The Funny Thing About Computer Programming Certifications

The first thing to know about programming languages is that there are a LOT of them.

This morning, I got an email from an old friend and colleague who's writing a story about programming certifications. Knowing my long history and association with the IT certification landscape, he figured I'd have all the answers. He figured wrong. Here's how I replied to his initial inquiry:


"Sure thing, we should definitely talk. Programming certs are a real snakepit, though: It's not like there are clear or simple answers to your questions. We might want to have a preliminary conversation before our interview, so I can share my impressions of that swampy and befogged portion of the certification landscape."


Why on Earth would I say something like that?


The Nice Thing About Standards Is There Are So Many To Choose From


The preceding heading is apocryphal, and usually attributed to Craig Burton, who was the VP of Marketing at Novell in the late 1980s or early 1990s when he was attributed with this remark. I believe his meaning was that Novell could pick, choose, and exploit the standards that worked to its best advantage, thanks to their plentiful profusion.


Alas, the same thing is true of programming languages. These days, CodeLani estimates that there between 500 and 2,000 "active general purpose programming languages" in use today. When numbers apply to "active computer languages" (not general purpose) that range balloons to between 5,000 and 25,000. Either way, that's a lotta languages.


Languages Are One Thing, Certifications Are Another


There is no shortage of certificate programs or training classes for many of these languages, particularly the 250 to 500 that can, by some measure or other, be reckoned as "popular" (which I take to mean used for more than training purposes, to produce production code in more than one organization or location). Actual, out-and-out programming certifications, however, are a whole other story.


If you want to see some details and more of a hard-boiled assessment, check out my January 2019 story for Business News Daily Best 5 Programming Certifications for IT Pros 2019. I hasten to add that, while the Microsoft MCSD is now retired, 39 of the cert exams listed on the company's "Browse Microsoft Certification Exams" page can be considered developer/programming exams, each of which can lead to one or more certifications.


Choosing the right programming language (and certification) involves several factors.

In my Business News Daily piece, the following languages come in for specific mention: C (including plain-vanilla C, C++, and C#), Puppet, and Chef. I am aware of dozens of other exams, some of which confer certificates of competency, others that confer certifications outright, for languages that include Zend PH, Ruby on Rails, and more.


The problem — as you've no doubt already guessed — is just that there are so MANY certifiable programming languages out there. It's beyond my current time budget to really dig in and find all of the good ones, though I don't doubt that there ARE plenty of good ones.


If you're pondering a programming certification, remember that some companies rely on competency tests from providers like Udemy and BrainBench to vet applicants for programming jobs. It might be better (and it will certainly be cheaper) to study up for and pass those exams instead, if all you want to do is prove to a prospective employer (or yourself) that you can handle some particular programming languages.


Where there's profusion, there's often confusion. It's best to let your available time, budget, and realistic targets for what employers want and need guide your choices in this area. Good luck, and have fun. Learning is always a good thing, right?


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.