I was asked a question before, which one is a better route towards getting that data science job, certifications, or self-study. I will give the most common answer any data professionals will give you for most of the questions that we come across and that is "It depends."

Why It Depends?

You see, Certification or Self-Study provides different modes of learning thus it has its pros and cons for each mode. Moreover, each of us has our preferred mode of learning, thus is it best to find the best mode suitable for each individual rather. Let us discuss the Pros and Cons here.



Certification is usually gotten through courses and courses usually have good content, content that should have been curated by professionals in the field. Since the content is curated, there is a structure to the learning which can appeal to individuals who need to have a structured learning approach. Moreover, if the course managers have done their job well, they will also have to seek out experienced professionals to teach the courses. These professionals will have used the tools/concepts taught during their work, and as such can share with you their experience and best practices.

Another pro is that attending courses, will force you to set aside time to learn the skills and knowledge, since you are committed to it. This can be a huge plus point from what I observed, especially for folks who have other commitments and finding it very hard to slot in the study time for it. Paying and attending courses essentially makes you put in the large stones in the cookie jar first before filling it up with the smaller stones and sand.


It is a more expensive route compared to Self-Study. Most of the content can be found on the internet and likely to be free. So basically, you are paying for curation and the instructors' experience, as such, being a smart consumer you should ensure that the content and instructors are good. Being able to show tons of certificates does not guarantee you a job though, as it only says that you are equipped with the skills and knowledge stated in your certifications. You have not demonstrated that you can use these skills and knowledge that you have acquired to solve business challenges for your potential employer through data.

Certification Summary

You should always check out the course outline to ensure you are learning the right skills and knowledge that can get you the job. Also check out the experience of the instructors, ensure it has the experience to share with you the best practices and "war stories". Be prepared to pay for these.



You have the following flexibility, time/schedule, and content. You can manage your own learning time, meaning you can learn during times where you are most productive and effective in learning. You also get to learn what interests you, taking a short break from learning a topic that may have hit a roadblock and move to another one before coming back to the first later on. Chances are you will be learning most of your materials for free.


Can be challenging to find an experienced professional to go through the materials with you, thus the lack in sharing the working experience and best practices. You will also need a lot of discipline to manage your learning schedule. Moreover, you may have to spend a lot of time going through the materials, to find out which are worth reading up more or should drop the materials and move to another.

Again, similar to the Certification route, you have not demonstrated that you can use these skills and knowledge that you have acquired to solve business challenges for your potential employer through data.

Self-Study Summary

It is a lower-cost route but the burden is more on the learner to ensure what they have learned is of use. If you are going to take this route, my suggestion is to get an experienced mentor to guide you. This will help a lot in cutting down the time to do your content curation, and still be able to learn some best practices too, with the huge assumption you got a very good mentor. Having said that, you may have to think about what you can offer to your mentor though. So do have a chat with her/him and discuss how a win-win relationship can happen.


Choose the mode of learning that is best for you. If you know you have a lot of discipline, perhaps the self-study route is for you. Then get a good mentor to guide you.

If you need structure in your learning, the perhaps courses/certifications will be more suitable but be prepared to pay for it and although you save time in curation and get to know the best practices early, this is on the assumption you have done your curation on the course outline and the instructors.

More importantly, regardless of which route you have taken, remember to start working on your project portfolio because that is the only tangible that get you that precious job interview opportunities into the dream job.

Here are a few articles I have written to that may be useful to you. Have a look!

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