Co writers – Lee Hawkins, Rajesh Mathur
Testing Circus – Volume 7, Edition 1, January 2016
This article (or Testers’ FAQs) is a result of our constant discussions, conversations, debates, teaching, coaching and mentoring over social media and not-social (we are
not saying anti-social) media. Many of these conversations have occurred during our popular TEAM meetups.
We have also been responding to many queries from experienced as well as inexperienced testers lately. Many of these queries are topics such as career advice, growth path, techniques and technology. The most common question concerns testing certifications. The testers out there appear confused about the value of becoming certified. Considering the confusion and common questions, we decided to create this FAQ guide. We have also listed some good references at the end of this article.
Q. In an overcrowded market, there has to be a benchmark which employers can work with. Don’t certificates help employers by becoming that benchmark?
Answer: The central problem is not the missing benchmark. The problem seems to be about assessing job applicants’ CVs before the interview process. One common complaint is that most CVs from testers appear similar, as if a template has been used. This problem is exacerbated by certification, not remedied by it. If every tester is certified by the same body, then this is not a differentiator. Those involved in recruiting testers need to look beyond the cookie-cutter CVs for signs of genuine testing ability and interest, such as community engagement and critical thinking (an example of which would be the realization that certification homogenizes rather than differentiates).
Q. Isn’t it hard to assess a person’s capability until they reach the interview stage? It is an overcrowded market because the employers often get a large number of applications for a single job posting (certified or otherwise).
Answer: A good CV can tell you a lot about a candidate. Focus on understanding the applicant’s past employment history, what they bring at the pure job experience level. Now understand their involvement in learning and contributing. What does the applicant do to extend their testing knowledge? Do they rely on employer provided training or do they have an established self improvement program? Is the applicant involved in the test community? What does this involvement look like? Is this a “9 to 5” tester for whom testing is just a way of making money or someone that wants to grow and add value as a tester? This tells us more about an applicant than holding a generic testing
Employers also have their vested interests in making the hiring process easier for themselves. One approach is to be very clear and specific while drafting the job description. Most of the testing job descriptions are very vague and poorly drafted and this is why we believe employers receive a large number of applications.
Employers would benefit by spending time understanding the role they really need filled and describing an appropriate job profile. They could also benefit by understanding what certification means to them as an organization, the value it delivers, rather than simply adopting it as a filtering benchmark without understanding the impact of this decision.
Q. Any ideas how the testing industry would set the expectation that certificates are/are not required? There doesn’t appear to be a clear expectation amongst all organizations.
Answer: It would be unrealistic to assume all organizations have the same expectations on this or any other subject. Organizations have different cultures, projects within them also have different ways of working and their own expectations on the value testing
brings to the project. It is these differences between what constitutes value from testing that is acknowledged by the principles of context-driven testing and these differences are poorly served by a “one size fits all” approach to testing that is almost an inevitable outcome of following certification programs.
Q. For a beginner tester, the certification programs teach techniques that might help in their job. Theory can be a base for practical experience?
Answer: We think that a certification course and a subsequent exam do not teach beginners testing techniques. Most certified testers who we have interacted with confirm that they took the exam only for the purpose of gaining the certificate and not for
learning new techniques. Testing techniques are mostly learned on the job by doing.
Further, when the means to an end is remembering things to regurgitate on an exam then it is not an exercise of practical demonstration but of rote learning. We have worked with numerous testers that have received high certification marks but cannot negotiate their way through real world problems. Certification does not teach thinking skills, it teaches students to follow an established pattern of practice. Students do not leave the courses with any strategies on how to deal with these problems and think through issues. We
advocate getting experienced testers to sit with the new testers. Establish a mentoring program, let real experience guide the development of testers. Let them experience real world problems and develop problem solving skills as they find answers to these problems
while being fully supported. James Bach wrote an excellent post for new testers which we highly recommend (even if you are not new to testing).
Q. For an experienced tester, certification works as a refresher and for up-skilling knowledge. People take certifications to showcase their ability or curiosity to
learn, don’t they?
Answer: We’re all for testers taking responsibility for their own career and a demonstrated history of continuous learning is something you should be looking
for on any tester’s CV. Too often we encounter testers who think taking ISTQB Foundation teaches them all they need to know to be a good tester. In our opinion
this is a blinkered and misguided approach. Testing growth requires a community. The idea that one source of information (certification) makes you complete is a
fallacy. You don’t learn to speak English by reading the dictionary. In a ‘thinking and doing’ profession you don’t up-skill by occasionally getting a certificate. You
improve by immersing yourself in other people’s thinking, be that books, articles or ad-hoc observation (to name a few means) and turning those into experiments. You improve by discussing ideas within your test community, attending meetups, conferences,
workshops. Even coffee chats with other testers who are willing to challenge your ideas, experiment with them, provide feedback on outcomes!
Q. Certification is essential to get into the workforce or be promoted.
Answer: This is why it’s so important for there to be good arguments in place for not having such requirements. With the ubiquity of ISTQB certification, it is not surprising that organizations latch onto it as a prerequisite during hiring and promotion – but that
doesn’t mean it has to be this way. It is up to all good testers to present compelling arguments for alternatives that focus on critical thinking and context.
Q.Most importantly, certifications are for implementing a universal process. Each organization has their own testing strategies, plan and approach. Learning about a
universal process gives the tester confidence to fit into any organization easily.
Answer: Testers serve their stakeholders in a particular context. They cannot work in isolation because there are multiple stakeholders that testers influence and are
influenced by. Since testers serve a specific purpose in a specific context, the universality of language is not required as much as it may be required by a developer. Testers who try to impose their language on their stakeholders do a disservice to our craft. This imposition
serves to create confusion and contributes to poor relationships with stakeholders. Each organization is unique and has its own way of doing things. What one organization may call build verification test, others may call smoke, sanity, shakedown or shakeout test.
Semantics matter and may impact adversely to a context. It is a better approach, in our opinion, to allow project stakeholders to agree a “glossary of terms” for the project so that all stakeholders use common, clear language. The glossary may not survive more than a
project, but, it doesn’t need to. It survives only as long as it is relevant to the project context.
The idea of creating a universal test language is a unicorn. It suggests a level of conformity among the testing community that, in reality, will never be achieved. Many years ago, being relatively new to testing and having achieved ISTQB foundation, Paul
attempted to formalize the language of eight testers he led. He spent time trying to align terminology to the ISTQB glossary. He eventually dropped the idea as it became clear there was no appetite for the change. He realized not long after that this was a high effort, low
value exercise. We don’t need a common language, we need to discuss and establish context through communication. Michael Bolton’s post on Common Language provides further “food for thought”.
The notion of universality also implies best practices. This is, in itself, an issue as it encourages the idea that I can apply the same approach in any context and it will
be efficient, meaningful, and provide value to the stakeholders. This attitude severely retards meaningful growth in the industry and also damages credibility. Our personal approach, and the one we would recommend, is to consider all possibilities available to
you and use the ones that best fit your needs within the current context. Don’t rest on these decisions though. Contexts change, be alert and ready to assess what those changes mean. Do not blindly follow a pre-determined path.
Q. Understanding the process makes the person a best fit. Certification exams make testers understand the testing process. Hence, certifications are not at all wasteful activity.
Answer: One does not need certification to understand or learn a new process, language or activity. Children learn languages by observation and get fluent by practicing. Similarly, for testers, practice, observation, exploration and learning are more important than
The question whether testing certification is wasteful or not again depends on context. The effort involved in learning the syllabus content to a point where the examination can be passed presents opportunity cost, given that the tester involved could instead be tasked
with learning and exploring the product under test and providing information about it to your stakeholders. Entrenching the so-called standard terminology from the certification may end up being wasteful, as the tester needs to work within the differing project environments in any organization and adopt the de facto terminology in use in each.
Q. We don’t retain knowledge as time passes. So we do need refreshing courses or certifications to get you back into the process.
Answer: Learning can be done in many ways. Certification or paid courses are not the only options for gathering knowledge. Today, there is so much free learning material & support available online that a seeker may not even need an institution.
Q. Certifications or standards were created out of necessity.
Answer: The question is, what necessity or whose necessity? The necessities need to be exposed as these are the assertions that need to be examined for accuracy and relevance. What necessities led to the creation of a very directive method of testing? What other options were discarded and why. If you are going to argue necessity then you need to look at the historical context and examine it.
If certificates were created because of necessity, what was the objective? What benefits were to be accrued through prescribed process in a business of a “million or more” contexts? Is there really “one true process to rule them all”?. Does that original necessity still exist? We have yet to hear a convincing argument that it does. We argue, strongly, that you cannot implement directive approaches to testing without tearing large holes in the credibility of testing as a profession.
Can you hire good testers who do not have a certificate but still have good knowledge of testing? We include Rob Lambert’s post in the references below Rob’s post answers this question in significant detail.
Q. If experience-based testing is what we recommend then what are the entry criteria for freshers? They cannot gain experience without being hired as a tester.
Answer: There are ways by which an entry level tester can gain experience. There are open source projects available online, many websites like CodeAcademy, Khan Academy, Free Code Camp provide learning and experience opportunities. Crowdsourcing sites like
uTest provide opportunities to gain experience and earn as well. Beginners can also join test meetups or engage more anonymously through forums such as LinkedIn.
Beginners can use these to not just learn, but experience and earn too.
1. “Recruiting Software Testers” (Dr. Cem Kaner)
2. “LinkedIn PDCA: Are you ready?” (Rajesh Mathur)
3. “How to Recruit a Tester” (Phil Kirkham)
4. “Certifications are creating lazy hiring managers” (Rob Lambert)
5. “How to Find, Interview and Hire Great Software Testers”
6. “Defending Against Standards and Certification” (Eric Proegler)
7. “Certifications in hiring – Part 1” (Johanna Rothman)