When I consider the value of online certifications, such as those available for data mining, I have to factor in my own experience.
Some years ago, while working in risk analytics, I dreamed of being a professor. Teaching was my passion, and so, with the goal of shifting my career to higher education, I pursued a graduate degree.
After three years of hard work, late nights, and spending every penny I could make on tuition, books, computers, and a place to live, I was finally Matt North, Master of Business Information Systems. I was someone special. I had earned a master’s degree. I was, in the words of cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, "absolutely unique, just like everyone else." At least 100 of the men and women at the graduation ceremony had earned the same degree as me -- and soon we’d all be competing in the job market.
Reality came with my first rejection letter. The community college to which I had applied was looking for someone to teach in its Microsoft Academy, and I held no certification. Never mind the freshly minted graduate degree, the four years of experience with SQL Server, and the custom application I had written using Visual Basic to fuse Excel with our data warehouse. The master’s was great, but no certifications meant no teaching appointment. A few days later, another rejection letter -- this time, it was from Cisco.
Frustrated, I determined that I needed to set myself apart even further. I needed to be more unique. I was busy though, and I was tired. I’d just spent years earning my master’s, I had my first mortgage, and I was recently married. The thought of going back to school again almost turned my stomach. I browsed the Internet for options.
This was 10 years ago, so things weren’t where they are today, but still, I found hope. Microsoft had recently created the online Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) program. And the National Computer Science Academy (NCSA) had online certifications in ANSI standard SQL, PL/SQL, and Web Programming, among more than a dozen others.
Although it meant more financial layout, I dove in headlong. I chose the MCP Master Instructor program, which took several months to complete. I studied hard for the three aforementioned NCSA exams and passed them each on the first try (phew!). There was no question I had the skills, but I needed those pieces of paper to prove it. A short time later, I had my first academic job interview, and a few months after that, I moved into my new office as a lecturer at Washington & Jefferson College.
The ability to bolster my resume by completing some online certifications had given me a boost over the hiring threshold -- although my department chair did later tell me they weren't actually what tipped the scales in my favor.
In the years since I chased down and earned my first four online certifications, I've gotten others, too, including my RapidMiner Analyst certification this past summer.
Data-related certification programs have proliferated. Even highly regarded institutions have entered the game. Stanford University now offers an online certification in data mining. Northwestern University offers one in business analytics.
My good friend and colleague, Scott Larsen, suggests in his Point piece that online certifications might do a job candidate more of a disservice than a service. That's not been my experience -- but I've not found the opposite to be true, either. What I think is this: If you're considering getting a data-mining certification, online or otherwise, only do so if it's going to help you a) get a job, b) get a better job, or possibly c) teach you something you need to know to accomplish a or b.
Let’s debate in the comments section: Online analytics and data mining certifications -- value add, or value yawn?
Take the AllAnalytics.com quick poll on certifications, at right, too!
" The hard part for job applicants is that you never know where on the spectrum a hiring manager is going to land."
You are right. Certs on resumes can be helpful during the hiring process. But potential candidates will still have to go through an interview phase during which recruiters will gauge their "fitnesss" for the job.
@Hospice: Ultimately, I think it comes down to who the hiring manager believes will do the best job. I've seen all kinds in my 15+ years in the industry. Some hiring managers are wowed by certifications, while others seem them as nothing by resume padding. The hard part for job applicants is that you never know where on the spectrum a hiring manager is going to land. If you did, you could list or remove certs from your resume with each application, but there's no way to do that reliably.
You are right, starting with a certificate may not be the right thing to do. Certificates are more for specialization. But in the case of data analyst skills shortage, I guess some companies will have no other option but to fill their positions with people with just the a certification as long as they have the basic knowledge.
"Just make sure that it really is contributing to your knowledge or skills or marketabilty."
It reminds me the story of an financial analyst who went to get an expensive certification in IT because he moved to a place where IT skills was sought for. Unfortunately, he was not able to compete with younger graduates who just got their bachelors degree in computer science or related fields. The certification may have contributed to his knowledge, but definitely not to his marketability.
Certifications may be a proof of the mastering of a subject matter, but does a certificate make a person more knowledgeable than someone who has a practical experience in the domain? I guess, it is good to have something to put on the resume, but I don't thinbk that should be enough.
@Beth, I'm not against certificates in data mining. It's not black and white.
If there is one that furthers your career goals (as in the generalist looking to boost analytics credentials that @mnorth cites below) - go for it. Just make sure that it really is contributing to your knowledge or skills or marketabilty.
@Beth/PC: I could see that being a benefit for a generalist looking to specialize. For example, young college grad with bachelors in computer science gets first job and it turns out its very analytics focused. Grad likes in and wants to climb the corporate ladder in the direction of analytics. Cert may be just the ticket....
@Beth: How aware are they? It really, really depends. Some are keenly aware because they hold the certs themselves. Some know that the bigger companies (e.g. Oracle, Cisco) make theirs harder to get. Some are clueless and are easily impressed by something that sounds fancy. Some know specific certs in their field that are meaningful (e.g. CISSP), and if they don't see that, then they're done looking at the resume. So it varies wildly -- which might explain why it's a crapshoot in getting them or not, or having them help you get a job, or not.
@CallMeBob: Yes, I think Scott Larsen does mention in his counterpoint piece that if you do get a cert, you've got to keep it current because it will become dated, and even something as simple as the name can make it be dated. I remember interviewing candidates for our SysAdmin group with our CIO at eBay around the year 2000 and one of our finalists had listed on his resume that he was Windows Certified, but when the CIO pressed him on it (and he really had to press), the candidate admitted he held a Windows 95 certification of some sort. At that moment, that candidate was dismissed as a realistic possibility. He probably wouldn't have gotten the interview without the cert, and with it being out of date, he lost any chance at the job.
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