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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:
http://www.satisfice.com/blog/archives/126
http://www.satisfice.com/blog/archives/127
http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=nav.5732
http://www.istqb.org/
http://www.astqb.org/
http://www.associationforsoftwaretesting.org

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. (http://pest.tcl.eu.com)

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.

7 comments:

Bubba said...

The world of testing is under threat to some extent and I feel perhaps the testing world doesn't want to admit it.

By this I mean that the tools and the knowledge to do effective testing are now propagating towards the very people that testing was originally moved away from - the developers. We all know how important Unit testing is for early capture and greater coverage, but I think that with the improvements within this area the developers are getting rather more savvy and/or capable of doing our jobs for us. Consider James Whittakers comments regarding snooping behind the scenes and in essence cheating: the developers can do this stuff already which puts them a step ahead of most of us.

Which gets me to my main point which is, maybe the drive for certification is born out of a drive to quantify the skills we've built up over the years and to say "Hey, we're still the proffessionals in this area - get back in your box!"

I recently responded to a blog entry by James Bach which argues why certification is needed. My point was to say that we need them to get to interviews these days, but I think what I've said above is the second part of it. To add any real credence to our skills and ensure our longevity we need to branch out to a more technical understanding and continue to drag this stuff away from the developers as much as possible else we will become extinct. Certification is attempting to do this.

Paul Darby said...

The world of testing is under threat to some extent and I feel perhaps the testing world doesn't want to admit it.

By this I mean that the tools and the knowledge to do effective testing are now propagating towards the very people that testing was originally moved away from - the developers. We all know how important Unit testing is for early capture and greater coverage, but I think that with the improvements within this area the developers are getting rather more savvy and/or capable of doing our jobs for us. Consider James Whittakers comments regarding snooping behind the scenes and in essence cheating: the developers can do this stuff already which puts them a step ahead of most of us.

Which gets me to my main point which is, maybe the drive for certification is born out of a drive to quantify the skills we've built up over the years and to say "Hey, we're still the proffessionals in this area - get back in your box!"

I recently responded to a blog entry by James Bach which argues why certification is needed. My point was to say that we need them to get to interviews these days, but I think what I've said above is the second part of it. To add any real credence to our skills and ensure our longevity we need to branch out to a more technical understanding and continue to drag this stuff away from the developers as much as possible else we will become extinct. Certification is attempting to do this.

Stewart Noakes, TCL said...

Hi Paul
great to hear your views - keep them coming.

The point you raise is a pretty interesting one. Let me ask you a question or two on this....
If we think along a bit, does this all sound a bit protectionist? A bit, dare I say it, European farm subsidy looking?

Let me step away from that landmine for a second and re-phrase.....
does it matter that testing as we know it is evolving and changing?

Paul Darby said...

Stewart,

Evolution and change within our theatre is essentially mandated by the fast moving IT industry. It is a given that we have to continually strive to keep up so that we can continue to plug into organisations and offer informed and effective testing services at the level required. I welcome this.

I think we as testers should try to recognise more that we are constantly striving to survive within the IT world. Similar to a programmer that does not keep up with the latest and greatest coding languages or standards etc: they will be driven out by those that do know this stuff - this is the same for us.

The risk we are now running is that people who are not testers are being given the tools to do our jobs for us: both the knowledge and the physical tools.

So perhaps the question is "how do we evolve?". We can learn how to do early capture and start to run unit tests ourselves, but as the developers can do this already, now they have the tools, this is possibly not enough. Do we now need to evolve into 'Light Developers' or 'Development Testers' and then lay the foundations against these skill sets by providing certification?

I do not have an answer for this, but I am enclined to think we DO need to start learning what the developers know and then start to bring testing back to us to survive long term.

Hope that made sense. :-)

Stewart Noakes, TCL said...

Hi Paul
some interesting thoughts there, and let me pose these follow up questions:

You postulate that developers and other people are being given tools that enable them to test and this blurrs the lines, with the result being that we may become redundant in our own field. Would learning their tools not just accelerate that predicament?

Also, there is a big assumption in your thinking here - in that developers with the right tools can therefore test. Do you really perceive that this (although admitedly rather sweeping) suggestion is a likely outcome?

Is the spirito de tester a quantity that can be replaced by a tool?

I look forward to your thoughts....
Stew

Paul Darby said...

I don't think there will ever really be a point where the tester is not required, but if the IT industry gets a whiff of the fact that developers can do pretty good testing these days, they may feel that they do not need to invest in a dedicated test team. This is likely to be the wrong approach, but not inconceivable.

As for accelerating the predicament: I don't think so. The point is to learn their tools so they don't have to do it. I've never know a developer who wanted to get their hands dirty by doing the testing as well, but because it's believed that they should do the unit testing (generally) they are, to some extent, forced to learn to do what we should be doing for them.

We need to learn their tools so that they can continue to be developers and we can continue to be testers.

Shrini Kulkarni said...

Hi Stewart....

Do consider adding something that I wrote about testing certification ... I am from James Bach's school of testing ....

http://shrinik.blogspot.com/2008/04/software-testing-certification-to-be-or.html

http://shrinik.blogspot.com/2008/06/software-testing-certifications-part-ii.html


Check out other items on my blog and see if there is anything we can discuss together ....

Shrini Kulkarni

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