A View From Inside ISTQB/ISEB

Alan Richardson writes this commentary from inside one of the stupidest of the certification programs: the ISTQB (well, he says “ISEB”, but by all accounts, it’s being taken over by ISTQB stormtroopers).

Long ago I also tried to change a certification program from the inside. I also failed. Now I do my best to cultivate the community of people who rise above it. As Alan points out, rising above can be difficult, because of all the poor fools who’ve been duped into believing that an ISTQB tester certification actually means something important.

What such certification really means is that, in England, and several other countries, certain unscrupulous or plain ignorant consultants are able to hold the testing craft for ransom, and almost no one will call them to account. Some of the perpetrators know full well what they are doing, but many of them, I think, know so little about testing that they honestly don’t realize what harm they do to the industry.

— James

29 thoughts on “A View From Inside ISTQB/ISEB

  1. Am I missing a link? The referenced blog is talking about the British Computer Society’s ISEB tester certification. Nowhere does it reference ISTQB certification.

    [James’ Reply: Sorry for the confusion. The two programs are the same in every important respect, but ISTQB is more rapacious, and I keep hearing that the ISTQB people are merging with or taking over the ISEB program.]

  2. Update to last post about ISEB/ISTQB connection…

    OK, I see a connection listed here at ASTQB’s site, but I’m still confused because it appears that BCS and ISTQB are offering different certifications.

    So I’m curious then, has Danny gone over to the “dark side?” He posted that he’s teaching coursed now through ASTQB.

    [James’ Reply: I don’t know why he’s doing that, but many consultants feel they can’t fight barbarians and try to join them, instead. Others are true believers. I haven’t spoken with Danny about his arrangement with ASTQB, but when I see him next, I will definitely tease him about going to the dark side.]

  3. Just to point out that I completely agree with your view on the certification.
    In my opinion this idea of “must have ISTQB certificationâ€? is driven/maintained by the HR departments and unprofessional managers. They are using it as an excuse when it comes to employ new people, not being sure (for the right reason) of their knowledge on the subject they use the certification (something to hide behind) because they are not able to verify the candidates them selves. As a Software Tester who is looking for a job, I risk even not to be considered by the agent/HR officer, not to mention getting to the technical interview. That’s why I’ll better have a certification to pass this phase than loosing a good job opportunity.

  4. Please set the record straight – I have no relationship whatsoever with the ASTQB and never said that I do. I am teaching courses that are marketed by Rex Black, who is involved with the ASTQB, but I am not involved with teaching any certification courses. I am teaching the Performance Testing Immersion Workshop that Rex and I jointly developed, and a handful of Rex’s other courses.

    While Rex and I don’t agree on every aspect of how to do testing, we have found enough middle ground between us that we have worked successfully together on several projects that were a good fit for me.

    [James’ Reply: Thanks, Danny.]

  5. Dumitru is very right, it is difficult to change the mind set of the companies and I have seen this with mostly CMM 5 based companies and most of the Fortune 500 companies where e.g. PMP is necessary for Managerial posts and the like.

  6. I wrote about my views on certification here (more or less on similar lines as yours but on a softer note…)


    James, in the Indian context, there are some deep rooted problems that feed to certification mania and people find it difficult to come out of the web.

    1. New/upcoming testers who are in first year of their career in software (just out of college) are first brain washed with process and technology gyan then are literally poisoned into getting some business domain learning and finally lay them to rest by making them to take certification. So a new tester does not learn about testing at all in initial formative years. No wonder people in India even now consider testing is low level job.

    The point here is – How does a new tester know and escape the trap of certification? At one side is the market demand – companies prefer certified candidates (that is the only way they pick the ones they wanted vs those they don’t) and other side acronyms like CSTE, ISTQB looks cool on resume and gets them interview calls. What can we do for this? (one way I suggested is accept the challenge “test anything, anywhere, under any circumstances and perform as good as any one else of comparable experience and skill”. I am sure no hiring manager (worth his salt) will reject a non certified tester who claims and demonstrates the real time testing skills “On Demand”

    So, alternative to certification is Ability and guts to claim and demonstrate “On Demand” testing skills – how many can do that?

    2. Look at management side especially in IT services sector – the managers and people here do what customer wants …(that is the business they are in). If a customer wants to hire only “ISTQB” certified testers – companies here just go on certification frenzy.

    IT/IT outsourcing is a bigger market in testing today. These people shape “craft of testing” of tomorrow. If IT people in US and Europe insist on working with only certified testers away in india or any other “low cost” (and skill ???) location – IT services companies will provide those certified testers. You get what you ask for…. That is another dimension of the problem.

    Other day a tester from a tier 3 company asks me innocently “What to do, if I don’t get certified, my job is gone to some who is certified. My resume would not get picked up by the recruiter if it does not have acronyms like CSTE, ISTQB what shall I do?”

    So if you look from testers and test managers standpoint (especially in the Indian context) certifications have become “necessary evil” — people just take them. The pity is that very few grow over or think beyond what they read (memorized) as part of certification study …


    [James’ Reply: It’s up to people like you and me to dismantle the trap, and oppose the people who created it. I hold responsible the consultants who should know better, such as Rex Black, Vipul Kocher, and Dot Graham. I’ve spoken to them many times about this. They don’t like me very much, for the same reason Japanese whalers don’t like Greenpeace.]

  7. I’m mixed about the certification process (please don’t through stones at me!). I’ve taken the CSTE exam and the training course offered by QAI. I thought the content provoked me to think though why I do certain things and what I might do to be a better tester. I didn’t agree with it all but I couldn’t say that it destroyed my ability to think outside their structure. As in most other professions experience is the best teacher. From my point of view there is relatively little training that testers can take and certification offers an option. To say one form of learning is ‘evil’ seems a bit over the top. Do people and organizations abuse certification? Probably. Should we diminish people who are really interested in pursuing all forms of education and training and think certification is just another arrow in their quiver? Can we do better? Always!

    [James’ Reply: The certification people are stoning you, not me. I’m trying to free you from their spell. The training classes provided by their organizations are implicitly and explicitly couched in terms that seek to deny the opportunity to work to other testers (by willfully creating conditions that convince gullible employers that they should only hire “certified” testers). I also seek to deny opportunities for people I consider dangerously incompetent, but I play by the rules– I don’t claim to have a privileged status in the testing world. The quality of my ideas are judged in the marketplace without me saying that I speak for the whole testing industry.

    Besides, I don’t believe you would think so highly of the training you received from them if you had a broader experience of the training available. The online BBST course– which is FREE through the Association for Software Testing– is a much richer and more challenging class than anything else out there.]

  8. I confess, I am a certified tester according to ISTQB. So why did I do this? Why did I betray my beliefs?

    The main reason is as some have mentioned before me: it gave me a job. Yes, I agree, it is ridiculus that it is such a big requirement when hiring testers. I did not learn one single usefull thing during the whole 4 day course. No, that is a lie. I learned that it is not always smart to order vegitarian food for a whole course. The variations were minor. Stomped tofu in four different shapes does not count as four different dishes.

    But some good came out of it in the end. I am now in a much better position to lobby for a better way to test software than I were as unemployed.


    [James’ Reply: I don’t think you needed to be certified to get work as a tester. People told me I needed to have a high school diploma to get work in the computing industry. They also were wrong. There are all kinds of things employers think they want, but if you show them your portfolio of accomplishments (an honest kind of self-certification) some of them will prefer you– the independent achiever– over others. I’m doing my best to fight the bullies, it would help me more if more good testers wore a “Conscientiously Uncertified” badge.]

  9. PS – My company, socialtext, hires testers to work remotely, regardless of continent. To my knowledge, none of us is certified my QAI, ISTQB, ASTQB, IIST, or any other QB or II or ST thing-y.

  10. I found ISTQB certification handy in that at least now I know how other organisations are doing things, and when people I come across in my working life start talking to me a certain way, I know their way of thinking, and understand their dogma.

    It’s a bit like reading the bible to understand Christianity without being religious.

  11. When I started to work in my company I came straight from university. The word TEST seemed unknown in our organisation until my boss came up to me one day and asked me how I would feel in the role of a tester. I said “Sure, why not” and started testing the exploratory way. Knowing nothing about software testing you can imagine the quality of my work in the beginning. About 1,5 years later we started with a huge piece of software and we wanted to do it more professionally. My boss sent me to that ISTQB course. Not knowing what I had to expect, I went there and listened to everything. With a broader mind (hey, I didn’t say broad!) I came back home, totally attracted to learn more. Nowadays I’m regularly reading blogs from many great minds in testing, such as James Bach, Paul Gerrard, Shrini Kulkarni, Michael Bolton, etc. and reading testing books from Cem Kaner and others.

    If you ask me what I have taken home from the ISTQB course then I will tell you “I brought back my future”. If the course is good for something, then for making people like me curious about this world of bugs.

  12. The discussions on certification have been raging for quite some time, and still 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 Founation 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 hadnt 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.

    [James’ Reply: The reason we aren’t doing better is because doing poorly pays very well, as you are basically demonstrating. Your company offers the class, and you admit that it has little value. With that kind of insanity, no wonder our industry refuses to grow up.]

  13. One deep irony here is that people who want to believe that current certifications are of worth are likely to be the same [sort of] people who think that saying “it’s a Best Practice” ends conversations in their favor. It’s a species of what W. W. Bartley called a retreat to commitment. Mr Noakes is to be thanked, I suppose, for not stonewalling in that way.

    In the eighteenth century, there were kind, sincere folks who would say:

    “Sure, it might not help, but really, what harm could bleeding the patient one more time do? Look how sick he is! We have to do something.

    A worse thing was that every Best Practices practitioner of the day would also say something like:

    “What’s that? Wash my… …hands? …Are you insane? I’m not going to be attending Royalty right now, I’m busy saving lives! Get out of my way!”

    I do not accuse the proprietors and promoters of ISTQB, etc. of that kind of attitude.


  14. Dude! I’m well into debate and discussion – but did you just call me insane and a root of some evil in our industry? A chap could take that personally! I’ve never felt that vibe from you before, so I’ll take it as a misread on my part. Give me a call if you feel differently.

    [James’ Reply: Stewart, you are a friendly and smart fellow. This is not a personal issue but a matter of professional ethics. Why is your organization supporting ISEB or the ISTQB? I also run a test training company. I only provide training that expresses my values about what testing could and should be. Just because there’s a demand for silly training to support a silly certification does not mean it’s right to satisfy that demand. Maybe you don’t believe that the training is silly. I do. Maybe you don’t believe the certification is silly. I do. Perhaps we just have a difference on opinion on that. But it sounded like you didn’t think that the training or the certification is worth much… so why are you doing it?

    I believe this certification nonsense could not exist were it not for training companies that give it a patina of legitimacy.]

    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.

    [James’ Reply: That’s not good enough. They are ignorant people. Testing experts should know better.]

    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

    [James’ Reply: Yes there is an alternative. Teach real classes that transfer genuine testing skills.]

    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)

    [James’ Reply: Even the non-practical stuff is messed up, in my opinion. The certification-based classes foster the mythology that the testing world has come to a consensus about what testing is and how to talk about it and do it. That’s simply not true.]

    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.

    [James’ Reply: That’s a false dichotomy. The alternative to teaching bullshit is not “leaving them out in the cold.” The alternative to teaching bullshit is teaching something useful and honest about the state of the testing industry and how to test.]

    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 – do you think that this could be a potential source of solution?

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

    [James’ Reply: Unfortunately, what I see is that the drug of certification has gone a long way to temporarily diminish the demand for real improvement. Certification is a placebo at best, at worst it poisons the well of progress by making us all cynical about the possibilities for better ways of thinking about testing.

    What you could do instead is teach something like my Rapid Testing course, which focuses on how to solve testing problems, rather than memorizing questionable testing vocabulary or promoting silly ideas like the V-model.]

  15. There’s another critical factor I ignored above. At Belmont Club, a fellow named Bob Hawkins recently posted the following:

    bq. About 15 years ago, there was an article in Science about a study of expert witnesses in parole hearings. It found that psychiatrists did no better than chance at predicting whether a prisoner would be back, which did not surprise the author. What did surprise the author was that judges were perfectly aware of it, but followed the psychiatrists’s recommendations anyway.

    bq. The explanation was that the judges were also aware that they would do no better than chance. But by relying on the experts’s coin flip rather than their own, they shifted the blame to the experts.

    bq. There are uses for experts that do not require them to be expert.

    The analogy to the SWEBOK and premature so-called-standards imposition is obvious. Blame “insulation” can be a pretty big attractor / motivator.

    [James’ Reply: Good point!]

  16. Some thoughts about certification:

    I did brainbench certification over the web in 2002 when I had a quiet hour. I certified 1st in Australia and 14th world-wide. Big Deal.
    I refused to pay for a number of my testers to do ISTQB certification courses, and instead gave them the ISTQB Glossary of terms and an hour of my time and they passed the certification without doing a course. They remarked that the only issue was terminology.

    I am often BULLIED into taking ISTQB certified testers who are 3 months out from Univeristy and cannot tie their shoelaces without a map and I have to re-train them in the application of common-sense. They can spout terminology, but have little concept of what testing is.

    These certifications are there to relieve you from your cash and support a consulting and human resources industry that is so moribund and lazy that they are bringing our profession competency levels down to a new low.

    I would rather hire a high school graduate and train them. Every time a tester certifies and puts it on their resume they drag the rest of us down. Macdonald’s staff, Target checkout operators and traffic wardens get more (and better) training. It is harder to get your Learners permit to drive a car than to get test certification. Next time you speak to a professional person, ask them if they completed a 2 day course to qualify! I am proud to be uncertified (the brainbench has lapsed).

  17. Certifications, like seminars, training courses, and all the other ways we try to get our companies to spend money on us to go on boondoggles, only are valid if they produce results. Show me a certification program which delivers a level of testing discipline and techniques such that the graduates are ROUTINELY able to deliver zero-defect software with less test/rework time (or something very close to it) and then it might be worthwhile. But yet another course on “exploratory” or “systematic” or “just-in-time” testing seems to me a fools errand unless the sponsor can demonstrate consistent and substantial quality improvements in any organization which adopts their approach. Not just one or two favorite case studies, but a consistent, heavily metric driven track record. Same criteria apply to the alphabet soup of certifications. Otherwise, you are better off spending the money to hire some more resources to pound the keyboard trying to find bugs.

    [James’ Reply: “Metric driven”? Peter, do you often make decisions based on metrics? For me, the answer is almost never. It may have happened at some point in my life, but I am not able to bring an example to mind, as I sit here. You don’t need metrics to tell if training has been helpful. I took Randall Jensen’s statistical quality control class at Apple Computer in 1989 or thereabouts. I also took a managerial finance course. I never did use statistical quality control and I never have needed to analyze a company’s annual report, but both trainings did help me quite a bit. They improved my ability to say “metrics are overrated!”

    The education of humans is generally not amenable to simple measures.]

  18. James. As a director of software QA and Testing operations, metrics are essential to my management and accountability. Metrics and repeatable processes. For example, I measure the number of defects which were the result of ambiguous or incomplete requirements specifications. I also measure the number of functional defects that escape into UAT or production. I expect the former to be less than 4% of total defects. I expect the latter to be zero or very close to it. Every time, every release. If someone wants to sell me a tool, a course, or a certification process, they better have very strong evidence that they will lower my costs to reach those goals. I have not run into very many who are willing to do that.

    You are correct that not every decision we make is metric driven. But, individually and in aggregate, the quality of those decisions will be reflected in the metrics. I would also completely agree with you on what constitutes the education of humans. But the original thread was on the value of certifications and training and their impact on improving the state of software quality. It is to that issue that I was directing my comments.

    [James’ Reply: Numbers are meaningless without context. Your 4% number is presented without context. I know better than to take such a number seriously, but many will see you say that and believe that 4% is a “good” value. At Borland in the 90’s, where I played with metrics, 4% escapes would have been an absolute disaster. For us, the percentage was so low as to be irrelevant. We didn’t measure the percentage, but instead reviewed each of the dozen or so bugs that were found in the field, out of 5000 total reported prior to release.

    I typically find that managers who use metrics treat them as magical talismans, without understanding the many ways they can be fooled with them. I hope you are not one of those.

    In any case, as a test manager who specialized in metrics at Borland, I NEVER used metrics to drive decisions, and I would strongly recommend that you read Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations, or Introduction to General Systems Thinking, or Tom DeMarco’s essay Mad About Metrics. These texts will cure you of your love of numbers.]

  19. I am a stupid and unprofessional manager, thanks for pointing that out :).
    I have followed the course 6 years ago, when I was in testing for 2 years, I found it very interesting, for there was so little known about testing back then in The Netherlands (where I live).
    Now I am a test manager and I want all my team members to go to the ISTQB course. I don’t really care about whether they pass the exam or not, the reasons I want them to take the course are the following:
    1. To ensure we all speak the same testing language
    2. To get a good view on what they really like about testing and which part of testing makes them tick
    3. To ensure we all know how to create test scripts in the same way
    4. To give them a good feeling about the company, to show the company does want to invest in them (Of course, they can go to any course they want if it helds a connection to their job).

    I understand your criticism, but please bear in mind ISTQB also has qualities that you might not have thought about.

    [James’ Reply: I don’t think you understand my criticism. Part of my criticism is that the ISTQB has seduced you, and people like you, into thinking that you know more than you do, and into thinking that testing is easier and simpler than it is. It is apparent from your list that you have been seduced rather thoroughly. I’m afraid you are part of the dumbing down of our craft.]

  20. I think I do understand your criticism, really, I just think you don’t understand me �.

    I am definitely not a tester who thinks she knows it all because I have that certain certification. I’ll go one better than that: the more I test and learn, the more I am convinced that there are so much things related to testing I don’t know.

    Seeing how my team members react after they’ve went to the course, I am not the only one. They are all triggered to learn more, which I find very satisfying and which is good for their skills and the products and, let’s not forget them, the customers.

    Testing isn’t easy, testing isn’t just click-click-click and testing is definitely not something you can learn from a three-day ISTQB course. But for me, for us, it was a starting point to:
    1. Create the same language within the team
    2. Learn more about testing
    3. All the things I pointed out in my previous post

    Please don’t generalize all testers who have followed that course into dumbo’s with an attitude.
    Real testers have enough intelligence to think for themselves.
    (and ok, my English is not that good…I know)

    Thanks for replying, I appreciate that.


    [James’ Reply: Martine, the test you took had nothing to do with being a skilled or knowledgeable tester. The people who created and administered that test were not serious about testing, in my opinion, they were serious only about taking your money. It seems to me that people who pass that test and accept that certification are certainly not thinking for themselves, but rather are following thoughtlessly upon the heels of a similarly thoughtless crowd.

    Having the “same language” for testing holds no benefit if the only thing you can express in that language is ignorance about testing. For instance, the ideas about exploratory testing promoted by the ISTQB are utterly ignorant.

    I hope you continue to learn about testing, and I hope you learn enough to renounce your certification. Bad certification programs, I repeat, are an embarrassment to us all.]

  21. Thanks for replying again!
    Ok, you are starting to convince me…ouch!
    You say they are in it for the money right? That’s something that really ticks me off.
    How come you are so certain about that?
    Has it always been about the money, or did it start with good intentions and was it taken over by money-hungry people?
    Seriously, I want to know!

    On the testing part, what is is utterly ignorant about the exploratory testing promoted by them? (when I followed the course, that wasn’t in it).

    (I will continu learning about testing, this is my job, and there’s nothing I like more for a profession than testing. Right now I am learning about automating things, delicious!)

    [James’ Reply: Three owners of testing training companies have told me words to the effect that “we don’t like certification either, James, but our customers want it and it’s too good a business opportunity to pass up.” My reply to them is that just because we have ignorant customers does not mean we should play into their ignorance by selling them a useless product.

    Also, I once sat at a table, at a conference, listening to five or six consultants talk about how certification classes were a great boon to their businesses, because people would pay much more for a certification class than for a non-certification class. At the time, the consultants did not know that I was opposed to the fleecing of testing students.

    Finally, I was approached, years ago, to be the American leader of the ISTQB. The man who approached me was a German fellow with no testing background, but a keen belief that the ISTQB was going to be a profitable business. I asked him on what basis did he think that the ISTQB represented good testing practices. He replied that he had faith in his board of advisors. What does that mean? That means the man pushing the ISTQB as a business had no personal awareness of the substance of what he was selling.]

  22. ISTQB tries to put the whole world of testing within one course (well, it’s not even the half of the world but I believe you get what I mean). What you know after the course is that there are about 1 billion expressions that you obviously “need to know” if you want to be a successful tester and 200 ways of doing something. You can’t get a special knowledge out of a 3-4 days course as long as this course is not concentrating on something. Half a year after I did the course I told my boss that I want to attend a workshop which helps me with the test management and other tasks that I have. I got the workshop and regarding my testing knowledge I wish I have had more of those, rather than ISTQB. Even though I’d get a 15% discount on conferences when I’m certified – at least on some conferences in Germany… stupid!

    To make an example of how I see ISTQB… Think about them as a driving school. They tell you that you’ll be able to drive after you attended the course, more than that they give you a license (or something similar). Firstly they list you every single street sign on this planet. They tell you bout traffic lights but don’t explain what the colours mean and what to do when you meet one. Then they tell you about the practical side of testing, which would be “sit in the car, start the engine and drive”. Ok, but what about the pedals, what about the gears, what about the indicator or the steering wheel. How am I supposed to drive when I don’t know nothing? But everyone who thinks back to the times before he got the driving license will admit that the first lesson made you feel like WHOA! And that’s where everything started. You became curious and you had fun driving. And in my opinion that’s the only thing ISTQB is good for. They make you curious and you want to learn about driving (Well, I admit, any other course in this world – as good or as bad it might be – has the same effect.) Unfortunately not everyone wants to learn more, others stagnate and don’t move forward because “they are certified and know everything”. Do you want to share the streets with someone who doesn’t know what this box with the green, red and yellow light is good for? I for one don’t and I think this is where James aims with his criticism of ISTQB. It gives you this dangerous little resp. partial knowledge and therefore leaves you in the believe that you know about things.

  23. just heard your book is being published. thank god. i have been reading and reading your draft of this new book for the past 2 years. great writing, great thinking. can’t wait to read the whole book!

    [James’ Reply: Yes, it’s coming out through Scribner. Thank you.]

  24. Hi Sir,
    This is Gangadhar just 1 year kid in the testing field. I have recently gone through your article about the ISTQB certification.
    I too agree your thoughts about ISTQB certification but in many more MNC companies situated in our country (India) they are preferring and recruiting the person who has done the certifications( For E.g.: Myself until I pass my certification they were not ready to permit my position in the company)
    So, if your opposing ISTQB rather than writing against it being giant in the quality profession you people can try to get the best of it.
    You people are spoiling upcoming, fresher testing engineer’s future and their family indirectly.
    Finally Qualification + certifications gives job, job gives experience, experience makes thinking better.
    So I am requesting you people to try to improve standards of ISTQB, if you were not satisfied rather than giving your opinions.
    Quarrelling between the parents makes their children suffer and sick.

    [James’ Reply: You are not a child. Stand up and make the craft better.]

  25. James
    I recently sat the ISTQB foundation exam because I was asked to rework a number of testing courses. As part of it I read through the ISTQB syllabus and some example course outlines. Just like Jens said, it reminded me of the days when I had to do my driving exam – the courses are there to get you through the exam – but they don’t teach you anything but basic driving ability. But in the driving domain companies understand what that means – no commercial company would ever hire anyone as a driver who has just gotten their licence.

    So I’m somewhat cycnical about it but I also see the mechanisms causing it – certification is here and it is driven by bigger forces than training providers. It’s driven by the corporate culture that requires the ability to mechanise the recognition of the skills of employees – the result is the dumbing down to the commonality of basics. It’s not just testing, I see it in the PM side and more recently the BA side (see the IIBA). The discussion there is exactly the same.
    This trend for easy categorisation of skill sets is what is threatening quality education – and you can try to change corporate culture but I find it a losing proposition as it rears its head in one place as soon as I attend to the next one.

    (When my wife and I immigrated to Australia we both suffered from this phenomenon. We both had unusual work experiences that could not be easily categorised by local employers. During job applications it became painfully obvious that we were often turned down because people found it too hard to work out the value we could provide and instead went with people who’d attended the local tertiary system).

    So what is the option for a training provider. You yourself provide a fantastic alternative (In fact I’d love you to come over here and provide your training – if not I’ll have to save up to get over to the US). I will try to tread a middle path. Offer material to pass ISTQB foundation yes, but try to educate our clients of all the other means that exist to develop a quality test team (its’ not just training courses). I see it not only as an ethical issue but also as a commercial one – I need to be able to provide real value so the clients will want to come back. If I stick to certification only I don’t think I can go that far.


  26. ISTQB says it makes the language uniform. In reality, they do make the testing language uniform. Yes every testers will know what is System testing. But the fact is that testers never work on their own. They interact with PMs, TMs, Architects, BAs etc. So whats the use of uniform laguage -unless ISTQB is given to PMs, BAs etc 🙂 Funny isnt it

    [James’ Reply: Non-uniformity is not really a problem, except among people who don’t want to think or learn anything. A far bigger problem is misleading and limiting language. I don’t want to use language that forces me to lie about testing, nor to think small about it. The ISTQB lexicon is a travesty.

    By their lazy and incoherent approach to testing vocabulary, the ISTQB encourages lazy and incoherent thinking about testing. Fortunately, most people who get certified quickly forget the official vocabulary.]

  27. Wow, what an interesting debate I’ve stumbled across here!

    I’ve worked in the IT industry for nearly 30 years on and off. I currently have no IT related qualifications or certifications to my name. I have a background in business analysis, with a bit of project management and portfolio management thrown in, but for the last 3 1/2 years I’ve been in testing. My current employer is a consultancy and wants me to do ISTQB because it carries weight with clients.
    So of course I will get certified rather than rebel against the source that pays for the roof over my head and the food on my table, BUT…

    I have little expectation of learning anything of real practical value through certification, because I don’t believe any course can teach some of what I believe are the most important skills for a tester – gut feeling, inquisitiveness, problem-solving, communication, diligence and attention to detail.

    I have had a long and varied IT career, during which most of my jobs have presented themselves to me through people who know me and know what I’m capable of. Most of my jobs have found me, not the other way around. In recent years I have worked with certified testers who were useless and uncertified testers who were brilliant. If I’m ever in a position to call on any of them to work with me again – I know which I will choose.

    [James’ Reply: If I were you, I would reassess my career. You say you’ve had a long and varied IT career, and yet with all that time you have not become senior enough to feel you can say no to silly requests from your employer. If I were you I would chuckle and say, sorry, I’m not going to diminish my credibility by adopting a fake credential, no matter how much a confused client thinks it weighs.

    Do you understand, it’s not merely unnecessary, it’s deceptive?

    I do understand that there are situations where putting meat on the table is more important than professional integrity. In those situations, I have generally chosen professional integrity, because I feel better with financial uncertainty than with character uncertainty. But I fully accept that other people may feel differently.

    All that I ask is that you don’t take the fake certification seriously. Don’t list it on your blog, don’t join the ISTQB LinkedIn group (I won’t link to people who feature the ISTQB anywhere on their profiles), don’t give it credence.]

  28. [comment redacted]

    [James’ Reply: Brendan, if you want to promote the corrupt and cynical ISTQB program, you will have to do it on your own damn website. My website is for serious testers who know the difference between right and wrong, reasonable and unreasonable, civilized behavior and fraud.]

  29. Hi James,

    I respect your comments on this. But in India the reality is people are getting jobs solely on the basis of certifications and not merits/knowledge/experience.

    Take my exmaple – I have 9 yrs of exp in testing jobs, and companies here expect me to have certifications to go to next level.
    Sorry state of affairs here James…

    [James’ Reply: Are you speaking out against it, or silently playing along with that stupid game? I urge you to speak out. But even if you don’t, at least don’t take it seriously.]

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