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?


  1. Education has long been of interest to me. Through my own education, the education of my children and STC have all taught me many things.

    One of my big lessons (through my children) recently is that what we think we want or think is the best education is not necessarily so, but we would have never known if we hadn't tried.

    What I do know is that everyone is different and there should be ways to accommodate and provide for the needs.

    I feel honoured you would think STC as a potential place to be a learned society. I have considered the ideas you are talking about, but had never come across the term 'learned society'. It also seems like a mammoth of a project.

    I am no expert, but would certainly enjoy a discussion based around it. I could create a 'Learned Society' group on STC for people to talk about the idea.

    It would be great if all the different *schools* could come together, but I don't think it would happen! I would be happy to be proven wrong :)

  2. Thank you for your comment Rosie.

    A very thoughtful response. I also have a passion about education and not just institutional. One of my major gripes with the testing community is the lack of self education and improvement.

    I would love all the schools to come together but I feel their differing agendas make that difficult which is such a shame.

    Yes the organizing and setting up of a learned society would not be easy and could be at the start very time consuming, so setting up a debate on this within the STC could be a small starting point. Regarding if others would be interested is another matter altogether.