On the grift of (data analytics) certifications

Ryan Howe
4 min readNov 24, 2023

Intro

I’ve been writing on Medium for a few years now and I’ve generally stuck to writing about data analytics/engineering and mathematics so this article will be a departure from that. It’s a rant article. If you’ve been paying attention for the past few years you’ve probably seen major websites offering certifications and courses. I can list half a dozen without even trying — PluralSight, Coursera, Udemy, DataCamp, DataQuest and Udacity.

These are just the main ones I could remember. There are also now many sites dedicated to specific areas like cloud training e.g. CloudAcademy and CloudGuru as well as things like bootcamps and career coaching companies that have various business models to incentivize you to land jobs in data analytics, science or engineering. In addition there is a whole ecosystem of companies and colleges that work with these sites to promote their certifications or training as cash cows … Harvard, Stanford, UMich, MIT and IBM, Google, Facebook as well as many others.

Finally and most importantly there are dozens, if not hundreds, of influencers and tech professionals who work to promote these courses and certification through affiliate marketing and paid promotions. You can find them on every major platform from Instagram to YouTube to LinkedIn. There seems to be some dedicated pipeline that takes tech workers and turns them into tech influencers who either sell or promote these courses and certifications.

The Problem

The problem with this whole ecosystem is that while these courses and certifications generally don’t explicitly promise anything material like a job it is either implied or believed by many people taking them spending the money will help the student land a job. Even when people may not think or believe it is going to land them a job most people I’ve met believe that the course work will be useful on the job. I can attest to this as someone who has done several dozen of these courses and certifications.

Years ago when I was looking for a job in data analytics I decided to take a bunch of these. I passed several of the DataCamp and DataQuest certifications as well as quite a few of the Coursera courses in data science and machine learning. I originally had listed these on my LinkedIn and a few of them on my resume. Since then I don’t think these have ever come up in interviews and the material has not be that useful as someone who has now…

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