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Computer science is a field full of independent learners who don't necessarily rely on university degrees for their success. Thus, certifications are a huge part of the computer science field. There are multiple sorts of certifications available for those with degrees as well as for those who are learning outside of colleges and universities.

There are many certifications that are vendor specific. With these, workers can learn about databases, servers, or other technologies from specific companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, etc. With these certifications, workers can excel wherever their chosen tech is implemented. Meanwhile, there are other, vendor-neutral certifications that teach broad skills such as computer programming languages, database technology, or networking.

Many of these certifications are available for those who don't hold a college degree at all. In fact, many certification courses are available to anyone at all who can pay the tuition. There are also certifications available that require only that people pass a test. Though it’s recommended that they take a course, it’s also possible to simply read a book or otherwise learn the material and then pass the exam.

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What are Computer Science Certifications?

Computer science certifications are credentials that can help holders land jobs, secure promotions, and earn raises. They are not university degrees, but in some ways they may be better. This is because many certifications must be renewed through continuing education, which will impress current and future employers. Each type of certification is different, however.

Vendor-specific certifications will teach technologies from companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, etc. For these, students tackle subjects such as these vendors servers, networking tools, and databases. There may also be certifications that focus on topics such as cyber security in context of the vendor's technology. For instance, students may be interested in a cloud computing certification. They could pursue Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, or Google Cloud. These students might study their vendor's architecture, software development vis-a-vis Azure, or networking.

For more general studies, students find that there is a lot of latitude in terms of what they can learn. One popular certification area is programming languages. This may be where a lot of young computer science experts get their feet wet in the world of high technology. There are many free and affordable online outlets for learning specific languages, as well as rather expensive bootcamps that immerse students in coding for a restricted period of time.

Some students may choose a more general approach that might touch on specific vendor technologies while keeping an open view. Thus, a certification holder may gain a broad knowledge of database technologies, for instance, and thus be able to service a wide range of clients who need database help.

Who Needs a Computer Science Certification?

Computer science certification is for, well, anyone who wants one. Some students earn a college degree in computer science and then choose to build on their credentials with a certification. Other certification seekers may be working in a job that increasingly requires more technological acumen, so they seek courses in the subject and then earn the certification as evidence of their skill set. These credentials can be very useful in landing a job.

Since there are so many programming languages and subsets of languages, etc., it can be useful for students to earn a certification in order to finely hone their skills. During a typical computer science degree program, a student might study a few languages, leaving gaps in their learning upon graduation. This is not a failing, but a reality of computer science degrees. Students can then discover what languages they need to take their careers in the direction they find most interesting. A CS graduate who decides they are interested in working in data science might gain a certification in Python or R so that they can deal with big data. Another computer science graduate might be more interested in web technologies so they might choose languages such as JavaScript or PHP. Database professionals will dive into SQL and all of its variants.

Meanwhile, there are many non-technical workers who increasingly need to work with aspects of their employer's IT picture. They may work in very small offices where there isn't a strong need for a dedicated IT department. For instance, an office manager may find that they need to learn how to help their employer set up a database or cloud computing solution. They can then take a few courses and gain a certification in SQL, AWS, or other database technologies. Thus, certifications make computer science education accessible to everyone who needs to learn.

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Why a Business Might Require Someone with a Specific Certification

Over the years, technologies have become more and more specialized. There used to only be a handful of programming languages, for instance, and now there are many, with more in development every day. Thus, a computer science degree is unlikely to provide a student with all of the skills they need to thrive. Businesses seek out computer science experts with specific certifications to address their specific needs. For instance, they may have a database that requires knowledge of a certain flavor of SQL, and so new hires are thus required to hold current credentials in the appropriate language. Since a certification often requires renewal in order to maintain the credential, businesses may especially like to see someone with a certification that is a few years old.

Where to Find Computer Science Certifications

Training for computer science certifications is found from a wide variety of commercial vendors, schools, and professional associations. Each offers something unique and thus it's important to investigate each individually. Students should thus scrutinize the curriculum down to the syllabus for each course, if available.

For those who are seeking a vendor-specific certification, such as Microsoft's MCSE, some schools and/or programs may be officially recognized by the vendor. This approval indicates that the training will fully prepare diligent students for the certification examination. If that's the case, students should consider those programs as fully accredited, as they would when seeking formal academic training. For professional associations, try to determine how large their membership is and how widespread their certifications are.

It's important to note that sometimes students may take pre-certification courses at a local community college or university. Often, these courses are not part of the institution's official offerings. That is, the school may rent out space so that third parties have access to a formal classroom and all of the amenities that offers. Unless there is actual college credit involved, these courses are from a commercial enterprise. They are mostly likely legitimate, but students should know that they won't be able to apply their courses towards a degree later. If there is confusion, students can always ask the course provider or the school itself.

Note that many computer science certification courses are offered via online platforms. This is very common, and many courses are available for free or at a reduced cost. Many professional associations offer their certification preparation courses via an online portal.

Finally, it's worth noting that students can sometimes take certification courses for free but won't actually receive any credentials to verify their performance. Online outlets such as EdX and Coursera offer many such courses. The courses themselves are valid, and often offered from a university, but the certification is often available only for those who pay extra. Always review the terms and conditions because sometimes students get halfway through a course and only then decide it's worth paying for the certification. Students should be aware of these sorts of options.

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Top Computer Science Certifications

To advance a career, computer science certifications can lead the way. They offer students a way to focus their credentials on specific technologies or practices since computer science degree is often rather general and can't address every type of technology or software solution. For instance, it would be impossible for a bachelor's computer science degree to teach every programming language. Thus, many tech workers seek out a certification that can teach them the skills they need with the added benefit of a verifiable credential to prove their worth.

These certifications are becoming more and more important in today's working world. When students browse job listings, they will probably see multiple certifications listed as either non-negotiable requirements or as items the employer prefers to see. Employers like certifications because they very often require continuing education. Thus, a cyber security professional with a certification will be continually updated on new advancements in the field, which is vital when trying to secure a network from sophisticated hackers.

Here are some of the most common certifications in this field.

  • Google Cloud Professional Data Engineer:
    This certification is terrific for those computer science professionals who love working with data. It proves that holders can create systems for data processing, put AI models into operation, build and implement data processing systems, and ensure top quality work. Given Google's strong presence in the cloud computing space, this certification is sure to open many doors to success. The credential is good for two years, at the end of which it must be renewed. Meanwhile, there is no prerequisite for the certification. However, Google does recommend at least three years of experience, including about a year working with Google Cloud.
  • Cloud Google Certified Professional Architect:
    This hot credential trains candidates to enable their employers or clients to leverage google cloud systems to great corporate benefit. Google does not have any strict prerequisites for cloud architecture candidates. Rather, Google recommends that candidates have at least three years of computer science experience with one year working on Google Cloud products. Architects will be qualified to design cloud solution architecture, assess technical and business processes, and manage the cloud solution architecture, among other skills. Google offers training through its website. The courses are free, but students will need to pay for the qualifying examination.
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect:
    Amazon's web services (AWS) is increasingly important in today's tech landscape. This E-commerce and computing powerhouse has no prerequisites for this certification, but students should consider exploring the free AWS courses to ensure that they are indeed up to speed. After all, the exam costs $150, so candidates should ensure that they are prepared to pass. AWS also offers paid training via a classroom environment. This course, entitled "Architecting on AWS", focuses on practical learning to prepare students for success on the examination. There are no prerequisites for this certification examination, but candidates should have at least one year of practical experience using AWS technology.
  • AWS Certified Developer – Associate:
    This is a good certification for new computer science degree graduates. AWS has no prerequisites for this credential, but they do recommend strong skills with one top-level programming language, and strong familiarity with AWS core services including basic AWS architecture practices. The training for this particular AWS certification is all free. However, students may want to find outside training that will bolster the free exam guides, digital training, and webinars AWS offers for free on its website. There are even free resources, such as white papers and FAQs, that may be relevant to the exam which could prove invaluable.
  • VMware Certified Professional – Data Center Virtualization (VCP-Dcv):
    VMware is a cloud computing company that is increasingly important in the information technology sector. The VCP-Dcv certification is a credential that affirms the holder can implement, manage, and troubleshoot a foundation that will facilitate the transformation to cloud computing. Candidates should note that VCP-Dcv is updated on an annual basis, so previous certification may not be valid for work on the 2022 version. It’s important to consult the VMware website to ensure that all the requirements are met. This is a certification that requires very specific preparation prior to taking the examination.
  • Certified Data Professional (CDP):
    This credential is an upgrade from the former certification, CDMP. To earn this credential, candidates should pass examinations, perhaps attend workshops on Data Management and Data Governance, and submit written assignments, depending on the certification level. Then there are three 90-minute examinations that cover information system core, data management, and a third exam particular to one's specialization. Note that this certification has a variety of levels, each of which coming with its own prerequisites. The foundation certification level has few, if any, prerequisites and will prepare holders for a junior analyst position. The executive level certification requires at least a bachelor's computer science degree, a four-day workshop including a written assignment, and a passing score over 70%.
  • Certified Access Management Specialist (CAMS):
    The Identity Management Institute (IMI) provides this credential to ensure that IT workers are able to properly identify users and thus ensure security. Proper identity is also part of the KYC (know your customer) protocols that are increasingly used as part of cyber security. Cryptocurrencies and other technological systems, such as social media, are increasingly verifying identity so that they aren't overtaken by "bots" or other illegitimate users. To that end, CAMS certified individuals are versed in security objectives, assessing threats, access controls, identification, and authentication, among many other critical risk domains. Membership to the IMI is a requirement as are continuing education efforts, including recertification.
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE):
    To qualify for this certification, candidates need to pass two qualifying examinations: the CCIE Security qualifying examination and the CCIE Security laboratory examination. The qualifying examination is a test of knowledge regarding data center infrastructure. Passing this examination does qualify the candidate for specialist certification. However, for the full certification, candidates must complete the 8-hour, practical laboratory examination. This test covers the lifecycle of security tech, from initial designs, through deployment, and finally to operations and optimization efforts. Cisco has no prerequisites for the CCIE certification, but candidates should be thoroughly familiar with all examination topics. In fact, there are many third-party vendors that offer strong training courses both online and in a classroom environment.
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP):
    Networking is a vital part of any contemporary organization and Cisco networks are a leader in the field. Where many certifications have very strict and regimented certification protocols, the CCNP designation can be earned in the way that suits the candidate. While every student must take and pass a core examination, individuals can select their own concentration examination, which covers specific industry and emerging topics. Concentrations include, but are not limited to, designing Cisco data center infrastructure (DCID), troubleshooting Cisco data center infrastructure (DCIT), implementing Cisco data center infrastructure (DCACI), configuring Cisco MDS 9000 series switches (DCMDS), and implementing automation for Cisco Data Center Solutions (DCAUI).
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate/Expert (MCSA/MCSE):
    This is one of the more popular and long-lived certifications for computer science professionals. However, these certification examinations were retired in 2020. In their place, Microsoft has provided role-based certification options. Among these, candidates can pick certification in technologies such as Azure administrator, Azure solutions architect expert, Azure security engineer associate, Messaging administrator associate, security administrator associate, or business applications with a Dynamics 365 credential. Presumably, those who hold an MCSE or MCSA credential will find the transition to their new role-based certification easy and fun. Microsoft makes much of the training materials available for free to encourage that more professionals are adept at using the technologies.
  • Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL):
    The ITIL is a repository of best practices for managing IT support and services. Created by IBM, the ITIL was originally a 30-volume series of books designed to help any IT professional quickly solve any problem. Now ITIL certification has five levels: Foundation, Practitioner, Intermediate, Expert, and Master. Though there are no degree requirements, ITIL master certification does require coursework and experience. The Foundation exam is touted as the most popular as it ensures that the certification holder has a firm grasp on the key concepts and will help develop an ITIL compliant organization.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP):
    This is perhaps the very best cyber security certification a computer science professional can earn. This credential attests that the holder has what it takes to design and implement a world-class security system for any employer or client. The certification also qualifies the holder for membership to the International Information System Security Certificate Consortium (ISC)2. The (ISC)2 has a full menu of other certifications, as well, so entry-level cyber security experts can begin building towards this ultimate certification. In fact, the CISSP designation is held by top-level professionals such as Chief Information Security Officers, Chief Information Officers, and IT Directors or managers.
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH):
    Ethical hacking may sound like a contradiction in terms. However, ethical hackers, also known as penetration testers, are vital to creating and maintaining a cyber security infrastructure. They try to emulate the activities of unethical hackers and thus try to crack a cyber security system. They can then report issues to the rest of the cyber security team. The EC-Council offers this certification to those who would become vulnerability assessment analysts, solutions architects, network engineers, or information security managers. The EC-Council also provides a swath of cyber security certifications that cover areas including, applications security, cyber technician, network security, and cloud security.
  • CompTIA+ Security:
    CompTIA is the Computing Technology Industry Association, which is dedicated to cyber security. They offer a wide range of cyber security credentials for computer science experts. The Security+ certification is considered an entry level certification that instills a baseline of cyber security skills from which to launch a security career in the IT space. CompTIA offers a wealth of training materials to help people pass the certification examination, but there are also independent vendors that offer training options as well. While this is a valuable certification, it’s designed as a fundamental credential on which successful cyber security professionals build a career.
  • Certified ScrumMaster:
    Contrary to what many athletes may think, this certification is not related to Rugby. Rather, this certification establishes the holder as a master of Scrum, which is a project management platform. Thus, a certified ScrumMaster is one who has completed a course dedicated to teaching how to implement the framework in the most effective ways possible. The certification is designed for professionals such as software engineers, business analysts, project managers, and others who seek to solve intractable problems in an efficient manner. To earn certification, professionals should seek out course on the Scrum Alliance website. There is even a free introductory course.
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM):
    This certification is a credential designed for cyber security team members who desire a move up into management. The credential will impress present and future employers who want to have a team with impeccable credibility, and skills. To become certified as a CISM, one must join the ISACA, study, and then pass the examination. There are print and digital review manuals, review questions, and an online review course available through the ISACA website. In fact, ISACA offers eight total certifications for cyber security experts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is one computer science certification better than another?

No certification is necessarily any better than any other. However, you'll need the right certification for the right job. For those unsure what certification to pursue, determine the industry / sector you desire and then earn the certifications that match your goals.

Are computer science certifications better than MBAs with computer science specializations?

Computer science certifications are a great compliment to an MBA with a computer science concentration, and vice versa. An MBA is terrific training for a computer science professional who wants to rise in management. They may then need a certification to prove skills in specific technological areas. On the other hand, those with many certifications may need to earn an MBA in order to rise through the ranks of management.

Will earning a computer science certification allow me to find a new job?

While there are no guarantees but, so long as you choose an appropriate certification, you can use it on your resume. Even if you aren't applying for an IT or computer science position, knowledge of technology looks great on a resume. You might use a computer science certification to sell high-tech equipment or software packages, for instance. Your technological knowledge will help lend more authority to your sales pitches.

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