Are certifications relevant?

I know many readers of my blog would suggest I’m a hater of certifications for Testers.

That’s simply not true. Despite my ardent fight against them I am pragmatic enough to realise that getting a job often requires getting a certification. And putting a roof over your head often trumps principles and ideals.

I also believe that a certification course, delivered by a competent tutor who has bucket loads of skills and experience, can be very valuable.

I just don’t like what they have come to symbolise in the market place. I don’t like how you DO NEED A CERTIFICATE to get a job (in most cases).

Where did it all go wrong?

I’m not here to bash Certification schemes. Use your own judgment and experience on whether you think they give you insights and learnings or not.

Instead I’m going to ask you a question:

Are certifications still relevant?

  • I don’t believe they have succeeded in making people competent Testers. This is evident from the number of certified people on forums and LinkedIn asking “What is Testing?” or “Tell me how many Tests I should have for X feature!” or “why is testing so boring”.
  • I don’t believe they have succeeded in creating a universal language with which to talk about Testing. This is evident from the fact most Testers don’t know what “action word driven testing” is or what a “Software Failure Mode and Effect Analysis” is OR the fact that I call it a Test Case you call it a Test Script. The big question here is “Do most Testers care outside of their own company and context?”.
  • I don’t believe they have succeeded in promoting the value of software testing to organisations and business. I still come in to contact with a vast array of companies who don’t test, don’t appreciate testing and don’t understand what value testing can bring.

So are they still relevant?

There was a time before the Internet when you had very few places to go to obtain Testing knowledge, training or awareness. When I started out I went to the British Computer Society, a few well known books and the ISEB foundation. The ISEB crowd certified me. I still kept Testing as I had before. I just felt slightly more hire-able.

Only when I reached out to the wider community online did I find a place to soak up information and ideas about testing. I started sharing ideas. I started to meet people who thought the same way that I did. I started to feel like Testing was actually interesting. I started to find people who didn’t talk about standards, didn’t speak in platitudes and marketing pitches and didn’t push certifications at me from all angles.

When access to information is restricted or impossible those that hold the information have the power. If you wanted that information you had to pay. If you wanted to see what the “industry” thought was a good standard, you had to pay to find out, and then pay even more to be accepted.

Social networks and the “digital revolution” has made that information (and a much broader selection of ideas too) available to the masses. Having to pay for access to information is becoming rare.

Yet we still continue to pay for certifications.

We’re no longer paying for the content; almost all of that is available online, for free.

We are no longer paying for the training as it’s possible to sit the course and pass without in person training. (There are also a vast selection of excellent paid and free courses available online and in person outside of the certification schemes.)

I believe the masses* are paying for the right to say “I have a certificate!!!!!”

In a sea of people all shouting “I have a certificate!!!!!” why would anyone pick you?


* There are some people I meet who sit the certification courses as just one part of their continued learning…not the only part of their learning.

10 thoughts on “Are certifications relevant?

  1. “Only when I reached out to the wider community online did I find a place to soak up information and ideas about testing. I started sharing ideas. I started to meet people who thought the same way that I did. I started to feel like Testing was actually interesting. I started to find people who didn’t talk about standards, didn’t speak in platitudes and marketing pitches and didn’t push certifications at me from all angles.”

    Funny, that’s exactly the same moment I realized testing can be more than Just a Job(TM) and actually started to enjoy it and crave to learn more.

    At some point I actually even considered getting away from testing because of the you-must-memorize-this-standard-by-heart-and-be-able-to-quote-it-word-for-word type of attitude some organizations endorsed and promoted. Nowadays I am seriously glad I started looking at alternative approaches instead.

    Good blog post!

    1. Hi Petteri,

      You sound like you had the same experience as me. I too was looking to walk away and do something “more interesting instead”. Amazing how the community of like minded people challenging you to think differently can re-ignite the interest and passion.

      Thanks for commenting.


  2. Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have! But they have one thing you haven’t got – a certificate. Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeatum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary Certification of Th. D…that’s Doctor of Thinkology.

  3. Hi Rob
    Excellent article! I think you bring it to the point that the value of certifications for most people is: 1. Having the certification and 2. Being employable by companies that have certification as a prerequisite to hire a tester. Now this of course is a dysfunctional situation. It is therefore important to fight back and engage in discussions about what really proves a tester’s skill whenever there is an opportunity. The motivation of the certification industry is purely monetary and not to produce better testers.

    1. Hi Ilari,

      Thanks for commenting. I do think many people within the cert industry do see the value of some standardised training, but I believe the overall organisation is driven by money. One thing I’ve often wondered is why they don’t give the foundation certification courses and training away for free….depends on the motives.


  4. Nice post, finally an nuanced opinion about certification from someone who oppose certification. Still I would like to add something to you post. Most people who oppose certification explain their opinion from a tester / test manager point of view. Please let me take the (non-test) manager point of view who wants to hire a tester. Suppose there are two applicants and they are comparable when we talk about experience, soft skill, non-testing hard skills etc. (You can feel the next sentence coming and I won’t disappoint you.) The only difference is that one has a certificate, the other one not. Who would you hire?
    Of course your right to. Let’s take the same manager who wants to hire a test manager. Two comparable candidates when we talk about experience, soft skills non-testing hard skills etc.. One with certificates, the other active in blogging, publishing, talking on conferences etc. Yes, I would hire the second one.
    As a manager I would like to hire someone who is enthusiastic about his profession. And it tells me something (not everything) when someone invests the time and money to get a certificate. Someone who doesn’t really likes the profession but just needs a job wouldn’t take the time and effort. That person wouldn’t study the book but sit on his couch and watch TV.
    A last remark I want to make is about your argument that the content is available for free and we pay for it. That’s true, but there are different levels of knowledge (remember, understand, apply, analyze etc.). The fact that someone claims he (could have) read something that is available for free doesn’t say me anything. The fact that someone must have studied something to pass his exam (and he even had to pay for it) does say something (not everything) to me.

    So for me as a manager (vice president in fact) certificates do matter, but don’t tell the complete story. There is more that matters and I think I look at (in order of importance, from least important to most important) certificates, experience and proven active in the testing community (blogs, publishing, conferences).

    1. Hi Jan

      Thanks for commenting. Great points you make in your response.
      I don’t actually believe that there are ever two candidates who have the same skills, experience etc and that it literally comes down to certifications. Testing is a human skill and as such the mind of the Tester is what’s important. Each persons mind is different and there are plenty of interview and recruitment techniques to seek out the perfect mind for the right context.
      The idea of two people being identical and a certification being the dividing factor is a myth…in my opinion. A certification (depending on the level obtained) proves that people can remember things. It often doesn’t prove they can solve problems, communicate clearly, show passion and enthusiasm and work well as a team. I don’t mind either way when I hire. I won’t hold it against them if they have a cert or not. That’s not the important factor in finding the right person for the job. But that’s my experience and isn’t the same as everyone else 🙂

      It’s great that you see certifications as important but that they don’t tell the complete story. That’s an amazing place to be and it’s so good to hear people being pragmatic in that sense.

      Nice point about the material being available for free and I should have made it clearer in my post. I actually meant that the material, the courses, the local user groups, the internet led training and mentoring, the practice, the open source testing communities, organisations like UTest etc — these are ALL free. Free to join, free to take part, free to engage and of course, free to practice. There are some courses and experience you would naturally want to pay extra for and this is right, but there is nothing (in my opinion) in the certification training course that you cannot get for free from a multi-tude of other sources. The other sources you have to pay for are typically adding even greater value, or are more specific in their material. I think the major problem is that many people simply are not aware of them 🙂

      Thanks again for commenting and thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas. It’s always great to get more perspectives on my posts.


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