Sunday, 29 May 2011

A Competent Tester

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. ~Clay P. Bedford

I started writing this blog article in draft about a month ago to have a little rant about how certification does not make you a competent tester based upon my experiences and frustrations whilst trying to recruit testers. I was prompted by a post by Rob Lambert to revisit the article and try to complete it.

Recently I have been trying (and I emphasis the word trying, it has been really trying and challenging to find the right people) to recruit testers to work with me on some quite technical projects. None of the projects have any real UI interfaces nor are they web based applications, this is real hardcore technical testing at a binary level.I became very frustrated and even got to the stage that I felt my standards were too high.

I lot of the CV and candidates that were interviewed all stated that they had ISEB or ISTQB certification and from that I assumed they would have a basic grasp of boundary and edge cases. How wrong was I!!! To make it worse I asked about their views on any of the current new approaches and techniques in testing, even having to prompt to what do you think of context driven testing and all I got back in return was a blank look. I asked what articles or books have you read recently about software testing or any book that you could relate to software testing and again all I got was blank looks and shrugs of shoulders.

I am not against certification in any shape or form and I do not have a view if people try to make money out of it that is not the issue. The issue I have is that in some (most) cases these schemes are being sold on the basis that once you have completed them you are now a ‘skilled’ tester and know everything there is to know about testing.


Rob Lambert in his article explains in great depth what makes testers ‘skilled’ and I have to agree with him. Those who read my blog know I have a major interest in the social sciences and psychology and how this can collate to testing. More importantly how it can help make you a better tester.

So if you want to become competent at testing you have to read more, interact more with the testing community, become self-learning. My ethos is always to keep on learning and never stop doing so.

Taking any of the certification courses can be, for someone new in the world of testing, a good STARTING point, grounding in SOME of the techniques and skills. These courses will NOT teach you about how testing fits into Agile and about exploratory testing. Nor will they teach you how to test and make you think ‘outside the box’ Only getting involved within the testing community will do that. I good start is the Software Testing Club – read some of the articles and blogs there, subscribe to the excellent RSS feed. I am not being paid by the Software Testing Club to say this I am promoting it because again it is a good starting point for those would wish to learn more about testing and want to improve so they can become competent testers.

I will finish with a quote about learning.

It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. ~Attributed to Harry S Truman


  1. Great article, and I find myself agreeing more and more with the argument on certification. I welcomed it's announcement as my career started in the "dark days", when a career in testing was barely acknowledged, let alone recognised. I perhaps grasped too eagerly the recognition of accreditation, especically when it was certified by someone as recognised as the BCS.

    I struggle also, to find people who have that genuine interest and spark of enthusiasm for their subject.

  2. Great article, couldn't agree more. What concerns me though is how to get those who don't do the extra reading etc. more involved? By definition, they're not reading blogs like this, so it becomes the responsibility of those of us that do read it, to spread the word - but using more than blogs.
    Test managers need to encourage their teams to read around, giving examples like the STC as a starting point.
    Maybe the STC meetups could reach out to local firms that just might employ a tester or three, to inform them about the meetup and give them the opportunity to look at the wider world of testing?

  3. Thank you John for a good blog post. I agree with the most of what you are saying.
    You are asking about theory, about exploratory and context-driven testing. But, if you are saying that the project is a very technical, wouldn’t it better to give a simplified practical task and see how the person will solve the issue? The task should reflect the real situation on the project, and if the person solves the problem, it could mean that he/she is acceptable for that position. In my opinion, it could be much better to hear what the person is going to do with the problem rather than hear the strict definition for some SQA terms.

  4. Reasons why testers get certs: Because when most HR bints are skimming through the CV or introduction letter of an applicant, they are looking for the word ISEB or somesuch to prove that this person is a tester.

    Consequence: This has lead to some (not all) ISEB holders believing that piece of paper makes them a tester.