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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Certification & Accreditation

Before you read too much of this article take a look at a couple of other blog entries:

The discussions on certification have been raging for quite some time, and no definitive stance has been taken by the industry on whether it is good or bad and how it should be administered. Despite that, things go from strength to strength in terms of people who do the courses, employers that ask for it and companies that make money from the delivery of courses - including my own company.

We invite our scholarship students to attend a Foundation certificate course for free as part of their scholarship. I had a very interesting question from one of them the other day when he asked, after passing the course, if I could now show him how you do testing. It hadn’t really been covered on the syllabus.

So, given that the courses themselves have some questions hanging over them in terms of content and in particular with regards to PRACTICAL TESTING SKILLS (I’m sorry for the capitalisation there, but it drives me nuts!) how come things are moving this way?

Well, its not because the BCS or ISTQB shout the loudest - in fact they are quite quiet about things really. Certainly I see more aggressive marketing campaigns at companies like SQS and Sogeti and indeed the reach and influence of people like James Bach and other speakers at Star conferences is more powerful than the ASTQB stand that I saw last time at StarEAST.

I think that there is a need out there - and the market is telling us something pretty fundamental. They want us to be better!

The market is possibly feeling like testing could be important enough to get a proper seat at the table - certainly we’ve all been telling them that for quite some time, but they want us to do it better. The ‘new believers’ want to be able to say -I’ve decided to do something about our testing, I’ve found some new people who are well trained and can do a good job.

I asked myself this question: If I don’t know about testing - lets say I’m in HR or procurement of some big company - but I know enough to know I need it to be different / better / in my company, where do I go?

How do I know I am getting a good tester or useful test team? Where’s the standard? Where’s the governing body? Where’s the education? How do I model it, reference it, measure it, value it? Where’s the regulation? Where’s the professional body, associations or ombudsman? I got stuck. I couldnt answer it. I couldnt find it. But when I looked - the closest things I could find were the ISEB, ISTQB, the ASTQB, the BCS.

So, I think that the market wants us to be better and I dont think we’ve found the answer yet - but to feed that market, and to grow our industry, we need to find an answer that gives us all a platform of credibility going forward.

Three things that totally drive me insane about the current certification:
• No practical skills are taught at the foundation level – which is where I believe that practical skills are the most important
• Many consultancies that offer and promote the certification courses are on the certification boards or were involved in the creation of the syllabus – I find this to be a conflict of interest and don’t appreciate it. I think that there should be a clean line between people that define education programmes for an industry standard and people who are paid to deliver them
• Certification stops at the certificate – but the new knowledge is only valuable when it is put into practice, and new behaviours are re-enforced by mentoring and coaching.

Given these views, James Bach has asked me why I continue to promote and teach the certification courses. I’d like to engage with you and explain my position on this stuff and why we offer the courses at all.

Firstly - we exist to meet the needs of our Clients and they tell us that they want this stuff. I can find no suitable alternative to help them on the scale that they need and desire so I work with what I’ve got.

Secondly - I recognise certain flaws in the current courses - namely the practical skills - and encourage people to realise that certification is only a start to their education, not the be all and end all.

We offer a great deal of stuff at zero cost that can help people develop further - including our community portal and our peer sharing events which are open to everyone who wants to learn and share. (

Thirdly - I want to encourage people into our industry. I’d rather get involved with people and get them exposed to some inspirational trainers and some different ideas during their certification than leave them out there in the cold.
In the example of our scholarship student there was great resonance - he came on the course and then wanted to know more. Before the course he had very little appreciation for testing. His experiences at our latest testoff - with more than 40 testers who are passionate about testing and putting their skills into action, gave him great insights into what its all about.

I recognise the need for change, I’m totally up for finding new solutions and I’d like to work with people who can develop an accreditation programme for testers - one that starts with some uniform and consistent education, then develops practical skills and works with people in their use of those skills in real life situations to then develop practical, skilled and competent testers. I’d like to see this kind of stuff included in University level education programmes and I’d like to see a common approach around the globe to make a sea change in our industry.

It’s such a task though and its going to take a lot of us pouring positive energy into the situation to make it work.

The last few months have seen some encouraging writing from the AST and around CAST – and I think that this could be a potential source of solution. It’s certainly got some promise.

I’m very interested to hear thoughts from all quarters on where you feel we could start creating change and moving things forward.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Becoming an Expert in Software Testing

TCL is a consultancy in software testing. That means we are invited to see Clients when they have problems of some kind - and they are seeking us to provide solutions that in some way or other they can't provide for themselves.

It could be that they can't resource, or can't resource at the right time. It could be that they have a problem but they really don't know how to solve it - and they need our knowledge. It could be that they need us to look around and find some problems and to help them improve their organisation.

In all these cases there is an assumption - that as a consultancy, we are experts in testing. Hmmmm. Are we?

Take a look at this stuff from James Bach:

He makes some great points about what makes an expert and what experts do to stay as experts. He also asks questions about the education for testers and things that don't yet exist.

Now, I can tell you that we research and develop new solutions every year. I can tell you that we train a lot - we train each other, we share ideas with everyone that likes to learn and to share in return. We go to conferences and we learn from our peers and other experts and world leaders - people like James B. We go out there and we challenge ourselves and we seek new ways and innovative ways of doing things. We mix things up and involve Universities and Scholarship students and interns to challenge us and rechallenge existing knowledge as well as developing new ideas and furthering the cause of testing as a professional discipline. If this stuff makes us experts then super. But how do we measure it?

Tony and I have a vision for TCL to become a world wide, world class centre of testing excellence by 2020. We're doing pretty well, but there is a long way to go - and I feel like we have some serious thinking to do this year about how we move forward a bit faster. We are in 2008, and our ninth year of trading as a company. It's time to get a new gear, and move this stuff forward even faster.

I'm a bit stuck on this right now. In particular how to measure in absolute terms that we, a consultancy in software testing, are indeed experts in it. Some thinking to be done. Watch this space for more of my thoughts as I progress ideas.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

We need better understanding of where we came from

Hmmmmm. Several months with no posts and now here I am going mental, with three in two days!

James Bach has an interesting article at:

He says we need better bloggers about testing - and I think he's right, and I think its only the start of things. We need a better understanding about where we came from.

The poor cousins, that's what some people think of us as. Testers are still seen as some of the lowest forms of life in the software world. And why? Because we havent changed their minds, thats why.

Take a look at some of the debating on certification:,, and some thoughts about how to get into testing at:

For all the efforts of so many people, there is still very little taught about, researched about or published about testing that is coherent, mature and built on a basis of proper rigor and analysis.

Few PhDs, few Degree programmes, research grants or so inclined academics to move us forward. Few historians or references sources. Few knowledge communities that move us forward. How can we learn? How can we avoid going through the same infinite, futile loops of reinventing the wheel and going through the same old mistakes as people 20 years our senior have already learned to solve?

As a community we cant answer simple questions like this:
When to automate and why?

We teach people endless process styles and then we miss off practical testing skills from our accreditation programmes.

We deal in the currency of defects, but then when we teach our junior people about testing we dont start with the defect report, and we overcomplicate and teach them that the defect ID is as important as the steps to recreate the problem. We certainly don't tell them that it isnt.

No wonder there are still people out there that think we arent good enough to play in their game.

I dont have the answer yet - but JB has started me thinking. Perhaps we should be searching a little harder for the answers....

Post Script: here's the video mentioned in the comment from Phil K

Friday, July 18, 2008

Software and Politics

Here's a thought that has been ringing round my head since talking with James.......

Democracy - a hugely important part of the life as we know it, has three fundamentals that define it: 1 - a free and fairly elected government, 2 - a free press, 3 - the rule of law.

But something is bugging me. In an age of information and the knowledge economies is software and in particular access to the internet fast becoming a defining property of a democracy?

For sure, the power of software, and what can be researched, analysed and created using modern technology now fast becoming an asset that leaves developing nations at a serious disadvantage and makes it a hugely political issue.

When the 20th Century saw the birth of atomic energy and the atom bomb it created a segregation that changed the face of the planet. It created special 'clubs' where those that had the advantage restricted it from others, and controlled economies, held the upper hand in heated discussions and caused tensions around the world.

But what of countries without the right infrastructure now? Without the ability to adopt or to grow the technology that changes lives? How will they embrace these visions of the future where software not only makes life better but helps to solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity?

For many of us software is a job, a hobby and sometimes a passion. Do we really understand the evolution that is going on around us though?

James Whittaker visit and presentation

Well, its been a whirlwind couple of days - which I am pleased to say have been a lot of fun.

James Whittaker has been with us for a couple of days, and today gave a presentation that knocked some socks off, and gave everyone a number of opportunities for belly laughing. ( )

What was he talking about? The future of software and the evolution of testing! What did I think? I'm still trying to work it out!

Some stuff that was very cool: The ideas that Microsoft have for the future of software and how things will look, feel and integrate with the world. Interfaces on computers, embedded sensors, RFID on steroids and a seamless integration of it all into a world that reduces geography and improves our lives.

Some stuff that made me think: How to take the role of testers and testing into being part of solutions for the wider world.

Take a look at: for some more insights from the mind of Dr W.

Something I want to start giving some serious thought to is the topic of visualisation. How to visualise how code is changing, how defects are clustering, how test coverage is developing and where things need to be done. That was a fantastic part of the talk today - with examples from all over the place include xbox games, that really brought the point home. I can see some huge advantages to our industry from moving down this route. I wonder if these new MS test tools will do it?

It was a pleasure to host James for this event, and great opportunity to catch up with him, meet Sharon (his wife) and to hear about his latest visions.

There was a great attendance at the event, with people from (no particular order to this list):

Orange UK
Neural Technologies
The Exeter University Innovation Centre
Scholarship students from Boston University and Exeter University
Quick find IT recruitment
Independent contractors
workroom productions (
Circle Executive Recruitment
Sound in Theory
Test and Verification Solutions
SNS Systems

It was brilliant to see this group mingling, networking and building a community. It wasn't forced - it just happened :)

We also had a great time at our latest PEST (Pub Exploration of Software testing). What a PEST it was too.

Over 40 testers competitively testing four apps for over 3 hours. It was brilliant!
We tested our PEST portal - developed by interns during their summer internship, we tested a digi makeover kit - a commercially available toy, we tested a wordpadlike application in which we had set up a dozen defects, and we tested a large coffee vending machine which had been picked up on e-bay for just £1. Defects galore!!!

Seeing Dans face (the intern who had a big hand in the PEST portal) as all these testers crawled all over his site was absolutely priceless - but most impressive of all was the energy of everyone involved.

Passion for testing. Passion for the teams. Passion for finding defects. A brilliant event! Huge kudos to Martin Mudge for setting up the best PEST so far, by far!
Check out for more information about future events and to share knowledge with people at PEST.

If you are wondering about what sort of stuff we were doing then take a look at this video of Jon Bach who explains about Exploratory Testing

I'll post some pictures of our event when they have come through from Kate and Clare.

Also, take a look at: if you get chance. This is quite an interesting idea and is pretty exciting if you are an exploratory tester or someone seeking some variation & new challenges.

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