Why Choose a Certification in CS?
Information technology (IT) professionals may select from a wide variety of nondegree computer science certifications to demonstrate their competence in a specialty, learn valuable skills, and advance their careers. A computer science certification online validates a professional's technical knowledge and experience with specific products, methods, or practices. Roles within the computer science industry that may require certification include systems engineer, security manager, network administrator, software developer, and project manager. Because these high-paying roles involve using technical expertise to manage and protect essential operations and sensitive data, employers value — and often require — proven credentials.
Computer science certifications ask candidates to pass one or more tests. In preparing to pass these credentialing exams, professionals gain and practice certain skills. Many professionals value the process of preparing for these tests since they gain knowledge they can apply in their jobs and use to advance their careers.
Types of Certifications
Certification candidates should know the difference between certifications and select the right one for them. Professionals who work with a particular product, platform, or practice may need a vendor-specific certification to validate their expertise. Vendor-neutral certification serves those who want to change jobs, or who seek the flexibility to work in their area of expertise regardless of the specific tools their employer uses.
Computer technology companies offer professional certifications to train and encourage people to use their software, products, platforms, and processes. For example, Microsoft offers certifications for software developers and database managers who use Microsoft products. Similarly, Cisco provides certifications for network engineers and architects who create and manage networks using Cisco infrastructure products.
Companies using the products of a vendor like Microsoft or Cisco may demand their employees hold vendor-specific credentials. Vendor-specific certification works to validate your skills or qualify you for a more advanced position or higher salary. In contrast, vendor-neutral certifications remain a valuable asset, regardless of which software your employer uses, or where you work.
Professional and nonprofit organizations serving the computer technology industry also offer certifications. However, these organizations do not sell or promote specific vendors and their products. Professionals earning these vendor-neutral certifications can use them in their roles, regardless of who employs them or what specific technology products or platforms their companies use.
For example, CompTIA offers a variety of vendor-neutral certifications for systems administrators, security managers, support specialists, and network administrators. Similarly, nonprofit (ISC)² offers cybersecurity professionals a variety of credentials to use in industry or government roles. Employers value these credentials, regardless of the specific technologies they use for their businesses. Vendor-neutral certifications enable IT professionals to advance in their careers and change jobs as desired, rather than remain locked into a specific product or employer.
How to Evaluate Certifications
Before investing in a computer science certification, make sure it meets your professional goals. First, conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Add up the cost of the required training materials and exams, and ask yourself if you can earn more or qualify for a better job by spending this money and putting in the time needed to obtain the credential.
Consider whether the certification will help you gain skills you need for a promotion. Examine the topics you will master during exam preparation: Will learning more about these topics help you on the job? Think about how the certification process relates to your current role, and whether it would help you move into another position.
Also consider whether you need a vendor-specific or vendor-neutral credential. If demonstrating your skills using a specific vendor's products would benefit you, investigate the certifications offered by that company to train you. Otherwise, seek vendor-neutral certification, which verifies your ability to perform in your role regardless of your employer's chosen software.
Applying and Paying for Certifications
Entry-level computer science certifications typically do not require prerequisites, though credentialing agencies may recommend candidates possess some applicable work experience. Certifications intended for experienced professionals may require several years of relevant work experience, specific coursework, or prior certifications.
Most computer science certifications require candidates to pass one or more exams, allow them to prepare for these exams on their own terms. Credentialing organizations offer training materials such as textbooks, labs, and study guides, and provide training courses in a variety of formats, including online self-study courses and instructor-led online and in-person courses. Flexible offerings enable candidates to select the course of study that fits their experience level, schedule, location, budget, and learning preferences. The duration of a certification course may vary, but typically spans 3-12 months.
Certification costs also vary, depending on the training options selected, location, and membership status with the credentialing organization. Most exams cost $200-$500, and training costs $500-$3,500.
Computer companies, professional associations, and nonprofit organizations offer a variety of professional computer science certifications. Companies selling hardware or software offer vendor-specific credentials, while professional organizations and nonprofits typically provide vendor-neutral certifications. Candidates earn these credentials after passing an exam or series of exams. Training and preparation for certification exams can vary significantly by available options and cost. Candidates may select from a menu of self-study training materials, self-paced online courses, and instructor-led trainings to suit their needs and experience level.
Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching certification covers the installation, monitoring, and troubleshooting of Cisco network infrastructure products. It prepares network professionals to manage the current shift from traditional networks to software-driven network architecture and stay current on the latest changes in technology, including quality of service elements.
- Designed for: Ideal for network administrators and engineers, this associate-level certification prepares professionals for the transition to controller-based architectures, and demonstrates their mastery of the latest changes in networking technology.
- Cost: Learners can purchase Cisco training and exam preparation videos separately or in a complete package for $500 plus $300 in exam fees. Alternatively, participants may select five-day, instructor-led courses, which typically cost more.
- Duration: This self-paced program requires approximately 3-9 months to complete.
- Prerequisites: This certification requires no prerequisites, though Cisco recommends participants possess 1-3 years of networking experience.
Cisco offers three levels of networking credentials: associate, professional, and expert. Professional certifications offer training to those with advanced knowledge. The CCNP routing and switching certification demonstrates mastery of network planning, implementation, and troubleshooting, and prepares network engineers to collaborate with specialists on advanced solutions.
- Designed for: Ideal for those with at least one year of networking experience, this professional-level certification qualifies network professionals to create complex solutions independently.
- Cost: Learners may purchase learning labs, videos, and practice exams for each of the three required exams (ROUTE, SWITCH, and TSHOOT). They may also select comprehensive, on-demand packages for $750 each, or register for five-day virtual classes for about $3600 per exam topic. Each exam costs $300.
- Duration: Candidates work at their own pace. Many finish in 3-9 months.
- Prerequisites: Valid associate-level routing and switching certification, or any Cisco expert-level certification, may serve as a prerequisite.
This professional-level certification offers training in the advanced network design principles and techniques needed to build multi-layer enterprise architectures, including advanced routing protocols, integration strategies, and services virtualization. With this certification, senior IT professionals show they can design and deliver future-proof network solutions that meet both business and technical needs.
- Designed for: This certification best serves senior network design engineers, network architects, and system engineers who wish to demonstrate mastery of advanced network design expertise.
- Cost: The ROUTE, SWITCH, and ARCH exams Cisco requires for this certification each cost $300. Training materials and courses range from $750 (on-demand) to $3,600 (virtual classroom) per exam topic.
- Duration: Candidates may select five-day live sessions for each exam topic, or work at their own pace with on-demand course materials.
Microsoft offers a variety of MCSA certifications for IT professionals and software developers to validate their skills with Microsoft solutions including Azure, SQL 2016, and Universal Windows Platform. For example, MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Development demonstrates the expertise needed to work as a database developer with both on-site and cloud-based databases.
- Designed for: Ideal for those seeking entry-level IT positions, this certification serves as a prerequisite for more advanced Microsoft certifications.
- Cost: Each certificate may require one or more exams, each costing $165. Optional on-demand and instructor-led training courses typically cost about $1,000.
- Duration: Each training course takes 30-40 hours to complete, either through a five-day classroom course or an on-demand course, which learners complete at their own pace.
- Prerequisites: Microsoft does not require any prerequisites, but does recommend that candidates possess foundational IT skills or pursue an MTA (Microsoft technology associate) certification first.
Microsoft offers an MCSD: App Builder specialization, which demonstrates a professional software developer's skills in mobile or web application development and quality assurance. Candidates must first earn the MCSA certification, and then pass required development and programming exams.
- Designed for: Ideal for software developers, MCSD certification qualifies candidates to develop applications.
- Cost: Learners may purchase Microsoft official courses on-demand through a variety of partner providers for approximately $1,000, though prices may vary. Certification exams cost $165.
- Duration: Classroom courses last five days, and on-demand courses remain available for 90 or 120 days and typically take 30-40 hours to complete.
- Prerequisites: MCSD requires no prerequisites, though knowledge of C# and ASP.Net can benefit candidates.
This certification verifies competency in software requirements, design, construction, and testing. Applicants must pass the IEEE CS Exam and complete two applied Proxor exam modules.
- Offered By: A membership organization dedicated to computer science, the IEEE Computer Society offers conferences, publications, a digital library, and professional development.
- Designed for: This certification validates skills for software developers with at least two years of experience, and may enable them to advance their careers.
- Cost: IEEE provides discounts to students and members. Costs do not exceed $775.
- Duration: Candidates may schedule exams at their own pace.
- Prerequisites: IEEE does not require any prerequisites but does note that candidates should complete two years of college study in computer science or a related field and two years of relevant industry experience.
This certification validates that candidates retain core cybersecurity skills and techniques including risk management and mitigation, threat management, and intrusion detection. Performance-based exam questions evaluate IT security problem-solving competency.
- Offered By: A nonprofit trade association, the Computing Technology Industry Association offers vendor-neutral IT certifications, research, networking opportunities, and advocacy on behalf of IT professionals.
- Designed for: IT professionals tasked with security may benefit from Security+, which can help candidates move into intermediate roles such as those for IT auditors, systems administrators, network administrators, and security administrators.
- Cost: Candidates may select from bundles of training materials (including e-books, labs, practice, learning modules, and exams) ranging from $650-$1,200, or purchase items separately as needed. CompTIA partners also offer classroom trainings around the world (prices vary). The exam costs $339.
- Duration: Candidates progress through training materials at their own pace. E-learning materials remain accessible for one year.
- Prerequisites: Recommended background includes CompTIA Network+ certification and two years of IT administration experience with an emphasis on security.
This certification qualifies IT professionals to work in technical support and operations. It includes validation of core knowledge in the following areas: hardware and software troubleshooting, Windows, networking, security, mobile devices, and operational best practices.
- Offered By: A nonprofit trade association for IT professionals, CompTIA offers vendor-neutral certifications, along with other networking and professional development opportunities.
- Designed for: A+ prepares candidates to work as support specialists, field technicians, or desktop support analysts.
- Cost: Self-study bundles including training materials and exams range from $300-$900. A single exam voucher costs $219. Partner training organizations offer classes at varying costs and locations.
- Duration: The time candidates require to prepare for the exam may vary by experience level and training options.
- Prerequisites: This core-level certification does not require prerequisites, though CompTIA recommends 9-12 months of hands-on experience.
With this certification, systems administrators can validate their skills with Linux system troubleshooting. Two exams test mastery of system configuration, scripting basics, network settings, command line interface, and system security. Exam preparation includes training in system architecture, user interfaces, and networking fundamentals.
- Offered By: A nonprofit trade association, CompTIA provides an array of vendor-neutral IT certifications and networking opportunities for IT professionals.
- Designed for: Ideal for early-career systems administrators, this certification enables IT professionals to move into intermediate positions in systems, network, Linux, and web administration.
- Cost: The exam costs $219. Candidates can purchase an exam voucher, study guide, and practice materials for $399.
- Duration: Self-directed study can vary according to your needs.
- Prerequisites: Recommended experience includes CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, and 12 months of Linux administration.
This global certification verifies that candidates possess the project management skills and expertise needed to complete projects and lead project teams successfully. Applicants must demonstrate their ability to lead projects under general supervision, direct cross-functional teams to deliver projects on schedule, and apply a consistent methodology to well-defined projects.
- Offered By: The professional organization Project Management Institute promotes project management through standards, professional development, networking, research, and certifications.
- Designed for: Experienced project managers should apply.
- Cost: This certification costs $405 for PMI members and $555 for nonmembers.
- Duration: Applicants must pass the certification exam within one year of admission.
- Prerequisites: College graduates must submit 4,500 hours leading projects (high school graduates or associate degree holders must submit 7,500 hours), plus 35 hours of project management education.
This cybersecurity certification validates candidates' ability to design, implement, and manage high-quality cybersecurity systems.
- Offered By: (ISC)2 is a nonprofit organization for IT security professionals. It establishes industry standards and offers professional certifications, resources, and networking opportunities to those who pass credentialing exams and become members.
- Designed for: Intended for highly experienced cybersecurity professionals, this credential can lead to a higher earning potential and better career opportunities.
- Cost: Costs vary depending on the training options you select (classroom-based, on-site, online instructor-led, online self-paced, or self-study with textbooks and other resources). Access to an official self-paced training course costs about $2,800.
- Duration: The time required to study for the exam varies according to experience level and the training methods. The official training seminar comprises 29 hours of recordings, and remains accessible for 120 days.
- Prerequisites: Candidates must possess at least five years of full-time work experience in two or more of the eight CISSP common body of knowledge domains.
This certification process teaches the Scrum framework, verifying that candidates possess the skills to help a Scrum team perform at a high level, protecting it from distractions. IT professionals working with Agile practices may use this credential to gain core Scrum knowledge and qualify to perform the role of Scrum master.
- Offered By: Scrum Alliance, a professional IT organization, provides resources, education, and certification opportunities to users of Agile and Scrum practices.
- Designed for: This certification provides an opportunity for anyone wishing to learn more about Agile practices and Scrum.
- Cost: A CSM course costs about $1,000 and enrolled students receive two free attempts to pass the CSM test.
- Duration: Candidates must attend an in-person, 16-hour course and pass the CSM test.
- Prerequisites: CSM courses do not require significant Agile experience, though participants can benefit from some project management experience.
This management-focused IT certification emphasizes the relationship between information security and business needs and goals. Credentialed professionals must demonstrate an ability to design and oversee information security systems.
- Offered By: A nonprofit professional association, ISACA remains dedicated to sharing best practices in information systems.
- Designed for: Ideal for experienced information security professionals, CISM certification can qualify security technologists for management positions.
- Cost: The certification exam costs $575 for ISACA members and $760 for nonmembers. Training and preparation costs may vary depending on the options candidates select. The online, self-paced review course costs $795 for members and $895 for nonmembers.
- Duration: The time learners spend preparing for the exam varies. The 17-hour online self-study course remains available for one year from purchase.
- Prerequisites: Candidates must possess five years of experience in information security management.