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Best 5 Programming Certifications for IT Pros 2019

Ed Tittel and Mary Kyle
Updated Sep 19, 2022

Anthropologists reckon that humans around the globe speak somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 distinct languages, with a number around 6,700 appearing most frequently in online sources. Nobody has conducted an exhaustive survey for all computer programming languages in use around the world, but there are focused studies available.

These studies include the U.S. Department of Defense Survey of Computing Languages (also known as the DoD Language Survey) conducted in 1995, which identified no fewer than 450 programming languages in use in various weapons and automated information systems in the 1970s, with 37 total languages recounted as part of the 1995 survey of languages in use for weapons systems.

CodeLani estimates that there are somewhere between 500 and 2,000 active general-purpose programming languages out there. The number of all active computer programming languages is estimated to be between 5,000 and 25,000. A number from hundreds to thousands of such languages appears both reasonable and defensible, depending on what types of systems and applications might be under consideration.

In this certification guide, we provide you with our top five programming certifications for IT professionals. These days, computer programming certifications are as much about development platforms and environments as they are about specific programming languages. You’ll find an interesting mix of language-focused or language-specific credentials available, such as C/C++ certifications as well as various platform-oriented credentials like Microsoft’s MCSD certification.

Because many desktop programs are now either universal or web-related apps, programming professionals may want to consider adding web and mobile application development credentials to their portfolios. Numerous excellent certifications and related training materials for web and mobile app developers are available. Some of the certifications discussed here, such as the MCSD, also transfer into certification programs for web or mobile apps.

We performed an informal job search that gives you an idea of the relative frequency with which our top five certifications appear in actual job postings.

Job board search results (in alphabetical order, by certification)

CertificationSimplyHiredIndeedLinkedIn JobsLinkupTotal
C Language Certified Associate5917072141,6603,172
Chef Badges (Chef Software)*1,7572,5307854395,511
CSSLP [(ISC)2]2843587462191,607
MCSD (Microsoft)4455798862372,147
PCP (Puppet)5,9067,87312,2003,31729,296

*Chef uses a badge certification format, and our search parameter focused on “Chef certified.”

Salaries vary depending on the job role, but, on average, software and application developers can expect to earn something over $85,000. Simply Hired reported average earnings for application developers at almost $85,000 and more than $91,000 for software developers. Earnings on the high side were reported at slightly less than $134,000 ($126,775 for application developers and $139,692 for software developers), with low earnings in the upper-$50,000s. Computer programmers earn slightly less, with average earnings reported at $70,400. Salaries ranged from lows in the mid-$50,000s to $92,077 for top earners.

C and C++ certifications

The programming languages C and C++ have been around for years, making their debut in the 1960s to 1970s (C) and the 1980s to 1990s (C++). Although nearly every college and university in the U.S. offers a C/C++ programming course, the C++ Institute and Pearson VUE decided to carve a niche in this part of the certification landscape by offering the world’s first international C/C++ certifications.

Candidates can choose the C or the C++ path and move up the certification ladder from associate to professional to senior. Of the six potential certifications, four certifications are currently available:

  • CLA: C Programming Language Certified Associate
  • CLP:  C Certified Professional Programmer
  • CPA: C++ Certified Associate Programmer
  • CPP: C++ Certified Professional Programmer

C++ Institute certifications are good for life, because these languages haven’t changed much over the years. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t high demand for such skills. And a C/C++ certification is a perfect steppingstone to many platform- and vendor-specific certs, such as the MCSD.

C/C++ facts and figures

Certification NameC or C++ Associate and Professional C Programming Language Certified Associate (CLA)

C Certified Professional Programmer (CLP)

C++ Certified Associate Programmer (CPA)

C++ Certified Professional Programmer (CPP)

Prerequisites & Required CoursesProfessional- and senior-level credentials require certification in the lower credential

Recommended: Online courses are free and offer a 50 percent discount on the cost of the exam if you score at least 70 percent on the course exam

Number of ExamsOne exam per credential (up to 75 minutes, 55 to 65 questions, 80 percent required to pass)

Exams are administered by Pearson VUE

Cost Per Exam   $295 for nonstudents (includes one free retake)

$147.50 if taken in conjunction with the course (which is free)

Retakes are free for candidates who paid full exam price or who completed the CPP course in self-study mode. Retake vouchers must be requested within 30 days after exam fail. Retake vouchers are valid for 45 days

Self-Study MaterialsC++ Institute maintains links on the respective exam webpage to the exam syllabus, exam objectives, study resources and more. Free online courses are available at the C++ Institute.

Chef-certified badges

As job board numbers demonstrate, there’s strong demand for Chef certified professionals. This earns Chef certifications a well-deserved place on this year’s top five list. All Chef Software certifications are offered in the form of badges, providing professionals flexibility to match skills to emerging technologies and problems. At present, there are five badges:

  • Basic Chef Fluency: An entry-level badge that includes basic chef terminology, describing Chef concepts and features, design philosophy, workflow basics and basic Chef code.
  • Local Cookbook Deployment: The exam is available in Windows or Linux environments, and covers search and data bags, troubleshooting, testing frameworks, Cookbook components, test kitchens, Chef DK tools, and authoring and setup theory for Cookbooks. Candidates should be able to develop a basic Chef Cookbook and automate existing processes with Chef recipes.
  • Extending Chef: Extending Chef badge holders can add extended features and functionality, customize Chef, use Ohai and write custom Ruby classes. Exam topics include extending Ohai, custom resources, Chef handlers, definitions and handlers, Knife plugins, CHEP API, and basic Ruby.
  • Deploying Cookbooks: This badge targets professionals who are proficient managing nodes and deploying Chef recipes. Exam topics include Chef Run anatomy, uploading Cookbooks to Chef Server, using Knife, bootstrapping, Chef Solo, Policy Files, search, Data Bags, roles and environments.
  • Auditing with InSpec: A successful candidate will possess in-depth knowledge of InSpec core principles and is able to execute InSpec in remote and local environments. The exam covers installing and running InSpec, InSpec profiles, troubleshooting, and InSpec controls and metadata.

All badges are good for three years.

Chef facts and figures

Certification NameBasic Chef Fluency

Local Cookbook Development

Extending Chef

Deploying Cookbooks

Auditing with InSpec

Prerequisites & Required CoursesNone, but training is highly recommended
Number of ExamsOne exam per badge

Basic Chef Fluency exam is 60 minutes; all other exams are 90 minutes. All exams consist of a combination of performance challenges and multiple-choice questions

Cost Per Exam   Basic Chef Fluency exam: $75

All other exams: $99

Self-Study MaterialsThe Learn Chef Rally offers free learning opportunities, including learning tracks, modules and demos. Online instructor-led training is available. Candidates can expect to pay between $495 and $995 depending on the course. In-person training is also available. Community forums, a skills library and other training resources are also available from Chef.

CSSLP: Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional

Like other (ISC)2 certifications, the CSSLP is a vendor-neutral credential relevant to many kinds of programming and development projects. Aimed at software developers, engineers, architects, QA and penetration testers, security specialists and the like, the CSSLP recognizes competency in securing applications throughout the software development lifecycle.

The exam covers all phases of this lifecycle, including secure software concepts, requirements, design, implementation and coding, and testing. Candidates should also be up to speed on the eight CSSLP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) domains which include software concepts, requirements, design, implementation/programming, testing, lifecycle management, deployment, operations and maintenance, along with supply chain and software acquisition.

Interestingly, the CSSLP was the first (ISC)2 exam to be offered through Pearson VUE testing centers, instead of occasional pencil-and-paper testing at various scheduled and proctored testing sites globally. As such, this certification has done a lot to bring (ISC)2 into the 21st century, cert-wise. According to (ISC)2, the CSSLP is the only credential that currently emphasizes building security into the software development lifecycle phases and inclusion of best practices.

CSSLP facts and figures

Certification NameCertified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP)
Prerequisites & Required CoursesAt least four years’ full-time work-related experience in the software development lifecycle (SDLC) in at least one of the eight CSSLP domains, or three years’ experience plus a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in an IT-related field such as computer science or information technology

Passing score on the CSSLP exam

Endorsement from (ISC)2 active member within nine months of exam completion

Recertification is required every three years via 90 credits of continuing professional education (CPE); must earn 30 CPE credits each year; annual maintenance fee is $100

Number of ExamsOne (four hours, 175 questions, 700 out of 1,000 points required to pass)

Exam administered by Pearson VUE

Cost Per Exam   $599
Self-Study MaterialsThe certification webpage maintains links to multiple study tools, including exam outlines, textbooks, glossaries, study guides, interactive flashcards and training seminars.

Third-party certification prep materials are available at Amazon and other retailers.

MCSD App Builder: Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer App Builder

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer is Microsoft’s prevailing certification for programmers and application developers. Microsoft professionals are probably most familiar with its five former MCSD credentials: Web Applications, SharePoint Applications, Azure Solutions Architect, Application Lifecycle Management and Universal Windows Platform.

Microsoft revamped its MCSD certification program in September 2016 to more closely align with technical requirements commonly used by the Microsoft Partner Network. Most MCSD credentials are now retired. The MCSD: Azure Solutions Architect was replaced by the MCSE: Cloud and Platform Infrastructure credential. All other MCSD credentials (Web Applications, SharePoint Applications, Application Lifecycle Management and Universal Windows Platform) have been replaced by the MCSD: App Builder credential discussed here.

MCSD: App Builder focuses on application developers and validates a candidate’s knowledge and the technical skills necessary to build web services, web applications and mobile apps. To earn this credential, candidates must first obtain either the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Web Applications or MCSA: Universal Windows Platform certification. Then candidates must pass one MCSD elective exam. Currently, elective exams include concentrations in the following areas:

  • Microsoft Azure (developing solutions, architecting solutions, and developing Azure and web services)
  • Microsoft Visual Studio (administering team foundation servers, software testing and application lifecycle management)

Recertification is not required for the MCSD: App Builder credential. However, candidates may re-earn the credential each year by passing a new elective exam that is added to their transcripts. Microsoft encourages this behavior as a form of constant education or ongoing certification, in fact.

MSCD facts and figures

Certification NameMicrosoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD): App Builder
Prerequisites & Required CoursesRequired:

Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Web Applications or MCSA: Universal Windows Platform (two exams each)


Training recommended but not required

Two to three years’ experience developing solutions using Microsoft development technologies for mobile or web

Number of ExamsOne MCSD elective exam (choose from the following):

70-357: Developing Mobile Apps

70-480: Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3

70-487: Developing Microsoft Azure and Web Services

70-483: Programming in C#

70-486: Developing ASP.NET MVC Web Applications

70-487: Developing Microsoft Azure and Web Services

Cost Per Exam   $165 per exam; prices vary by location outside the U.S.
Self-Study MaterialsExam reference materials, including practice tests, instructor-led training, self-paced training kits, Microsoft Press books and Microsoft online resources, are available at Microsoft Learning.

PCP: Puppet Professional 2019 Certification

The Puppet Certified Professional (PCP) first appeared in this roundup in 2017. Founded in 2005 by Luke Kanies, Puppet is best known for its configuration management tool (offered in both open source and commercial formats) and its automation software. Since its inception, Puppet has grown considerably. Its reach now extends to offices not only in the U.S. (Portland, Oregon) but in London, Ireland, Australia and the Czech Republic as well. According to Puppet, more than 35,000 companies use the Puppet tool and software.

The PCP validates a candidate’s technical knowledge and expertise administering systems using Puppet. While there are no formal requirements to earn the PCP, successful candidates should possess an understanding of Puppet documentation and best practices, working with data (developing modules, external sources and data separation), and maintaining OS components.

Candidates should also have hands-on experience using Puppet, and the company highly recommends that candidates take both the Foundation and Practitioner training courses (or possess equivalent skills) before attempting the exam. The cert does not expire, but exams are updated to match the current version of Puppet software. Candidates should plan on recertifying about every 18 months on the newest version of Puppet.

Puppet Professional facts and figures

Certification NamePuppet Professional Certification (PCP)
Prerequisites & Required CoursesFamiliarity with Puppet documentation, best practices and the Puppet Language Style Guide

Experience working with Puppet automation software and administration of system infrastructure; ability to develop basic modules

Recommended: Puppet Fundamentals and Practitioner training courses or equivalent skills

Number of ExamsOne: PPT 206 – System Administration Using Puppet (60 questions, 90 minutes)
Cost Per Exam   $200

Exam administered by QuestionMark

Self-Study MaterialsThe certification and exam webpages maintain links to various Puppet docs, the Puppet Language Style Guide, practice exams, the Puppet Enterprise Users Guide, training opportunities (Fundamentals and Practitioner skill level) and more.

Beyond the top 5: More programming certifications

There are lots of other certification programs that can help further the careers and professional development of IT professionals who work as programmers. While the Adobe Certified Expert didn’t make the leader board this year, it is still a credential worth pursuing. The SaltStack Certified Engineer is another powerful automation framework for data center infrastructures and application environments used worldwide.

On the one hand, it makes sense to investigate the plethora of vendor-neutral certification programs available for those who work with specific programming languages or development platforms, particularly those that are open source, like the Zend Framework and Zend PHP, or Ruby on Rails and the Ruby Association’s Certified Ruby Programmer credential. You can also find offerings from providers such as Brainbench and ExpertRating. These and similar organizations offer programmer training and testing on dozens to hundreds of topics, including such white-hot areas as mobile applications development, Android and iOS, and web programming.

In addition, a careful examination of vendor-specific certification programs with broad developer footprints – such as BMC, IBM, SAS, Oracle (Java programming, OCA, OCP, OCM, OCE and more) and Teradata – can also open doors for developers and provide ongoing job or contract opportunities. Those interested in programming certifications have no shortage of choices to make. That’s why we urge candidates to choose carefully and wisely, especially if venturing outside items covered in this article.

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