Are software Testing Certifications worth it?

(Johan) #22

These types of discussions seem to boil down to a few common conclusions:

  • Many certifications, especially the basic/foundational ones, are more about memorizing a syllabus than improving/assuring testing skills
  • Real testing skills, both hands-on and management skills, are difficult to certify and schemes that attempt to do this in a fair and serious manner don’t scale well (and so there are no business incentives to try building one or continue trying)
  • Certifications can be a door opener in certain job markets and thus provide that sort of value, but are frowned upon for that very reason by practitioners

My own opinion is that as long as there is money to be made from providing a scalable but fairly bland certification scheme, they will be around. And the more people that buy in either through ignorance (as was the case with me when I got certified back in 2006) or by necessity (boss says so, job market closed without it, etc.), the worse it will become because if everybody has one then that proves the market need as well as its efficacy, right…? :smirk:

I favor peer certification and being able to explain what it is I do and why I do it well over being certified by an external body of people who know nothing about my real abilities, but I understand the need for a foundational syllabus and there have been attempts made in the past in the community that have been admirable. The best current way of getting testers up to speed with the foundations of software testing in my mind is to send them through the BBST Foundations training. No certification, just hard work and peer review. :+1:

(Heather) #23

Another great blog post about this from Albert Gareev. I love how he expands to give other options that would help you get a job in software testing!

(Chris) #24

In my experience certification systems are money making schemes for consultants. They rarely prove anyone to be actually good at anything. There are good testers who happen to have ISTQB and there are poor testers who happen to have ISTQB - so therefore it entirely fails to fulfil its purpose. From a hiring perspective I look at it the same way as if I read that a candidate likes chocolate or was disappointed in the Batman vs Superman movie - it doesn’t have anything to do with their ability to actually do anything to help anyone in the real world, and that’s all I care about. I want to see them show off their skillset and have them explain their choices and understanding to me. If some course or other helped them to do that then fine. If they get taught nonsense that gives them confidence to go back to first principles and become an awesome tester then fine. The key is not what rules were memorised but the critical thinking that led them to question those rules and come up with contexts that invalidate them. Certification is a lazy way to insinuate knowledge or talent, and it thrives because the people hiring are also being lazy. Understandably lazy, perhaps.

This goes for any course. Seeing an RST course on a CV is nice but it’s entirely possible to sit through it and ignore everything or fail to go on to build the skills it presents. Which is, I suppose, one reason why they don’t hand out certifications.

In terms of getting hired I’m very strongly suspicious of any place that lists a certification as a requirement. In my experience I’ve found it reasonable to assume that anyone listing one as necessary has many problems with their testing and culture that would make it a frustrating and difficult place to do good work I could be proud of.

Edit: I never took ISTQB but I failed the ISTQB practice paper a few years ago (

(Jon) #25

Very good points Chris, although I’ve found that the ISTQB hurdle is much more relevant when working with recruiters than when applying directly to the company. I’ve never talked to a test manager that elevates the certification to ‘required’ level when reviewing CV’s etc, however nearly all recruiters seem to, especially for more junior roles.

I don’t like the certification at all, but I would still recommend getting the thing to someone brand new to testing, looking to get into the industry. This is because it works as a statement of intent that the applicant isn’t just looking for any old job, but specifically wants to get into testing. Or this is how it seems to be interpreted by recruiters anyway.

This isn’t a good reason by any means, and says bad things about the state of the recruitment in the industry, but it would be misleading to tell someone new to testing that the ISTQB has no value, as long as you’re clear that you’re essentially just paying 150 quid to be taken seriously by the middle-men.

(Steve) #26

Hi all - some interesting responses here, and this is something I have spoken about at a recent conference so I feel I would like to add my thoughts here.

As a hiring manager, ISTQB or other certifications are not something I look for.
The most important attributes are attitude and aptitude, and no amount of certifications can make someone have the right attitude and mindset towards a role.

Testers need to work on real-world applications, with a diverse bunch of other human beings, in organisations which will adapt the ways of working which suit them, normally lumped under the generic ‘agile’ umbrella. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach that can possibly equip anyone to become a good tester just by sitting in a classroom and learning abstract theories. There are companies that train graduates to be testers, sending them on courses very early on to pass ISTQB - however that just means that the individual with that certification is capable of operating in a classroom model, learning theories, and able to remember which are the correct answers in the exam. That does not make that person a tester.

There is always value in continuous learning, but I would much rather train someone by pair testing - actually working with someone is far more valuable that classroom training. Follow the 70/20/10 model, whereby 70% of learning is done on the job, 20% by development activities and 10% classroom training.

I sat the old ISEB in 2008, and really struggled, as what I was learning had no bearing on how we actually worked, and as a result I just scraped through. My company wanted me to take the certification, but did it make me a better tester? I would say not, as I went back to work and forgot all that I had learned as it was not relevant.

As an industry we need to get away from our obsessions with certifications. I can see why people think that someone with an ISTQB is akin to being able to say ‘I need a graduate so I will ask for a degree level qualification’, but this is not the same thing. Certification does not equal ability.

Good testers have become so by learning on the job, not in a classroom.

(Simon) #27

I agree broadly with what you say, but in my experience people with degrees are just as much a mixed bag. I know some exceptional people with degrees who do good work, and I’ve worked with some people with degrees who were thick as mince and couldn’t do a job they were apparently qualified for.

(Stefan) #28

Certification as a piece of paper:
Useless for something other than bragging about it.

Certification - training as a mean to learn something:
I did ISTQB Foundation in my first year of experience. Forgot everything imediately. Never used that information or ‘common language’. I constantly had to google the terms, or ask, before knowing what others mean through them.
I did BBST courses(all 4) in my 4th year of experience. I forgot 80% of the things in the next few weeks. It helped me enlarge my horizon, think better on my own, be more careful in the choice of words, open my appetite for more testing books and quality materials. I can recall partially the 80% lost and constantly check the materials and try to remember stuff.

Certification - as a mean to get hired:
Had around 100 calls and discussion with various representatives from companies, it recruiters, consultancy companies.
ISTQB was required in 80% of the cases. The other 20% of them was related to companies with low test maturity and didn’t care anyway about any certs, but only if you can do what they want from you: e.g. write unit tests in java; have 5-7 years of performance testing experience and are an expert with it; can do selenium automated checks.
Using the BBST style of thinking when discussing about testing caused confusion. Interviewers either had little testing knowledge and found it boring, or they weren’t experienced enough outside ISTQB glossary to think for themselves, or understand that things can be different, or be called or defined differently. Mentioning ‘BBST training’ during calls or interviews caused weird pauses, or ‘aha’ lets move on moments, or questions like ‘what’s that’. Not one knew or cared about that. I’m still hoping that, one day, I will meet someone in an interview that actually knows about it, read some materials or even did one training.

As for the worthiness:
If it is worth for you more to get jobs easier(in places where Certifications they are highly required - like the middle of Europe) - consider taking as many of them as you can.
If you find the worthiness in the things you learn - just read the free stuff on the internet. Maybe even try to do the BBST trainings.
If any of the training/certification is paid by the company, just do it. You learn something from any new experience. If you won’t like or won’t agree with it…at least you have a first hand experience and arguments to say so.
If you would have to pick between a 1000-4000E training/Cert and buying 50-200 testing books - get the books!

(Steve) #29

It’s interesting that you say that the main benefit from your perspective has been around getting a job.

I recall a few years back getting a call from a headhunter about a Test Management role, but I had to have a degree. As it happens, I left school at 17 without a degree, and just worked from the bottom up, learning by experience. Being in my 40’s I asked what possible relevance a degree would have on my ability to do the job, bearing in mind any degree course would have been 20+ years in the past. The recruiter agreed it would bear no relevance but the company were insisting on a degree as a pre-requisite.

Many companies are doing the same with ISTQB, believing it to signify that someone can ‘do’ testing, when clearly it’s not that simple.

There is a need for us all to educate companies to be more open minded to candidates who are not qualified, as some of the best testers I have come across have no formal Testing qualifications at all.

Now - if I could just find a way to get hiring managers in a room somewhere…

(Christian) #30

I had “You know about the pros and cons of ISTQB or BBST certifications” included in our latest job advertisement and really wonder if anyone picks that up on his own. Would really love to talk to someone saying “I don’t have a certification for that and that reason” in an interview :slight_smile:

(Heather) #31

That sounds like a wonderful spec! As someone on the job hunt currently that would indicate to me that the spec wasn’t written by a “box ticker”. I would love to be asked that in an interview now :blush:

(Steven) #32

I passed the ISTQB > ISEB foundation and intermediate certifications fairly early on in my testing career. Then later passed the ISQI > CAT examination. To be honest, the foundation course did exactly what it said on the tin. It gave me a great foundation upon which to start from. The rest of them then I have to admit to thinking they serve to earn money for Ford Mondeo driving training consultants. Money for old rope syndrome. They’re good to have, if only to demonstrate you grasp an understanding of the various concepts but in all fairness, the reality is quite different since you find great swathes of theory go out of the window. Like any exam I guess. Aren’t many examinations just a test of memory? I recall passing German at GCSE but these days I only remember how to order a slice of cake and a can of coke. I’ve also never been to Germany.

(David) #33

This all day long.

As someone who chose not to go to university I found my early testing career hampered by “must have degree or equivalent” statements and having the ISEB was a foot in the door (I realise it was in no way an equivalent but it was a pattern-break for HR to go “ooh testing certification; bring him in for interview!”) so I did it in the mid-2000’s.

As a 14 year career tester nowadays when I see ISTQB on a CV I see it as a declaration of intent; the person has studied something they feel will help them to become a better tester. They’re looking to be better than they are currently so perhaps they have the drive to learn more useful techniques and tools and would be a suitable hire so I’d bring them in for interview if the rest of their CV stacked up.

Every person is different and every person has their own reasons for choosing to do or not do a certain training, course, certification etc so on an individual basis I see no problem with the certification.

As an industry though the certification perpetuates the false opinion that passing a simple, multiple choice exam by taking it as many times as you like means a person can do the job to a decent standard. If people who simply aren’t good testers can persuade people they’re great via a certificate and the end result is employers assuming that “the very best ISTQB testers are rubbish, therefore all testers must be” then to me that’s a problem for the entire industry.

(Steve) #34

You raise a good point in that if the outcome of passing an ISTQB is not the ability or skills to be a good tester, then it brings into question the value of having a certificate, so I agree that as an industry we have a problem by measuring just against an ISTQB benchmark.

There are so many other ways that testers can learn, such as the Software Tester Clinics that we were at yesterday, conferences, events, webinars meetups etc.

I find it a much better way of recruiting to ask each individual questions along these lines:

  • How do you keep up to date with the latest trends in technology?
  • What are your key current development needs? What actions have you taken in the last 12 months to progress these?
  • What was the last conference or meetup that you attended? What did you learn and what did you contribute?

They can probably be phrased better (so any suggestions are welcome) but you can see what I am driving at here - I am interested in what they do in and out of work to better themselves.

The message we need to start propagating is that ISTQB gives a base level of understanding but is not the ‘be all and end all’. There are many other ways to learn which although do not necessarily result in a specific qualification, are as valid in terms of the overall outcome - i.e. helping to make someone a good tester.

(Adam) #35

When I was being interviewed for the job I have now I had an argument with the Chairman about this. He asked me where I wanted to go in my career and I said I wanted to be a Senior Manager. He said I couldn’t be a Senior Manager because I didn’t have a degree. I gave him the following scenario and asked who he would hire.

Me: (Hypothetical) 20+ years of experience. Progressed through the business and worked my way up to just under Senior Management.
Candidate B: 10+ years’ experience. Degree in Photography.

Who would he hire? Candidate B.

I asked if he’d pay for me to do a degree in Photography and he said he would :wink:

(Steve) #36

Wow - seems a very blinkered approach.

I wouldnt have wanted to work for him to be honest. Do you find that he values you now, despite your lack of degree? Maybe you helped him to see that there is more to someone than just a degree and that experience, attitude and aptitude count as well.


(Adam) #37

That was 5 years ago and at the time it annoyed me but didn’t put me off. If that were to happen today, I wouldn’t have wanted to work for him either :slight_smile:

(Learning) #38

From my perspective, it could help people new to testing looking to meet people interested in testing. If it is not online course. That’s how I think about my degree. Yes, I got a bit of knowledge, but most importantly I created a network full of people interested in the same thing.

(Santhosh ) #39

Here is my take on this! I love to ask several questions to myself if I plan to do a certification of any kind related to my profession and passion.

// What is the purpose of this certification?
// How is this certification going to help me achieve my goals? First of all, what are my goals?
// Am I really going to add value to my personal learning with this certification?
// Can I add value to my customers project through this certification?
// I am doing this because it helps me get the job. This is it?
// I am doing this because it looks cool on my profile or resume?

In short, the worth of certifications is based on your mission and your goals associated with the decision of doing it or not. Also, the worthiness is decided by your takeaway list from this certification. One needs to question themselves about this and then follow their visceral.

You can get 100 reasons to do the certification.
You can get 100 reasons to not do the certification.

Finally, its about which 100 reasons convinces you more or which 100 reasons win your beliefs about certifications. I hope this helps :slight_smile:

(Corry) #40

This is always a good discussion point. First of all, ISTQB and ISEB are NOT the same, they are different qualification bodies.
ISEB (Obtained through BCS) started it all, back in the days of V&V Testing (Verification and Validation). Then ISTQB wanted a piece of the action for an INTERNATIONAL (US) standard. My opinion - Vastly watered down and made simpler to get people to pass it - being able to remember the book as opposed to assess and devise testing…
Why are Qualification goods - to show a level of understanding, competency and ability to learn - Hence GCSE’s, A-Levels and of course the 3-year being able to drink cert (degree) - Hence a cert in a particular subject is a good foundation piece (BUT the foundation cert is pretty basic and more of an overview).

At the end of the day, like all qualifications, it is the ‘Doing the Do’ that really matters - the qualifications do get you through the door for an interview - but so does experience!

I do have ISEB Practitioner in Software Test Analysis - has it done me good? Yeah, in principle. Knowing the what and the how does help - BUT as you all know, the IT world changes daily. Sell yourself and your skills - never rely on a qualification. Anyone can do a course, pass the exam, come away and dump the info!

(Adrian) #41

A few years ago I worked at a company that had a policy to put all its test engineers through an ISEB / ISTQB foundation course, so I have the qualification. I haven’t found it useful in any way whatsoever!

I suspect company culture has a lot to do with how useful these qualifications are. If you are looking to work at larger corporates with more regimented processes, possibly something like banking or insurance where the dev and test teams are separate entities, then having these types of qualifications are very useful. If you are looking to work in a more agile environment then the value of these types of qualification are considerably less.

As a hiring manager at a mid sized company that aims to be nimble and innovative, I have to say that these types of qualifications can actually be a red flag on a CV if there isn’t strong evidence of practical experience alongside it. The people I’m looking for would prefer to put their efforts into actually getting hands on with systems and software rather than studying for cookie cutter qualifications. A candidate who spends their spare time playing around with jMeter, learning Python or building their own websites is far more interesting to me than a candidate with an ISTQB.