Friday, 5 August 2011

Professional Qualifications and Bodies

I saw an interesting tweet from James Bach (@jamesmarcusbach) the other day:

@testingclub What counts as certification? What's a "professional qualification?" Why is schooling confused with education?

Which was in reply to seeing the following post from the software testing club (@testingclub) about a survey of testers?

@jamesmarcusbach you may be interested in the Education for Testers survey results

Whilst the data within the survey may be of interest to some people what really got me thinking were the questions James was asking and within this blog article I am going to attempt and answer some of them from my perspective. It does not necessary mean that my view is correct and I encourage people to debate and correct points that I make, however it is important to remember that the context of this, it is my own personal view of the testing world.

One of the key points that James states to the testing community is that testing is context driven, I feel the answer to these questions are also dependant on context and as such the answers to the questions are context driven.

The first question I intend to try and answer is “What’s a professional qualification?

The context I am using to answer this is within the UK and Europe where they appear to be very well defined.

Professional qualifications in the UK are generally awarded by professional bodies in line with their charters. These qualifications are subject to the European directives on professional qualifications. Most, but not all, professional qualifications are 'Chartered' qualifications, and follow on from having done a degree (or equivalent qualification).

However the important point to note here is the word ‘generally’ to me this does not mean all professional qualification are awarded by professional bodies.

So ‘generally’ professional qualifications are awarded by professional bodies – but what are professional bodies? How do you become a professional body? It appears that it is simple to set up a professional body, all you need to do is:

Get a group of people interested in the same subject

Produce a charter which describes your aims and ethos

Have regular meetings

One interesting point that is made about profession qualifications and bodies that I found was:

Membership of a professional body does not necessarily mean that a person possesses qualifications in the subject area, or that they are legally able to practice their profession.

Some professional bodies can be cartel in which anyone who is not a member cannot practice legally in that domain. Examples of this are within the field of Medicine doctors need to register with the BMA and nurses with the RCN to be able to practice.

So professional qualification in this context indicates that you are proficient in your field and some professional bodies only allow you to practice if you continue to keep up to date with current practices and methods and publish new findings for your peers to review. Without doing this you lose your right to practice. IMO this is the direction tester should be going in. We need to be continuing to learn, read articles, publish articles and enter into debates about the course we take.

ISEB and the other certification schemes are ok as a starting point but it is not the end of learning. We need to adapt these schemes so that they are not static and become out-dated as they currently are. The problem comes that for the people who run these schemes to do this would not make it cost effective and as such it is not in their interest to change. This goes against the reasoning for having these ‘professional qualifications’ the bodies that are saying they represent us on a professional level are not adhering to two KEY parts of being a professional body.
  • Protecting its fellow professionals
  • Looking after public interest by maintaining and enforcing standards of training and ethics

Without this happening I have little confidence in the current testing ‘professional qualifications’

Moving on to James question about confusing schooling and education

I find this interesting since seen both sides of the education system (formal schools) having been to school up to the age of 18 and from working within an education system. I think I see what James is getting at. Formal education worked and did not work for me, due to my circumstances up to a certain age I was away from school more than I was there by my own choice I just did not go. Once I did settle into going to school regularly I found it offered me some fantastic grounding in key subject skills (maths, science, history, English) – I really struggled with English and still do according to my wife! It also gave me social skills in being able to share, communicate, listening to others, letting others have their view point which may not agree with mine. I feel lucky in the schools I attended, they may not have been the highest achieving schools but they taught great life skills they I am always thankful for. (Pity think more about league tables than the students). So how does this differ from schooling? The confusion I think comes from the fact that most definitions of schooling see schooling as part of being at school and formal education.

I find this definition worrying since I see schooling as something slightly different. It can mean the education you get at school. However what about ‘home’ schooling, self-schooling? In which you embark on a different style of learning which is not institutional.

The other context here could be that James could be referring to the differing schools of testing. This does not sit right with me and I do have a problem with having different ‘schools’ of testing. I see testing as one big thing not lots of different fragmented schools. Since each school has some strong views and ideas that the others do not agree with we end up in heated debates in which no one side wishes to back down. I am not sure how that helps the testing profession, debates are ok, but constant fighting is not good and at some point a middle ground should be found even if it does not sit easy with all sides. Sometimes it is better for the good of the all rather than for the good of the individual.

My thoughts on these different schools and professional bodies etc. is that maybe just maybe all sides should come together and look at forming a learned society.

What is a learned society?

A learned society is an organization that exists to promote an academic discipline or group of disciplines

I think this would be a wonderful way forward and maybe the software testing club could be (form) the society? I am not sure nor have I investigated what would be needed but it looks like that they do some of it already publication of articles etc. I would be most interested in what the people at the software testing club think of this and what the general community feels within all of the different schools.

Finally to answer the last question by James:

What counts as certification?

There are many definitions of certification the main being one in which an organization recognise individual/company etc. that meet certain criteria. These criteria could be passing exams, years of experience, publication of articles and so on.

However this really does not ask the question that James asked. Within the survey it shows how many people hold a certification. However as correctly noted by James it does not say which certification. I would have expected this to be much higher. I have many certificates, PAT testing, rugby coach and first aid. None of these are really relevant for my day to day job of testing so I still no sense in the results as they are displayed. However even if it said testing certification which would it mean? ISEB? AST? Etc etc. This one question really stumped me since I could not find an answer that sat easy with me. If I write regular testing article (blog, magazine) and publish should I be certified? If I get my work colleagues to write a report on how competent I am at testing would make me certified? I really do not have an answer for this one and as James did on twitter open up this question to the community.

So the challenge is set:

In your opinion:

What counts as certification?

Is Product Knowledge essential for effective testing?

I might not be blogging or being online as much as I have been this is due to family life, those close to me know what I mean but here is a new article. I do have lots of ideas and thoughts it is difficult finding time to put them together. I will be at Eurostar in Manchester this year and I hope lots of you will be attending.

It has been awhile since I posted a new blog article so here is a new one.

I recently read an excellent article by Paul Gerrard about all testing being exploratory and thought it was so good I posted within our company intranet. I got an unexpected reply which made me think about testing and the skills that are required to be an effective tester. This reply is the reasoning behind this blog post.

The reply I got was as follows:

The interesting challenge to the basic idea is that the tester needs to have knowledge , and very good knowledge of how the system is supposed to work. Only with that knowledge in place is it then really possible to 'intuitively' carry out testing that will be good exploratory testing. Without that deep knowledge it turns into 'random' testing, which, while it has its place in a test approach, I’m not sure it could form the bedrock of a test plan.

The challenge then becomes how to get that knowledge to the tester/test team. I can see how for long term projects/products, the tester becomes truly expert in his Component Under Test, but for new things, or new people to that test team, the ramp up time and 'completeness' of such an approach is questionable and a bit difficult to scale.

For sure exploratory has a part to play - but hard to see how its 'all'.

This made me think about product knowledge and is it really essential for effective testing. So I posted the question on twitter:

Interesting discussion about needing 2 have product knowledge 2 do good exploratory #testing and without this becomes random testing. (1/2)

I have my views on this but would love 2 have #testing community opinions, views, counter views on this. Might do blog post on this (2/2)

I got some replies to this very quickly (as I would expect from such a dynamic community) – sorry if the time order appears a little wrong – I wish twitter would let me do this easier than a cut and paste job


@steveo1967 before gaining experience and understanding I'd have agreed that my testing was more random than exploratory.

@steveo1967 I've recently been exposed to Microsoft AX and found that with experience my exploratory testing is becoming more fruitful.


@steveo1967 @QualityFrog Well, I would argue that if I know how the software behaves, I don't need to test at all, do I? :)

@steveo1967 @QualityFrog "what I believe it should do" is not knowing to me. :)


@steveo1967 @mgaertne product behaviour can be observed in testing. It is implementation, not requirement.


@steveo1967 if you know how to do Exploratory Testing well then no prior product knowledge is required. Someone on the team needs it tho!

@steveo1967 IMO that is a very good post on ET. I see nothing there that says prior product knowledge required. (cc @paul_gerrard)

Which were very interesting since they were opposing views about the statement made…

@Radionotme stated that he found product knowledge useful to prevent random testing while mgaetne and qualityfrog stated that it was not necessary and that you could learn about the system whilst exploring.

I countered this with:


@QualityFrog @mgaertne the counter claim made is that knowing how the product behaves is essential to test quicker and save time

By this time @Michaelbolton had joined the debate


@steveo1967 @mgaertne @qualityfrog Whether knowledge or belief, where do you obtain it? From /testing/ what you know.

steveo1967 It takes exploration to develop a decent strategy, tactics, and checks. To me,

@steveo1967 One can develop product knowledge, learning through exploratory #testing. Running scripts helps to suppress that learning.

Trying to keep up with all the threads I replied:


@mgaertne @QualityFrog not really you would still test that what you believe it should do it actually does do.

@michaelbolton they are not saying ET is not useful they are saying it is more effective when you have product knowledge. Do you agree?

@Radionotme interesting experience with some product knowledge making your #testing more efficient would like 2 know more.

@Radionotme was it random because u had no structure? SBTM for example helps to structure ET or is it ur ET skills improved?

@mgaertne @QualityFrog v true but the view expressed states have knowledge of the product and how u expect it to behave is essential

More people started to enter the debate:


@steveo1967 last thought: is Jazz music random? To the untrained ear, perhaps it is. To the experienced, you see it takes great skill.


@can_test @steveo1967 What is what we perceive as random, really isn't random at all, just we lack sufficeent perception to see its order?


@can_test if someone on the team needs product knowledge why can this not be the tester?


@steveo1967 I didn't say it _couldn't_ be the tester. I said it doesn't _have_ to be the tester. Financial Svcs jobs are bad about this.


@can_test very well put about random being undisciplined that is my point ET without discipline is random


@steveo1967 that's what it sounds like to me anyway. "Effectiveness" is meaningful in a certain context. Don't blame the tools.

@steveo1967 I think it's about Trust, or lack thereof. That is, I will trust your ET if you are a product expert, otherwise no, its random

@steveo1967 experience in anything increases your testing efficiency. ET usually looks random to those who don't understand it.

@steveo1967 IMO, good testing is about changing your perspective on the system. That's harder when you are the SME too.

@steveo1967 what does "random testing" mean to them? I may have many hypotheses I want to test that are off the main path. Is that random?

@steveo1967 the statement I disagree with is that Exploratory Testing requires prior industry/product knowledge. That's not true.


@michaelbolton @steveo1967 @mgaertne @qualityfrog You either belief there’s milk in the fridge or you don’t be


@steveo1967 In addition, exploration implies that someone intends to discover something. Knowledge can never be known to be complete.

@steveo1967 Biases can't be eradicated, but they can be recognized, controlled, and managed in a number of ways. It starts with awareness.


@michaelbolton @steveo1967 I am currently the 'fresh eyes'. Old and new eyes both find bugs, though they can be different bugs. 1/?


@WadeWachs @michaelbolton very good point. My concern with knowing product is having bias expectations of behavior and not seeing problems


@steveo1967 More effective /for what/? More product knowledge /vs. more what-else/? Heuristic: fresh eyes find failure. #testing

So from this lively debate what can we conclude?

Some people think that you do not need to have any product/domain knowledge to be able to carry out exploratory testing since one of the principals of ET is that you learn about the system as you test. Other people say that you would be just doing random testing if you had no knowledge of the product since your expectations of how it should work can guide your testing.

My own personal view is very much in the middle it has been known for me to say that I can test any product without any prior knowledge (domain or otherwise of the product), however the important word missing there is ‘effective’ How effective is my testing without domain knowledge? Does it suddenly become hit and miss and as stated by @radionotme more random. I am currently working on a product which is very niche without understanding how certain packets are formed and transmitted you could spend a lot of time testing unnecessary stuff (there is a counter to this that no testing is unnecessary – in that it exercises the system in nonstandard ways – true but doing too much of this soon makes it less effective)

So to conclude I do not think there is an obvious answer to this. In some cases I feel domain/product knowledge could be essential to make the testing efficient. l it does not mean that a competent tester could not learn this domain knowledge very quickly and start to be effective and efficient at testing the product. However it needs to be recognised that when someone joins a team and comes without domain knowledge there will be some ramp up time for them to become familiar with the domain. In my opinion this where exploratory testing comes into its own, as an approach to use for someone to get on board with a system and learn about the system it is the most effective way especially if you can afford to do paired exploratory testing.

Domain/product knowledge is not essential to do effective testing but it can certainly help.