I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to argue with you unless you’ve paid

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I like to engage in good healthy discussion. I don’t mind taking a contrary position or having an argument. I want my friends and colleagues to challenge me. It helps me learn and think in different ways. I’m not a zealot about it. I’m okay with people being wrong on the internet, but every now and again there is the invitation for dialogue that I find difficult to pass up. It can be tough though when the person who has requested said dialogue is reluctant to engage.

I had just such an experience recently over on UTest’s blog where Rex Black of ISTQB fame was interviewed for ‘Testing the Limits’. Mr Black was hopeful of conversation between himself and readers of the UTest blog. Being a reader and having a number of questions I was happy to oblige.

Unfortunately the dialogue has, at least thus far, not been what I was hoping for. Now I don’t want to be unfair. Mr Black is a busy man. He did go into quite some detail on a number of the questions I asked. He indicated his lack of time a number of times during his replies. I had a number of other questions and made several statements though that I was hoping would prompt further dialogue. I’d like to think he will at some point he will take a well earned breather and spare a few minutes to come back and continue.

He was kind enough to point me in the direction of their psychographic analysts. I did put in an a request to them for more information, but have thus far received no response. Should that change, I will be sure to amend this paragraph. (Mr. Black, if you are reading this, perhaps you would be so kind as to have a word on my behalf and have them forward the relevant materials)

In the event that the conversation moves over here, let me list the areas where I would like to continue discussion:

What do you think the value is (to the certificate holder) of a certificate that pretty much anyone can achieve after a multiple choice exam that involves no practical examination of testing?

Would the testing industry not be better served by an examination process that rigorously tests the candidate’s ability to apply in pratice the theory and techniques they have learned, even if such a process was time consuming, difficult and did not scale well?

Wouldn’t the ISTQB serve the industry better by helping busineses realise that excellent testing is difficult to do well and that not everyone is cut out to be a professional tester?

There were a couple of other questions that I was waiting to ask. I wanted to get the current set squared away before I continued, but since I am not sure when this discussion will continue, let me state them here.

You say that ISTQB’s competitors have obvious commercial interests. Is the ISTQB a not-for-profit organisation? If that is the case, what happens with the $100 or so that examinees pay for their certification. 160,000 x $100 is not a small sum of money, even over 10 years.

I should say that these last couple of questions are not only for Mr. Black, but are open to anyone from the ISTQB who can authoratively answer them.

Once again, I’d like to invite you to read through this PDF, at least slides 8 to 14, but the rest is very worthwhile also. There are questions and assertions there that I think you really need to answer, for the sake of your credibility if nothing else.

The floor is yours.


  1. Jim Hazen says:


    I tend to agree with the majority of your points, and can understand your concern and disdain for the certification mills that now exist in our industry. I equate this to the same root problem for the Microsoft ‘certifications’ (MCSE, MCSD, etc.) that were (and still are) prevelant in the late 1990′s / early 2000′s. It was a question of paying your money and regurgitating information for the exams. I knew a lot of ‘Paper’ MCSE’s, and now ‘Paper’ Certified Testers. I has all become a game of chasing after the money.

    There was no practical application or demonstration of exeperience to pass those exams (both MS and now QA). I have twice held the CSTE (Certified Software Test Engineer) from QAI. The first time I attained it I was put through a review process (submission of work examples and other materials for review, plus recommendation by a ‘fellow’ CSTE or CQA). This required I show my work and prove my knowledge (of course I could have forged the whole thing, but didn’t as I had to provide credible references to verify it was authentic). This took time, and when I did get my certificate it held some weight and prestige.

    Unfortunately QAI a couple of years later went to the Exam/Cert. Mill path and I had to ‘re-cert’ a few years later. On that I took a set of exams (multiple choice, essay, written example) that were a full day long. I had to study for this, and use their BOK (which about 3/4 of it I either knew or understood based on experience) to pass the exam.

    But I have let it lapse again and will not re-cert as the ‘value’ of it in regards to uniqueness and prestige are gone. This is a key thing to me. A certification should be a recognition of your ability to do the job and not your ability to take a test.


    Jim Hazen

  2. Rob Lambert says:

    Hi Ben,

    Nice post and one which shows the often unseen refusal to take part in sensible two way conversations about certifications. Whether this is because of empty arguments to justify the chasing of cash or whether it’s simple because they don’t need to/can’t be bothered I guess will show through at some point.

    It’s good to see people questioning the certifications in a sensible manner though, asking questions of the right people and using the web as a new forum to instigate these discussions.

    Please do keep us informed of your discussions and questions. It’s an interesting topic I’m sure many in the Testing world will be happy to observe.


  3. Zoe says:

    The problem with certification is that there is no other way to show ‘employers’ (recruiters) that we are serious about doing something to improve on our skills.

    I can’t prove I read x books or went to y conference, and not all of us blog. I CAN show the recruiter, who couldn’t care less about my online involvement in the community, a certificate.

    Not to mention that it does put all of us at understanding certain words/concepts and make sure we all speak “same language” more of less.

    The value of certification is visibility in a world where people never go beyond ‘foundation’ level and a place where resumes are getting scanned by computers for keywords.

  4. Ben Kelly says:

    I couldn’t disagree more Zoe.

    There are plenty of ways to show you’re serious about doing something to improve your skills.

    I’m not sure why you’d have to prove you read book x – if the recruiter or potential employer wants to know about it they’ll ask.

    The wonders of social media these days mean that if you were at a conference, chances are someone out there took a photo of you and has it up on the internets, but again I’m not sure how many potential employers are demanding proof of your attendance. In my experience, if they’re interested in that stuff, they’ll ask you about it.

    If your recruiter couldn’t care less about your online activity in the community, drop them and get someone that is. If they don’t understand that you hone your skills through interaction with your peers, can you honestly trust them to understand testing at all?

    What does you showing them a certificate mean? It means you passed a multiple choice questionnaire after having been coached how to do so, or doing some reading and self study that isn’t particularly taxing. It doesn’t prove you’re in any way a competent software tester. It means nothing. So by all means show it to them but you and I both know it’s meaningless.

    If your recruiter is ignorant enough to believe that a certification means something, you could try and educate them. You do have the ability to change the status quo if you so choose.

    I think your point about common terminology is equally bereft of meaning. I work with skilled people of many different fields who frequently use different words than I do for things. If I don’t understand them, it’s not terribly taxing for me to ask them to explain it to me. Issues that I face as a tester dealing with other testers are generally more about a lack of skill than a lack of common understanding of terminology.

    If an employer doesn’t take the time to examine a resume properly or uses a computer to scan for keywords to screen candidates, it’s highly likely that I don’t want to work for them. If you do, then by all means plaster your resume with whatever fake qualifications you like, but let’s not pretend that a testing certification in any way proves that you’re a competent tester. We both know that’s not true.

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