“Tech professionals have a cornucopia of options,” Rovy Branon, vice provost at the Continuum College at the University of Washington, told TechRepublic’s Dan Patterson. Branon sees “exploding growth in certificate programs like project management, or data science, data analytics, data engineering.”

Patterson: For many developers, earning a certificate or going back to school can mean earning more money, and it can mean more professional opportunities. Rovy, thank you very much for joining TechRepublic this morning. I wonder if we could start by answering some of the questions that developers should ask themselves before jumping into a certificate program.

Branon: Sure Dan, thanks for having me, and I’d be glad to answer some of these questions.

Patterson: So what are the questions developers should ask themselves? What is on the top of the list?

Branon: Well, I think the first thing, when you’re thinking about going back to school, or getting a more formal education is, what do you want to do with your career? What direction do you want to move in? Education is an investment, and people should look at it that way, take it very, very seriously. It’s your time, it’s your money as you begin to look forward, and so I think it’s important to say, for tech professionals you have a cornucopia of options these days. You can become a very deep tech professional in a programming area, you can move into a lot of adjacent areas, you can move into business areas, you can start your own business. So there are a wide range of things that people can do with their careers, and aligning what you want to do with your career to the kind of education you need is really the very first step that you have to take.

SEE: CIO Jury: 75% of tech leaders don’t require a computer science degree for developers and IT pros (TechRepublic)

Patterson: What certifications are currently in most demand right now?

Branon: Well, I think for tech professionals, those three ways of thinking about your career sort of lead to where we have a lot of strengths. So if you think about programming languages, learning new programming languages, so going from one to another, expanding that or learning the next one coming down the pipe, that’s obviously a very hot area for us. We see a lot of enrollments in those spaces.

I think the second area, we see business areas, business-focused areas, entrepreneurship. We have a certificate program in that area that helps people start their own companies, and in Seattle we see a lot of that activity going on. But also, just intro to management, that sort of thing, very traditional pathways to move forward.

But I think where we see the most growth right now is what I would call an adjacent areas to tech careers, where we are seeing exploding growth in certificate programs like project management, or data science, data analytics, data engineering. Those sorts of things that I would say aren’t sort of true programming areas, and aren’t true management areas, but maybe more indicative of what we might call “the new collar” or “middle collar” jobs that are emerging in the tech marketplace today.

Patterson: And are there specific certifications that you recommend developers, depending on their goals of course, examine before jumping into a program?

Branon: Well, looking at your career goals, understanding where that is, I think the great thing that’s happening right now is we have a tremendous number of options available for how you can continue your education today. And so I think one of the things you have to say is “I’m not just worried about where I go in my career, but let me get more nuanced about what is the right education for me at this point in my career.”

SEE: IT jobs 2018: Hiring priorities, growth areas, and strategies to fill open roles (Tech Pro Research)

And so, at the University of Washington for example, we’ve gotten a little ahead of this curve. We have more than 110 certificates and more than 115 degree programs that are professional degrees. It’s a confusing area. We have 10 in the data field alone, and so we’ve added a “coaching corps” so that people can call in and say “Look, this is what I generally want to do in my career, but what’s the right educational option given where I live, given what my schedule is, given what my family life is like, and given what direction I want to move?”

And so picking up the phone, talking to somebody in a continuing education unit, those are often units people don’t think about, top-of-mind when you think about a university, but these are a great way to sort of focus that energy and effort and have somebody talk you through what each of those options might mean for you to move forward in your career.

Patterson: And Rovy, I’m sure you get this question all the time, but what is the difference between a certificate program, a boot camp and a MOOC, or an M-O-O-C?

Branon: Sure, and for those who aren’t aware, so that’s a massive open online course. They’ve gotten a lot of publicity in the last few years and there are a few big providers out there that many of us work with. We have all of those in our portfolio at the University of Washington. We don’t do boot camps today, but we have a lot of boot camp providers in Seattle.

And so, you know, I would say boot camps, they tend to be a more expensive and a more intense experience. They last a little bit longer. In some cases they are a little bit shorter, but they’re focused on a particular area, like learn to get the basics of coding down and get you into one of those entry level coding positions. And so they go very deep, but very, very narrow on a particular start up area for career; great for people starting a career in an area or changing a career.

I think for MOOCs, or massive open online courses, those tend to be much more shallow. They don’t have a lot of instructor support. If you’re a great self-guided learner, you want to just step through some video lectures, go through some assessments and exams and get the basics and a basic understanding of an area. Massive open online courses are a low cost, or even a free way to get engaged in a topic, and understand and learn more about it.

I would position certificates as really, especially the way we do them at the University of Washington, very career focused on specific topic areas. And so boot camp might say “learn to be a coder,” but a certificate might say “let’s go deep Perl programming and C++ or Java or project management,” or other areas that are very competency based, very easy for an employer to look at and say “Wow, I see you’ve continued to expand your range of learning in these specific areas,” versus more generalized areas or more shallow areas that you might see as a massive open online course would provide.

SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Programmer (Tech Pro Research)

And so all of these are part of that ecosystem of what I think is the new emerging higher education. And part of what I see is a little bit of a … I don’t know if it’s a revolution, but an evolution of where we see higher education moving to not just be about degrees, but also to be about access to higher education through shorter forms of learning, learning that goes on in between your other kinds of degree programs that you might have, or even people beginning to stack these experiences together.

So we’ve seen our first people coming from boot camps, saying “That got me a coding career, but now I want a certificate.” So they’re layering … some are not even following a degree route. They’re beginning to layer these kinds of learning experiences together in new ways. And so we look at all three of those, we’re seeing people move through the higher education systems, some coming from very traditional degree approaches, and some really creating their own experiences moving through different forms of higher education today. And especially tech workers have really embraced this, in places like Seattle, and other tech hubs, where you just have to stay ahead of the game in order to remain competitive.

SEE: Report: Degree-holders boosting tech resume with online courses, but rewards divided (TechRepublic)

Patterson: Alright, Rovy Branon, Vice Provost at Continuum College at the University of Washington. Where can developers go to learn more or dive deeper into some of this knowledge about boot camps, MOOCs and certificate programs?

Branon: Sure, well there’s a lot of great resources out there on the web. I think for individuals, certainly looking at your own local university and look at your continuing education units, look at their websites, look at the resources that are available. Begin to educate yourself about the breadth of the options that are out there, and think a little bit about what’s going to be right for you based on your life circumstances and where you want to go.

But I think certainly our website, pce.uw.edu will give you a sense of the range that’s available from these programs. And if you’re in the Seattle region or want to take one of our programs at a distance, you can call and talk to our coaches and they will step you through all those different options that are available. And that’s the same for many major universities with big continuing education units. They will help you sort through so many of these options. That would be a great step for folks to take.