Friday, April 25, 2008

Software Testing certification - To be or not to be ..

I am yet open up my thoughts on certification ... also I have not been very critical of certification programs. Here is an attempt to publish my personal views on this topic ..

In 2003 I took CSTE exam ( A link from QAI is here) - as asked my manager and cleared with flying colors - 90% above ...My preparation for the exam was painful ... I had scratched the CBOK (reference material) all over as I did not agree with most of material - which seemed to copy paste from a software engg text book and about 20 years old stuff. I could memorize lots of stuff without sufficiently challenging it. I passed the exam ... did I learn anything new that helped my work --- NONE other than some terms and their meanings (questionable).

I also constantly watched the kinds of people who passed such exams .... I must the quality was bad. Passing was easy ....In my opinion, most of certifications (I am a certified Java programmer too) suffer from this problem. There is so much focus on memorizing things not about learning.... There is little space for debates and questioning... That is you questions do not have "comments" field .. or "I don't agree with premise of the question because...." kind of open ended response from the candidate .. Who has the time to site and evaluate all responses ...?

Discussions on certifications often take "Emotional" angle - people say exams like BE and certifications help one to improve skill and knowledge .. I would say they only provide reading material .. rest is in your hand (rather in mind) . I strongly feel that skill comes first and gets developed by practicing, doing, spending real good time with dedication not by passing an exam that tests your memory retention capabilities.

The problem I see with testing certifications is that - they don't test testers skill to do testing ... (a practical exam like our science lab in schools might help) instead they test tester's memory retention skills.

Are there any certification exams that watch tester testing stuff (with some video etc) and then give "good to go" Tag? No .. that would be expensive and tough exam to administer right ...

An example of goal displacement ... certification exams appear to be designed for easier and large scale (yes/No or choice) kind of assessment than complex/tougher assessment of watching tester in action and rating his/her level of skill.

Why goal displacement -- Some group of people in testing thought - we need an exam to test our testers .. so what kind of exam should we have? ... something that is easier to administer or something that tests tester in action... They prefer to choose the first one ... So the goal of having a good certification got shifted to having a certification exam that is easier to evaluate ...why ? Good certification exam requires complex models and involve lengthy/costly administration. It costs lots of money...

Having said all this ... its your call .. I am neither in favor or against to certifications in testing (some people 's daily bread comes by running those exams -- let us not take away that ...). It is a big business in testing industry today. Being testers, let us evaluate what is good for each one of us (considering each ones technical and educational background) and take the decision.

Any alternative to certification ....?
Focus on skill ... how many of us can go to an interview and challenge the interviewer "Give me a software to test ... give me an hour ... come back I will have a defect/issue list ready". How many of us can take this challenge of "testing anything, anywhere, under any time frame" ? Managers in IT companies need to see evidence that this person can test ... he has tester attitude...

In absence of such evidence, managers resort to something that easy to check (do you have this certification?). If you are fresher or beginner in software testing field ... and struggling to get a break or good job ... You have two options ... Get certified and get a job .. (there after it is your skill that keeps you on job not the certification) other option ... practice testing, read stuff, read books, learn programming language, debate, sharpen your analytical skills, write blog, discuss with others in the field .. build a credible profile for your self (Google should be able to find you) and go confidently to any interview and say "give me stuff to test ..."

First one is easy path ... some money and about few weeks of reading, take the exam your are done... second one is tough one.. Requires you to commit to the profession ... requires your learn things, may take years to be good at testing, many years to build a credible profile that speaks for itself ...

People choose first one mostly as it is easy ... So I would not say all who support certification are not skilled people and take short cut to success neither all those who oppose certification are good skilled testers …

You want to be certified? it is your call -- What ever you do, be a tester by heart - test everything/question everything until you are convinced

Read James Bach on Certification here

Michael Bolton on why I am not certified

Ben Simo on his favorite certification

Balancing on the other side -- AST certification debate



Anonymous said...

A great call for continuous learning.

Discussion of certification generates a very mixed, and often emotive, response. So I like the measured approach you took in this blog post.

I wrote about ISEB certification over on [1][2][3] although not as concisely as you managed here.

I do have one niggle with a side point that you made:

>...(some people 's daily bread comes
> by running those exams -- let us
> not take away that ...). It is a
> big business in testing industry
> today.

Some people make their daily bread by running the 3 card monte scam or boiler rooms. If the only reason for running certification was for those people to make money then I would say "do take it away".

But that was just a side point and I think you did not intend that as the focus of your blog post.

And as you suggest, people get certified for many reasons and the people who run certification justify it in many ways.

I completely agree with you that certification does not mean "I am done now".

I support your very positive 'call to arms' in the last statement.

I would even expand it - "test everything/question everything until you are convinced... for the moment"

It does lack the punchy phrasing of your ending though.

But, for many many things I want to remain open to further learning. So I don't think I want to 'be' convinced. Instead I want to take the 'belief', that arose as a result of my questioning, as my current model. Although having said that, I do talk about 'convincers', but when I do, I have an "open-to-change convinced" 'state' in mind - hmmm, I hope that makes sense.

Your post reminds me that I haven't yet written about my own experiences of certification involvement (i.e. writing questions and marking papers) thanks for the blog post idea.



Shrini Kulkarni said...

Thanks Alan for your views ..

Look forward to see you writing your views on certifications


Anonymous said...

I am very late in finding your blog,I suffered with managers and companies forcing me to do certifications.Because that makes managers job easy in appraisal,if you are certified you get extra point in appraisal.The sad part is managers dont even now whats in the syllabus of such certificates. There are companies which reimburse the certificate fee.