Certified and Proud? A Tester’s Journey: Part I

useravatarA Gold-rated tester and Enterprise Test Team Lead (TTL) at uTest, Lucas Dargis has been an invaluable fixture in the uTest Community for 2 1/2 years, mentoring hundreds of testers and championing them to become better testers. As a software consultant, Lucas has also led the testing efforts of mission-critical and flagship projects for several global companies.

Here, 2013 uTester of the Year Lucas Dargis here shares his journey on becoming ISTQB-certified, and also tackles some of the controversy surrounding certifications.

In case you missed it, testing certification is somewhat of a polarizing topic. Sorry for stating the obvious, but I needed a good hook and that’s the best I could come up with. What follows is the story of my journey to ISTQB certification, and how and why I pursued it in the first place. My reasons and what I learned might surprise you, so read on and be amazed!

Certifications are evil

Early in my testing career, I was a sponge for information. I indiscriminately absorbed every piece of testing knowledge I could get my hands on. I guess that makes sense for a new tester — I didn’t know much, so I didn’t know what to believe and what to be suspicious of. I also didn’t have much foundational knowledge with which to form my own opinions.

As you might expect, one of the first things I did was look into training and certifications. I quickly found that the pervasive opinion towards certifications (at least the opinion of thought leaders I was learning from) was that they were at best a waste of time, and at worst, a dangerous detriment to the testing industry.

In typical ignoramus (It’s a word, I looked it up) fashion, I embraced the views of my industry leaders as my own, even though I didn’t really understand them. Anytime someone would have something positive to say about certification, I’d recite all the anti-certification talking points I’d learned as if I was an expert on the topic. “You’re an idiot” and “I’d never hire a certified tester” were phrases I uttered more than once.

A moment of clarity

Then one fine day, I was having a heated political debate with one of my friends (I should clarify…ex-friend). We had conflicting views on the topic of hula hoop subsidies. He could repeat the points the talking heads on TV made, but when I challenged him, asking prodding questions trying to get him to express his own unique ideas, he just went around in circles (see what I did there?).

Like so many other seemingly politically savvy people, his views and opinions were formed for him by his party leaders. He had no experience or expertise in the area we were debating, but he sure acted like the ultimate authority. Suddenly, it dawned on me that despite my obviously superior hip-swiveling knowledge, I wasn’t that much different from him. My views on certifications and the reasons behind those views came from someone else.

As a tester, I pride myself on my ability to question everything, and to look at situations objectively in order to come to a useful and informative conclusion. But when it came to certifications, I was adopting the opinions of others and acting like I was an expert in an area I knew nothing about. After that brief moment of clarity, I realized how foolish I’d been, and felt quite embarrassed. I needed to find the truth about certifications myself.

Now let me pause here for a second to clarify that I’m not saying everyone should go take a certification test so they can have first-hand experience. I think we all agree that it’s prudent to learn from the experience of others. For example, not all of us have put our hand in a fire, but we all know that if you do, it will get burned.

It’s perfectly fine to let other people influence your opinions as long as you are honest about the source of those opinions. For example, say:

Testers I respect have said that testing certificates are potentially dangerous and a waste of time. Their views make sense to me, so it’s my opinion that testers should look for other ways to improve and demonstrate their testing abilities.

However, if you’re going to act like an expert who has all the answers, you should probably be an expert who has all the answers.

Studying for the exam

I took my preparation pretty seriously. Most of my studying material came from this book which I read several times. I spent a lot of time reading the syllabus, taking practice exams and downloading a few study apps on my phone. I also looked through all the information on the ISTQB site, learning all I could about the organization and the exam.

Since I knew all the anti-certification rhetoric about how this test simply measures your ability to memorize, I memorized all the key points from the syllabus (such as the 7 testing principles). But I also took my studying further, making sure I understood the concepts so I could answer the K3 and K4 (apply and analyze) questions.

Headed into the test, I felt quite confident that I was going to ace it.

Be sure check out the second part of Lucas’ story at the uTest Blog.

Comments

  1. Viktor Slavchev says

    Great article Lucas. To me certification is a good excuse for a tester to only look like knowing some stuff, but actually keeping himself out of some real productive tasks. And being honest, I don’t really think someone in software testing needs book smart testers or university graduates.
    So my advice would be for the novice testers or even the experienced ones, guys spend your time to do some real work on testing – explore tools, write blog articles, go to conferences, share knowledge with the community and in general keep yourself busy with the valuable stuff, instead of wasting your time on memorizing definitions and “best practices”.

    • Lucas Dargis says

      Thanks Viktor,

      You’re right that there are many folks who have become quite successful testers without any formal education, let alone testing-specific eduction. However, there are some companies, managers, and testers that feel strongly enough about certifications to make them mandatory. For better or for worse, testers in those situations do NEED a certification.

      This is simply the way it is whether some folks like it or not. People give certifications their power, not the other way around. As long as enough people see value in them, certifications will continue to be relevent.

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