Why Testing Certifications Get A Bum Rap


If you’ve heard the chatter of the software testing circles then you’ve probably heard the arguments that spiral around testing certifications. There has been a strong sentiment against and for software testing certification from many testing circles, for a variety of reasons.

These are just a few, but please feel free to add any I missed in the comment section.

Pro-Certification Arguments

The Independents

  • It is as long as the test:
    • Requires critical thinking
    • Is not multiple-choice (predetermined answers)
    • Is open ended
  • Anything that encourages learning software testing should be accepted, but it shouldn’t be in the form of certification

Anti-Certification Arguments

  • It is a scam in order to make a quick buck on newbie testers.
  • It is an initiation that does not represent the testing community as a whole.

Firstly, I never took a certification nor did someone teach me how to be a software tester. A background in audio engineering positioned me as a software tester. My proven abilities to have a thick skin and use critical thinking to troubleshoot a problem in a restricted amount of time is what initially made me hirable. Of course, having an audio background helped since I would be testing embedded audio software. That isn’t to say that it would be easier with or without a certification, since I can’t speak to that on my own personal experiences.

Personally, it isn’t that certifications are bad, rather they are, in most cases, assuming that a tester’s abilities are solely based on memory instead of critical thinking. By memory, I mean studying the vocabulary in order to pass rather than practicing software testing itself.

Here are some questions that are from a mockup test for the ISTQB certification I pulled from a blog on Software Testing Help.

Which of these activities provides the biggest potential cost saving from the use of CAST (Computer Aided Software Testing)?
a)    Test management
b)    Test design
c)    Test execution
d)    Test planning

Firstly, forget about the correct answer. I would argue that ROI and cost savings cannot be so easily determined with computer aided software testing. The cost savings to me would be releasing a product to market that a software development team is comfortable with, due to increased cycles in the software testing process.

The increased cycles would be acquired by the use of Computer Aided Software Testing (CAST), which I assume includes software like automated testing or test management tools.

A failure is:
a)    found in the software; the result of an error
b)    departure from specified behavior
c)    an incorrect step, process or data definition in a computer program
d)    a human action that produces an incorrect result

My argument here is that whether or not the tester answers this question correctly does not correlate to the ability of the tester. For instance, there are plenty of testers out there who have never even heard of ISTQB or even thought about a certification, because it never was required from the get-go.

I don’t want to completely shoot down software testing certifications, because, to be fair, there are questions on the ISTQB test, and others like it, that require critical thinking and do have a right and wrong answer. Nonetheless, it’s a mixed bag.

Anything that encourages learning software testing should be accepted, but certification programs, to me, should be a last resort and by no means a necessity when deciding to hire employees. And I don’t just say that for software testing, but in all fields. If anything, there should be more degrees in software testing, where students learn skills that actually pertain to the job description, rather than knowing a strict vocabulary. There should also be an acceptance to those who are self-taught, since they may be just as viable a candidate to test software than the school-seasoned individual.

What do you think? Is software testing certification necessary or do you despise it? Let us know in the comment section below.

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  1. My coworker is for certification because she doesn’t have a 4 year degree and feel that with the certificate and experience will increase her chances in getting hired. I feel that having experience is more than enough to get an interview. Getting certification is a waste of money in my opinion. I think anyone can do QA. It takes critical thinking. I think a 4 year degree from any area of education will help in that. You don’t need a degree to learn this skill though.

    • Gregory Mooney says:

      Hi John,

      I am in the middle on this. I agree that a certification cannot properly convey whether or not someone knows how to test appropriately; however, I don’t think everyone can be a software tester. There are skills that need to be honed. You could be self-taught, but it may be easier for some to get training from an experienced tester, rather than learning the hard way.

      In addition, testing requires a certain amount of combined technical skill and critical thinking, and some people just don’t have that. To me, great testers are people who can stay focused, no matter how tedious the task, and be self-aware while approaching all angles of a piece of software.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. What I think is a pro for certification is that everyone learns to speak the same language. If I say testplan what are you thinking of? A test script, test strategy, plan of attack? All three are correct, but if I say test plan according to TMap to a TMap certified tester, we all think the same.

    • Gregory Mooney says:

      I can certainly agree with that, Patrick. Having a universal language among the testing community is important, but is only at the very most half of what is necessary to prove competence in software testing. What about critical thinking? How should someone be tested?

      In my audio engineering degree, my grade (and eventual degree) was based on my ability to troubleshoot under intense pressure. I was evaluated by the instructor on my performance in the craft, rather than graded on how well I knew the terminology. The instructor graded me by standing over me and watching my every move.

  3. On balance I’m in favour of certification because:
    1. It encourages testing to be viewed as a profession and taken seriously.
    If anyone can test then that surely holds good for development too (I have a coding background incidentally)!
    2. It shows the individual is well motivated to progress in this field and has some dedication. The ISEB Practitioner Exam was really quite stretching and required an amount of personal study to Pass.
    3. Agree with the comment about encouraging a common language in the community as well.
    It is important that we as a profession get the exams right however and the questions you cite highlight that problem.

  4. Nuclear power plants, missions to the moon, xray machines (…) have been designed and tested without ISTBQ certifications.

    About “speaking the same language”: This is a scam. Are you going to pretend that the amount of technical terms to be learned in testing requires 2 years of training and that there is a 487 pages dictionary dedicated to those terms? If I have a doubt about the usage of the word “test plan” I will ASK/QUESTION the person, because that is exactly what should do a tester: ask, communicate, clarify, understand, execute, report (…).

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