Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Regarding Course Completion Certificates

First off I'd like to point out that I, in no way shape or form, support shady practices of _any_ consulting firm or training center that sells "certifications" without "education". In other words I do not support testing houses that are just teaching to pass a test and issuing out certificates to students that want / need these certificates in order to gain employment, advance their careers or whatever it is they do with these things, and not actually providing an education.

I am for and do support continuous learning, teaching, mentoring and advancing our community in any positive way that I can.

That being said on to business: what is the difference between the two certificates you find below? Now I am not just talking about the obvious differences; that one is from the ISTQB and the other from the CDT folks. I am also aware of the syllabus differences, not talking about those either. I am more interested in what is the underlying principle behind both of these certificates? In other words the why.

First we have the ISTQB Foundations Series Certificate of Completion

Second we have the Rapid Software Testing class (from the CDT folks) Certificate of Completion

My gut tells me that these are just two pieces of paper that probably mean something just to the bearer. But, they can also probably be used by the bearer to gain access to special clubs (probably some of them even have secret hand shakes). Or to flash at an interview in order to impress your employer and gain "favorites" when it comes down to choosing the "right candidate". Heck you can even add this to your resume / CV in bold letters so that, before the interview, you can let prospective employers / interviewers know which "special club" you belong to. These are but a few of what I think are valid uses for both of these certificates; as any other certificate.

But isn't the difference in underlying principle between both of these courses that there is no difference? Are both courses not teaching (or supposed to be teaching) skills, terminology, etc that will not only improve the knowledge of testers but also benefit their employers and customers? Are  both courses not giving you access to a network of other like minded individuals that also share a common love for testing and our profession?

Your thoughts and comments are welcomed.


  1. Hi Freddy

    Yes there is an importance difference. One claims to be a certification, the other is a certificate of attendance.

    One implies that the bearer has been audited or assessed to be qualified and possesses the skills to work in a profession (and by implication, those without it are not. A further implication is that the certifying body has the mandate to determine what professional behaviour and skills look like in the field, and take responsibility for the actions of those they are certifying).

    The other acknowledges that the bearer turned up to the course, and stayed there until the end.

    There is a world of difference between the two.

  2. Greetings Aaron,

    Thanks for the reply.

    In regards to all of the implications that you got from the first certificate, you deduced _ALL_ of that information just by looking at the face of the certificate?

    As well, you say that the "other acknowledges that the bearer turned up to the course and stayed there till the end".
    Is this really the whole purpose of this course? For folks to show up and stay till the end and then get a certificate that says so? I really don't believe that at all. I don't personally know the folks that teach this class, but I have a hunch that they are a lot more thorough in their instruction than the way you are describing their class here. (I've seen the slides). It actually seems like a pretty good class.

    Are you saying that the Rapid Software Testing class doesn't include exercises, questions, tests? It doesn't teach skills? I must say I'm a little perplexed by your statement and was wondering if you could clarify. (leaving the ISTQB biases aside for a second)

    1. Sure. I have been on the course, and it is the single most valuable and exhausting teasting course I have been on. It teaches skills, has many exercises, and tons of discussion.

      But the certificate is literally for attendance. That is all it is. Everyone who shows up, gets a certificate of attendance. It is not a certificate that you understand the material, or that you have the skills imparted in the course. There is no implicit endorsement. All the trainer can really say and defend is "this person attended my course. I am unwilling to make any guarantees beyond that." It literally says "Certificate of Completion is hereby granted to..."

      Based on conversations I've had with trainers of the RST course, they say that they cannot in good conscience make such assessments in a three day course. To make such an endorsement, they would need to observe the student working for several weeks on a variety of problems, and even then, would be subject to periodic review. So they don't do that. They make the only claim they can which is "This person attended my course". I like that everyone gets a personalised message on their certificates though. I have one on mine, and I treasure it.

      The top certificate literally says "...is awarded the designation of Certified Tester" and even has a fancy golden seal. It looks a lot like my bachelor's degree from university. It looks like a legitimate qualification, issued by a body that has a mandate to make such assessments. It uses the words "qualification" and "certified" on it. Certification is "a designation earned by a person to assure qualification to perform a job or task". Therefore, the claim it is making is quite different to "This person showed up", and a claim I don't believe they are qualified to make, based on their syllabus, and their assessment methods.

    2. Thanks for clarifying about the RST course (and for not keeping the ISTQB biases aside for a second :)

      What I am trying to convey with this brief post is that, regardless that one gives you a shiny certification and the other one does not, the goal of both of these courses is to teach testers; albeit using different methods and syllabi. But Isn't the end game to produce a more informed tester?

      Whether there are folks that take this certification with the sole purpose to pass an exam is besides the point. Those folks are only hurting themselves, IMO. The same can happen if someone pays for the RST class and just shows up to say that he took the class. They are only hurting themselves because he didn't learn anything.

      Plus there are plenty of folks out there that have taken the class that have actually gotten a lot more out of it than just a certificate. They got to network, talk with like minded individuals, share ideas, etc. Why is it that only the folks that go take the RST class have to be the only ones that actually get something out of the class?

      Thanks for all your feedback by the way. Truly appreciate it.


    3. I have no problem with the course if it was just a course. There is a free market of ideas, and consumers can choose to pay for whatever they decide. People can choose to believe in whatever paradigm and methodology they want.

      However, once you take a course, and then give yourself a title that misleads people into thinking it's an officially endorsed qualifications body, and then give people 'certifications' in "software testing" which again, reinforces the idea that, as a profession, this is the definitive body of knowledge on the subject, you are no longer operating in a free market of ideas. You are now giving false impressions that the course is something it is not. My thoughts on it are here: http://testerkiwi.blogspot.co.nz/2011/07/istqb-possum-certification.html

      To reiterate, because I think it's important to distinguish: The argument has less to do with the syllabus and more about the emergent compulsion that exists to take this course. The free-market of ideas has been hijacked.

  3. Hi Freddy,

    Thank you for your Tweet yesterday making me aware of your article. It came as a pleasant surprise as I was in the middle of delivering an ISTQB® Certified Tester Foundation Level (CTFL) course :)

    I like your statement: “I am for and do support continuous learning, teaching, mentoring and advancing our community in any positive way that I can.” It has a nice parallel in the CTFL syllabus’ code of ethics: “Certified software testers shall participate in lifelong learning regarding the practice of their profession and shall promote an ethical approach to the practice of the profession”.

    From the related comments to your article I agree with your point for certifications and/or training courses, regardless of whether they are ISTQB, CDT etc: “Isn't the end game to produce a more informed tester?”

    I haven’t delivered or attended CDT courses so my comments below relate to ISEB/ISTQB courses which I have delivered since 2001.

    The ISTQB suggests that candidates for CTFL certification have at least six months' practical experience in a professional testing role, but this is not mandatory. Underlying principles behind the ISTQB Certified Tester Foundation Level certificate include:

    • for testers “to demonstrate practical knowledge of the fundamental concepts of software testing”, and
    • to provide other roles with “a basic understanding of software testing”.


    To attain the certification candidates need to sit a one hour multiple choice exam, scoring 65% (26/40) to pass. Questions are set for the Learning Objectives (LOs) in the published syllabus (the LOs are listed at the start of each of the six sections):

    The LOs are mainly K1/K2 relating to remembering/understanding syllabus material, but also K3/K4 relating mostly to six dynamic testing techniques. These latter questions test that candidates can apply four functional techniques, or analyse control flow using two structural techniques.

    Candidates can just take the exam without attending a training course. Your ISTQB certificate from the ASTQB indicates a candidate has passed the exam. If a candidate attends one of my courses I would also provide an attendance certificate so that he/she can backup any claim to have done so (as with the CDT certificate).

  4. Greetings Fergus,

    I appreciate you taking the time to give this brief overview of what the ISTQB really is. It does offer a perspective that is important to me because you are involved in the teaching of the course day in / day out.

    It seems like the Foundations Level exam gets you ready to pretty much just get your feet wet when it comes to testing. I can understand why a company would require this (or some other type of basic training) prior to hiring entry level testers. I would think that this (or any other type of basic training) would not only make the tester feel a little more at-ease on his / her first day, it will also save the company at least from having to train folks from scratch to some extent.

    In regards to companies requiring the certification from the ISTQB (as mentioned in other comments by Aaron in this thread); from your experience why do you think companies engage with and include ISTQB as a pre-requisite for some of their testing jobs? I think I answered this question for myself already in the last paragraph but wanted to get your imput.


    1. I would say that the requirement process is quite fundamentally flawed if having ISTQB foundation level certificate is needed or can tell something about testing skills of the hires.

    2. Hi Esko,

      I'm unsure about the context of "requirements process" in respect of the ISTQB Foundation Level syllabus.

      Please could you clarify whether you are referring to 'Section 4.1 The Test Development Process' which drills down from "Section 1.4 Fundamental Test Process"?

    3. Hi Freddy,

      I do see your point about why some companies include ISTQB certification(s) as a pre-requisite for some of their testing positions.

      From your qualification “…or some other type of basic training” I think both of us would feel uncomfortable with the blanket use of ISTQB Foundation Level as a crude filtering mechanism by say an HR department to limit the number of testers progressing to interview stage (i.e. as a sole filter). This initial level is heavily weighted to knowledge rather than skill, and should not be taken as evidence of experience.

      If certification is important to a company when hiring then there are others such as the iSQI Certified Agile Tester which may be even more appropriate to the company’s context. Another example could be a test manager holding say a Prince2 certification of the appropriate level rather than the ISTQB Advanced Level Test Manager. Also, as an alternative, I would hope that such a hiring company would take notice of a covering letter from an applicant perhaps positioning that he/she is an experienced CDT tester (perhaps with a course attendance certificate attached as a catalyst for interview discussion), and that the applicant would like to explain at interview why his/her skills and experience would make him/her an ideal candidate for the position.

      The ISTQB Advanced Level Test Manager syllabus aligns with the need for a balanced approach to hiring testers. Learning Objectives TM-7.2.1 and TM-7.2.2 in the Individual Skills part of ‘Section 7 People Skills’ show that candidates taking this exam would be tested in their ability to analyst a specific context in terms of the relative importance of testing knowledge to other important factors such as testing skills/experience, wider domain/business knowledge and interpersonal skills.


  5. RST response from James Bach:
    The difference between those two pieces of paper is what they represent. One indicates that you have participated in a cynical scheme to suck the blood from the craft of testing. It means your ignorance and/or fear has driven you to seek the approval of businessmen who never cared about testing or the public good. That piece of paper is marketed falsely as a certification of you as a tester who has attained some general and meaningful level of skill that is widely recognized by testing experts. It is a paper held by thousands of people who really don't know how to test. The other piece of paper is a claim that you have attended a three-day class. I certify only that you were physically present-- except for the stars. The stars are special. A handful of testers have received two stars from me. The stars means that for two separate reasons that I was able to articulate at the time of the class, I was impressed with that tester. It is not a general endorsement, except that if someone shows me that, later on, they will have my special attention.

    Competent, caring, serious testers know the difference between those pieces of paper.

    For the record, I do not normally issue those certificates when I teach. I will do so on request. If anyone were to claim that it is a general certification of testing skill I would disavow that. The stars that I put on some certificates is a biased and light-hearted system for conveying specific appreciation to people who impressed me.

    Anyone who knows the ISTQB knows it is a scheme dedicated to maximizing the profits of a business without regard to the public good. Anyone who knows my class knows it is a labor of love and a sharing of a personal journey toward excellence and freedom. The people who teach RST each teach their own version of the class that represents their personal experiences and convictions.

    Teaching testing is a business for me. ISTQB's business is not teaching testing. Their business is selling you ceremonial artifacts.

    1. Greetings isitgoodenoughyet.com,

      Thanks for the response from James Bach, I'm I to understand that this is your response as well? If it is, can you at least post what question you asked JB that caused this response?

      Did he read my post? Specifically the last paragraph? Did you read the last paragraph?

      But mainly I'm interested in knowing exactly what question you asked him to respond to. Context is king, right?

      I would like to get your thoughts on this:

      "Are both courses teaching skills, terminology, etc that will not only improve the knowledge of testers but also benefit their employers and customers? Are they both not giving you access to a network of other like minded individuals that also share a common love for testing and our profession?"

    2. This is Kim Engel, and for the record I agree with the comments from Aaron and James above.
      I asked James to speak to the differences between ISTQB certification and the certificates which are sometimes issued at the conclusion of RST courses.

      If you can read James' response and not glean an answer to your questions, then I think you've missed his points completely.

    3. Hi Kim,

      I thought that was you but wasn't sure :)

      I just asked because I wanted to make sure that the response was in line with the post. For example not the difference between both certificates, but the underlying principles behind the courses.

      Thanks for clearing things up. I do appreciate it.


    4. Do you have any plans to take either RST or BBST Foundations?

    5. Both classes are introductory. I have reviewed both the course syllabus from the Foundations class and the slides from the Rapid Software Testing class. While there is value in both, I have already acquired the basic skills (being in this field for almost 20 years). The only value, for me, would be in networking with like minded individuals. However, not sure I want to pay to network just yet :)

      Why do you ask?


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