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All OR heroes wear CAPs

Updated: 3 days ago

by Marno du Plessis


Earlier this year I had the privilege of obtaining the Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) certification from the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). If you are wondering what on earth is this, you are most definitely not alone and I think it is time that operations researchers (especially in South Africa) do something about it. In this article, I describe briefly introduce CAP and my practical experience with the exam.


What is the CAP certification?

To quote the official website, the CAP certification is a “trusted, independent verification of the critical technical expertise and related soft skills possessed by accomplished analytics and data science professionals, and valued by analytics-oriented organisations”. Or said more plainly, CAP is quite good for your CV! In today’s world of ubiquitous certifications and courses, the CAP certification meets a certain ‘gold standard’ that also allows employers to identify and recruit top talent.


Who is eligible for the CAP credential?

The CAP credential is aimed at analytics professionals in the beginning-to-middle stages of their careers. To qualify for the CAP certification you need some combination of academic qualifications and work experience. The relevant criteria are listed on their Frequently Asked Questions page. I became eligible for the certification earlier this year by virtue of three years of work experience as well as holding a master’s degree.


If you do not have practical experience, fear not. You can consider the aCAP (where "a" is for “associate”) certification specifically designed for entry-level analytics practitioners (details available here).


Exam preparation

To obtain the CAP certification you write a single, 100 multiple choice question exam. The result of the exam is only pass or fail so that there is no grading scheme. I should mention that the CAP certification is about testing your breadth rather than depth of knowledge. For example, it is important to know that Principal Component Analysis (PCA) is a dimensionality reduction technique but you need not know the mathematics behind it.


The exam covers seven distinct domains, namely

  1. business problem framing;

  2. analytics problem framing;

  3. data;

  4. methodology (approach) selection;

  5. model building;

  6. deployment; and

  7. model life cycle management,

with the most weight concentrated between the second and fourth domains.


The CAP certification does not necessarily have a set syllabus covering the details of the learning material as you would encounter in a standard undergraduate module. Given the dynamic, fast-evolving nature of the analytics domain I suppose you can understand why this is the case, but it makes it a little bit harder to know how to prepare for the exam.


It may not be the perfect strategy, but I prepared for the exam in the following way:


There is a CAP study guide available online which covers a range of topics for each of the seven domains and I used this document as my guideline. In some domains there are content that can be studied as ‘theory’ such as the set of five W’s (who, what, where, when and why) one can employ when framing a business problem. I tried to memorise this type of content but there were not any detailed questions regarding these topics in the exam I wrote.


For the more technical domains, I would read a term such as ‘lasso regression’ in the study guide and then Google the term to get a conceptual understanding of the technique. In hindsight I can say that I studied much more technical content than was needed for the exam, but the benefit is that I am better off having the knowledge than not.


Booking the exam

At the time of writing, the CAP exam cost USD695 and the booking process is well documented on the CAP website. You can choose to write the exam either online or at a physical location. Where possible, I would recommend the latter option because there are several things you need to do on your computer to ensure the integrity of the exam and these may cause unnecessary stress (such as installing software on your computer and activating your webcam).


Resources

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I recommend exploring the following resources when preparing for the exam:


  • The official CAP website

  • The CAP sample test of 23 questions to give you a feel of what to expect on exam day (covers all seven domains with answers included)

  • For high-level explanations of terminology/techniques, I made frequent use of the first paragraphs on the relevant Wikipedia pages.

  • Furthermore, I would also recommend reading through the glossaries found here

CAPping it off

I must admit that the thought of turning back the clock to my student days in preparation for the CAP did not appeal to me at first. But ultimately the opportunity to take a couple of days off work to ‘research’ the field of analytics (or data science or whatever you want to call it) proved quite enriching (even if it turned out to be an overkill for the exam). Obtaining this particular feather in my CAP (see what I did there) fills me with confidence in the knowledge that my skill set meets an internationally recognised standard.


ORSSA is tickled pink to announce that they are collaborating with INFORMS to offer a discount on the exam fee to developing countries. Stay tuned for more updates!

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