IBM Data Science Professional Certificate Alternatives

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The 365 Team 9 May 2024 6 min read

So, you’re set on taking the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate? Smart choice: according to statistics, about 87% of IT professionals hold some form of certification.

While boosting your credentials is always a good idea, there are a few things you should consider before settling on a particular accreditation.  

Professional certificates, especially those issued by big cloud service providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM, are a great way to break into data science, but not necessarily the best choice for every career path.

Trade organizations, colleges, and online data science courses can all also get you certified and provide a wider scope of career options. Moreover, depending on the stage of your data science journey and your background you might find that some of these accreditations offer a more suitable option for you in terms of affordability and time investment.

In this guide to data science certification, we’ll explore some alternatives to the popular IBM Data Science Professional Certificate so you can make an informed choice about which credentials are most suitable for you. While none of the options we provide here will be able to outweigh a data science bachelor’s degree, they all have their unique perks and benefits and will give you a leg up over the competition.

Table of contents:

  1. What is the IBM Certificate?
  2. Alternatives to the IBM Certification Program
  3. How to Choose a Data Science Certificate?

What is the IBM Certificate? 

Right off the bat, there’s an important distinction that we need to make. When we talk about an IBM Certificate, there are two things we can mean. On the one hand, there are the certificates you can gain through IBM’s Certification program by passing an exam. On the other hand, there is an online training offered by IBM through Coursera that you pay for monthly and basically serves as an introductory data science course.

Nowadays, when someone says IBM Data Science Professional Certificate, they mostly mean the latter. This beginner-friendly course aims to give you the basics of data science and covers topics such as Excel, Python, SQL, Pandas, Numpy, IBM Congos Analytics. One interesting feature is that all the teaching is done through the Watson Studio platform developed by IBM Cloud, which makes it a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with a popular cloud service used by companies around the world.

The course has garnered thousands of positive reviews and has helped many find their footing in the IBM ecosystem. It’s a great introduction to the technologies used at IBM, in particular Watson Studio, that power many cutting-edge solutions on the market. But if just grasping the fundamentals of data science in a step-by-step, beginner-to-advanced way is your goal, then the heavy focus on one particular technology might be slightly distracting.

Alternatives to the IBM Certification Program 

So, if you’re looking for a “point A to point B” data science training course with minimum side-tracking, or if you want to gain a more versatile skillset, applicable in a wider range of roles, then it’s worth considering some of the alternatives to IBM’s certification program.

To save you hours of research, we’ve grouped them into the following 4 categories:
1. Cloud-vendor certificates
2. Certificates issued upon completion of an online data science course
3. Graduate data science certificates
4. Certificates issued by professional organizations

Let’s explore each category in more details, so you can make the right choice with respect to your future career goals!

Cloud-vendor Certificates

IBM Cloud Computing is one of the largest cloud-service providers in the world, along with Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services. Every one of these companies also provides certification and training in data science for different levels of expertise.

The cloud-vendor certificates are a great alternative if you want to work in a data science consulting company, or if you already have a job at one of the providers themselves. Thus, the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate would most benefit someone aiming for a job at IBM, or someone who’s working at another cloud company but wants to learn more about their competitors (in which case their employer would sponsor the certificate). Of course, IBM is also known for its rigorous consulting process, so those who evangelize for the IBM certificate would mostly be consultants at the firm or their associates. In addition, you can’t ignore the fact that Google is one of the most reliable employers in the community and guarantees its certificate holders a job, or that AWS is a highly useful ecosystem to be proficient in.

All that being said, there is a common downside to all of these certification programs. And that is that the overemphasis on technologies native to the companies that provide them.

Let’s elaborate.

For instance, you decide to obtain any of the number of IBM certificates. They will all cover the technologies used at IBM Cloud Computing, namely the Watson ecosystem, regardless of whether you will have use for these technologies in your future career or not. The same holds for Google teaching primarily R because this is what they use in house, Microsoft teaching Azure etc.

Graduate Data Science Certificates

A good vendor-neutral alternative are the graduate data science certificates. These are essentially short-form degrees issued by institutions in all tiers of the university ranking.

The graduate data science certificates are the traditional education providers’ answer to initiatives such as the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate and the boom in online data science courses. One of their main benefits is that they have well-rounded curricula prepared by experts in the field. Unlike the cloud-vendor certificates, moreover, they don’t push any particular technologies on you. Additionally, they provide great networking opportunities with colleagues and professors.

Today, many of these courses have gone online. The syllabus differs from course to course, but in most cases the basics of data science are covered in a straightforward manner, without any marketing faff. Among the most popular such courses today is the MIT MicroMaster’s in Data Science.  

Their main downsides are that they are inflexible in terms of where and when learning takes place, highly theoretical, laden with entry-requirements, and often very costly. On top of that they are not (in most cases) industry-recognized.

Online Data Science Courses

If the high costs and barriers to entry have put you off graduate data science certificates, there are other options you can explore. The most popular vendor-neutral alternatives to the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate are offered by platforms such as Data Camp, DataQuest, and 365 Data Science. Most focus on certificates of completion that you obtain at the end of a particular course. 365 Data Science also offers industry-recognized career track certificates that demonstrate to employers you’ve successfully completed all the necessary courses in a given career track, passed the required exams and now qualify as a data analyst, data scientist or business analyst.

Data Camp and Data Quest also offer well-structured and targeted learning paths that prepare you for a job in the vast field of data science. But while 365 Data Science builds your skills from the ground up and assumes no prior knowledge, Data Camp’s voluminous selection of courses is more well suited to someone with at least some level of experience in the field. On the other hand, Dataquest puts great emphasis on self-education through practical examples, and offers no video lessons. All three platforms rely heavily on learning by doing, but Data Camp and Dataquest require you to do all your coding in the browser, which isn’t how you will be approaching it on the job.  

So, to pick the best course to get certified from you should consider the following factors: the time and money you’ll need, the skills you will gain, the projects you will be working on, and the community you’ll have access to.

Certificates Issued by Professional Organizations

Seeking to address the perceived lack of professional standards in the field, data science associations are becoming increasingly popular. The main players at least in the USA are Data Science Council of America (DASCA) and The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). They aim to bring together professionals working in the interrelated fields of data science, data engineering, and business analytics.

The certificates they issue are fairly new and hence don’t hold much sway over recruiters (yet!) Additionally, they have stringent prerequisites, sometimes requiring a master’s degree and upwards of 5 years of experience to even be allowed to sit the exam. Interestingly, not all professional certificates issued by data science associations entail exams. Thus, the Open Group has a certificate purely based on evaluation of your portfolio of work.

Even though these certificates are all newcomers to the field, they might be a good investment for the future, when the organizations issuing them become more well-known. Mostly you’ll see any use out of these if you are a mid-level professional, already working in data science and you want to accelerate your climb of the corporate ladder. Unlike the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate, they actually attest to a wide range of skills and abilities, gained over years of experience.


1. Is a certificate from IBM worth it?

Yes, an IBM certificate is worth it in many cases. For example, the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate, which is the most popular credential issued by the company, is often advertised as a valuable introduction to the field that will get you job ready in months. However, like other IBM certificates, it’s limited in scope and doesn’t necessarily cover the most in-demand skills for today’s job market.

Still, if you’re looking for a job at a data science consultancy, or one of the cloud-service providers such as IBM, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, then your certificate from IBM can be a valuable credential.

Firstly, consultants often use such certificate to show their future clients they are familiar with the technology they are selling to them. In the case of IBM this is the Watson Studio from IBM Cloud.

Similarly, someone working at a competitor of IBM might be eager to study the competition’s technical advantages (or disadvantages). Finally, if you are someone invariably set on working at IBM, the company is likely to favor you as a candidate if you have this certificate, which basically signals your familiarity with internal systems.

2. How difficult is the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate?

The IBM Data Science Professional Certificate offered through Coursera is a beginner-level data science course. On average users complete this course in around 195 hours or 11 months. It teaches the fundamentals of data science but also dives into the Watson Studio developed by IBM Cloud, which has its own intricacies and can take some getting used to, especially for a beginner. At the end of the course, you create your original project, which is a great way to develop a portfolio.

On the other hand, the professional certificates offered by IBM itself are comprehensive exams that attest to a candidate’s in-depth knowledge of data science. Those are harder to acquire and demand persistent and rigorous self-education, or years of experience in the field. While exams are a part of every educational course, you should carefully consider what the exam in question certifies.

For example, career track exams at 365 Data Science demonstrate to potential employers that you’re the right candidate for a role as a data scientist, data analyst, or business analyst. As such, they might be a better choice for someone just starting out in data science, as opposed to a working professional who wants to demonstrate his high-level skills and get a promotion.

3. Do IBM certifications expire?

Data science and machine learning certificates issued by IBM have no expiration. The IBM Data Science Professional Certificate is valid indefinitely and so is the IBM Certified Data Scientist - Machine Learning Specialist v1. In fact, this is true for most cloud-vendor certificates such as the ones issued by Google and Microsoft, as well as the certificates issued by SAS. Cloudera is the only exception here, with its certificates lasting between 2-3 years.

As a general rule, graduate data science certificates and those issued by online data science course providers such as 365 Data Science’s certificates don’t have an expiration date.

And when it comes to certificates issued by professional associations, there’s no one-size-fits all. Thus, the CAP is valid for three years, the Senior Data Scientist Certificate issued by DASCA is valid for five years. While the Principle Data Scientist Certificate issued by the same association is valid forever and so is the Open CDS.

No matter if your certificates expire or not, in a dynamic field such as data science, and even more so in machine learning and AI, skills can become obsolete quick. So, it’s a good idea to renew one’s credentials regularly and keep track of the most cutting-edge developments.  

How to Choose a Data Science Certificate?

Finally, and by way of a recap, let’s consider the two most important factors that go into choosing one set of credentials over another.


Certificates on this list have varying costs and you receive varying qualifications and opportunities by pursuing them. From the 4 to 5 digit price tags on the graduate certificates, to monthly subscriptions in the range of $30, what makes a course cost effective is the kind of projects you’ll be working on and how relevant your credentials will be to your goals. Hence, the opportunity to explore new technologies, try out innovative projects, and expand your portfolio of work should always rank first when it comes to determining if a certificate is worth it or not. Outside of the capstone project, and the in-between assignments you’ll be working on during your course, you should also always look for a community of like-minded learners and experienced educators, who can motivate and guide you. As such 365 Data Science’s learning hub and ever-growing throve of free tutorials, project ideas, and career resources easily outweigh the already affordable baseline cost of the program.

Career prospects

If you’re looking for a job in “traditional” tech companies, such as the cloud computing giants that offer a wide range of certificates of their own, or if you’re looking to break into consulting – choose the certificate that most closely aligns with your dream company’s preferred set-up.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in working for a Silicon Valley startup, you might want to consider one of the other alternatives on this list. Most startups hiring now, are looking to fill a specific role that has just arisen in their fast-growing team. So, they know very well what they’re looking for and it rarely is familiarity with a particular technology or a large pool of theoretical knowledge but no practical skills.

Rather, a more viable option would be career-oriented accreditation such as 365 Data Science’s Career Track certificates that demonstrate you have the right skills to make a valuable contribution to the specific role your prospective employers are recruiting for.  

The 365 Team

The 365 Data Science team creates expert publications and learning resources on a wide range of topics, helping aspiring professionals improve their domain knowledge, acquire new skills, and make the first successful steps in their data science and analytics careers.