Monday, 2 August 2010

The Certification Filter

I had a few moments to myself the other day and decided to have a bit of fun and do some research about what agencies required when you apply for testing roles. I was surprised (or not) by the number of roles that stated “will be ISEB certificated”

How can they get it so wrong? The ISEB is now defunct it should be ISTQB (sic) so all those who hold an ISTQB qualification need not apply………

Anyway back to the point I am trying to make.

I did some quick research and found that within the last seven days of the 122 testing roles listed I would be excluded from 28 of them since they stated …will be ISEB certified. If you add in the ones that add ‘would prefer candidates with ISEB certification. You get to over half of the roles advertised that I could not apply for.

@Mheusser made the following tweet @steveo1967 - certification might just get you the job you don't want to have.

That maybe be true but I got thinking and maybe it is not the company using the agency that are mandating this but the agency adding its own filter. The company could be missing out on some great testers because of the agency filtering system.

The following are some imaginary conversations with an agency (Sadly I am sure some people may have already experienced this…)


Me: Hi I am interested in being put forward for the role of chief tester as per the advert you posted this morning on your website.

Agency: Sure, have you already sent us your CV, Resume?

Me: Yes

Agency: OK, what is your name, let us see if we can find your CV

Me: My name is Timmy Tester

Agency: Wow cool name sure matches your profession

Me: Yes (Sigh) I get that all the time..

Agency: OK Got your details – just looking at them now, wow 20 years in software testing, that is impressive, I see you have worked at some very well known companies. Oh wait a minute…. You do not list that you hold the ISEB qualification.

Me: No I do not.

Agency: I am sorry Timmy I cannot put forward your application – we only accept people who are ISEB qualified.

Me: Why? I have more than 20 years in software testing.

Agency: Yes I can see that, however the ISEB qualification means that you know how to test and is mandatory for any roles you apply for with us. Sorry but I cannot put you forward for this. I suggest you go and sit the exam and get back to us. Goodbye.


Me: Hi I am interested in being put forward for the role of chief tester as per the advert you posted this morning on your website.

Agency: Sure, have you already sent us your CV, Resume?

Me: Yes

Agency: OK, what is your name, let us see if we can find your CV

Me: My name is Ivor Certificate

Agency: OK Got your details – just looking at them now, you have been in testing for 8 years now, I see you also hold the ISEB qualification. That means you must know a lot about testing.

Me: No I do not.

Agency: Sorry, you said you do not?

Me: Yes I did say, no I do not know anything about testing

Agency: Then how come you have a ISEB Certification?

Me: Because I noticed that if I had this I could apply for any testing job.

Agency: So you must know something about testing?

Me: Well it is an interesting story. I paid to do the multi choice exam, sat down and completed it in 10 minutes by just randomly answering the questions. No one checks if I have any competence at testing, by luck I managed to get the pass mark required to get the certificate. Hence I am now classed as someone who must know about testing and how to test.

Agency: But it says on your CV that you have been testing for the last 8 years.

Me: Yes I have but I just go in and let others, who are not certified do all the work while I just copy what they have done and claim credit for it. So are you going to put me forward for the role?

Agency: Yes I will you meet the selection criteria, so I cannot see any problems in putting you forward.

Me: Thank You.


This may seem like a silly situation but I am sure it could happen in reality. I am not against qualification and people trying to improve themselves but when those qualifications are then used as a filter to exclude people from applying from jobs, it makes me see red.

There are some good examples of proving your ability as a good tester. You can talk to previous companies that you have worked for. They could interview you and talk to you about testing and your thoughts, problem solving ability. However this would take too much time.

I have not as yet found any roles that have stipulated that they require that you attended a Rapid Software Testing Course or The Black Box Software Testing course through the Association for Software Testing. Why is this so? Is it that these types of courses do not have the huge budget to promote themselves? Or that they try to be non profit making?

What is the solution to all of this?

I think within the testing community we need to start educating agencies and companies about how to sort out good from bad testers, how we go about this I am not sure.

Should we have a dedicated website that we can direct agencies to, to explain about certification? I feel this could be a good start and would need someone with far better web skills than myself to get running and also it would need to be unbiased as possible.

Then mail shot the CEOs at each agency when we hit this problem directing them to the website.

Do we try to do presentations at employment agency conferences?

I feel there is a need to educate agencies and companies that are looking to employ testers and give advice on how to spot the good from bad candidates but they need to get rid of the certification filter.

Another thought I had would it be a good idea to have a vetting service for testers and agencies? There could be a one stop service for agencies to verify testers, their abilities and obtain a list of people who would vouch for them.

I tried to think at the weekend if this could work or not. I have a lot of concerns about it being misused and ‘gamed’ by people who have a moral compass that is slightly off balance. How would it be funded? Would it become a monster of its own making? How would testers be vetted and vouched for? Would testers be vetted and vouched based upon their online presence? For example I am sure I could ask a few people online to vouch that I am a good tester however none of these people have worked with me and seen me carry out testing. I could be just saying the right thing at the right time to impress people – how would anyone know unless they have worked with me?

This really brings us back to the beginning of the article, agencies and companies need someway to vet testers and get some guarantee that they know about testing (regardless of which school of thought they follow). So using the certification method is an ideal way to sort out candidates quickly no matter how flawed the certification may be. Do I just bite the bullet and sit the exam if I do not want to be excluded for any testing job? Does anyone have any other methods that agencies or companies can use when they are looking for skilled testers?