Friday, October 6, 2006

Thoughts on Certification

 I got an email asking a question about certification that I thought others might find interesting.


I'm new to the QA arena, and haven't found a mentor yet, beyond the publications of those like yourselves. So far, I don't see that there is one internationally accepted certification for QA in general. I know there is the CSTE, and the ISTQB , which at least one of you worked on. My perception is that CSTE is a bit more accepted (when I search for both acronyms, I get a few more for CSTE, but still not many), but otherwise it's certification specific to tools like WinRunner or languages.

I have found also that CompTIA ( suggests these:

CompTIA A+
CompTIA e-Biz+
CompTIA i-Net+
CompTIA Server+
Certiport's Internet & Computing Core Certification - IC³

But no one else inside QA seems to have heard of them. Are they helpful, or is CompTIA just trying to earn money? Are there general certs that help QA?

Thanks for any insight you can offer! Keep up the great QA work!

and my response...

I find it interesting that everyone on your list has little (if anything at all) positive to say about the certifications you mention, but I'll try to be as objective as I can in responding.

First, the easier topic. Certifications from folks like ComTIA or vendors of the product which is the focus of the certification may or may not be valuable to you, your resume and/or potential employers. For example, I hold several of this class of certifications that I picked up at different points in my career for different purposes.

-I got an MSCE and the A+ certs early in my QA career as resume builders as a way of saying "I know something about networks and hardware" -- basically it was a talking point for interviews.
- Later I picked up vendor certs to either "qualify" myself to be on the list of folks the vendor would refer business to or to help the company I was working for achieve a higher level of partnership with the vendor.

So, in certain contexts, these certs may be useful... but the only thing I actually *learned* by prepping for the certs was how to guess what the vendor would want me to answer - which is how I responded to questions that I didn't know the answer to.

The point being, think about what you hope to get out of a certification and then decided if getting the certification will help you achieve your goals.

The second, more controversial topic is ISTQB, CSTE, etc. In fairness, you are probably correct that *more* individuals have *more* respect CSTE certs than ISTQB certs. That said, there are a significant number of highly respected members of the software testing community who feel that these (and similar) certifications actually do more harm to the industry (and often the individual) than good. Since you're new to the field, I'll spare you the bad for the industry part. On the individual side, I ask you to think about what you think you will gain by getting one of these - consider the following (my opinions):

  • If you feel that you will learn important and useful things about being a tester, I submit that you can learn more by putting the same effort into reading books & articles, trying new techniques at your job and having thoughtful discussions with senior testers you respect (i.e. self guided personal mentoring)
  •  If you feel that you will enhance your resume by adding the cert, I submit that your resume would be significantly more enhanced by a personal letter of recommendation from an industry recognized software tester who is familiar with you and/or your work. (To put a sharper point on that, James Bach is prototyping a model where he does essentially that for free for selected individual - it's hard and takes time, but I'd hire someone carrying James Bach's personal seal of approval over someone with every certification known to man every time. Additionally, I would think that most software testing consultants would be more than willing to mentor you and provide a personalized and honest assessment of your skills and abilities in a letter of recommendation for less than the cost of the training and testing for the certs you mention)
  • If you feel that certs will help you get hired, I submit that you look at where you want to work and find out what the "check-boxes" are that will get your foot in the door. I don't really like the idea of universally mandatory check-boxes, but I accept the reality of them - and no one on this list can tell you what check-boxes are going to turn up most frequently during your career.
To specifically address your questions:
  •  The *only* certification that I am aware of, related to software in anyway, that I am aware of that is *not* profit driven, is the one that James Bach is prototyping.
  • It is possible that knowledge gained in preparing for a certification could be useful to you as a tester - albeit, typically indirectly.
  • It is possible that having a list of certs on your resume will get you past initial screenings by recruiters, etc.
  • Certs *could* be useful toward specific goals or purposes, but I just don't see where a cert will help you become a better tester.
In short - I think there are more career enhancing ways to spend your time/money.

Scott Barber
President & Chief Technologist, PerfTestPlus, Inc.

Co-Author, Performance Testing Guidance for Web Applications
Author, Web Load Testing for Dummies
Contributing Author, Beautiful Testing, & How To Reduce the Cost of Testing

"If you can see it in your mind...
     you will find it in your life."
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