The Value of Certification

Categories: Careers Training

Each year in early November, my inbox fills up with people asking advice about certification. Some are reflecting on their careers and looking to move on or move up; others have given themselves or their managers the goal of getting certified this year. They awake one morning in early November and realize the clock is ticking.

The first thing they ask for is a discount, of course. Beyond that, they want to know what a certification is going to do for them more generally, and specifically what value a Cloudera certification carries in the market.

Of course, I can point to Cloudera’s stellar certification track record, our history of ranking as one of the top certifications in the market based on demand, and that we’ve certified more candidates on Apache Hadoop and related technologies than all our competitors combined. I can point to job boards where you can see hundreds, sometimes thousands of jobs, listing “Cloudera Certified” as either a requirement or a differentiator in their hiring process.

Perhaps it comes from the strength of leading the market that I rarely hard-sell candidates on Cloudera certifications. Instead, I tell every candidate that a professional technology certification should help you in two ways: (1) prove your skills and (2) build your career. A certification isn’t the only way to do those things of course, but candidates should evaluate every certification program against those two criteria and consider the following ways it supports or undermines those two primary goals. 

Performance-based Exams vs Multiple-Choice Exams

You can’t prove your skills with a multiple-choice exam. The exam has to be hands-on with the technology, writing actual code or configuring an actual cluster. You can prove other things with a multiple-choice exam, such as your ability to spot fake answers, memorize answers, recognize plausibly correct answers, or an ability to understand and synthesize disparate concepts. But you cannot prove actual skills, which makes multiple-choice exams mostly worthless in the technology space.

Here’s a quick example: even if you’ve only attended a few Strata talks or read a few blogs you can probably answer what tool you should use from a list of four possible answers to ingest data from a RDBMS into HDFS. You’ll recognize the names of products and be able to whittle down the possible answers to the correct one. This proves nothing other than you possess a passing familiarity with the ecosystem. If, however, I tell you upfront you’re going to have import data into HDFS using Sqoop, you will want to take the time to learn that skill. Then, when you schedule time with a proctor, sit down with a cluster and prove that you can not only do it, but do it quickly with a high degree of competency and accuracy, you walk away with a proven skill, one that makes you a more effective employee and more valuable in the market.

This is why all Cloudera certification exams are performance-based. This means all our exams are hands-on, using Cloudera Enterprise to solve actual coding or administrative challenges with real data in a cloud-based environment. You get a few hours to prove whether you have the skills or not. There’s no guessing. There’s no process of elimination, multiple-guess nonsense.

The Company Behind the Certification

Unlike many industries (the medical field, for example) where there’s a formal, independent licensing board that governs certification, credentialing, and accreditations, a technology certification derives most of its value from the company issuing the certification. A technology certification is only as good as the company that grants it. This leads to many tech companies with inadequate experience and infrastructure building certification programs in order to gain name recognition and growing a community. This helps their brand, but not yours. They view certification as a marketing program — one funded by you — not a way for you to grow your career.

When you decide to certify, pick a certification from a company that already leads the market, preferably one that built the space they dominate. Pick one with staying power, with a strong future, who already has name-recognition, because that’s value you can count on to help differentiate your career in a competitive market.


Oh, and about that discount. We don’t usually discount certifications, but in the spirit of the season we’re making an exception. From now until December 31, 2017 use coupon code: Certification_20OFF for a 20% discount on the purchase of any CCA exam or the CCP exam.



2 responses on “The Value of Certification

  1. Neil

    I previously looked at doing the CCAH Administrator exam a few years ago (after the course), but at around $290 for the exam I found this a difficult pill to swallow, especially not really knowing what I have got myself into.

    To compare with Microsoft’s certifications, there is usually a companion press book to aid study, and sometimes a free-retest option on the exam within a limited period.

    Until either of those two are realised in some form, I’m going to stay away from a potential costly mistake.

  2. Ben

    First off thank you greatly for posting the discount, it is always greatly appreciated by the community. I’m really tailing off the previous comment because my opinion is the same.

    I don’t think anyone is undervaluing Cloudera’s certification in any form by asking for a discount. I think it’s more of an affordability issue. Anyone who takes tests knows that the first exam is usually a throw-away as you become acclimated with the structure and format. At your current rates, hypothetically, one could be $600 in the hole for one test. If they attempt multiple areas, it quickly compounds from there and can shoot past 1k quickly. That is why some companies offer a second-chance scenario, or lower prices. It shows they are willing to work with their technology peers in the community, especially if the test taker missed the pass/fail by a margin of less than 10% (one question).

    Some questions that run through my head:: Could an average college technology student trying to break into big-data afford these prices? Because you utilize a live coding exam, does it cost Cloudera more to administer the test (if so, is that transparent)? Assuming an avg 2 year expiration, and some test failures along the way, what do the cert costs look like after 5-10 years compared to university-level credits and their longevity? (from a monetary investment standpoint – I realize school theory + vendor certs are completely different).

    I am not trying to dilute your value, or slam your post. These are some just some of the thoughts that goes through one’s mind as they invest a good amount of money. Thank you for taking the time to read, and to offer a discount.
    – Ben
    (13 yr seasoned IT professional)