Thursday, May 14, 2009

Certification - Should be more than a piece of paper

I just saw a link to "Expert Software Testing Certification" for only US$9.95.

It cracked me up!!!  Will 40 multiple choice questions ensure that I am an expert?

There is a real danger with certification becoming meaningless, and it WILL damage our profession.  The key to a profession I believe includes some of the following elements: 
  • Common terminology and standards
  • Shared body of knowledge
  • Competency development programmes and recognition schemes (e.g. certification)
  • Representative bodies
  • Recognition by employers and legislators

Yes, I created a Certification program a long time ago and we continue to offer it widely (  And I believe Certification can add value, but if Certification doesn't help to develop and assess competency then it will be doomed.  If people become certified and they are not competent, then the recognition of the profession will be damaged.

I think focusing purely on the exam is a big problem.  For individuals this is the main driver, they want the piece of paper!  I remember as a university student, the endless swotting & cramming, and many students not caring about the subject they were studying, avoiding lectures, and doing whatever it took to pass the exam and get the credit. 

For the most part, participants in our certification are funded by the employer.  For the employer, they want to see skills development and recognition.  If their employees sit in a training course, they want them coming out being more competent.  They want to ensure that the certification process ensures that recipients exhibits and develop competency in specific areas.

The exam should be considered a secondary goal, just an assessment method that measures competency.  Yet for many it is the primary goal.  The primary goal should be competency development.

I dont like multiple choice exams, but any exam on its own is not enough.  There needs to be multiple methods to assess competency, this should include:
  • participation in practical exercises, understanding and demonstrating skills
  • demonstration of workplace competency
  • proof of understanding through completion of individual assignments
  • engagement with experts where they can demonstrate understanding of key concepts
It is costly to build these into a certification programme, but that should be the goal.  We need to make sure people dont slip through, those that do will devalue the certification, and others that have completed it.

It really frustrates me when I hear people say "let's do the 1 day course and then sit the exam".  I would be happy if they felt they were already competent, and they just wanted the recognition.  But for most, they do not have the competency in the specified areas, and they are just looking for the fastest way to swot for the piece of paper.  Will they be competent???


  1. I agree! Software testing certification bodies need to consider the value (dare I say, ROI?) that individuals and organisations gain by sending their testers through certification programmes. Rather than simply focussing on the piece of paper they will receive after passing the exam, participants need to be able to demonstrate that they have improved their skills as a result of attending the training course itself. Ideally, the exam should simply be a vehicle for motivating participants to practice what they have learnt - something that is imperative in achieving competency in anything.

    I've heard test managers both here and abroad moan about the fact that certification does not equal competency, especially when it comes in the form of a three day training course. Mind you, I also never understood why it is generally expected that developers must attend two to four years of training to become competent, and yet testers are expected to become competent after just three days of training. That thought aside, I believe it is the responsibility of the training course providers and certification bodies to manage the expectations of their clients (in this case, the individuals attending training and the organisations funding them), to ensure that they have realistic expectations on what is achievable through each level of certification.

  2. Good points Kelvin,
    There's too many dodgy courses that don't actually tecah skills. I was impressed by CSTP because it taught real competencies.
    You are a legend! Can I get a tee-shirt?

  3. Good Blog Kelvin,
    As I say to me team members its not about attaining a certificate. I can print a really great certificate out for them for a few bucks. Doing a certification course is about learning new skills and putting them in to practice.
    A multiple choice exam does not verify the types of skills I consider essential to verify someone is a good tester. This is why I struggle to bring myself to send someone on a course that costs $2500. The multiple choice exam makes it harder to prove the ROI for my companies money.