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

This is the second part of tester and uTest Enterprise Test Team Lead Lucas Dargis’ journey on becoming ISTQB-certified. Be sure to check out Part One from useravataryesterday.

The test

After about 3 minutes, I realized just how ridiculous the test was. Some of the questions were so obvious it was insulting, some were so irrelevant they were infuriating, and others were so ambiguous all you could do was guess.

Interestingly, testers with experience in context-driven testing will actually be at a disadvantage on this test. When you understand that the context of a question influences the answer, you realize that many of the questions couldn’t possibly have only one correct answer, because no context was specified.

You are allotted 60 minutes to complete the test, but I was done and out of the building in 27 minutes. That I finished quickly wasn’t because I knew all the answers — it was rather the exact opposite. Most of the questions were so silly, that all I could do was select answers randomly. Here are two examples:

Who should lead a walkthrough review?” – Really? I was expected to memorize all the participants of all the different types of meetings, most of which I’ve never seen any team actually utilize?

Test cases are designed during which testing phase?” – Umm…new tests and test cases should be identified and designed at all phases of the project as things change and your understanding develops.

According to the syllabus, there are “right” answers to all the questions, but most thinking testers, those not bound by the rigidness of “best practices,” will struggle because you know there is no right answer.

Despite guessing on many questions, I ended up passing the exam, but that really wasn’t a surprise. The test only requires a 65% to pass, so  a person could probably pass with minimal preparation, simply making educated guesses. I left the test in a pretty grumpy mood.

The aftermath

For the next few days, I was annoyed. I felt like I had completely wasted my time. But then I started thinking about why I took the test in the first place, and what that certification really meant. As a tester striving to become an expert, I wanted to know for myself what certifications were about. Well — now I have first-hand experience with the process. I’m able to talk about certifications more intelligently because my opinions and views about them are my own, not borrowed from others.

Former tennis great Arthur Ashe once said, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” I think this sums up certifications well. For me, there was no value in the destination (passing the exam). I’m not proud of it, and I don’t think it adds to or detracts from my value as a tester. However, I felt there was value in the journey.

Through my studying, I actually did learn a thing our two about testing. I was able to build some structure around the basic testing concepts. I learned some new testing terms that I have used to help explain concepts such as tester independence. Studying gave me practice analyzing and questioning the “instructional” writing of others (some of which I found inaccurate, misleading or simply worthless). The whole process gave me insight into what is being taught, which helps me better understand why some testers and test managers believe and behave the way they do.

But more importantly, I became aware of the way I formulate opinions and of how susceptible I am to the teachings of confident and powerful people.

The lessons I learned from testing leaders early in my career freed me from the constraints of the traditional ways of thinking about testing, but in return, I took on the binds associated with more modern testing thinking. Ultimately, I came to a conclusion similar to that of many wise testers before me, but I did so on my terms, in a way that I’m satisfied with.

One day, I hope to have a conversation with some of the more boisterous certification opponents and say, “I decided to get certified, in part, because you were so adamantly against it. I don’t do it out of defiance, but rather out of a quest for deeper understanding.”

If you made it this far, I thank you for sharing this journey with me. Make a mention that you finished the story in the Comments below, and I’ll send you a pony.

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26 Comments
  • Chris Kenst says:

    Lucas,

    I’m glad you learned something from the journey and now you can speak from experience when talking about a subject. It’s easy to pick up something someone says, think it makes sense, without actually walking through logic. We’ve probably all done it (I’m speaking from experience!).

    In terms of learning more about software testing (the journey towards becoming an expert) have you looked into the Black Box Software Testing (BBST) classes? They’re university-level coursework and one of the best ways, in my experience, to learn about the foundational elements of software testing. The material is available online for free (testingeducation.org/BBST) but you can also pay to take the classes. The classes have a good mix of theoretical and practical knowledge with hands on exercises where you get feedback on how well you did. Plus they were created by a well known expert in Software Testing – Cem Kaner.

    • Lucas Dargis says:

      Hi Chris,

      Yup, I’m quite familiar with both Dr. Kaner and the BBST classes. I’l be taking the Foundations course this fall and am looking forward to it!

      Thanks for reading and the comment

  • Graeme Harvey says:

    Great post Lucas! I had previously considered trying out the certification despite the fact I don’t personally agree with it (and opinion formulated on my own, but with help from the context-driven leaders). Your post has got me thinking about this again.

    Interestingly enough, not too long ago a family friend reached out to me and asked about my profession (software testing, obviously). They said they were interested in getting into testing as a career, and had heard “there were courses you can take to be a certified tester in a very short time”. Given I have invested years into growing into this career and finding my path, I was taken aback by such a view (and quite frankly, almost offended). It frustrated me to find out that people believe all you have to do is take a test to become a marketable, and sought-after tester. I believe this is the impression that ISTQB and other certifications are giving. “Want to become a tester? Take our course and exam and you’re set!”

    I (as I’m sure many, many others) have spent years working in different testing environments and learning from mentors, blogs, conferences, etc. This had led to an eclectic background that I feel gives me a far stronger edge in testing than a certification can provide.

    Again, thanks for sharing!

    • Lucas Dargis says:

      Thanks comment Graeme,

      I’ve had similar experiences and it frustrates me too, but that’s our struggle. It’s up to us to continue to evangelize the merits of sound testing education and critical thinking.

  • Mirlan Bayaman says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience! Good to know the route before the journey.

  • Andrew chanthaphone says:

    Lucas,

    What a great blog thanks. I also find certs to be over stated at times. I have met over the years people who have a PMP cert and are awful project managers. I always feel it’s something to add to your resume but not always something to say you’re a great project manager. Don’t get me wrong, I have met a plenty who fit the bill but not that many. Just like when I was a BA and wanted to get the great CBAP (Certified Business Analysis Professional) cert. That cert had some crazy requirements but not many employers I’ve talked to even knew it existed.

    When I decided I wanted to be a tester and not a BA anymore, it was the first thing I looked at. What certs should I get and will it help me. I guess what prompted me to look at them was some job descriptions saying having them was “preferred”. I realize now it’s what I know and to be able to talk and show it means more. I think what is hard is passing those computerized resume filters to even get a phone call or interview, sometimes I feel it’s a catch 22.

    Great blog!

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