12 October 2012

Test certification thoughts

Expiring date
Skill diminishes over time if not properly maintained, or at least I strongly believe that. Since a certificate says nothing about how the receiver develops afterwards it's usefulness as proof of anything diminishes over time. What would you today score on tests you passed in school? What's the value of a several years old certificate?

Memorizing information
The standard examination format is about memorizing all the, to the questionnaire, correct answers. That is not a proof of any skill but the skill of memorization.  Hopefully you've picked up stuff along the way but still, from a test skill perspective, nothing is proven.

What's the educator's target
An educational dilemma is schools being compared based on the average grades they issue. For the pupils, higher grades mean more options for higher education and jobs which is often higher valued than actual good education. I imagine the dilemma exists for certifiers as well. The certificate is what is used when applying for jobs so getting the certificate could easily become more important than actually learning anything. So would you as a certifier focus on teaching how to pass the exam or how to become a great tester?

Memorization vs Understanding
First, read the amazing post About learning by Janet Gregory.

I'm very interested in kids' learning. One thing I strongly believe in is, if you want to build understanding, helping kids finding their own solution rather than providing a solution is key. I also believe the same goes for educating testers. Providing answers is not very educating, coaching testers to think and question believes is. Certificate training is unfortunately the former, it's all about reading and accepting other peoples strategies in testing. Don't get me wrong, I still think there's a value in knowing what highly valued people think but only as guidance to your own solutions which are based on practice, critical thinking and experience.

Paying for what is free
Why pay for something that is free? What, apart from a silly paper, do you get by taking the exam? The information is free. You can even find tons of questions available online for free. In reality it means paying for nothing that helps you improve as tester. Might be reasonable for someone searching for a job (since it works) but companies? Send out a link to the syllabus and invest your money in a proven test coach/teacher instead of paying for something that is only valuable when looking for a new job. By the way, donations are a great way of funding great work so I'm not against the paying in itself just what you actually pay for.

What to look for as a recruiter
Certificates are probably nice, if nothing else it shows the person wants to work with software testing. However, a blog, twitter, recommendations, publications, experience, enthusiasm etc. are all way more valuable in my point of view.

ISTQB and certified testers
I do not agree with the ideas presented by ISTQB but that doesn't mean they are wrong or not valuable (or at least I can't tell). I'm also not saying testers with a certificate is worse testers than those without. The only thing I'm questioning is the value of a certificate. What does it really say about a tester's skill? My opinion: virtually nothing.

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