Recently I continue to stumble upon ISTQB (International Software Testing Qualification Board) certification.
First, after a few discussion about need of standardization (and potentially certifications) for performance engineering, I decided to check available [functional] testing certifications and started to ask people what they think about existing certification and which is the most popular. It is interesting that everybody referred to ISTQB – no others were mentioned seriously (while there are some around). While feedback differs depending on people’s position to certification in general, nobody mentioned anything particularly negative (beyond discussion about need in certifications in general). Not a scientific research, of course – but often such informal discussions help to understand what is going on.
I looked through ISTQB syllabi and got impression of pretty decent attempt to formalize a not very structured area. I understand how difficult it should be to formalize it on the concept level – it is much more difficult than to make a syllabus / exam for a specific product or a well established discipline. And, of course, it is changing before our eyes with trends of agility (including exploratory testing) and continuous integration. Of course, it is not ideal (I won’t even comment on the performance testing part) – but my impression is that it is a very good step in the right direction.
My opinion is that reasonable good certifications are beneficial for both people and the industry. You can read why on any certification provider site. Of course, you need to take it with a grain of salt – actually a very large grain – but overall they probably bring more benefits than issues. Issues, of course, exist too.
If we speak about people, it probably brings more benefits in the beginning of the career. When you get to the expert level, certifications won’t probably add much to your credentials. So here I’d agree with Anne-Marie Charrett’s post, but it is probably not even certification-specific. If you see that your potential employer practices something that contradicts your believes – you’d better look for another one (if you have an option). However I don’t agree that certification is needed only for screening – for example, certified people would probably know and use common terminology and may get some understanding of the areas they never touch otherwise. So certification may improve the bottom line, but it doesn’t add much to very experienced people. It even put them in somewhat awkward situation – they need either to go and prove that they know the basic stuff or prove periodically that they are so good that they don’t need any certification. And it is indeed an issue – but, unfortunately, such people don’t represent the majority – so it may be unfair to evaluate the benefits of certifications on the example of experts.
And I don’t agree with this Scott Barber’s post: it would be great in the ideal world, but in the real world we have certifications everywhere and I don’t recall any certification body in any area that gets financially accountable for certified people. The word certification in the real world has a pretty standard meaning and has no such high-level connotations as listed by Scott.
Then I stumbled on Pradeep Soundararajan’s post about ISTQB. It struck me as illogical and unprofessional. While I am definitely a side observer and perhaps missing something important – but if you accuse somebody in scam (which in my understanding is a crime), you’d better put better reasons behind it.
“these training for the cheap certification that is really expensive”. And what? Training is usually expensive (there are some interesting trends now, but they didn’t get to testing yet). And as soon as it is not required for the certification, I am fine with it. You don’t need to take training for ISTQB, do you? As far as I understand, there are books, which are not very expensive – buy a book and get prepared. Am I missed something? If we speak about scam, I am more concerned when the training is required to get certification – and I know a lot of vendor certifications that do that (and at least one testing certification too). Why Pradeep doesn’t complain about those?
“I have a pre final year college graduate who wanted to try her luck, try ISTQB, cleared it and does not have a clue on how to test” –I met many people who got their degrees, and didn’t have a clue on how to do real work. There is always some danger in every training/certification that somebody would just memorize the facts. I’d rather consider foundation certification as evidence that the person knows terminology / main notions. Anyway it is fine to say that the certification doesn’t verify that or this enough – but saying that it is a scam and shame? In my understanding you need to provide something more to prove the point.
“ISTQB as an organization was built to show they are not for profit but those who say it is not for profit” Well, not for profit is, as far as I understand, is a well defined legal term and there are government organization (such as IRS in the US) that keep an eye that such organizations do what they are supposed to do. And this status doesn’t mean that the organization shouldn’t earn money.
“use their own company names to make the profit out of ISTQB” And what is bad here? I guess that they get a small marketing advantage saying that they were involved in its development – but as soon as they don’t distribute, for example, exam questions, I don’t see crime here. People use their credentials to earn money, what’s wrong with this?
“The bigger shame is – when I talked about this – the ISTQB fellas said, “We don’t ask them to do it but it is not our business to get them to change it”.” And what you want them to say? If a company believes that you need a certification (for whatever reason they have) – you either get it, or go to another employer. It looks pretty straightforward for me. While I don’t think that it was a good thing for them to do, I don’t see any reason why they can’t. I am not a big fun, for example, pre-employment drug testing or sexual harassment trainings, but many companies require them – and you just do them if you want employment.
“I have been employed in services companies that have asked me to take ISTQB and my appraisal would depend on that.” Hmm, and what is the problem with that? I’d really love if I was asked to get certified. I rather consider as a problem when employers don’t care at all about training / people development.
“Also, the marketing and advertising they put up in magazines, conferences and other places (I haven’t checked any bill boards) is misleading. It ranges from ROI on this certification to how better testers can be after this. ” Actually in the couple of your examples you yourself proved that the certification does provide ROI to the certified – the employers do care about it and want to get certified people! And as for better testers – well, I’d assume that the certified people would know and use common terminology and may get some understanding of the areas they never touch otherwise. That’s it – and if it gets relatively popular, it works. Certifications never were a way to revolutionize the process – rather an evidence of maturity. In that sense, if there are significant breaks through in the area, certification may need to be updated – but that is a separate story.
Then there is a petition, it is definitely more to the point and is very intriguing. Wow, there is “an exam reliability coefficient reviewed by your exam consultants Kryterion” – it is indeed pretty interesting how it is calculated and what it shows. Kryterion turned out to be the ISTQB exam provider – so I don’t think you can name it third-party, it rather looks like internal feedback on exams to ISTQB (which, I hope, ISTQB will use to improve them) – and the petition is asking to reveal this information. Well, I’d guess the petitioners have a right to ask – and it is up to ISTQB to decide what to do with this information. I don’t think that any organization ever revealed such information before (at least my Google search didn’t return anything), especially if there are some concerns – but it is, of course, up to ISTQB to decide. By the way, I won’t be surprised if some coefficients would be worse for the ISTQB exams comparing with specific product exams – the area is definitely more difficult to formalize and evaluate.
But I am somewhat confused what the goal of the petition is. Concerns that the exam doesn’t test the syllabus properly? Apply pressure to ISTQB to make the exam more rigorous? Real concerns about improving the quality of the ISTQB certification? Doesn’t sound so at least when you read Pradeep’s post.
Well, testing as a discipline is not in the best shape right now. Perhaps we may say that it is in a crisis. Status of testers may definitely be improved. There are several groups of people working to improve status of testing and testers – but their efforts are far from full success. Certifications, with all their shortcoming, improve the maturity of the area. They don’t help top-level people much (and probably rather annoy them), but they move up the bottom line. So, in my opinion, it would be much more benefits for testing in general if all testing thought leaders would at least be professional and constructive in their discussions – for example, suggest ways to improve certifications if they believe they are not good enough. While we probably won’t need certifications in the ideal world when everybody would be knowledgeable and passionate about their work – but, unfortunately, the real world is far from that. So we probably need to live with certifications for a while – and the question is if we have a relatively decent one (as much as it could be) or they would be indeed close to a scam (as soon as developing decent one requires a lot of efforts).
In a strange association Scott Barber’s video Why Executives See Software Testing as #EpicFail comes to mind. It is a very sobering view and perhaps all testers should watch it from time to time. There are quite different opinions almost about every subject – but, in my opinion, it would be better to see the whole picture and at least keep the discussions constructive and professional.