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Are Python Certifications Worth It?

Do a quick search for Python certifications and you won’t find much. Is that because Python certifications aren’t worth it? Or are they a gem among stones, sought after by employers but just not mainstream enough to be in the certification spotlight?

For most careers in IT, certification is a no-brainer. Hiring managers typically shortlist candidates who are certified in their field. But for programmers, certification is a bit of a grey area. The debate centers around whether or not programming prowess is accurately gauged by a cert test.

Our take on the issue is that programmer certification does demonstrate engagement with a particular language. It’s a major improvement over the traditional tactic of padding your resume with a broad list of languages you might have a passing interest in.

For Python developers, it turns out that there are several certifications available. So, let’s take a look at what’s out there to help decide if Python certification could be good for your career.

The Most Popular (and Only) Python Certifications

The Python Institute is a training organization focused on sharpening the Python developer’s skill set. As such, they offer several certifications to demonstrate proficiency at different levels.

PCEP – Certified Entry-Level Python Programmer

As the name implies, the PCEP is the starting point to Python certification for newbies, previous programming experience optional. By the time you’re ready to test for the PCEP, you should have gained your footing in procedural programming concepts, as well as learned some Python specifics such as the language syntax and runtime environment.

Here’s the complete breakdown of the PCEP exam objectives:

  • Basic Concepts – 17%
  • Data Types, Evaluations, and Basic I/O Operations – 20%
  • Flow Control: Loops and Conditional Blocks – 20%
  • Data Collections: Lists, Tuples, and Dictionaries – 23%
  • Functions – 20%

The PCEP only costs $59, which makes it hard to justify skipping out on this cert. However, if you plan to earn additional certifications later, be aware that the PCEP is not a requirement for earning the more advanced certs.

PCAP – Certified Associate in Python Programming

This associate-level cert builds on the PCEP’s procedural basics, diving into object-oriented concepts, as well as covering more advanced comparison operators, loops, and file operations. PCAPs would be able to begin programming immediately, rather than requiring additional Python training to come up to speed. As such, Python newbies with a programming degree should start here instead of the PCEP.

Here’s the complete breakdown of the PCAP exam objectives:

  • Control and Evaluations – 25%
  • Data Aggregates – 25%
  • Functions and Modules – 25%
  • Classes, Objects, and Exceptions – 25%

Costs are higher for the associate cert at $295. Obtaining this cert is a requirement before stepping up to the professional certs.

PCPP-32-1 – Certified Professional in Python Programming 1

The first of two PCPP certifications, PCPP-32-1 dives into more specific applications, such as science and engineering modules and programming for GUI environments. It requires a high level of OOP competency, and is intended for those developing full applications in the Python environment. It’s probably more than you need if you’re an IT admin solely interested in scripting.

Here’s the complete breakdown of the PCPP-32-1 exam objectives:

  • File Processing and Communicating with a Program’s Environment – 20%
  • Math, Science, and Engineering Tools – 20%
  • GUI Programming – 20%
  • Python Enhancement Proposals – 15%
  • Advanced Perspective of Classes and Object-Oriented Programming in Python – 25%

As mentioned above, the PCAP is a prerequisite to the PCPP-32-1.

PCPP-32-2 – Certified Professional in Python Programming 2

Compared to the developer slant of the Professional 1 cert, the Professional 2 exam pushes the knowledge envelope into leadership roles such as team lead, software engineer, or even DevOps. The focus here is on architecting and deploying Python applications for the enterprise.

Therefore, candidates should be able to abstract code with design patterns, create multi thread-optimized software, establish client-server communication with sockets, perform database transactions, and finally tie it all together by creating and deploying release packages.

Here’s the complete breakdown of the PCPP-32-2 exam objectives:

  • Creating and Distributing Packages – 20%
  • Design Patterns – 20%
  • Interprocess Communication – 20%
  • Python Network Programming – 20%
  • Python-MySQL Database Access – 20%

The cost for each PCPP test is $195. PCPP-32-1 is a prereq to PCPP-32-2.

CEPP – Certified Expert in Python Programming

The CEPP is a different animal in that it doesn’t require a separate test. To gain the CEPP credential, you need to obtain the PCAP and both PCPP certifications. At this point you are considered a ‘Python Master’, prepared for senior status in any Python role.

Now that we understand the options, the choice of which cert to pursue (if any) comes down to a few factors:

Python Certifications for Job-Seekers

Thinking about getting certified to juice your resume? That could be a smart move. There are just a couple considerations:

Experience. If you’ve already built an impressive catalog of code samples, forget the cert. What’s the point? On the other hand, if you’re new to Python, whether or not you’ve programmed in other languages, a Python cert demonstrates dedication.

Career Track. Python is one of the few languages that appeal to a larger audience than programmers. Python is an amazing tool for IT Administration, so a PCEP or PCAP demonstrates an admin’s proficiency with process automation using scripts.

The takeaway here is that programmer certification is a great substitute for experience, but not as important when used as an addition to experience. And choosing what cert to begin with will depend on your current expertise. Veteran programmers of any language will probably want to go for the PCAP and call it good for now. Those with less programming experience will want to start training for the PCEP and work your way up.

Python Certifications for Current Employees

The waters get murky as we dive into the professional development issue. If you already have a job, can Python certification benefit you?

The answer is a definite “maybe”: When your role is highly focused, training for certification can cover aspects that you don’t encounter in your daily responsibilities, broadening your programmer’s tool kit and preparing you for advancement within your organization. Sure, you could get training without certification, but some people respond better to training when they have a goal in mind. If that’s what it takes to get you motivated, then by all means embrace the cert!

In the professional development scenario, you’re probably considering the full CEPP. The truth is that the CEPP is kind of like Cisco’s CCIE: It does demonstrate mastery, but for most situations, simply earning the associate cert gives the best-bang-for-the-buck. Once you have established yourself in a Python role, you’ll better understand whether the CEPP has any meaning in your organization.

Alternatives to Certification

Opponents of programmer certs would point out that there are better methods to gain experience and validate skills, and they do have a point. The two main alternatives are code camps and open source contribution. But before you dig up your old GitHub login, think about the value proposition versus time. If you’re a fast study, certification can still be your shortest path toward advancement.

 

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