Are you hiring a certificate?

I read a blog post recently extolling the benefits that come from having a certificate.

The post alluded to the following:

  • With a certification you are demonstrating your skills as a Tester.
  • With a certification, as a team, you are demonstrating your proficiency to the business, and potential customers.
  • With a certification you open new markets for both yourself and the business you work for.
  • With a certification you can work on international projects or work anywhere in the world because everyone (those who have been certified) has a common understanding of testing.

It got me thinking.

With a certification you are demonstrating your skills as a Tester.
I don’t think you are demonstrating your skills as a Tester simply by sitting any of the certification courses alone. I think you are showing you are “willing” and capable of learning more about testing.

I think for some people it shows a deep passion to learn all there is about testing (combined with many other sources).

Yet for many I think you are following the “norm” (which is not always a good or bad thing).

I think you are complying with stereotypes and expectations (but without knowledge of alternatives or awareness of other channels of testing knowledge, this too, is to be expected).

As a hiring manager I don’t see the certification as a “demonstration” of skills. Not at all. Especially when almost everyone has the foundation one.

I do see them as an element or components in a larger strategy of learning but on their own, they are not a demonstration of your skills.

Put another way, I don’t think not having a certification is a negative point, at least for the outlook on Testing I have. (for some companies it is mandatory though)

With a certification, as a team, you are demonstrating your proficiency to the business, and potential customers.

I don’t think you are demonstrating your proficiency as a team to the business and potential customer, however, I realise many people outside of testing may not know or appreciate this. (which is why this idea is flourishing) (isn’t it negligence for us to let this idea of certification=absolute excellence go unchallenged in the business community?)

I worked with a tester once who was fully certified at every level but he had no passion, no engagement in what he was doing and alienated all who worked with him. He dragged the team down and hated every aspect of his job. Was he a great tester? Was he a good advert for excellence?

A Test Manager a few weeks back was speaking at an event. He said he was the manager of 65 testers and was proud at how big his team of certified testers were. As you can imagine I, and a number of others, had a few choice questions for him:

Q : How much automation do you have?
A : Umm. None. But I manage 65 testers.

Q : How many releases do you do a year?
A : We don’t. We do one every 15 months. But I manage 65 testers.

Q : How do you coach 65 testers?
A : I don’t. But I manage 65 testers.

Q : How do you do 1:1 and personal development with that many direct reports?
A : I don’t. But I manage 65 testers.

Q : Have you analyzed areas of waste in your testing process?
A : No. But I manage 65 testers.

Q : Have you…….(interrupted)
A : I manage 65 testers. End of.

I may have exaggerated the answers but suffice to say there was no automation, no regular releases, no performance or load testing being done, no personal development, no lean thinking and waste reduction and a general lack of process improvement.

But….all 65 testers were certified and this was a great selling point. I know of teams with one or two great testers shipping software each week and working for companies that are dominating the markets they operate in. And they are a mixed bag of certified and un-certified (or should that be non-certified).

With a certification you open new markets for both yourself and the business you work for.

I think you can open new markets for yourself with or without a certification. It *might* make it easier with a certificate to be part of a company that places more emphasis on certification than personality, thinking and actual skills, but I think good testers open up new markets all of the time, with or without certifications.

With a certification you can work on international projects or work anywhere in the world because everyone will have a common understanding of testing.

I don’t believe a certification will give people the international standards and common understanding that the certification marketers would have you believe. Just get yourself to any testing conference and listen to the conversations to see that most people don’t agree on much in the Testing world.

People will approach testing (and the terminology and language used to communicate these approaches) in a way that is local to themselves and the context they find themselves in. To get a deeper understanding of how people think differently about testing ask questions to a group of testers from different industries, backgrounds and contexts at the next event you are at.

Questions like:

  • What is testing?
  • What is Quality?
  • Who should make the decisions to ship software?
  • What is integration testing?
  • What tests should you automate?
  • What is exploratory testing?
  • What is agile?
  • What artifacts should a tester produce during a project?
  • Who is in charge of your testing?
  • Should you always produce a Test Plan?
  • When are you ready to test?

I guarantee you will hear different answers from different people.

There is a world of difference between demonstration and assertion, yet certifications have somehow become an assertion of excellence to many. (and scarily a measure of a companies excellence in the wider business world)

This isn’t to say that the actual course, tutoring and learning is bad. Far from it. It could be excellent, valuable and perfect for you, but like most learning courses, some people learn deep insights and others learn just enough to pass the exam. (in fact, some may even be taught to pass the test, rather than deep insights but maybe I’m being too cynical)

As a Test Manager I like to look at it another, more simplistic way:

The certification is not the tester, and the tester is not the certification.

Are you hiring a certificate?

Or a Tester?

6 thoughts to “Are you hiring a certificate?”

  1. Hi Rob,

    I agree. To me what is important is a tester’s approach to learning. How does he (masculine includes the feminine throughout this comment) seek to keep himself up-to-date? What has he been reading recently? Who or what has been the greatest influence on his testing?

    At the end of the day whether they have a certification or not is irrelevant; it is the fact they seek to remain at the top of their game, that they try to find out as much as they possibly can about as many different facets of testing as they possibly can, that they think widely that is important to me.

    I see no harm in a certification as part of an overall learning process but if the cert is the be all and end all of their knowledge then I have a BIG issue with that because they are immediately limiting their scope to what they are taught on the course(s) they have been on.

    Good post.



  2. Hi Rob,

    well written, thanks for sharing.
    As for hiring a certificate (and an ISTQB certificate in particular): It probably suffers to say that (in the case of the training I attended) no actual testing has been done to real software. I find that surprising. When I prepared for some Cambridge Certificate of English, that was a whole lot different: First of all it took significantly longer (1,5 years at a few hours per week) and our teacher helped us to learn English for most of the time and after more than a year we shifted to training the particulars of the examination itself. Two different things, that are not to be mixed up.

    As a second point: I have yet to see reliable information on a positive correlation between testers being better (whatever that means) than non-certified testers.
    But, as a critical thinker, I have to say that I have yet to see reliable information that non-certified testers are better.

    Third and last remark: “With a certification you open new markets for both yourself and the business you work for.” Well, … yes, in my experience it does. However these may or may not be the markets/businesses you like to work for.

    1. Hi Stephan,

      Thanks for commenting. Couldn’t agree more with your point three. Absolutely does open markets, but maybe not the ones I would personally want to work in 🙂

      I too have yet to see any information on whether certified testers perform “better” or “worse”. Very subjective topic and no hard facts behind it. We need more data on this.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment


  3. Rob,
    As an ex-Scuba instructor, and someone who has held the CSTE twice (let it expire now), I know of what you speak about of ‘certification’ vs. ‘qualification’. I’ve known beginning divers (and instructors) who were certified that were potential disasters in the water, and others who were highly proficient and competent. I tried to train up the latter.

    We had a saying in scuba that applies equally well in testing: “Certified doesn’t always mean Qualified”. A certification is a beginning point, combining that with real world experience and capability is what can help you become qualified.



    1. Hi Jim,

      Thanks for commenting. Excellent phrase – “Certified doesn’t always mean Qualified”. This should be plastered all over each certification in the industry 🙂


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