Certifications

Our community has questioned Testing Certifications for some time, particularly ISTQB. Many people have written about this:

Cem Kaner has proposed an advanced certification, and as the creator of BBST, has thought a great deal about teaching software testing.

Other leaders and teachers in our community have spoken about certification:

Much of our community’s objections have to do with how these certifications are marketed. Specifically, telling young people that they need a certain certification in order to get a job, and telling employers they should require the same certification in their applicants.

The CSPP has drafted a statement for the public on testing certifications. It is not an official position of AST, but it is something most people in our community agree with:

Testing Certification

Adapted from http://www.agilealliance.org/the-alliance/agile-certification/ by The Association for Software Testing Committee on Certification, Standards, and Professional Practices

Testing is a critical activity for reducing uncertainty and assessing risk in the development and use of software. Employers need to staff teams that will perform it well. How can they know if a particular person will be a strong contributor?

One way might be to favor employees who are vouched for by some certification body. It is the position of the Association for Software Testing that employers should have confidence only in certifications that are skill-based and difficult to achieve.

We also believe that employers should not require certification of applicants or employees.

Why Only Skill-Based and Difficult to Achieve Certifications?

Certifications usually tell you that a person has been exposed to particular knowledge. Some certifications additionally tell you that she has passed a test against that knowledge.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but the successful businesses tend to pay for the application of knowledge and performance of the individuals they hire. The performance of and value from a tester requires the application of skill.

A skill is not as simple to acquire as knowledge: the learner has to perform the skill badly, recover from mistakes, do it a bit better, and keep repeating the whole process. Especially for the interrelated and interpersonal skills required of testers, much of the learning can only be obtained through experiences working on real projects. It is that experiential learning that a certification must vouch for, if the certification is to vouch for a person’s ability – that is to say, skill.

Vouching for someone else’s skill requires close observation or questioning by someone already possessing the skill; for instance, another tester with greater experience in the profession. For anything other than uninterestingly simple skills, that observation requires a great deal of work, which means it’s typically very expensive. Therefore, the only skills worth formally vouching for are those that require substantial effort and experience to learn.

Why Not Require Certification?

While a skill-based certification might shorten the hiring or promotion process, there are many skilled practitioners who are not certified. Excluding them from consideration would be a poor business decision.

Moreover, conformity of skill and experience is not in the best interest of more innovative and competitive businesses who are seeking to explore and invent more efficient, effective and optimized means of ensuring product quality. Groupthink in testing is dangerous.

Becoming a good tester involves continual self-study, exploration, intellectual flexibility, and learning. Identifying and hiring for those traits is much more likely to land strong contributors.

Certification Today

Entry-level testing certifications are knowledge-based and easy to achieve. We believe the courses that some use to prepare for them may be good ones. We believe people who attend these courses probably get their money’s worth, provided they follow up with additional study and research. But while these certifications may be evidence of good faith, some useful knowledge/terminology, and a desire to learn, they are not evidence of learned testing skill.

AST offers Black Box Software Testing (BBST) courses for its members, which are rigorous and help develop skills. AST still does not certify attendees, only documents their completion of the course.

The position of AST remains firmly that employers should not require certification of applicants or employees, and that skill is acquired by practice, not by training alone.

About AST

The Association for Software Testing is an international non-profit professional association with members in over 50 countries. AST is dedicated and strives to build a testing community that views the role of testing as skilled, relevant, and essential to the production of faster, better, and less expensive software products. We value a scientific approach to developing and evaluating techniques, processes, and tools. We believe that a self-aware, self-critical attitude is essential to understanding and assessing the impact of new ideas on the practice of testing.

AST is funded by individual memberships, and by the proceeds from the CAST series of conferences. We are not a certification body and do not endorse any certification programs.

 

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