Main image of article Data Science Certification: The Top Certifications and If They’re Worth it

With data science becoming key to many companies’ overall strategies, it’s well worth asking if data science certifications are necessary if you want to land a job as a data scientist. 

In simplest terms, data scientists mine company datasets for key insights, which executives and team leaders then use to tailor strategies. Data scientists often utilize statistical and machine learning techniques to create predictive analytics and models; they also interface with data and application engineers to integrate these models into the product. It’s a job that not only requires technical skills, but also “soft skills” that allow successful interactions with people from multiple departments, including business development, sales, product management, project management, UX/UI designs, and software engineering teams.

In other words, it’s a job that demands a lot of skills (and, depending on the company and position, a lot of experience). But do companies want you to have certifications that validate some of those skills? Dice Insights spoke with Dustin Weaver, analytics lead at data analytics consulting firm Atrium, about certifications and what hiring managers want.

What are some certifications for data science professionals? 

As Weaver noted, many certifications validate your data-handling skills; the key is to make sure that your certifications match the job’s particular tools and platforms. A company that relies on Amazon infrastructure may want you to possess certifications in those firms’ software, such as AWS Certified Data Analytics, AWS Certified Database – Specialty, or AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty: 

Certifications in Salesforce and Microsoft technologies can also prove important, depending on the company. “Right now the Salesforce market is really hot, so I would start with anything Salesforce-related, but if you wanted more specifically-targeted data analyst types certifications, you could go with any of the [Salesforce] Einstein types, and any of the supporting systems, which all have certifications that are very viable in the data science space,” Weaver noted.

In the case of Salesforce, there are certifications related to data architecture and management, analytics, and more:

What are the most in-demand certifications?

“The CRM space is pretty in demand right now, and Salesforce is the lead in the CRM cloud space, and as such they offer a whole breadth of certifications,” Weaver said. “I would suspect that given recent events, cloud computing companies like that are going to be pretty hot.”  

Then there’s Tableau, a software suite that’s popular among data scientists (offerings Tableau Desktop, Tableau Prep Builder, and other tools). Tableau offers a number of certifications, including:

  • Desktop Specialist
  • Desktop Certified Associate
  • Desktop Certified Professional
  • Server Certified Associate
  • Server Certified Professional

Weaver believes the data science realm in general has fallen victim to excessive hype, where “it seems like everyone is a data scientist.” In light of that, his company often looks for candidates with certifications from companies well-known for data-science or business-intelligence products. “Anybody who comes to us and says hey I have a certification from Google is going to carry some weight,” he said. (Google certifications include Professional Data Engineer; while a data engineer isn’t the same thing as a data scientist, this certification nonetheless shows that the owner is capable of data-driven decision-making.) 

What are the benefits to obtaining these certifications?

“If you’re just starting off and have no experience, a certification is a great way to get your foot in the door in a company—it’s a great way for us to see this person should have a least some working knowledge of data science,” Weaver noted. 

A certification may matter less if you’ve been working in data science for a decade; but for those starting out, it’s a good way to show your capabilities. “For the longest time, we collected tons of data as companies, and we got better at storing it, but worse at using it,” Weaver added. “Now we have decades of data and know there are some great insights in there, but we can’t surface them—that’s where the hotness for data science comes in today.” 

That means companies are paying top dollar for data scientists, and having certifications helps when negotiating for higher compensation. As part of Dice’s comprehensive survey of the data-science industry, we broke down the average salaries for various data-scientist roles; certifications can allow candidates to negotiate for even more compensation.  

Is it worth getting a data science certification? 

“The simple answer is ‘yes,’ but to expand on that, it depends on what your level of expertise is,” Weaver said. “If you find yourself more interested in the data analytics part of things, you might want to go back and get a certification in data science, that can augment the knowledge that you already have.”

Is data science certification easy/hard? 

When it comes to the level of difficulty that can be expected in obtaining a data science certification, Weaver says it depends to a great extent on what type of individual you are: “If you’re the type of person who enjoys looking for patterns in data, it will be interesting for you, but if the idea of staring at a spreadsheet sounds like a nightmare to you, it might a little trickier because the level of interest won’t be there.”

Many of these certifications require quite a bit of studying and memorization. However, if you’ve already dedicated yourself to a data scientist career, chances are good that you’ve already learned many of the underlying concepts, and/or worked with software that operates on similar principles.  

Are there free certifications for data scientists? 

“I don’t know if there are any free ones, but there are plenty of boot camps— is one of them—that are either free or very low-cost, and it’s probably a good preparation for a certificate, and you can at least get the training in place.” 

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a useful way for people to gain necessary educational training and experience, especially with everyone locked down due to COVID-19. Bootcamps can also prove useful, if you’re willing to make the time and money commitment.

Weaver added one note of caution: Whatever certifications you choose, the cost of the exam should run no more than a couple hundred dollars at most: “If you see a certification that costs $10,000, I would be skeptical of that—so do your homework.”

If you liked reading about Data Science certifications, try viewing some of Dice's other resources for data scientists:

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Check this article on data scientist training to know what you need to do to be at the top of your field.