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Data management training helps, but hands-on experience is better

IT recruiting expert Matt Mueller explains why obtaining a specific degree or certification in data management shouldn't be a job seeker's top priority.

What degrees or certifications are most in demand -- or most beneficial -- in the data management field?

Some companies will list preferences on formal data management training in job descriptions, but experience typically trumps a degree or certification in a particular discipline.

Of course, many companies won't even interview anyone without at least an undergraduate degree for a certain level of position. Engineering, computer science, management information systems, statistics and mathematics tend to be the most prevalent fields of study preferred by companies looking for data management skills.

However, I've seen data management professionals with just about any degree imaginable. What matters most are an analytical mindset and good communication skills. 

On the certification side, again, most companies value actual work experience more. The certifications that tend to be attractive to employers really depend on your area of expertise. For example, if you're a project manager, a Project Management Professional, or PMP, certification always looks good. If you're a developer, most software tools have related certifications that will reflect positively on you. Microsoft, Oracle, Informatica and various other development tools vendors offer online certification options.

I'm not advising against obtaining certifications, because they do assist IT professionals in boosting their job performance and chances of advancement. But I don't recommend getting a certification purely for the purpose of finding a job. Nine times of out 10, someone who has two years of Hadoop development experience in a company will be hired ahead of someone with a Hadoop certification or other data management training but no practical work experience. Degrees and certifications are never a bad idea, but on-the-job experience is what you need to get ahead.

Also, joining associations and groups that are relevant to your work is a great way to network with people who have a similar background. For example, many large cities and regions have a local chapter of DAMA International, an association for information and data management professionals.

Next Steps

Learn about trends in data management and BI with this guide

Get Matt Mueller's advice on improving your big data skill set

Read about the role of the part-time data steward

This was first published in July 2014

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