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Best 5 Programming Certifications for IT Pros 2018

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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 other, more focused studies are 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. Encyclopedia Britannica reports that there are currently more than 2,000 programming languages in use, although some are more commonly used than others. 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.




LinkedIn Jobs



ACE (Adobe)






C Language Certified Associate












MCSD (Microsoft)






PCP (Puppet)






Salaries vary depending on the job role, but, on average, software and application developers can expect to earn something in the mid- to high 80,000s. Simply Hired reported average earnings for application developers at slightly more than $85,000 and almost $93,000 for software developers. Earnings on the high side were reported at more than $140,000 ($142,000 for application developers and $146,550 for software developers), with low earnings in the mid-50,000s. Computer programmers earn slightly less, with average earnings reported at $60,211. Salaries ranged from lows in the mid-30,000s to $112,307 for top earners.


An oldie but a goodie, the Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) credential has been around since the 1990s. The ACE program covers most major Adobe products and platforms, including Campaign, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop and Premiere Pro. Individuals seeking ACE credentials should understand their target platform well, be able to create code and solutions to take advantage of its capabilities, and make it more accessible to less-expert users.

Certification Name

Adobe Certified Expert (ACE)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Real-world experience working with specific Adobe products and platforms

Adobe offers but does not require training classes for ACE candidates. Class prices range from $900 to $3,600 for virtual and classroom training (or local equivalent) and run for two days.

Number of Exams

One per product (60 questions)
Exams administered by Pearson VUE. Purchase individual exam vouchers through Adobe Certification Marketplace.

Cost Per Exam  




Self-Study Materials

A free exam guide, with exam topics, number of questions, sample questions and preparation tips, is available on each exam's webpage.

Books, e-books, e-learning, preparation bundles, video-based learning, practice exams and more learning tools are available at the Adobe Certification Marketplace.

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

The remaining exams on the horizon are the CLS: C Certified Senior Programmer and the CPS: C++ Certified Senior Programmer, which should be live by the end of 2017.

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.

Certification Name

C or C++ Associate, Professional and Senior (items in bold available as of November 2017):

  • C Programming Language Certified Associate (CLA)
  • C Certified Professional Programmer (CLP)
  • C Certified Senior Programmer (CLS)
  • C++ Certified Associate Programmer (CPA)
  • C++ Certified Professional Programmer (CPP)
  • C++ Certified Senior Programmer (CPS)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Professional- 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.

Number of Exams

One per credential (up to 75 minutes, 55 to 65 questions, 80 percent required to pass)

Cost Per Exam  

$295 for non-students (includes one free retake)
$147.50 if taken in conjunction with course (which is free)



Self-Study Materials

C++ 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.


Like other (ISC)2 certifications, the CSSLP is a vendor-neutral credential that is relevant to many kinds of programming and development projects. Aimed at software developers, QA testers 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 software acceptance, deployment, operations, maintenance and disposal, 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.

Certification Name

Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

At 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 Exams

One (four hours, 175 questions, 750 out of 1,000 points required to pass)

Exam administered by Pearson VUE

Cost Per Exam  




Self-Study Materials

The certification webpage maintains links to multiple study tools, including exam outlines, textbooks, interactive flash cards and training seminars.

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

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 MCSE: 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 (solutions and web services; a DevOps component for Azure is listed as coming soon on the MCSD: App Builder page)
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server (2013 core and advanced solutions)
  • Universal Windows Platform (app architecture and UX/UI, or app data, services and coding patterns)
  • 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.

Certification Name

Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD): App Builder

Prerequisites & Required Courses

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

Training recommended but not required

Number of Exams

One MCSD elective exam

Cost Per Exam  

$165 per exam; prices vary by location outside the U.S.



Self-Study Materials

Exam reference materials, including practice tests, instructor-led training, self-paced training kits, Microsoft Press books and Microsoft online resources, are available at Microsoft Learning.


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.

Certification Name

Puppet Certified Professional (PCP)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Familiarity 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 Exams

One: PPT-205 – System Administration Using Puppet (60 questions, 90 minutes)

Cost Per Exam  


Exam administered by Pearson VUE.



Self-Study Materials

The 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.

There are lots of other certification programs that can help to further the careers and professional development of IT professionals who work as programmers. Two of our featured certifications from 2017 fell out of the running for 2018 because their job board numbers fell below other certifications in our top five list. However, they're still worth pursuing.

These include the Certified Chef Developer, which vets IT pros familiar with Chef's automation and orchestration capabilities. Ditto for the SaltStack Certified Engineer, 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.

Ed Tittel

Ed is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who has worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written for numerous publications, including Tom's IT Pro, and is the author of more than 140 computing books on information security, web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.

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