This feature first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
If you're one of those IT pros who's always looking for the next big thing to master (and profit from), then Big Data is probably high on your list to explore. The demand for people who understand it is growing exponentially alongside the datasets they manage and mine. If you surf over to SimplyHired.com and type in "Big Data," over 34,000 open positions will cascade across your screen, and that doesn't include the many openings that omit the buzzwords, but still seek the skills.
Big Data is a complex specialty, and there are not a lot of experts around the best certification to declare yourself among them depends upon the role you want to play, as well as the experience you already have under your belt. Key Big Data roles include Analyst (Data Scientist), Architect, Administrator and Developer, so be sure to choose a cert tied to the one you want to fill.
Many of these new roles are platform-specific, and your existing expertise may make the choice obvious - for example, HP experts should head straight to Vertica certifications, and for Microsoft pros MCSE: Business Intelligence should get the first look. For those whose path isn't as intuitive, here's a list of the top Big Data certifications to consider:
EMC Data Science Associate (EMCDSA)
This is one of the few Big Data certs that's both vendor agnostic and foundational. If Big Data is new to you, studying for and achieving this certification will get you off to a flying start. It covers the data analytics lifecycle, technologies, and tools including R, MapReduce and Hadoop. To earn it, you'll have to pass a 60-question exam that costs $200. EMC offers a free online practice test if you want to get a taste of what's in store.
Cloudera Certified Developer for Apache Hadoop (CCDAH)
Big Data and Hadoop are practically synonyms, and Cloudera is a leading Hadoop certification provider slap one of their certifications on your resume and recruiters will sit up and take notice. This cert is for developers who write, maintain and optimize Apache Hadoop projects, with emphasis on MapReduce. The exam consists of 50-55 questions and costs $295.
Cloudera Certified Administrator for Apache Hadoop (CCAH)
If you're in a system administrator role, this is one of the primo Big Data certs to have. It certifies knowledge and skills necessary to configure, deploy, maintain, and secure an Apache Hadoop cluster, and there are a whole lot of those around. It's a one-exam certification that covers topics ranging from HDFS to cluster planning and administration, resource management, and monitoring and logging. Like the CCDAH, this exam also carries a $295 price tag.
HP ASE - Vertica Big Data Solutions Administrator
HP's well-recognized ASE credential is now available for the HP Vertica Analytics Platform, which a cursory search of any IT job board will tell you is in widespread use. This cert is targeted toward DBAs, and tests the ability to analyze, diagnose, troubleshoot and optimize Vertica performance. To earn it, you'll have to first pass a hands-on examination in a cloud-based environment, and then complete a written exam via Pearson VUE testing. The exam costs $200.
Any SAS Certification
SAS has been mining, modeling and analyzing data since 1976, and boasts over 75,000 installations of its software worldwide. It's particularly popular in the pharmaceutical industry. The SAS certification program is solid, well thought-out and respected. It offers certifications for programmers, administrators and data analysts who work with the SAS platform. Most SAS exams cost $180, except for the SAS Enterprise Miner exam, which costs $250.
Certified Analytics Professional (CAP)
If you have an extensive background in computer science to draw upon, then earning this certification will place you securely among the upper ranks of Big Data professionals. It's offered by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). It's platform-neutral and covers the breadth of analytics, from problem framing through acquiring and cleaning data, selecting software tools, and building and deploying models as well as performing related job tasks.
Specific eligibility criteria include attainment of at least a BS or BA degree, three to seven years of professional analytics work experience depending on your degree field and level, and confirmation of acceptable "soft skills"� by your current or a previous employer. If you meet the prerequisites, you can take on the exam, which costs $695 ($495 for INFORMS members). The CAP exam is actually available online, through Kryterion. Check out the official CAP Candidate Handbook for additional details, as well as 24 practice questions.
More Big Data Certifications
While the above list showcases the current stars of the Big Data certification universe, there are actually quite a few more options on the table, with more emerging every day. The Cloudera program also includes Cloudera Certified Professional: Data Scientist (CCP:DS), which is a foundational data science certification to consider as an alternative to EMCDSA. Also, although Cloudera's certification program has been around the longest, it's far from the only game in town for Apache Hadoop-focused credentials. Hortonworks offers three Hadoop certifications - two aimed at developers and the third for administrators. The MapR program offers a similar spread, but keyed to the MapR distribution of Hadoop.
If you consider business intelligence to be part of Big Data, which many people do, then be sure to look into Microsoft's MCSE: Business Intelligence certification. It's one of the more expensive options, but if you already have a bunch of Microsoft SQL Server under your belt, it could be the best alternative for you. And bear in mind that any of these certifications would pair especially nicely with cloud expertise "� because all of this data has to actually be stored somewhere.