The Tester Certification Debate (Part 2)

In late February I wrote Part 1 of this Blog series (on the merits or otherwise of Tester Certification) and thought it timely to present Part 2 – given the (often heated) debate that is currently playing out on Twitter. The main protagonists currently are the Context-Driven School and a leading member of the ISTQB fraternity.

I’ve been watching this debate for what seems an eternity, but in reality it is probably just a few weeks and what has amazed me to date is the passion and drive that both camps are bringing to the debate. As I said in Part 1, there are currently over 200,000 ISTQB-certified testing professionals (of which I am one) worldwide and therefore this is not a trivial debate. I also said in Part 1 that this topic needed serious debate and that the various ISTQB Testing Boards should be more transparent – given the enormous amounts of money we are talking about with respect to Training Course and Exam fees. Remember, the ISTQB is a not-for-profit organisation, BUT (and it’s a big BUT) the Training organisations aren’t. Having said that, they have all invested there own hard-earned $$$ into their own ventures.

So, where are we today with the Twitter debate? Rex Black is certainly under enormous pressure from the Context-Driven guys to provide more transparency regarding many aspects of the ISTQB Certification program and the latest Ads (put out by said organisation) have not helped his cause – frankly, their claims (in the Ad) are not testable and therefore easily open to derision…

I am trying to stay neutral in this debate (by not entering into any of the various conversations) in order that I may provide an unbiased commentary. With this in mind, I’d have to say that it looks like Rex is currently being hung out to dry by the rest of the ISTQB community, as he appears to be (almost single-handedly) defending their ground. Where are the defenders of the ISTQB faith? Where are the passionate professional testers who have multiple ISTQB certifications? I admire Rex enormously for taking this position, even though I don’t necessarily agree with many of his arguments. I also admire Keith, Michael, James and Paul for the dogged pursuit of clarity and transparency.

In pure software testing terms, the Twitter debate did not begin with a great deal of clarity (the scope was a bit unclear and I’m not even sure if I saw the original requirements stated) and the conversations do tend to meander a bit – I guess you could say it’s an Exploratory Debate!!

In the context within which I started my own (internal) debate this past few weeks has been fantastic as a lot of the work I intended to undertake myself is playing out in real time on Twitter every day. If you’re not currently on Twitter and following all of the main protagonists (I am) you are missing what I consider to be one of the seminal discussions regarding our profession. This is exactly what I hoped to find when I subscribed to Twitter just 9 months ago. This debate is not going away anytime soon and if you are interested in it (and any professional tester should be) you need to get onto Twitter and follow the unfolding of a truly intriguing debate.

As I said earlier, I’m not taking sides (especially given my standing as an independent thinker) but …. more next time

Dateline: Friday May 3, Melbourne


17 thoughts on “The Tester Certification Debate (Part 2)

  1. Hi

    I’ve just discovered your blog, and I like your style. I’d like to share some of my thoughts I wrote about it here:

    But my issue that the fact that it is the de-facto standard requested by people who don’t really understand testing. And that drives new people to the field to have their very first (or at least one of the most formative) experiences in testing to be ISTQB. The style of testing the ISTQB encourages is not one that I believe has much value, so my issue is that promotes itself as an industry-wide consensus on testing; it uses words like “best-practice” for example. If this is the first (or worse, the only) exposure to testing that newbies get, then I do think our craft suffers. It’s not the content I have a problem with. Anyone has a right to teach what they think is a good way to approach testing, but it’s the promotion as a certification, as a legitimate qualification, as a meal ticket to a job that I have a problem with. HR people, and managers are being allowed to be mislead by their name and their marketing materials.

  2. I neither pro nor anti ISTQB/ISEB. Been there, got the certificates. Learnt a few things along the way. The way the courses are delivered generally bore me and parts of the syllabus give the advanced tester course the wrong balance. However who the hell else is challenging the stranglehold? Where are the context guys driving course delivery at a global level. Clearly ISEB/ISTQB have penetrated the market as HR has an enormous focus on the certification. Somehow much easier to shout and criticise than prpose solutions. I differ on your view that this is a seminal moment in testing. Rex Black through RBCS is the only one displaying any grace in this debate (and that really demeans the word debate). Keith Klane along with Michael Bolton are acting like petulant children. Demand all you like, hold your breath until you turn blue. RBCS have no requirement to prove anything to the dissenters. I would hope that their ability to work with issues when testing is conducted at much higher levels of decorum and logic. This whole sorry saga could have been handled so much better.


    • Hi Paul,

      Interesting perspective. The reason I say that it’s “seminal” is that we have a live in-your-face discussion going on regarding a topic that has the potential to touch over 220,000 software testing professionals (all those who currently hold an ISTQB certificate). I’m obviously aware that a very small percentage of these folks are active on Twitter or read any of the Blogs that are also discussing it but the people who are discussing it do have a serious amount of “street cred” and while some of their tactics may not sit nicely with some of those following the debate the Context-Driven guys do make some excellent points that are not being answered by Rex (or anyone else). In face Randy Rice is one of a very small minority that is making any effort to redress the balance.

      While I’m trying to stay out of the current debate, I am on record as having several issues with various aspects of the ISTQB/ANZTB setup in Oz.

      If we are to have recognised certification programs within our profession we deserve that they be the best they can and I think the ISTQB/ANZTB version has plenty of room for improvement. This is the ONLY reason that I am writing about it. I care about our profession (as you are fully aware) and I care enough to challenge stuff that doesn’t sit right with me. I’d like to think the Context-Driven guys are driven by the same desire – no matter what their methods.

      I’m attending the upcoming ANZTB Conference in Canberra in my capacity as Editor of OZTester and have been asked to present a “Lightening Talk” during the event. I’m hoping to get some fresh ideas and feedback from the ANZTB folk during the Conference that will help me understand how they feel about the current challenge to the ISTQB brand.

      You know me well Paul, I am a committed and passionate supporter of our profession and I will continue to ask questions and provide commentary on issues that I think are worthy of discussion.

      As always, I respect your considered opinion and enjoy our discussions. Please feel free to respond.

      • Colin,

        Was good to see a measured, and clear, response from Randy Rice. The context guys, in part, did not ask the right questions. I’m not disputing that ISTQB needs changes. However I’m also wary of movements that appear to be a full on attack of it’s validity. It’s an “internal” discussion at the moment but has the potential to branch externally to a wider audience. Testing already has enough issues with proving validity amongst management and more than a handul of project managers. Those testers in the industry (just having the job title tester doesn’t make you one) will assess and move on. Others without this knowledge and perspective maybe not so.
        The other problem is that there is no real alternative in the market. Testers see certification as desirable because they know HR see it as valuable. Take away ISTQB and what replaces it? Yes I also understand that bad, or less than optimal, certification is bad.
        The ISTQB/ANZTB needs to open itself up to more feedback. The aim needs to be certification that is promoted by all in the industry as valid and useful. We also need to get employers/HR to understand that holding ISTQB certification does not, on it’s own, make a candidate, or employee, a capable tester.
        I too do not want to see testing devalued. It is a valuable service that provides me both income and enjoyment. I want to see it elevated to more esteemed levels.


  3. I am bored of the debate and arguments. Sorry!

    Certifications exist in almost every industry. I don’t like them, nor have the energy to fight against them. So I ignore them and focus my energy of doing things in areas that I feel are better for the software testing community.

    I’ve not been following the Twitter debate…it might be useful to Storify the whole thing (see…that would be handy for other people.

    • Hi Rosie,

      I think the majority of people aren’t massively excited about discussing certification but the truth is (because it exists in our industry) it needs to reflect who we are and what we are in the best possible way. So, if we think things could be better then we should challenge them and if things don’t make sense to us we should ask questions so that we better understand.

      IMHO the major issue in our world today is a global misunderstanding of why things happen and who is making them happen. If we were all more enlightened there would be far less conflict and far more harmony. Throw in a good measure of tolerance and we would all be living in a far safer society – oops, looks like you touched a nerve there 🙂

      I’ll look up Storify – sounds cool.


      • Why does it need to reflect who we are? Because it has become apparently become industry standard? Was that the case 10-15 years ago? [No]

        I feel like it is like when we are kids or teenagers we are told we have to behave in certain ways and do certain things if we want to fit in.

        I don’t care about fitting in [with them/ISTQB]. Not because I think what they do is bad [I’m not qualified to comment. I haven’t done the courses/exams]. For me I find it boring more than anything else. I don’t support it because it is boring and I can’t get past the first few pages.

        It doesn’t reflect me. I don’t think it ever will. That’s fine. I don’t want to be in that *gang*.

        I think things can be better. And they should be, but rather than spend my energy trying to changing something that will probably never change, then I’d rather spend my time doing other things that I think will make a positive difference.

        What are people or organisations doing to change this? I like what the AST are doing. But there needs to be more. And it doesn’t have to have anything to do with ISTQB.

        If people stopped doing ISTQB certifications then it would disappear. What does the industry need to do to make that happen? Do we want that to happen?

      • Hi Rosie,

        My comment regarding “reflecting who we are” was based upon my belief that IF we are to have certification and accreditation programs within our industry they need to be “fit for purpose”. Whether that means it becomes an “industry standard” to acquire them is another discussion that I will be addressing during this series of Blogs. As someone who has been involved in the industry over the past 20 years (and watched it go through various phases of development), I think it is currently in it’s healthiest state – it wasn’t too many years ago that Testing Communities were shrinking from sight but the influx of new blood has generated new insights, new challenges and new opportunities.

        I see myself as “one of the old brigade” as I was writing (and by default testing) software in the early seventies and my knowledge and understanding of techniques and methods has grown exponentially since then – some of which is due (in part) to various certification and accreditation programs. Just like the multitude of conferences and special interest groups that I’ve been involved with, formal certification and accreditation has been an integral part of my development. Could I have achieved my current level of consciousness regarding our profession with these programs? Probably – but then I’m a self-motivated, naturally competitive person. My experience has shown me that there are far more people around who need some sort of structure to guide them and certification, accreditation, standards etc. can be very useful for them.

        If ever there was a “rebel” who has swum against the Testing stream, I’m one of them. I have fought tooth and nail to establish software testing as a widely recognised and professionally-grounded pursuit in Australia and will continue to do so in my own small way – which is one of the reasons I am currently embracing social media and writing my Blog.

        I, for one, am glad you’ve entered this debate. See you in the Twittersphere…

  4. I had a bit of a think about the discussions going on, and about what I would ideally like to see. I think my biggest issue is the emphasis placed on the certification by people who really have no idea what it is. The only experience I have had with anyone caring about the certification was non testers – people in recruiting or HR. I think instead of lobbying against the ISTQB perhaps we need to work harder on getting the word out there that it should not be used in a recruiting check list, and if you see someone that has the certification that you simply think ‘they are interested in testing’ rather than they are ‘certified testers’ or even ‘they will need retraining because they’ve been brainwashed’.

    • Hi Julie,

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      I’m not trying to make judgements (at this stage anyway) regarding validity etc but I am trying to get a real debate going about where the current certification programs sit in the software testing universe.

      There are many reasons why we (and our organisations seek certification). I have worked for several major consulting companies who like to be able to say to their prospective clients that all of their testers are certified, for example. I’m also aware that in Europe there have been times when “no certification” means “no interview”.

      We are talking a significant number of people being affected by this aspect of our profession and I think the subject requires more focus- hence the Blog series.


    • Hi Chad,
      I did read the Randy Rice piece the other day – I should have referenced it in my Blog post. He is virtually the only person to date to provide any sort of support for Rex and/or ISTQB. I thought Randy’s article was well thought out and provided a good perspective for the debate.

  5. Cigarettes kill people, yet they fly off the shelves. Seems like arguing over something that people are willing to pay for and has value by someone (according to job opening requirements) in a capitalist market is petty. Especially when there aren’t really any alternatives being offered. The actual material isn’t without merit, is it? You took the certification, did you find any value at all in studying the material?

    Reminds me of Apple’s claims vs. Microsoft 10 years ago and look where Apple is now…

    Kind of like the ending to “Animal Farm”, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

    • Hi Chad,
      I’m not saying that ISTQB is without merit. When I wrote the first part of the series in early February I did so because I believe that there are many aspects of software testing certification that need focus and I am trying to help people understand the current role of certification and what it could do if it were better administered etc.

      Over the past 15 years or so I’ve questioned the approach that the ISTQB (and originally ISEB) has taken to exams – I don’t have much of an issue with the syllabi (as long as they keep updating it to stay in line with current technologies and practices). I also have an issue with the various conflicts of interest where people on the various Testing Boards are also directors of Training organisations that benefit hugely from the Training $$$ spent in attaining the certification.

      I will be expanding on a number of aspects of certification over the remainder of this series but at this point in time I thought I should make people aware of the Twitter-verse discussions because they show how some of our thought-leaders are talking about it.

      Thanks for taking the time to write 🙂

  6. How can you write this piece without including just one or two of the said ads? Even in a world where I’ve managed to tune out infomercials and Ab-Circle-Pro-revolutionary-wont-need-a-gym claims, one of those ads caused by jaw to drop by the sheer divorced-from-reality claims.

    As I’ve said, I had a test manager with foresight – and although he put me on the ISEB course, he also put me on the extension course “putting theory into practice”. I had the same tutor for both, and the second course gave the “learning names of things” course validity – but whereas the ISEB course had 40 people attending, the “theory into practice” had 5.

    I have fond memories of my course – but more because I had an amazing tutor, and we challenged the material, and as a class we talked testing experience. In actual fact, it felt like the exam just got in the way of our learning to be honest.

    The major problem I have though is that testing is not an A, B or C multiple choice activity. My tutor at the time said I’d probably enjoy the practitioner course, which at the time was more exam based, and revolved around assignments, with a longer term tuition and support. I was disappointing to find that since it’s gone to the same multi-choice format.

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond.

      I didn’t include the Ad because I didn’t want to go through the process of asking permission and possibly having to wait several weeks to get it!! By referencing it I felt anyone interested would go see for themselves and my motivation for writing about about certification in the first place was to get people thinking about how we could (as amen industry) improve our main certification programs.

      I know that the syllabi are reviewed and updated regularly as I have been asked a few times to comment on them. I also understand that the various Testing Boards control the exams; however, I think there is a lack of transparency around some of the workings of the program that need to be highlighted and I wanted to write about the subject in order to try and make some of these things clearer. When we are talking about over 200k people worldwide we are talking significant $$$ in terms of exam fees and Training company income.

      I will be continuing my series on certification programs (it’s not just focusing on ISTQB – because there are other options) and other forms of knowledge attainment and hopefully folks will continue to take an interest.


      • Some of my thoughts on certification a while back …

        I know some of my personal bias is I don’t like exams – and I’m going through this with my son and his school work. What we do outside of school aligns more closely to project based assessment than “multiple choice theoretical assessment”. I really do feel education as a whole needs to ditch it’s obsession with exams, esp multiple choice, as a way of gauging intelligence.

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