The value of software testing qualifications

Qualifications can help but they are only a small part of the knowledge and skills requirement of a good tester.


Way back in 1997 as a leader of a large but inexperienced test team, I looked to the training market to help me to teach my staff the basic test process.

Having reviewed many offerings, it was clear that each company I spoke to provided its own unique process. If I had selected any one of these processes to work with I would have been tying my team into working with a particular company well into the future.

It was around this time, I was invited to become part of a team set up to create the Information Systems Examination Board (ISEB) Foundation syllabus. I saw a way in which we could establish a common view of the test process and therefore, level the playing field for me as a customer, and at the same time up skill testers to a common language.

This enabled me to pick my trainers/consultants based on their ability to deliver, and be sure my staff received a common view.

It made sense to me at the time, and even today now that I run my own consultancy, the principal is the same –not the whole solution, but a common starting point. Significant amounts of practical experience and application is needed before real value can be gleaned from qualifications.

I have read a lot of articles and blogs on how qualifications add little value, I dispute this. In the UK alone we have had over 40,000 potential and actual Software Testers go through the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) Foundation exam and nearly 100,000 worldwide.

We have seen the “ISEB - A Software Testing Foundation” book (the only true revision aid for the ISTQB Software Testing Foundation exam) become the best selling software testing book on

The continued growth of the ISTQB (38 member countries involved in delivering qualifications based on the same syllabus) and the use of its Foundation level syllabus to replace the older UK based ISEB exam, is also a big indicator of a need to standardise testing qualifications.

But, so many of those who pass them do complain that they never get a chance to use what they have learnt. Now, perhaps here are the two main issues why qualifications are thought not to add value.

  • I see a trend growing where companies only employ ISEB/ISTQB qualified testers in the UK, without reference to experience – why do those in IT think a qualification is all you need to do a job.
  • Company’s effectively run their software testers through the qualifications, but then don’t create an environment that enables them to use what they have learnt. I remember visiting a client a few years ago who proudly told me that 99% of their 230 software testers were ISTQB Foundation qualified. This was followed by a complaint that nothing had got better.

    Upon further investigation it seemed that after someone returned from a course, any request to change things based on their learning was ignored, and that basically the environment didn’t allow them to use what they had learnt, so the individual had had benefit from the training, but what benefit had their organisation had?

So, it seems to be that we expect too much from the qualifications that exist today. We need to see them as a part, all be in small part, in the knowledge and skills requirement of a good tester, and make sure that the environment is developed that allows those who take the qualifications to use the knowledge they have learnt.

Geoff Thompson is consultancy director at software quality consultancy Experimentus.

He serves in several professional IT and testing associations. He is a founder member of the ISEB Software Testing Board, International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) and TMMi Foundation, of which he is currently Treasurer. Geoff is also Vice Chairman of the BCS Specialist Group in Software Testing.

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