifications every three years to stay current on new technology.

 

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS)

The INFORMS: Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) certification includes training in acquiring data, developing analytical methodologies, analytic problems and training, model building, model lifecycle management, and implementation.

The CAP exam is platform-neutral, covering the seven domains of the analytics process:

  • Business problem framing
  • Analytics problem framing
  • Data
  • Methodology selection
  • Model building
  • Deployment
  • Lifecycle management

To qualify to take the CAP exam, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree and 3-7 years of professional analytics work experience. Depending on their degree field and level, candidates must also receive confirmation by their current or previous employer that they have specific soft skills.

 

Microsoft

Microsoft’s certification empire is vast and ancient in the technology world. As the vendor of one of the most popular relational database management systems ever released, it is also inevitably a major purveyor of certifications of interest to data scientists. As its Azure system, a competitor to AWS and Google’s cloud services, has gained traction, it’s also become a player in the cloud data storage and processing space.

The current structure is a two-tier system:

  • MCSA – Foundational knowledge
    • SQL 2016 BI Development
    • SQL 2016 Database Administration
    • SQL 2016 Database Development
    • SQL Server 2012/2014
    • Machine Learning
    • BI Reporting
    • Data Engineering With Azure
  • MCSE – Expert-level certification
    • Data Management and Analytics

The certifications can all be obtained online and require passing one of a variety of available tests. The MCSE in Data Management and Analytics, for example, can be achieved by passing one of twelve different possible tests.

The tests cost $165 each. Training, also available through Microsoft online, is recommended but not required before taking the exams.

 

MongoDB

MongoDB is a popular NoSQL database that has been making inroads in the data science space. Although the company has been around for less than a decade, it has established a fledgling certification system that has begun to grow in popularity as one of the only NoSQL-based certificates available.

MongoDB Certified Professionals have two possible credentials to choose from:

  • Developer Associate
  • Database Administrator Associate

MongoDB recommends taking either online or private training courses before attempting the certification exam. The online courses are offered for free; the private training is aimed toward companies who want to have multiple staff taught at the same time.

The exams cost $150. Although the certifications do not expire, they are specific to a particular MongoDB release and are not considered valid for other versions.

 

Oracle

As the owner of both most popular business database in the world (Oracle Database), the most popular open-source database in the world (MySQL), and one of the most popular languages used to process and analyze data (Java), Oracle’s certification structure is definitely of interest to employers. As a data scientist looking for work, they’re going to be of interest to you, too.

Oracle certifications are based around the database version, which makes them very specific to implementations. There is a complex hierarchy within the system:

  • Associate
  • Professional
  • Master
  • Certified Specialist
  • Certified Expert

Not all product lines have all levels of certification. Exam costs can range from $50 to more than $2000. It is possible to upgrade from a lower-level credential to a higher one, or you may take courses and test directly into an advanced credential.

 

Honorable Mentions

Additional options in data science certification worth looking into include:

MAPR – Hadoop certifications: MCHD – MapR Certified Hadoop Developer; MCHA – MapR Certified Hadoop Administrator; MCHBD – MapR Certified HBase Developer: Demonstrates big data expertise and proficiency as administrator, developer, and data analyst

DeZyre – DeZyre Apache Spark Certification: Demonstrates knowledge of how a Spark cluster operates and how to apply the best practices to a Spark cluster

Hortonworks – Hadoop certifications: Includes Hadoop 2.0 Developer Certification; Hadoop 2.0 Java Developer Certification; Hadoop 2.0 Administrator Certification: Demonstrates skills in the development and administration of Hadoop-based solutions