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Skills vs Certifications: Where Should An Analyst Focus?

5 min readView all articles
By John Pauler
Nov 10, 2020

Today, we'll dive into the age old 'skills vs certifications' debate, and then we'll do a Q&A with Enrique Ruiz, the instructor of our brand new Microsoft Excel Exam Prep course.

The new MO-201 Exam Prep course comes out later this week, and it's a looking great!

Alright, let's get into it...

What's more important, skills or certifications?

As a young Analyst trying to build a career, should you focus on earning certificates or learning skills?

If you had to choose, here's the argument for choosing skills...

  • Certifications cannot solve business problems.

  • Certifications don't find insights that improve the business.

  • Skills are what matter for the job, and what employers hire for.

The argument in favor of certifications is fairly straightforward too...

  • Certifications are very important as a marketing tool, especially early on.

  • Without much experience, it's hard to demonstrate your skills. Certificates help.

  • Skills will go unused if you cannot land an interview and secure the job.

But really, it's a silly debate. Why would you ever have to choose just one?

The fact is, certifications and skills go hand in hand.

Imagine trying to prepare for a major certification exam like the MO-201, without learning new skills in the process. That's just not realistic.

When you study to prepare for a certification exam like you do in Enrique's new course, you're learning real skills along the way. The exam tests those skills. That's the point!

Choosing relevant certifications to pursue gives you great ammo to market yourself to potential employers. This is also a great way to learn valuable skills in a structured way.

So, let's put this silly debate to bed. It's not 'skills OR certifications'. It can be, and should be, 'skills AND certifications'.

Now that we've settled that, let's hear what Enrique has to say...

Q&A With Instructor Enrique Ruiz

Enrique, the instructor of our new MO-201 Exam Prep course, was kind enough to carve out some time from finalizing the new course to answer some of my questions.

I'll share the details of our discussion below...

JP: In your own words, why are certifications important for Analytics & BI careers?

ER: Getting started in a data career can be challenging. You need to learn new skills, and you need to market those skills to potential employers. Pursuing a well-known certification that's relevant to your career path is a great option. You'll learn a lot, and will also have a third-party validated certificate to showcase which will help you stand out from the crowd.

JP: How should a young Analyst think about which certifications they should focus on?

ER: Great question. Ideal certifications will be different for each person. But generally speaking, I would recommend focusing on certifications that align with your interests, complement or strengthen current skills, and carry name recognition to help you market yourself to employers.

JP: Why did you choose MO-201 as your first Certification Exam Prep course?

ER: Well, as you know I'm a huge Excel fan. It's one of the most widely used business applications on the planet, and a very underrated data analysis tool. Excel is great for managing data, finding insights, and even creating rich visualizations to tell the stories from your analysis. It's such a great tool, and Microsoft's name carries a lot of weight too. For aspiring analysts looking to learn valuable skills and market themselves, pursuing the MO-201 is a great choice.

JP: I know the course isn't out yet, but could you tease any details?

ER: Like Maven's other courses, this one is a hands-on, project-based course. We used a really rich data set from AirBNB, and throughout the course, we use Excel's full arsenal of tools to analyze property details, rental rates, mortgage projections, and everything in between. The projects are pretty cool. I think students are going to love this one.

JP: Microsoft and Oracle come to mind when I think about SQL certifications. And we've already talked about the MO-201 for Excel. Are there any other Certification Exams you recommend Analysts consider?

ER: The DA-100 for Power BI is another great certification Analysts may want to pursue. For folks who lean toward Tableau, the Tableau Desktop Specialist certification is a great place to start. If you're interested in web analytics, the Google Analytics Individual Qualification is well-known, and Google Analytics Academy has a lot of great free resources. Any of these are great options. They all teach valuable skills and have well-known brands behind them.

JP: What advice do you have for folks looking to pass the MO-201 exam?

ER: The most important thing is to make sure you understand what's covered on the exam, and that you have a plan to prepare. The exam goes pretty deep on formulas, formatting, pivot tables, charts, and a lot more. I think anyone who is willing to spend the time preparing should be able to pass this exam. But folks who try to wing it are likely to be disappointed. Get your head around the exam topics, carve out plenty of time to prepare, and you should come out with a great credential backed by one of the most recognized brands in the world.

I am so glad I was able to pull Enrique away from production to chat about the new course. It's such an exciting one, and is sure to help a lot of Analysts and aspiring BI professionals earn a major certification that will help them in their careers.

If you want to be among the first to hear when Enrique's new course is released, you can follow Maven on LinkedIn, or sign up for our Newsletter, which you can do at the bottom of any page on our site. These are the first places we'll announce the official launch.

Happy learning!


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John Pauler

John brings over 15 years of business intelligence experience to the Maven team, having worked with companies ranging from Fortune 500 to early stage startups. As a MySQL expert, he has played leadership roles across analytics, marketing, SaaS and product teams.

John brings over 15 years of business intelligence experience to the Maven team, having worked with companies ranging from Fortune 500 to early stage startups. As a MySQL expert, he has played leadership roles across analytics, marketing, SaaS and product teams.

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