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TESTHEAD REDUX: Aikido and the Role of Certification (TESTHEAD)

On April 29, 2013, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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When I wrote the original post for this back in 2010, I think it was the first time I was willing to break out and say “I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find with this”. It was prompted by my looking at a variety of “certification” options out in the testing market at the time. Most of them I had just started to hear about, many of them were somewhat nebulous, all of them made me feel somewhat uneasy. At the time I said the following (note, I used my experiences with the martial art Aikido as an analog to my understanding of the certification landscape at the time):

In my mind, this is the big thing that is missing from most of the certification paths that I have seen to date. There is a lot of emphasis on passing a multiple choice test, but little emphasis on solving real world problems or proving that you are actually able to do the work listed on the exam, or that you genuinely possess the skills required to test effectively.  

The other issue that I have with this is that, just like in an actual real world confrontation, some of the best practitioners of Aikido may not be the best at articulating each and every step, but my goodness they are whirlwinds on the mat and on the street! This is because they are instinctive, and their training has been less on the intellectual explanation and more on the raw “doing”! 

The reason I mention these details is that I still, all these years later, have yet to find a true certification that actually leads to the goals I am after and desire, but I also have found several examples of exactly what I want to see certification become. In short, I want to see a certification that really lives up to the principles of Aikido. I want to see testing as a martial art in its own right (with perhaps a de-emphasizing of the “martial” aspect. Perhaps a better phrase would be a “philosophical art”).

Before I get too far into this, I will say already that the three things I am going to suggest need to be taken with a very large grain of salt. Why? Because I have a vested interest in all of them, but not for the reasons you may be thinking. A disclaimer… I make no money from any of these endeavors. In fact, in some ways, I forego earning money in other ways so that I can champion them. If I wanted to make myself the equivalent of the impoverished warrior monk, or a Zatoichi, I may have found the perfect recipe in these three examples ;). Nevertheless, I do them because of the value that I believe they provide, and from the anecdotal value that others come back to me and say that they offer.
BBST – BBST is the Black Box Software Testing courses offered by the Association for Software Testing and others. Note, you can get very close to 100% of the benefits of BBST without ever taking a class. All of the materials (the lectures, the course notes, the readings, etc) are available online. What’s not readily available online is the course quizzes and exams, and the ability to be coached by other testers who help instruct the course. There is a cost associated with it ($125 for the Foundations course, $200 for the Bug Advocacy and Test Design courses), but the costs are used to pay for the hosting of the instances of the class, the servers, and administrative overhead. At this point in time, every Instructor for BBST is a volunteer, i.e. we don’t get paid to do what we do. 
Weekend Testing – while BBST is one of the best direct trainings out there, Weekend Testing is, IMO, one of the best organized skills workshops held on a regular basis for testers to sharpen their swords on a variety of topics. Weekend Testing works on a variety of levels. It has much to offer the beginner who wants to learn how to test. It has much to offer the intermediate tester who wants to mentor newer testers, and likewise learn more themselves. It has much to offer advanced testers who can work to develop their skills as leaders by facilitating sessions and designing interesting and unique content to talk about, learn from, and make for a positive influence in the broader testing community. Also, unique to Weekend Testing is the fact that every session is archived. If you would like to show someone just how much you contributed, it’s there in black and white, for all the world to see.

Weekend Testing has several chapters that are in various stages of operation. Chapters have been formed in India, Australia/New Zealand, Europe and the Americas. Currently, the India and the Americas chapters are the most active, but all it takes is willing folk to facilitate and have a strong desire to help testers improve their craft for more chapters to open up where they are needed (hint, I would have no problem seeing a South America Chapter develop, and we have yet to see a chapter develop in Africa. So there’s plenty of room to grow, as far as I can see 🙂 ).

The Miagi-do School of Software Testing – this is the one that probably means the most to me, and yet it’s the one that will, guaranteed, never make me rich. Well, none of them will, but unlike BBST and Weekend Testing, which could be used as a marketable option or product, Miagi-do cannot. Actually, I should say it will not, as long as the founders have anything to say about it. It’s not a not-for-profit. It’s a ZERO-profit. It’s also a ZERO-income enterprise. No money ever changes hands, and likely, no money ever will. People have to seek out the school, have to show they are willing, have to face multiple testing challenges, and actually put in a lot of work that leads to the betterment at large of the software testing community. 
Everyone’s path is different, but my path was through signing up with AST and learning about the BBST classes, taking them as a participant, and then offering to teach them over the past three years. It included my producing a podcast dedicated to software testing topics, and frequently researching and presenting my own findings in episodes where I was features as a guest or a panelist. It involved my getting into Weekend Testing as then offered in Europe, and making enough of a commitment to it to be considered knowledgeable enough to facilitate, and then bring Weekend Testing to the Americas, where I have fostered its growth and development (along with several others, to be fair) for the past two and a half years. It involved writing in many areas, including the book “How to Reduce the Cost of Software Testing”, as well as multiple articles for other distribution channels (ST&QA, Techwell, Tea Time for Testers, The Testing Planet, plus guest blogs for numerous companies and outlets). 
In between all of this, I have sat for and failed, and then later passed, several testing challenges, each one with the idea that I would demonstrate to my testing peers what I knew how to do, and what I didn’t know. The Black Belt/Instructor level that I hold in Miagi-do may be laughed at by some. What does it mean, really? On paper, and in the eyes of HR departments, probably less than nothing. If, however, you and others out there feel that the talks I have given, the sessions I have facilitated, the courses I have taught, the articles I have written, and the podcasts I have recorded have helped, in some small way, to the improvement and betterment of the software testing community, then my black belt speaks volumes. In fact, it’s my hope that everything else I have done, and will continue to do, makes the mention of a black belt completely irrelevant. 
In short, I am not my “certification”. I am the ideas and the experiences that went into it. The fact that my certification is one that I have made for myself, surrounded with like minded people that I respect and admire, means more to me than any certification that can be given to me by any “officially sanctioning body” and yes, I’ll include my Bachelors Degree in that list of “inferior certifications”.
While a “certification” may carry someone into a second round interview, I will much frankly prefer to see my fellow Miag-do ka, BBST instructors and Weekend Testing facilitators on any project I would hope to lead and own. Why? Because I already know what they can do. I’ve seen it multiple times. In a dark alley situation,  I already know they can fight, and I also know they won’t run away :)!
 

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