Learners Are Layering On Google Certs. We Talked With Six.

We tracked down people across the country who earned Google Career Certificates, to get a sense of what attracted them and how the training worked out.

Google Career Certificates remain the highest profile of the growing number of online professional certificates from Big Tech companies.

The corporate giants have different approaches and goals with their short-term training, a form of credential that’s getting more interest from students and employers. Some, like certifications offered by AWS and Salesforce, are focused on training people to use tools from those companies. Others, including SkillsBuild from IBM, appear to be aimed at becoming players in the credential-issuing marketplace.

Google’s move, however, isn’t about the company’s products or making money. The relatively low-cost Career Certificates are developed and offered by Grow with Google, a charitable arm of the company that says it seeks to help people get the skills they need to find a job, a strategy that includes an experiment to maximize the company’s investment with no-interest loans for learners.

The company also is increasingly working with colleges and universities to embed its certificates in degree programs—with a blending of academic and industry expertise.

Several experts say they’re glad Google is active in the skills-training space. But Google certs have detractors, including those who question their value in the job market.

The company shared the latest numbers from the program:

  • More than 250K people have earned a certificate in the U.S., with roughly 75% reporting a positive career impact, such as a new job, higher pay, or a promotion, within six months of completion. 
  • Over 50% of graduates identify as Asian, Black, or Latino.

To help connect graduates to jobs, the program includes an employer consortium of over 150 companies, including Google.

We tracked down six people who earned Google Career Certificates, to get a sense of what attracted them and how the training worked out. For five of them, the program was about layering skills on top of their work experience and, for some, what they learned in college.

An exception was Taz Mohammed, who earned a Google IT support certificate in 2018 as a participant in Year Up, a nonprofit that provides well-regarded sectoral training. Google is ramping up its partnership with Year Up and Merit America, another nonprofit training provider.  

Mohammed now works as a corporate operations engineer for Google. That career boost—working at one of the world’s most attractive brands—is hardly normal. But the other certificate holders also say they got something out of the training, whether that was simply exploring career paths or getting the skills to make a big change.

Charting a Path to Stability

Travis Tester, Data Analytics Certificate, Oklahoma City

After running an event production business for most of his 20s, Travis Tester was looking for a career that was “less Bohemian” with more stability.

The Oklahoma City native parlayed his experience with digital media and graphic design into adjunct instructor gigs at the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University. He taught night courses and weekends, but struggled to pay the bills. So Tester, 33, did data entry for a real estate company, freelanced as a graphic designer, and ran social media accounts.

“For one semester I was working five jobs, to not even make $50K,” he says.

Tester had previously earned bachelor’s and associate degrees from the University of Central Oklahoma. The degrees in applied tech and science “sounded great,” he says. But when instructors started getting laid off during the pandemic, Tester decided he needed more education. “It was out of fear of getting fired from higher education,” he says.

While working as a commercial real estate appraiser on summers and holidays, Tester had used Excel and done some low-level data analysis. He had seen Google’s Career Certificates advertised on LinkedIn, and was intrigued by the data analytics cert and the high median entry-level wage in the field.

Tester enrolled in the online, self-paced program, where he says his background in visual data kicked in, particularly in the training on Tableau, a business intel and analytics software platform. “It’s taking numbers and telling stories with them,” he says.

After earning the professional certificate, Tester posted on Instagram that he was looking for work. Through an acquaintance from high school, he landed an interview for an IT support role at a local retail pharmaceutical company. 

“That’s how I broke in,” he says.

His entry-level wage wasn’t much of an improvement. But Tester never quit hustling, and volunteered to help run the company’s social media. Within a year he got a promotion and a “life-changing” $90K salary.

“The name of Google has a lot of power.”

—Travis Tester

Tester kept at the online learning, and later completed a Google certificate in business intelligence. He earned several certifications and licenses through other professional certificates on Coursera’s platform, including cloud technical essentials from AWS and data visualization with Tableau from the University of California at Davis.

Headhunters started approaching Tester on LinkedIn. He shared the median wages with them from the Google program sites. Eventually he applied for a business intelligence analyst position with the University Hospitals Authority and Trust. The job tapped into his experience in higher education and health care while offering great perks, including three weeks of paid vacation and a good 401k match.

Most importantly, Tester says the recruiter said the magic words of, “It’s fully remote and six figures.” The wage happened, but Tester is in the office four days a week. He’s still happy with his career, and an advocate for what’s possible with professional certificates from Google and other big brands.

“College is great for some people,” he says. But Tester says the certs can help open doors for workers who aren’t willing or able to pursue a master’s degree. He hopes more people in Oklahoma City take a look at the path that paid off for him.

“There’s a big brain drain,” says Tester. “The name of Google has a lot of power.”
—By Paul Fain

Looking to Solidify Self-Taught Skills 

Tara Meier, Digital Marketing and E-Commerce Certificate, Phoenix

Tara Meier wanted to upskill—in large part because she realized that she’d been doing things for years that she was never really trained to do.

Meier has a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and both a real estate and broker license, but has found herself spending a lot of time managing digital marketing strategies for herself and real estate teams. 

She even spent four years in PropTech—real estate lingo for IT designed to help individuals and companies buy, sell, manage, and research real estate. Meier was frequently building WordPress sites, managing Facebook ads, writing newsletters, and maintaining social media profiles. And due to her self-described “knack for tech,” she was tasked with consulting on various technology tools.

She took some time to reflect when she recently moved into a role as a marketing technology coordinator for MyHome in Phoenix, Arizona. Meier had a lot of experience with the tools and tech of real estate, but she knew there were gaps in her knowledge because she was primarily self-taught.

She found the Google certificate in Digital Marketing and E-Commerce on Coursera and started it in September 2023. She’d finished by early January. No stranger to formal higher education, Meier considered going that route but decided against it.

“After considering a 10-week bootcamp from a university and seeing the course material was essentially the same, I opted for Coursera and a course that was actually created by Google, saving at least $7K,” she says.

The engagement from some fellow program participants was sub-par, Meier says, but she expected that. And the hands-on projects kept her engaged and made the course more interesting. The program presented a lot of different opportunities to apply digital marketing, and she enjoyed learning about ways her skills could apply beyond real estate. 

“I was pleasantly surprised to know the varying degree of opportunities there are in digital marketing and e-commerce,” she says. “To be honest, I wasn’t really interested in learning the e-commerce portion, but found value in a lot of the concepts and resources that were provided in the training.”

Meier’s now considering adding digital marketing work beyond real estate to her work portfolio, and also is looking to pursue other Google certificates that would complement her current job.

“I’m happy I finished it, and I’m excited to keep leveling up my skills so I can help more people and potentially grow my own income streams,” she says. —By Elin Johnson

Launching into a Six-Figure Job without a Degree

Taslim (Taz) Mohammed, IT Support Certificate, Austin, Texas

Taslim (Taz) Mohammed got his first job at the age of 14. The son of Bangladeshi immigrants, he was a high-achiever in high school and, after graduation, went straight to the Grove School of Engineering at the City College of New York.

There, he lost his footing. The commute from his home in East New York to the campus in Harlem took at least an hour, sometimes two, each way and was exhausting on top of his coursework. He struggled without the peer and community support system he’d had in high school, and the courses felt off. Some faculty members moved through the material much too fast, he says, while others were painfully slow.

“The teaching style didn’t really fit,” Mohammed says.

So, he dropped out. But he didn’t tell his parents, who he feared would not be okay with his decision.

Mohammed soon made his way to Year Up, a well-regarded national nonprofit that has some of its largest training programs in New York. There, he found the sense of community and support he’d been missing—and the financial assistance he needed to restart his education. Immediately, he began working on a Google IT Support certificate offered through Year Up.

“The whole time I was doing the program, my parents thought I was going to college,” he says. “Year Up was really helpful at the time when I didn’t have the support of my own family.”

He also was able to take things at his own pace, which allowed him to better balance work and his education. He earned his certificate in early 2018, and immediately started doing IT contract work for a publicist company.

“The certificate showed employers this person had the drive to complete this whole program—that drive to learn.”

—Taz Mohammed

The certificate and work experience opened more doors from there, Mohammed says. “The certificate showed employers this person had the drive to complete this whole program—that drive to learn,” he says.

He’s also directly applied lessons he learned from Year Up and the Google certificate. Mohammed was doing a technical interview with one company, for example, and he couldn’t answer the question they were asking on the spot. Instead of just saying he didn’t know, he told the interviewers that he’d do the necessary research and get back to them in a timely manner. It worked.

“I learned that from the customer service aspect of the certificate,” he says.

Fast forward six years, and Mohammed is now working at Google as a corporate operations engineer in Austin, Texas. It took three tries—and jobs at HelloFresh and Poppin Pineapple Co. along the way—before he landed at the company. But it’s been life changing, he says.

Mohammed’s $100K salary, plus healthcare and 401k provide security his parents never knew. His father, who drove a cab, never made more than $40K a year and didn’t have a way to earn more without putting in even longer hours.

In his role now, Mohammed is doing increasingly sophisticated work—such as helping engineers troubleshoot coding challenges—and he sees a path to a software engineering or similar role one day. He’s planning to now give college another try, attending Western Governors University using Google’s employee education benefits. It wasn’t the path he or his parents envisioned. 

But Mohammed says it’s working for him. “I’m a product of my environment,” he says. “A lot of people put time and energy into me.” —By Elyse Ashburn

New Job Leads to New Training

Christy Butler, Project Management Certificate, San Diego

Christy Butler was recently offered a job as a project manager due to her in-depth understanding of her company’s customers and product. But she didn’t have much formal experience with project management.

Butler already held a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications, and had completed some classes through Udemy, an online learning and teaching platform, to learn about agile methodologies in project management. She decided to try out a Google certificate in project management next.

“I think it helped me gain a basic understanding of project management, and how to manage a team that is part of a project you’re overseeing,” Butler says. “However, I don’t think it has helped me tremendously as far as career-path wise, as I have not received a pay raise since going into my role or after finishing my certification.”

Butler is a military spouse, and was able to take advantage of a military program that assists military-affiliated people with getting certifications. This meant the cost of the program was covered for her. It took her about six months to complete the program through Coursera, and she finished earlier this year.

The certificate was worth it to her, she says, because it was free. And she’d recommend her certification program if learners want a basic understanding of project management, or if they were certain it would benefit their career. 

But generally, she would recommend Udemy classes because she found them to be the same quality and typically less expensive. —By Elin Johnson

Exploring Careers and Mapping Next Steps

Hannah Isaac, Data Analytics Certificate, Pittsburgh

Hannah Isaac, an engineering specialist in Pittsburgh, was interested in data analytics but wasn’t sure what skills she’d need to exceed in the industry. She hoped the data analytics certificate program from Google would help her find out. She went into the course looking to develop a knowledge base to draw on when deciding on data analytics pathways in the future, and she wanted to document the transferable skills she has.

“The amount of commitment to the program pays off in the outcome you are looking for,” Isaac says. “It’s an investment in yourself.”

The course, which she completed this January after about four months, helped her identify which skills are her strengths and where she has some weak points. She says it also met her goal of helping her figure out next steps in planning a career in data-based industries.

“It’s a great first step towards achieving my professional goals and I’m excited to continue in the field of data analytics with the basics taught in this certification,” she says.
—By Elin Johnson

Career-Switching Out of a Rut

Kathryn Peterson, Data Analytics Certificate, Aberdeen, SD

Kathryn Peterson found herself in a rut after years of being a special education strategist, and a first grade teacher before that. She wanted to transition out of teaching.

She thought about pursuing a master’s degree, but was hesitant about the high cost and the time commitment when she wasn’t feeling particularly called to any one program. While researching master’s programs, she found links to professional certifications, including Google’s. 

Peterson discovered teachers can fit into a lot of different certification categories because of all that the job entails.

A serious health issue helped make the decision for her. In April 2019, Peterson suffered a stroke that resulted in her needing therapy, including speech therapy. The effect the stroke had meant that it would be more challenging for her to pursue graduate school. She needed something that was shorter in length and where she could go at her own pace.

“When you’re a decade into a field it can feel overwhelming to take a jump.”

—Kathryn Peterson

Since her stroke, Peterson has been able to continue teaching—a job she finds deeply rewarding, even though she’s ready to move on—with the support of her school district. She’s also had another daughter. In her words, “life goes on.”

Her husband has been supportive, she says, as she tries to spend 10 hours a week working on her certificate, while also teaching and raising her children. 

“When you’re a decade into a field it can feel overwhelming to take a jump,” she says. “Beginning this certificate program was a leap into the unknown for me and has been extremely helpful in growing my confidence that I can pursue opportunities outside of teaching.” 

During her years in special education, she became curious about how testing companies created norms based on age and grade, and how they established what they deemed average scores. In her job she would test students and input their scores into a system that in return would paint a picture of how that student learns. Peterson would then take this information and turn it into reports and visuals. 

After watching the introduction video to the certificate program, she realized that what she had been doing was data visualization. She now hopes to do this work in a more intentional way, hopefully through becoming a data analyst at an education company.

Peterson was about halfway through completing her certificate program when we talked to her in January, and expected to complete this month.

“I think the certification will be worth it regardless of if I fully transition to a data analyst or not,” she says. “Data is everywhere and it can be used to make better decisions.”

Already, Peterson has met with a local job service and told them about the certificate course she is taking. She said they pointed out the transferable skills she has as a teacher, paired with her forthcoming certificate. This meeting left her so inspired she started looking into a number of other jobs, including working on a college campus. 

Turns out that transferring to data analytics after being a teacher is not as far out of left field as she once thought. —By Elin Johnson