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I was having this internal struggle for a long time – certification. At first, I thought “it will be cool to be certified, it will probably drag some attention to me”, keeping in mind I was green and didn’t have enough routine. Then, I thought that certification is a must, I should have it in my skill set at any cost, it will show people that I spent some time and invest in my own development. Now, I believe it is up to me, to be recognized as a skillful tester and it has nothing to do with being certified. This week’s outdated testing concept is dedicated to certificates and other cool scratch paper.

Outdated testing concept #4: Certified means qualified.

I have been thinking on this article for quite some time, I even failed to post it last week as I had doubts on talking about it. I was having this struggle within, whether or not I am qualified enough to give my opinion on certification. And a miracle happened, an argument in the local QA Facebook group I participate in made my belief solid, that there’s something fishy in certification, after all.

What was certification supposed to mean?

I will try to speak on testing certification only, but I think this applies to all certificates. Many people have different expectations towards software testing certification, unfortunately most of them wrong:

  • Certification is supposed to mean you took some formal software testing education.
    This is a broad topic and I will only scratch the surface with what I have to say, but software testing could not be learned by notebooks, nor certification courses. It is a practical activity and could be learned, educated and trained only through practice. You can learn the principles of testing, you can learn the testing terminology or the testing glossary, you can learn common techniques that are used in testing, but you can not learn how to perform testing at an expert level.
    If you want to go deeper in the topic – education isn’t what it was supposed to be, we are aware already that great minds are not “laboratory grown”, e.g. could not be cultivated in schools, colleges and universities. I am not saying schools and universities are useless, I’m saying they are not enough. Formal education isn’t satisfying our needs for natural interest, our professional choice, etc. I referred many times to Sir Ken Robinson‘s work, in one of his talks “Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley”, he is talking how modern education is applying the so-called “fast food” approach towards students. This is commonly observed in testing certification as well, the “one size fits all” concept that tried to make you believe you can learn something easily and by following simple steps, which is far from true. Another important point that Sir Ken Robinson makes, is that above all, intelligence is diverse, and we should take this diversity into account, while educating, in software testing or out of it.
  • Certification is supposed to standardize testing.
    This is another fallacy that has to be brought to rest. The purpose of certification is not standardize the process, but to assert that you gained specific expertise. In fact, there is a way to standardize the process already like the IEEE standard for test documentation and if you take a look at it you will find out it is not that cool as it seems. If we have to follow the standard point by point, the testing process will become unnecessarily document heavy, slow and boring, resembling more of a court case rather than experimental process. 
  • I will find better job / get promoted, if I am certified.
    It is possible, certificates will have certain value for your future or current employer, but that shouldn’t be all. Me personally, I wouldn’t trust employer who uses certificate only to evaluate an employee. Most of the times, when it comes to recruitment, your motivation and willing to progress will play more general role in decision, rather than the certificate.
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You can go and continue the list. What probably pops in your mind as a question is…

Who values certification, anyway?

My personal opinion is we can split this group in 3 sub-groups:

  1. New testers who are looking for a way to prove themselves – and this is kind of normal. Every new tester is trying to prove his/her value, wants to progress fast and dynamically and most of all is not familiar with all testing fallacies, one of which is the certification.
  2. Testing professionals who invested too much in certification, themselves – psychology is a weird thing and it states that, when an individual makes a reasonable choice, he or she must find a way to justify it. And this is the case with this sub-group of testers – they spent probably $200 for the foundation level course and probably much more for the intermediate, manager and ultra-super-mega-uber-testing-ninja-master-rockstar level. It is understandable why they will tell you certificates are valuable, otherwise these guys would have to admit that they threw their money into the ocean.
  3. Non-testing professionals who are involved in recruitment process – and we have to make a condition here, even when they are interested in you having certificate, don’t be too proud with it, it is just conversation starter, you will have to actually prove what you can and not just rest on “certification laurels”. Why are HRs and recruiters interested in certification? Well, normally they have none to minimum knowledge on what a really good testing professional is, so if he has a certificate, it is a really comfortable social contract. If he happens to be a complete moron, knowing nothing about testing, they will blame the bastards that certified him, because it’s their responsibility to tell good testers from the incapable ones. And if he turns to be greatest professionals – “Yay, see that? I told you, certification is an important thing to have for a tester.”
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So, what is the truth about certification.

The truth is – it is useful to some extend. The reason why people are basically impressed by certificate is – it shows that you have the dedication and the motivation to invest in your own professional development. It is also useful, or at leas its foundation level, because you can get familiar with some basic terminology in the testing domain. That doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to explain what it means or understand it profoundly, but you will be comfortable using it in certain occasions.

Should I get certified, after all?

I am not the one to answer this question, it’s you and only you. My suggestion is, if you want to invest in yourself and your professional development, invest in practical courses and not in certification. Testing is a practical activity and  it is only learned and explored effectively through practice. And not testing only, you can invest in learning some basic programming or networking or any other generic IT knowledge. That will always be in your favor. I don’t want you to stay off certification, because of me, I don’t want you to take it because of me, either. It is all up to you and your personal philosophy. My own opinion is – if you are passionate about your profession, if you strive to progress, if you make yourself stand from the crowd by being proactive or a blogger or a conference speaker, I believe no one will ever ask you if you have a certificate.

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And one more suggestion if you decide to take certification, anyway. It is from the book “Lessons learned in software testing” by Kaner, Bach and Pettichord – I quote by memory “if you can get a black belt for two weeks only, try to stay out of fights”.

That’s it for this week, thanks for reading and as always I would love to read your opinion on the topic. That was it for Outdated testing concepts, as well. I think I said what I had for now, on this topic. Some day I will probably continue with a new one. Thanks, good luck! 😉


Senior software testing engineer at Experience in mobile, automation, usability and exploratory testing. Rebel-driven tester, interested in the scientific part of testing and the thinking involved. Testing troll for life. Retired gamer and a beer lover. Martial arts practitioner.

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