When you read stories about 11-year-olds creating fantastic apps that make it to the Windows Store, Google Play or Apple's App Store, it makes you wonder why anyone really needs a mobile app certification. The reality is that few professionals are going to make their fortunes, or even a living, by creating and selling the next big app. In fact, most will take jobs as developers for major companies or do freelance app development.
Employers also tend to prefer or require a bachelor's degree in computer science or some related field. But because mobile app developers are in high demand, some employers will train (or pay a third party to train) candidates with a background in a related IT area, such as networking or engineering, or train experienced developers on another platform in mobile development tools and platforms.
So where does certification fit in? Although mobile app development certifications are not widely requested in job descriptions, a certification can get your resume noticed or prove that you deserve a promotion, and a mobile app developer certification can help you achieve a decent salary. Glassdoor reports that the national average salary for mobile developers is $101,572, where Simply Hired's national average for mobile app developers is $83,400. Those salaries are consistently higher than other common IT jobs that require a few years' experience. For example, compare average developer salaries to those of software engineers ($89,978), system administrators ($74,598) and network engineers ($77,428).
We took a detailed look at certifications from Microsoft, Google (Android), GIAC, Kony, Salesforce and more. We chose these because of their presence in the industry, their demand by employers and their overall value to certification candidates. We also mention some certifications in the last section of this article that are worthy additions to a developer's portfolio but don't carry as much recognition or cachet as our top five picks do.
Before you begin exploring the featured certifications, look at the results of our informal search of various job boards to see which certifications employers are looking for across the U.S. These results are a snapshot in time from a particular day and may not reflect the actual job demands in your locality, but they should give you some feel for the relative demand for each certification. Alas, most of these are distinctly underwhelming, with two of them totaling under 100, and another two under 200.
Job board search results (in alphabetical order, by certification)*
*More than 1,217 hits using "Android developer certification" as the key term.
**More than 782 hits using "MCSD developer certification" as the key term.
Associate Android Developer
Android and iOS dominate the smartphone operating system market, and Android maintains a solid lead with a whopping 87.9 percent market share, according to Statista. The demand for Android apps is also soaring, which means that skilled Android developers are in high demand as well.
Google provides training and certifications through its Google Developers Certification program to help churn out a competent Android developer workforce. The Google Associate Android Developer is the program's only Android credential, alongside Mobile Web Specialist, Google Certified Professional – Cloud Architect, Cloud Certified – Professional Data Engineer, and Cloud Certified – Associate Cloud Engineer certifications.
The Google Associate Android Developer certification recognizes skills in designing, building and debugging Android apps, designing solutions for storage, and designing applications to integrate with interfaces outside the core Android application. The single performance-based exam also requires candidates to put application user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) concepts to work by creating standard and custom layouts using XML and Java code.
Although training for the Google Associate Android Developer isn't required, Google offers numerous free courses for newbies, as well as for-a-fee courses for seasoned developers through Udacity.
Associate Android Developer facts and figures
GIAC Mobile Device Security Analyst (GMOB)
Making a comeback to the leaderboard this year is GIAC's Mobile Device Security Analyst (GMOB). We previously featured this cert in 2017 but did not include it in our 2018 top five. However, the GIAC GMOB made a strong showing in the job board search results this time, earning it a place in the top five.
The GMOB credential targets IT professionals who work to ensure mobile phone and tablet security when accessing networks and other systems. Successful candidates should have an understanding of penetration testing for mobile devices, be familiar with common mobile attack methods, use and configure encryption and other mobile device protection techniques, be able to conduct mobile security analysis tasks, and understand mobile security, operating systems and architecture.
There are no prerequisites for the GMOB. Although highly recommended, training is not required for any GMOB credential. Candidates must pass a single exam to earn the designation. Also, you must renew the credential every four years to stay current.
GIAC Mobile Device Security Analyst (GMOB) facts and figures
MCSD App Builder: Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer App Builder
Microsoft offers some of the most popular developer certifications in the world aimed at app developers (mobile and web), software developers, web developers and quality control engineers. Aspiring developers who are just getting started can begin with the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA): Developer certification (covered later in this article). Those who are ready to build mobile and/or web applications and services should consider pursuing the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD): App Builder credential.
The MCSD: App Builder requires candidates to have a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) in Web Applications or Universal Windows Platform certification, and then pass one of several exams on Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Visual Studio or Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Server. Training is recommended but not required for an MCSD exam. That said, we think a candidate should have one to two years' experience working with Azure, C#, SharePoint, Office Client, Visual Studio, .NET or HTML5 – whichever technologies or platforms are pertinent to the chosen MCSD exam – to have the best shot at passing the exam on the first take.
The Microsoft Certification Program underwent extensive changes in September 2016. Once you earn one MCSD: App Builder certification, you do not have to recertify within three years as was previously the case. However, by passing an elective exam each calendar year, you add an entry to your transcript that indicates a commitment to staying current on technologies and expanding your skill set.
MCSD: App Builder facts and figures
MTA Developer: Microsoft Technology Associate Developer
Microsoft created the MTA certifications to help high school and college students get started with technology certifications, but the certifications have proven to be great steppingstones for anyone looking to enter the IT field and for IT professionals who want to change careers (or specializations) as well. Achieving an MTA certification can also help candidates prepare for higher-level Microsoft certifications, like the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD), mainly by getting hands-on experience with applicable products and technologies.
One important thing to note is that MTA exams are not prerequisites for more advanced Microsoft certifications and do not qualify for Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification.
The MTA certification program offers certifications geared toward IT infrastructures, databases and developers. Because the focus of this article is mobile app development, we'll focus on the MTA Developer track rather than the Infrastructure or Database paths.
While only one exam is required to earn an MTA designation, there are currently nine different MTA exams available on the Developer track:
- Software Development Fundamentals
- Cloud Fundamentals
- Mobility and Device Fundamentals
- HTML5 App Development Fundamentals
- Introduction to Programming with Block-Based Languages
- Introduction to Programming Using Python
- Introduction to Programming Using HTML and CSS
- Introduction to Programming Using Java
If you're uncertain where to begin, then consider the MTA Software Development Fundamentals, which is a great starter certification. Follow this with other MTA credentials more specific to individual career goals, such as the Mobility and Device Fundamentals, or one of the MTA programming certs.
Finally, candidates may choose to move on to a higher-level certification. Candidates for an MTA Developer credential should expect to understand and use the latest version of Microsoft Visual Studio as their primary development tool. Unlike many other certifications, MTA credentials don't expire. Once you achieve an MTA certification, it's good for life.
MTA Developer facts and figures
Salesforce Certified Platform App Builder
Salesforce, a leader in customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, has more than 150,000 customers worldwide. Salesforce supports its customers with a variety of solutions, including sales and service, productivity, analytics, and the internet of things (IoT).
With so many products and services available, it's no surprise that the Salesforce certification program is both broad and well developed, and it includes an App Builder credential that generates a good deal of interest on job boards.
The Salesforce Certified Platform App Builder aims at professionals who design, build and implement custom applications for the Force.com platform. The certification requires candidates to pass a single exam, which covers data modeling and management, security, business logic, user interfaces, and use cases for social features for custom applications. Candidates must also know how to customize applications for mobile use and deploy them, as well as design reports and dashboards.
Salesforce requires App Builders to maintain current skills. Credential holders must pass maintenance module exams with each new product release cycle (typically in summer, winter and spring).
Salesforce Certified Platform App Builder facts and figures
Beyond the top 5 mobile app certifications
While they didn't make the leaderboard, there are many more great certs out there for mobile app developers. The IBM Certified Mobile Application Developer – Worklight Foundation (featured in 2017) is a great one, as is the Android Certified Application Developer by ATC (also featured in 2017). While not included in the top five, both are still highly worthwhile.
Similarly, the Oracle Mobile Development 2015 Certified Implementation Specialist and Red Hat Certified JBoss Developer don't generate much traction on the job boards, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't investigate them on your own. That goes double if you work with Oracle technologies, Java or Red Hat Linux.
Apple doesn't (yet) offer an official iOS developer certification, but anyone interested in immersive iOS developer training should check out Big Nerd Ranch bootcamps. You can also take self-paced training courses through Udemy and Pluralsight, and you can find plenty of iOS app development training opportunities by searching the internet.
CIW, which is known for its web design and development certifications, is launching the Mobile Application Developer certification as part of its CIW Web and Mobile Design series. The credential was originally slated for release in the fourth quarter of 2017, but its website currently indicates that its release is deferred. Once released, this certification will aim at application development for the Android, iOS and Windows Phone operating systems.
Learning Tree offers Application Development Specialist and Expert certifications for Android, iOS and mobile web design. A few other mobile app certifications you might be interested in are those from Axway (Appcelerator) and OutSystems.
Many colleges and universities also offer mobile app development certificate programs. Browse these offerings from UC Irvine, San Diego State University, the University of Denver and Southern Methtodist University as examples.
And there are many more. A quick Google search every quarter should reveal at least a few more mobile app developer training opportunities.