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?
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