Guide to Getting a Certificate in Computer Science in 2021

There are so many reasons to want to get a certificate in computer science in 2021, especially when you compare it to alternatives like getting a degree or attending a coding bootcamp.

While computer science certificates take time and sometimes money to complete, they still accomplish the same aim as degrees and bootcamps: to show future employers that you have the skills and understanding required to get the programming job of your dreams, and you can get one in a heck of a lot less time and money than a degree. Sometimes certificates in computer science are a prerequisite for the job you want, but oftentimes, they’re just a handy way to prove your chops.

This article will guide you through the six steps you’ll need to find the right certificate in computer science for you, complete it, and leverage it to get your dream job in computer science.  There’s no right answer, so this guide is intended to help you reflect on what computer science certificate is going to help you achieve your goals.

Step 1: Do your research on which certificate in computer science makes the most sense for you.

It’s tempting to jump right in and just get the certificate in computer science that you see first, but it will pay off to do some serious introspection first. While computer science certificates are more affordable and accessible than a degree, you still don’t want to waste time or money on the wrong one. Lay down the groundwork and answer the following questions:

  • Why do you want a certificate in computer science? There are plenty of right answers: maybe to help you get a job, secure freelance work, or get a promotion. 
  • What’s the salary you’re aiming for? 
  • What resources do you have at your disposal in terms of time and money? 
  • Where are you in your existing computer science journey? Do you have an understanding of the fundamentals? Is there an area of computer science understanding that will give you an extra advantage?

This informal questionnaire gives you the knowledge you need to pick the most efficient certificate that makes sense for you. There are so many out there that could potentially fulfil your needs, so the more you know about your own situation, the better positioned you’ll be to select the right certificate for your needs.

Step 2: Understand the different types of certificates in computer science.

The great thing about computer science is that there’s no one preferred certificate. This frees you up to select between many options, but it also makes it complicated to choose just one. 

Depending on what you’re after, you will find that certain certificates in computer science will be a better option for you than others.

The vendor-specific certificate

Many companies offer their own certifications, like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform certificates. These are essentially companies offering a certificate in computer science but specific to their own products, as a way to promote them. They can be useful, especially if you are dead set on working for one of those vendors, but if you want something more all-encompassing, it’s probably not the best fit.

The university certificate

Many universities, along with the typical majors and minors, offer the option to certify in a course, like computer science. These will help with an established “brand name” – for instance, Georgia Tech is a respected engineering and computer science school, so a certificate in computer science from them carries weight. 

However, they can sometimes overlap with your existing skill set, meaning you’ll waste time on stuff you already know, or they can be too specialized and complex, not suitable for entry-level computer science hopefuls. They’re also tied to the university’s schedule, so they’re not as convenient as other options here.

The general knowledge certificate

You can also get a certificate in computer science that comes from places like Coursera. These often offer a wider variety of options for computer science certification, from beginners to advanced specialties, and they’re more convenient since they’re built to help you learn computer science online

Ultimately, the best way to leverage a certificate in computer science is to prove you have the general knowledge required for the job you want to do. The right certificate will help you accomplish those goals. 

Step 3: Focus on what a certificate in computer science will give you

At this stage, you should totally understand your own motivations for wanting to get certified, and you should have an idea of the potential options that could give you a certificate in computer science.

Before you make your final decision, you will want to consider the main goal of your computer science certificate. The one thing that makes it a great option is that it’s like a stamp of approval – a way to show employers that you know what you’re doing, and look, someone else agrees. 

To get that from a certificate in computer science, you can conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the certificate you have in mind. For example, some places let you build a developer portfolio that will show not just the certificate, but all the skills leading up to it that you will have completed in order to be awarded the certificate. Others only offer a badge to paste on LinkedIn, or a piece of paper you can produce if asked.

They should also actually either teach you the skills you need or prove you already know them. It’s no good to wield your computer science certificate on your resume to land a job interview, then fail to answer their questions due to a fundamental lack of comprehension.

Especially where some certificates can be very expensive and time-consuming to achieve, you want to make sure they will do the one thing you need them to do: certify you have the computer science understanding and skills needed.

Step 4:  Find one that will help you do the work

Half the battle is picking the right certificate in computer science for you, but the next half is actually doing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s your ideal certificate if you can’t actually complete it.  There are two things you should do that could help.

First, include ease of completion in your criteria for selecting a certificate in computer science. You can check out reviews of those who have finished, see how long it takes, if there are any mini milestones to help you finish. Several studies like this one have concluded that gamification is a very effective technique in helping learn to code, so see if the certification offers that sort of style. The better understanding of your learning style, the better you’ll be able to pick the right one out – not just for your objectives, but for how likely you are to finish it

Second, motivate yourself. Especially if you’re at the beginning of your coding career, it can be really demoralizing to apply to jobs and constantly be put through the rejection mill. Getting a computer science certificate is going to help you in that regard. Maybe you can motivate yourself financially, like promising yourself a gift if you finish. Maybe you can let other people know you’re working on this goal, so they can monitor and cheer you on. There are plenty of ways to motivate yourself to finish the computer science certificate – you just have to find the right one.

Both internal and external sources of drive will be necessary to get this done. If you can plan ahead and both pick out a course that aligns to your learning and working style and identify a couple of motivational tricks you can use, the easier it’ll be to actually complete the certificate in computer science that’s going to land you your dream programming job.

Step 5: Do the work.

This step will appear relatively short, because there’s only so much that can be said here. The more work you did on steps 1-4, the easier step 5 will be. Monitor your progress – if there are milestones you can physically track as you move through the certification, do so. If you’re finding you’re stumbling, look for a quick win. Rely on family and friends to keep you on target. You can even post in communities like Reddit, Twitter, and Discord to find inspiration, support, help and ideas to carry on. There’s a common misconception that all programmers are lonely, isolated folks, but like most other people, having a community is helpful in finding motivation and support to keep going when the going gets tough.

If you’re finding that despite all your hard work in picking out the right computer science certificate to aim for, it’s still tough to make it through, you can pause and try something else. Most places that offer computer science certificates are at-will completion, so you do them at your own pace. When you start to struggle, see if you can find a shorter, perhaps cheaper or even free course and certificate to get. The smaller, quicker win might help you brush up on skills, and it’ll motivate you to keep going. 

Whatever it takes, complete your certificate in computer science. 

Step 6: Proudly display your certificate.

Whether you want to show off a portfolio or just want to display your certificate in computer science on LinkedIn, a certificate’s job is not complete until other people know you have it, too.

The whole point of a certificate is to demonstrate your skills and knowledge in the pursuit of a job in computer science. Ideally, the certificate will follow a course that will teach you the fundamentals that let you do the job you’re applying for. The certificate will get you the interview, but the knowledge is what will actually get you the job.

And once you’ve successfully leveraged your certificate to get your first job, or next job, or better job, don’t stop. Keep learning, keep filling in the gaps that you have in your fundamental knowledge. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities. Keep growing your skills that make you the ideal programmer to hire. A certificate, at the end of the day, is a stamp of approval. Your skills and knowledge are what you bring to the table as an employee. Just display your certificate proudly – but let your skills do the talking.

You’re just one certificate in computer science away from your dream job in programming.

Getting a certificate in computer science is not a shortcut to getting a degree. It’s not a way to game the system, or a way to circumvent the need to get a grounding in the basics of computer science. All it is is a way of demonstrating to companies what computer science skills and experiences you have, as certified by an external source. 

There’s no right answer when it comes to picking out the best certificate – there’s only the best certificate in computer science for you. These six steps will help you find, complete, and show off your perfect certificate in computer science, but the certificate isn’t the real goal – it’s simply to prove you can do what you say you do. 

There are lots of considerations to balance on the selection and completion process, understanding what your aim is in getting the computer science certificate, what resources you have already at your disposal, if you need a general or specific knowledge certificate. You should have a good understanding of your learning style and what obstacles you might encounter on your way. You should know how to display it, whether just a line on your resume, or a way to build a portfolio others can check out.

But ultimately the main thing that you should remember is that a certificate is just a great way to get your foot in the door on the way to interviews and give you the experience you need to answer the questions that will come up. 

No matter where in your career you are, whether you’re on your way to getting your first job, or you’re a career programmer looking for a change or upgrade, you can benefit from a computer science certificate in 2021. This guide will help you find, complete, and leverage that certificate in computer science to your best advantage.

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