!(Certification) = !(New Job)

There’s a lot said in the testing press and blogs about certification. There’s some well known haters of ISTQB and a few, albeit quieter, exponents. There is of course the training providers shouting loudly about their guarenteed pass rates, how their courses are faster than all the others, and how you won’t survive in testing without the qualifications that you can get from them. Is certification as important as they say? I’m beginning to think that maybe it is, but not for the reasons their sales people present.

Firstly some background. I’m ISEB Foundation and Practitioner certified. I enjoyed the courses which I did with the excellent Grove Consultants a few years ago. OK, the exams were not fun but the courses were. I felt like I learned something and I went along because I wanted to learn. The qualification was good, but secondary. I felt it wasn’t essential. I still feel this way, I’m not an out-and-out ISTQB basher but I feel things are beginning to go too far.

Once I became a team leader, and then a test manager I continued to send people on the courses. Some didn’t want to go, but I felt it was important for them to learn something new, and more importantly to learn the same way, and using the same information, that the rest of the team had already learnt. It gave some consistency. That was useful.

Fast forward a few years. I now have a team of testers and delivery ops people. Times have been hard and training has been hard to come by, by the time these people joined the team there was no training available that would lead to the ISTQB/ ISEB certifications. Has the quality of what we do decreased? Well, no. If anything, we’ve gone out and trained ourselves, trained ourselves, and updated our ways-of-working in even better ways. We are still consistent in our approach, and as a bonus, some people can now train others. Also a good skill. Not getting the ISTQB training has annoyed some, whilst others weren’t bothered at all.

Now my team and I find ourselves in a new situation. Soon we will all lose our jobs as R&D is moved overseas. Suddenly the issue of certification slams itself forward again. Most of the job ads scream ISTQB certified, for recruiters it’s almost the first question asked “Are you ISTQB certified?”. How have we come to this?

I think a lot of the testing community is stuck in a vicious circle. If we get lazy with our recruitment then we quickly fall into a trap of just putting “ISTQB certified” in the “Essential Requirements” section of our job ads. We are the ones who caused the recruiters to ask “Are you ISTQB certified?” Certification within the industry becomes self fulfilling. And those of us recruiting testers don’t necessarily get better testers.

So what’s the solution? More certification? I think all those of us who recruit for software testers need to re-visit what we look for in a tester, to adjust our outlook and our requirements so that we are trying to find those who are good at what they do, not what they have studied. A few years ago I used to run a written interview test for candidates which was based on the ISTQB syllabus. Many of those with the qualification failed.

And to my team, without certification and needing to find new jobs? I’ve sent them on ISTQB courses. It’s only fair, they need the best start they can get in their job searches. But if I find myself in this situation again then I hope that it’s not this way….

* For those of you without any programming knowldge – ! in the title means “Not” 🙂

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

16 thoughts on “!(Certification) = !(New Job)”

  1. You’re right, it is a vicious circle. And now as well as the ISTQB you should have an IREB certificate as well…


    The recent comment in that blog
    “But since 2007 the number of certified testers exploded, by now there are 10.000 persons certified by IREB and the number is growing by 250 per mounth (read on a LinkedIn discussion group). Are they all crazy? I don’t think so, but I agree with you that a certificates says everything. ”


    Personal experience ? When I was trying to change from dev to tester I was advised to have the words ISEBB somewhere on my CV, even if said “studying for ISEB”

    Dunno what the answer is – ‘dont apply to a company that wants to see your certificate’ is an easy sound-bite but if you’re about to lose your job and need another one quick then do you sell your soul to the devil ?

    1. Totally agree Phil. Interesting you mention LinkedIn as well, even in passing since I think LinkedIn isn’t helping. Since it’s being used as a recruitment tool, and therefore keyword searches become more and more important, then so does the need to ensure you have the ‘right’ keywords on your profile…

  2. Include the keywords in your CVs, but if you don’t have the certs just put ‘not’ infront 🙂

    We’ve just created some shiny certs for http://www.ministryoftesting.com for anyone that attends our courses 🙂 They don’t say ‘qualified’ or ‘passed’. They are really just a bit of paper saying someone has ‘attended’ a course. A useful thing that will hopefully start showing up on CERTAIN people’s LinkedIn profiles soon, he he.

  3. I was made redundant in 2010 (R&D moved overseas – sound familiar?) and I was glad that my employers had thought to put us through the ISEB certification. If I hadn’t have had it I don’t think I’d have even got an interview for my current position.

    ISEB/IREB does NOT set a reasonable standard of employability for testers. At /most/ it should be a “desirable” item for applicants but not be some unassailable hurdle for positions that don’t need it.

    I too found the courses useful, and if nothing else led me to look deeper into testing techniques and to reading about other testers (James Bach, Michael Bolton, etc etc). I do think that testers can get some benefit from testing-specific education but I do think that these certification requirements are more of a hindrance than anything else.

    Hope you find useful employment 🙂


    1. Thanks Dave. Hopefully the Rapid Software Testing course with James Bach that I’m doing with Ministry of Testing should help 🙂

  4. I think we need to be better at explaining what we are looking for.

    I believe part of the problem is that recruiters, HR, etc have nothing to judge against except the ISEB and that is partly our fault.

    1. I totally agree Tony. We need to take a step back as test recruiteres and trust our instincts a bit more I think.

  5. Hi Stephen,

    Sorry to hear about your job situation, I was in the exact same spot one year ago. Luckily the job market here in Norway was pretty good at the time.

    My plan back then was to take a few months off to read some testing related books and do a couple of the AST BBST courses before diving into the job hunt. I have not done ISEB/ISQB courses myself but as the only good thing I have heard about them is from the people trying to sell them I decided to go the AST-route instead. I can absolutely recommend those courses (http://www.associationforsoftwaretesting.org/training/).

    I was expecting to go through a handful of different interviews and was really curious to whether any interviewer or recruiters I talked to would bring up certifications. In the end I got away with only one interview and neither ISTQB nor ISEB was mentioned.
    On the other hand, one of my colleagues back then got a job in a international test consultancy company and as far as I know he is required to take the ceert because the customers expect/demands it.

    I had a little discussion wiht a recruiter on a LinkedIn forum a couple of years ago about screening for certs.

    Personally I don’t mind people or organisations creating test courses and making money from that. Some people will always complain about the contents and disagree on the methods discussed. What I find problematic about the ISTQB case is the way it is promoted as THE way to do software testing, and not “one way to do software testing which we think makes sense”. And when recruiters and managers around the world swallows that hook and believes the propaganda, I think the testing industry is in danger of becoming a bit narrow minded.

    Curtis Stuehrenberg wrote an interesting piece about this a while back:

    Good luck with your next adventure 🙂

  6. Really sorry to hear that you’re on the job hunt, hopefully you’ll find something soon.

    I totally agree with you regarding certification, it is worrying how many people seem to think that passing an exam somehow proves you are going to be the perfect tester for this team. At the same time I really enjoyed the training course, met lots of interesting people from very different test backgrounds and actually learnt quite a lot about how to approach testing.

  7. A simple question: Would you trust a product if it were tested according to the standards by which the ISTQB tests testers?

    If the answer is “No”, then why participate in such a system? Why make it a “desirable to have”? Instead of sending them to “ISTQB courses”, why not send them to testing courses? Geir provides a great example with the AST Black Box Software Testing courses. In those classes, people don’t learn how to pass 40 multiple-guess checks; they learn to test.

    Yet I would absolutely look at what someone has studied in addition to evaluating whether they’re good at what they do. Why? Because testing a product means studying a product. Evaluating what someone has studied and how they’ve studied it gives significant insight into how successful they’ll be as a tester.

    —Michael B.

    1. Thanks for the comments Michael. Good points. I agree. The problem we have right now is one of being stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. No ISTQB in the UK at the moment can be read as ‘you will have a lot of trouble finding a new job’. For me, the next step towards becoming a better tester is attending the Rapid Software Testing course next month in the UK. I can do this because I already have ISEB and so I don’t have to use the budget the company is giving for re-training, to get a certificate just to make sure my C.V. makes it to the recruiting manager.

  8. Hi Stephen

    I am very sorry to read that you are going to be without job and I sincerely wish you all the best finding a new one.

    It doesn’t help your current situation, but I am a line manager who employs testers and I am not interested in ISTQB certifications at all.

    What I do is whenever I talk to other testing line managers and the certification issue comes up I put a lot of energy in convincing the manager that it is simply useless.

    Of course I cannot change the world but I can convince people on a person by person basis. I hope other line managers will do the same. That’s how we can get rid of this foolishness.

  9. I agree re Grove Consultants, but I have to admit that I was trained by Dot Graham in the late 80’s and Mark Fewster is a former colleague of mine, indeed he and I were made redundant from the same company once ‘Test Automation’ was implemented.

    ISEB – I have met people and been colleagues with people trained to ISEB Foundation, some (at least one) regard the training as the only way to perform any testing.

    On the other hand people who have interacted with myself understand (through coercion) that you have been trained in a toolkit from which you must choose carefully for each challenge you face.

    And for Stephen J – I have been testing software since 1978, I would ask what is more important, ISEB or experience?

    1. Experience wins everytime. In this particular case that experience means one learns that certification is not everything.

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