Are software Testing Certifications worth it?


(Heather) #1

I’ve seen a LOT of people asking about this recently. The majority asking about ISTQB. Is it worth it? Who has done it? Are there other ones that are better? I’d love to be able to point those people to a single forum discussion about it each time but it seems the talk about it happens on so many different mediums it can be difficult to get it all together.

A discussion in the general channel on the MoT slack prompted me to get off my ass and aim for a single link to send these people.

Martin Hynie posted a link to a recent tweet by Angie Jones which I found to be an interesting read. Martin also said on slack “I have found that the discussion regarding certification far too often involves hard and definitive answers/guidance. Often it is baked in reflections on ones own career. But we all are starting from a different place.” I think covering all the places we start from is going to be a difficult one but hopefully on here some of us can give some personal and general guidance.

I’ve personally started ISTQB online and I got bored quite quickly with the content. That was my personal feeling, I don’t want to take away from people who have found it useful! If you did find it useful I’d be interested to hear how it was useful to you, why you chose it and do you still find yourself using what you learned from it today?

I went in search of another certification. My motivation for this was I had fallen into testing and been fumbling around in the dark as the only tester for the company for a while. I knew I was in dangerous territory. I felt like I was missing some fundamentals. I was also concerned that I wasn’t approaching testing with the right mindset. I thought I was missing things that people who’d had training would not have missed. BBST foundations was recommended to me so I began to research it. The content was freely available online but I wouldn’t receive the certification. So early in my career I felt it made sense to do the certification to help me. Mine was through the Association for Software Testing so it was on the more affordable end of the scale for me (I paid for it myself).

Afterwards I found I changed my approach to testing significantly. I wouldn’t say I was finding more bugs but I was stressing somewhat less than before. I was assessing high risk areas in the application, explaining to people why I felt they were high risk and how I thought we should test them. I made the personal decision to write less test cases and instead a form of checklisting after it. This wasn’t advised in the certification but it had changed my thinking on priorities. “Are 100 superbly written test cases that took days to craft better than spending one of those days writing checklists and the other days actually testing the application?”

As a lone tester it was also interesting to interact with testers from around the world on group assignments and I still speak to some of those almost a year on from it.

My personal feeling is that yes BBST was worth it for me, if I could go back I wouldn’t change my decision.

So what about you? Have you taken a testing certification? If you did, what one did you take? Do you still find yourself applying what you learned from the certification to your work today? Linking back to the discussion in general: do you think you need a testing certification to prove yourself in a job interview?

Also has anyone taken ISEB? I know it’s out there but not heard many who have done it.


Must have ISTQB....really?
Software Testing in School/University
(Stephen) #2

For clarification -> ISEB And ISTQB are the same thing.


(Jesper) #3

I have… Pre 2010 there was only ISEB (foundation and practitionar). :nerd:

Certified Agile Tester (CAT) is another book and exam based certification. I took it, but failed - as I was unable to remember their specifics. As with ISTQB you have to memorize what “the book” wants. A plus is that the exam is practical: You have to write scrum boards and test a small application.

I have a range of certificates and exams, each had their time and place as training platforms.

SO

To me personally the whole premise behind cert’s is wrong. There is no complete book on testing - there is no standard - no ring to rule them. Obliviously there are many “this is one way to do it” books on TMAP, ITIL etc - but none of those are the holy grail either. We are in a changing world where "the shelf-life of the body of knowledge for a particular technology is growing ever shorter"


(Tobias) #4

I fell into testing right after university. My boss was very keen on certifications so he sent all his employees on a training course which ended with the ISTQB Foundation Level certification.
I was lucky to have a good trainer so I didn’t just learn “what the book wants” but also some practical advice.

The reasoning behind getting me certified was to “speak a common language”. That goal was failed horribly because the stuff I had to learn for the exam didn’t make it past my short term memory and I forgot most of it right after I passed. (Sorry boss!) Then again in my daily work it simply didn’t matter at all.

A while later I took the Advanced Level “Technical Tester” certification and that was a complete waste of my time. I didn’t learn anything new but just got a shiny new piece of paper…

With regards to job interviews: I was never questioned on my exams in an interview but I don’t know if they made me pass a filter I’m not aware of.
On the other hand I did get questioned on my efforts to learn about the testing craft - did I read books, blogs, attend conferences of trainings, … With regards to that taking the ISTQB exam might be a way of showing that you’re learning about your craft and trying to improve yourself.


(Adam) #5

Are they worth it?

In terms of learning new things, expanding your skill set and making you a better Tester? I would say No. If you’re looking for courses to learn and grow as a Tester I would highly recommend the Rapid Software Testing or Black Box Software Testing courses. I did the ISEB Foundation in 2008 and was the only Tester on the course. All the others were Project Managers and Developers.

In terms of getting your next job… then maybe. Just having a quick Google around most of the Software Testing roles seem to have it down as a “Must have”. Recruiters and HR people skim through CVs and look for keywords so I would see the ISEB courses as being able to put something on your CV to get through that phase but I don’t know of any Test Manager that hasn’t hired anyone because they didn’t have it.


(Dave) #6

I am vehemently opposed to industry-wide testing standards and certification schemes. And I am of the opinion that if you, or your company, paid for an ISTQB Certification, you got robbed. And here’s why.

ISTQB teaches you what it calls the industry standard of terminology. But you’ll find that as soon as you get into a company, or even when you move from one project team to another within the same company, the playing field is a little different. To me, as long as all the folks involved with a project have common ground, and a mutual understanding of the terms and requirements in use, that’s absolutely fine.

In terms of improving knowledge and so on, getting out to conferences and meetups, sharing knowledge and learning from folks doing the job is much more valuable than obtaining any certification.

I know it’s the done thing to put ‘ISTQB Certified’ on a CV, or to add it as a requirement in a Job Specification when recruiting. I know some companies even filter CVs based on whether or not the ISTQB keyword is present in a CV. But as recommended by a certain M. Bolton, putting ‘I am not ISTQB Certified, and I’m happy to explain why.’ on your CV handily gets around that.

And it’s probably worth me telling you that, as a hiring manager, I have never once checked whether or not a candidate actually IS certified when they’ve said they are. During the recruitment process, I focus on a number of things, but whether or not the prescribed ISTQB terminology is being used is not one of them.

Frankly, I don’t care if you communicate by the standards set out in ISTQB, CSTE, ISCB, Pig Latin, Semaphore or Khoisan – As long as you can get the abstracts and concepts I’m looking for across to me, that’s perfectly okay. You certainly don’t need a piece of paper telling me that you know how to refer to things in a certain way.


(Heather) #7

It’s refreshing to see hiring managers not filtering by that but, at least where I am based, it seems quite rare. I’d love for it to be more common but that is perhaps a discussion for another time

The vein of this thread (so far) seems to be very against ISTQB (I would be inclined to agree given my limited exposure to it). It seems to teach a set of “industry standards”.

Let’s look at it then from the perspective of @brownie490 “looking for courses to learn and grow as a Tester”. Would you agree that there is merit in doing something like RST or BBST when looking to learn and grow as a tester? Is there something else you would recommend if not?

I know the material for BBST is available online freely and you could cover the material without the certification. For me I struggled to timebox it so paid for the certification as a way for me to have set deadlines each week to achieve.


(Adam) #8

To me your CV should tell prospective employers what your have done not what you haven’t.


(Dave) #9

Totally see your point. But this was intended as a work-around for companies whose recruitment processes include automated screening for ISTQB on CVs, and systematically reject those that don’t include it. There might be better ways to put it than the facetious way I did, but the principle is more important than my delivery :slight_smile:


(Christina) #11

I’ve worked through some of the books but not taken the certifications and have been working in development (developer then tester) for the best part of 30 years. ISEB can be useful for new testers but having worked with some very good testers who failed their ISEB my personal opinion is that none of the certifications prove that you are a talented tester (some people just don’t do well in exams, some easily remember the stock answers but can’t apply them when testing - I’ve come across both). During recruitment I’d rather ask a dev to write a few basic faults and failures plus one or two more tricky problems into a basic search page and provide the interviewee with some simple instructions and see how they tackle the page and document the flaws. I’m looking for a logical approach more than someone who can find all the problems in the fastest time. Ideally 15 minutes on the original web page, then a second copy with some of the problems fixed but others introduced would be ideal.


(Paul) #12

I have heard many people mention that ISTQB is good for presenting common terminology. The problem is that there is no common terminology within SW Testing. Cem Kaner tried to start a tester’s dictionary (as part of the AST) where all “documented” definitions would be able to be presented in a single location. It would have worked similarly to Wikipedia (but with stronger vetting before posting publicly). One of the reasons for the dictionary was specifically to combat the notion of a common set of terminology. There are multiple accepted definitions of most testing terms so presenting the ISTQB version as the “standard” is similar to decreeing the English terms for objects are the “official” terms. It ignores the fact that there are other equally acceptable definitions.

I have no problem (honestly) with ISTQB courses. I don’t feel they teach anyone how to test better but they should be allowed to sell any course they want. The issue I have with the ISTQB is their marketing - which targets senior people in the company and essentially tricks (and/or bullies) them into forcing their people to get certified. The marketing is packed full of “alternative facts” and unsubstantiated claims which are believed because the C-level execs want to believe they are true.

As a hiring manager, I am willing to use a certification as a discussion point. If, however, the certification is “pushed” (either on paper or verbally) as having been really useful then I will not proceed with hiring. If it was taken to get the HR check box to get past the resume and into an interview then I am willing to proceed.

Despite feeling that the ISTQB does not help anyone become a better tester, the dislike I have for ISTQB is for their incredibly dishonest marketing. They can deliver whatever they want as content - I just want them to market it honestly.


(Matt) #13

I’ve done the ISTQB foundation.

It was a case in memorising useless terminology and methodology that is at best outdated, and at worst completely irrelevant. It also seemed to see iterative development and automation as ‘incredibly advanced’ (sigh) topics, which IMO does more damage to the industry than helps it.

I’m thankfully at the point in my career where I have plenty of options available to me, but frankly, any job that requires me to have arbitrary useless qualifications is a warning sign more than an opportunity. If they don’t put any thought into their interview criteria, what makes you think they put any thought into their software, or you once you join?

If you want to learn more about testing, work in more teams, learn some programming, do some coding side projects, read some books, attend meet ups and conferences. And be discerning.

The best thing you can do, honestly, is find a great company and/or team and prepare to learn and be mentored (easier said than done!).


(Daniel) #14

I’ve finally taken the opportunity to put into words my thoughts on ISTQB certification, as I’m not totally against it: I think there are some good uses. Here’s the link: http://clairshaw.co.uk/blog/2017-03/is-istqb-worth-it

And for those fans of pullquotes, here’s a small snippet:

If you already have a career in QA, and have had one for at least a couple of years, then I don’t think it is worth the cost and time to take an ISTQB course and test. The value it gives you (a minimal standard of knowledge, and showing your dedication to your managers and peers) is something that you can show through your years of experience.

But for people who are new to testing – less than a year – I would absolutely recommend that if given the opportunity to sit the ISTQB, they should take it. They are still fresh and unproven, and there might be things that they just don’t yet know (as there may be concepts that just haven’t come up during day to day testing).


(Heather) #15

That is a great blog post Clair! I love how you make your assumptions and caveats clear :slight_smile:

Interesting also how you mention that the person should not pay. I’ve not heard of many people falling over themselves to pay for ISTQB. On the flip side of that I have seen many people save very hard themselves for RST and BBST courses/certifications. I wonder is this an indication of the worth that the community places on those two over ISTQB? (Not a direct question to you just a pondering I’ve had as I’ve seen the answers here)


(Christian) #16

I wrote a blog post some time ago comparing BBST and ISTQB foundation courses, which Heather asked me to post, so here it is :slight_smile: http://wp.me/p5iRG1-6V

I have certainly learnt more things outside of certification, but in certain areas, like here in Germany, certification can get you a foot in the door to prove that you know a lot more, so I guess there is at least some value to it.


(Brian) #17

I did that. I believe that it’s a topic worth exploring more. While I have seen people (I actually did that under M’s recommendation) advise it. I haven’t heard anyone talk about what actually happens when you do that.

So here it is, in short.

I got rejected. A lot. But the companies that rejected me on basis of that (assuming honesty in their feedback, of course) were not the companies where I wanted to be employed. Afterwards, some spent years looking for the right candidate for their job. Some would remove the job posting and repost the job again months later, which leads me to assume that the people they did hire were not fit for the job (It’s a big assumption that makes me feel better, and not based on many facts at all).

I got interviews. About 10% of the companies I applied to wanted to talk with me. In all of the interviews, we spent a lot of time talking about why I am not certified. I was not prepared for how much people (non testers, HR, Management) wanted to talk about that single point. Because I’m curious, I did ask why at a later date. The answer was usually the same, and had little to do with testing on the surface. Nearly all of the recruiters or managers I spoke with told me that they interpreted the statement as a challenge to them to ask about it (Obvious, when you say you’re happy to ask), and offered them a challenge for me to defend a point of view that is contrary to what they were led to believe is the norm.

So that leads to my opinion (I have, one point of data, which is skewed because the point of data is me.)
Not including certifications filters out the companies which I do not want to talk to.
Including “I am not ___certified” allows me to determine the direction of the interview to content and possibilities and not history. (In other words, in talking about what I can do for them rather than what have I done for other companies).

And over the certifications in general, some recruiters seem to value a short class which ends in a multiple choice test over years of experience. I used to have a problem with this. Now, it’s their loss.


(Beren) #18

Thank you, Brian.
I find people’s stories of their experiments incredibly more useful than most opinions. :slight_smile:
Keep on doing stuff like this and get your stories out.

I hope you’ve found an employer who values you and you’re happy with?


(KC Casas) #19

I’ve had several years of testing experience before I was asked and sponsored by my employer to take the ISTQB Foundation certification exam. I find my actual work experience to be more valuable, and I don’t really feel like the ISTQB certification had added anything to how I test since it was mostly learning terminologies.

I did take a couple of BBST courses from my own pocket. And I found it to be quite an exercise, and definitely more interesting / challenging / fulfilling since it’s not just memorization, it’s not just multiple choice, it also involves expressing your thoughts on testing or explaining your answers to your classmates / instructors.


(Matt) #20

Great story Brian, and also a depressing one. Interviews are not just them assessing you, but you assessing them. Those kind of interviews would annoy me no end - companies that favour box ticking over passion and ability are not places I would want to work either.

Martin Fowler (for it is he) has written about the issue with technical certifications before. The fact is: does someone who has this certification more likely to be better at that competency? And if it’s not an indicator of skill, why on earth do we care about them?


(Linda) #21

As a new tester I have often wondered about this. I came from a health care quality background where quality and process improvement certifications were/are all the rage I had many, a literal alphabet soup of certifications. Virtually none of them helped me do my job any better. Basically it meant that i could study and pass a test or follow steps to a result, no matter the outcome result. When I got the job I have now (which I love more than I would have imagined) I stressed qualities of curiousity, questioning, learning always, finding new tools and asking for help when needed among other things. Those are qualities that I feel help make me a good tester, but are not things that are easy to certify.