So you’re learning to code in order to start a web developer career? Awesome! If that’s the case, I know you want to achieve your goals as fast as possible. When it comes to landing your first developer job, do you need a web developer certification?

In this post, I’ll walk you through my experience about web developer and coding certifications. Should you get one? Are they worth it or just a waste of your time?

If you’re just getting started with web development and programming, this post is for you! Trust me, you can save heaps of time by focusing your efforts on things that really help you get a job as a web developer.

Let’s get started!

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Please note: This post contains affiliate links to products I use and recommend. If you choose to purchase using these links, I may receive a small commission for referring you. But please, only buy products you believe will help you achieve your goals faster. Thank you for your support!

What are online coding certifications?

So what is a coding certification anyway?

Most online coding courses and learning platforms offer some type of certifications or diploma once you finish a course with them.

Depending on which course you’re taking, it might look a bit different. But their purpose is always the same: they aim to indicate that you have acquired a specific set of skills in coding.

Related: The Best Websites for Learning Coding and Web Development

What does a web developer certification mean?

You’re probably thinking about how you can stand out from the masses when you start applying for your first tech job sometime in the future, right?

We’ve always been taught that getting good grades at school is a good thing. Especially if those grades end up on a certification or your scorecard at the end of the semester.

However, since the world of tech is far from the more conventional fields and industries, there are a few problems with coding certifications.

All in all, a certification is simply a piece of paper saying you have a certain skill, right?

Now, let’s think about why you would need one.

The most important skill you need is knowing how to build something useful. Because here’s the deal: any employer out there wants to hire someone who can do a great job as a developer in practice.

You need to show them that you can apply your skills to real-life projects.

Trust me, that’s all there is to it.

But how do you know if you are a good developer, then?

Read next: What Does a Web Developer Do Exactly?

What makes a good developer?

Broadly speaking, coding and web development are all about solving problems.

Therefore, you need to master two things to become a good programmer:

  1. Theory
  2. Practice

First, you really need to know how to approach a problem first and figure out the underlying dynamics. That’s what you’ll use your theoretical skills for.

After that, it’s time to tackle the problem by developing a practical solution for it.

In other words, you don’t only know how to identify a problem, but you can also solve it.

So how does all this relate to coding certifications, then? Let’s look at some of the biggest shortcomings of online coding certifications.

Here’s the problem with web developer certifications:

Web development as a whole is an incredibly vast field.

Just think about everything that you see online. Every website out there is different. They serve different purposes and different people.

And that’s the case with web developers, too. Every developer you talk to will have a different story to tell. Even though they build stuff for the web, they’ve learned different skills and used different tools.

Everyone in this field has a different skillset. And they all learned it in a different way.

Thus, there is no universal web developer skillset you could learn.

Related: What Programming Language Should I Learn? Beginner’s Guide

Web development is not a profession, it’s an industry. Therefore, there can’t be any universal web developer certifications either.

Just think about if everyone in healthcare just had a “healthcare certifications”. What would happen if doctors, nurses, and vets all had the same certification?

It just doesn’t make any sense, right?

Shortcomings of coding certifications

Any certification is simply a piece of paper, saying that you can do this and that.

That said, they have a few major shortcomings. Let’s take a look at a couple of them:

Problem #1:
Measuring your actual coding skills

The world of programming simply isn’t a big quiz. You can’t just learn it by reading a book and remembering everything by heart.

And that’s what certifications are. They usually measure a score you get from an online test. Oftentimes they don’t require you to showcase your work, to present your projects, or to explain how you approached a specific problem and solved it with coding.

In other words, coding certifications simply don’t do a good job at indicating what you can do.

Related: What Is the Difference Between Backend and Front-End Development?

Problem #2:
Lack of credibility

For most tools or skills there are no objective and comprehensive certifications out there that are valued by potential employers.

You can think of this from an employer’s perspective:

If you were hiring for a developer job, you wouldn’t know what an applicant has done in order to acquire a specific certification. There might be hundreds of applicants with dozens of different certifications applying for the exact same job.

So what does this mean for you, then? Let’s take a look:

What employers want to see from you:

Ok, so we know that there can’t exist a universal web developer certification. The spectrum of different skills is just too vast for a single person to master.

Instead, every web developer focuses on a specific area. Also, we all learn and use different tools.

Just like someone who builds houses uses the hammer and the saw, we use different programming languages.

And when you think about someone building houses, what good would a certification be? Would he get a job just because a paper says he can build stuff? Or would you prefer to hire him only if he shows you a few beautiful houses he’s built?

I’d go with the latter option. I want to see that his skills are good for what I want.

The same goes for web development.

What your goal should be:

Whatever you do, your goal is to show employers what you can build.

In other words, you need a solid web developer portfolio to showcase your best projects.

If you think about this from the employer’s perspective, it makes perfect sense. I mean, why are they looking for a web developer in the first place, huh?

It’s because they have a problem. And they’re looking for someone who can solve it.

Thus, all they want to see is how well you can use your skills to solve real-life problems. They need you to build something with your web dev skills. Something real, something of value.

The best web development certification you can have

Based on all I just said, the best coding certification you can possibly have is your portfolio of projects you’ve worked on.

It’s by far the best way to showcase your skills in different ways, whether you’re focusing on web development, mobile apps, or data analysis.

What potential employers want to see is how you can provide value to them as a developer. They’re not interested in what grades you got in college. Instead, they simply want to see what you can create.

Do you need a web developer certification?

No.

At least not for getting your first job as a web developer.

Because the truth is: A web developer certification isn’t an indication of what you can create and build.

In fact, even some of the biggest tech companies in the world don’t require a formal certificate or degree.

And here’s why:

There simply isn’t a widely recognized institution out there that could hand out credible, universal certifications.

Also, a certification can’t measure how well you can apply your skills to real-world projects.

Thus, you’re 100% free to choose your own, unique learning path. And to be honest, let’s hope it stays that way. You can focus on topics you enjoy the most and practice skills that you love working with.

Therefore, you’ll also end up with a web developer skill set that you actually feel passionate about. And hey, isn’t that what all employers all looking for?

Do you need a degree to get a web developer job?

Web developer certifications are one thing, but what about college degrees?

The biggest benefit of degrees is structure. Not that you’d learn the right skills at college, but you have a clear curriculum to follow. It helps keep your thoughts together.

Of course, you won’t get much practical experience with real-world projects in college. This topic deserves an article of its own, but here’s the truth about college degrees:

They’re often outdated for a field like web development. Most curricula emphasize theory instead of practice. And that’s all good if you’re aiming at becoming a researcher, for example. But if you want to become a front-end developer, for example, most college lectures don’t teach you much about the practical side of it.

What is the best alternative to a college degree?

One good alternative to a degree is to follow a study plan in an online micro-degree. It’s a cheaper, more flexible alternative to coding boot camps.

Don’t get me wrong here, I love a good coding bootcamp. But it’s a big investment that many of us can’t afford. Let alone to take the time off to attend one.

Luckily, a few online learning platforms offer something like a micro-degree in web development. It’s basically a collection of courses, projects, and support from the community to imitate “real” studying.

One good example is the Techdegree program at Team Treehouse. If you’re not familiar with them yet, here’s a thorough review about it.

Especially if you’re new to coding and web development, an online mini-degree can be helpful. They usually come with a solid study plan and practical projects to help you apply your skills. You’ll learn to build meaningful projects of your own. This is the most valuable skill you can learn for the future.

After all, the best way to show an employer what you can build is to create lots of real-life projects, right?

Which brings me to our final point:

How can you get a web developer job?

When you start applying for full-time web developer jobs, you need one thing:

A stellar, solid portfolio.

Trust me, it’s your #1 weapon for showcasing your skills to your future employer.

Even if you have a certification or a degree but your portfolio is rubbish, it’s going to be difficult to convince them about your skills. If there’s another applicant with a magnificent portfolio, they’ll probably get the job – without any certifications.

During the past few years, has any of my freelance web dev clients asked for a certification? Not a single one.

Do I think I would need one to get a full-time job? I don’t think so.

You can think of it this way: if you were an employer, would it be enough to see a paper that says the job applicant has the skills you’re looking for? Or would you prefer to see a practical example of how they’ve used those skills to build something real and useful?

Read next: How to Become a Freelance Web Developer? The Ultimate Guide

Summing it all up: Are coding certifications any good?

Should you get an online coding certification, then?

As a rule of thumb, I’d say get one if you feel like it’s going to boost your motivation and keep you focused.

There’s a psychological explanation behind the satisfaction you get from a certification. They are like a pat on the back, sort of like a “Well done!”. Therefore, I wouldn’t say there’s anything wrong with coding or web developer certifications.

However, when it comes to getting a web developer job, they are somewhat useless. The biggest problem is that they lack credibility. Also, there are too many different certifications out there. Your potential employers can’t know what it takes to get one.

So the bottom line is: Certifications don’t necessarily help you get your dream job. Instead, you should invest your time and money in building a professional portfolio to show what you can build with your skills.

Thus, if you’re new to coding and web development, now is the perfect time to adjust your focus. You can thank me later.

Here are a few related posts you might be interested in:

If you enjoyed this article about whether you need a web developer certification and if it’s worth it, please share your thoughts in the comments below!

P.S. If you found this post helpful, please share it so that others can read it, too! Thanks so much!

Happy coding!
– Mikke

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