The Standards Panic – Keep Calm and Test

The Tester Twittersphere is panicking. Well, at least that is my impression. All of a sudden certifications for testers and ISO 29119 seem to be our biggest problem and to attack our very being. A petition against the standard was set up. And here I sit and I cannot understand the panic.

Let’s start with the certifications. In a wonderful blog post Karen Nicole Johnson outlines her views on certifications and makes some valid points, eg.

  • a certificate doesn’t make you a good tester
  • there are certificate holders who I do not trust with testing
  • there are testers who I do trust with testing, who do not hold a certifcate
  • that a baseline is not enough and no certificate can cover all the specifics of different business verticals and testing tasks

All of that is very true. Well, call me naive, but I figure that nobody (who is to be taken seriously on that matter) ever claimed these things in the first place. It might be that the marketing machinery of certification agencies did and does, but who gives a….

It might be a cultural thing, but the german speaking world is very well used to standards and certificates. And also well versed as to how to interpret them. It might be because of that general background that I do not take all that dead serious (might be my Austrian nature as well). We do take a lot of exams throughout our education and our professional career, and everybody is very well aware, what a given “certificate” represents. So, let’s take them as what they are or are meant to be. Basic common ground.

Let me also tell you what these certification’s positive impact was. It actually helped creating and forming an image of a professional tester in its own right. It helped to explain to a lot of people that software testing is a craft, is an art, is an engineering profession as well as development is. Mind you, it might be that in other parts of the world this was understood that way 2 decades ago as well.
I can tell you: here it was not. Here it was an accepted “truth” that testing was “playing around” and “trying out” a piece of software. A task, which can be done by everybody. Preferably the people “too dumb to code”. The syllabi at least (and at most) defined a basic skillset and made people aware that there is more to that profession.

I could not agree more when someone says that it is completely wrong make a hiring decision based on a certificate. Some of the best testers I hired throughout my career did not have one. Others had. It never influenced my decision! However, I definitely let them attend additional trainings. Certified tester trainings as well as many others. Because there are a lot of different skills which help you in your job.

But frankly, the certificate is not the problem. The problem is when you do not get a job without one. The problem lies with mistaking a certificate for the real thing. The problem lies with the people and organisations hiring!

So, from my point of view, Karen’s points are correct, but fail to address the underlying problem. Don’t blame the certificates. They are the mere result of a deeper rooted issue!

The same is true with the ISO 29119. From what I saw in the last 24 hours there is a big fear that it might be “the end of testing”, “make software worse” and “big consultancies will take over the testing world”.

For one: the takeover by big consultancies has started several years ago. There is no “big” test consulting company out there, which has not its own approach, its “standard method”, which is of course superior to the method of other consulting companies, “as has been shown in many successful projects”.  Go figure!

Second. Standards come, standards go, and standards have been part of the software development for the last decades as well. And so many projects have been developed and tested, well and not that well, adhering, ignoring or unknowing of these standards. If all development would follow (ISO) standards, as far as I know there would not be one agile project out there.

As I say, standards come and go. Who can remember the time when all of a sudden every company had to be ISO 9000/9001 certified? Who cares today? And yes, a lot of companies made a lot of money. Still, the improvements made due to this movement where helpful and did add also to quality. But more often than not due to the fact that companies started to look closely on their processes and not due to the certification.

It would be ridiculous to assume that a standard can cover everything with regard to testing. It can only be limited in nature and wont be updated as fast as some technologies or methodologies evolve. But I do not fear the standard. Because as a professional I do believe in my prowess to explain to people and customers what it is about and what it is worth. And yes, I do believe that bits and pieces can be useful. You know: every model is wrong, but some are useful!

As with the certificates, the standard in itself is not the problem. The problem might arise as to what people make of it. But at that point, address the real problem!

And basically, in my experience these problems tend to resolve themselves rather quickly.

Therefore – keep calm and test!

ps: if you know really good testers in my area who cannot get a job due to not having a certificate – we are hiring 🙂



This post is also available in: German

One thought on “The Standards Panic – Keep Calm and Test

  1. Many standards are based on fact or at least a reasonable consensus. These standards are not. I was shocked at how very terrible, inaccurate, and outdated they were. The more I learned, the less content I was to ever repeat one of these standards. I disagree with many of them.

    An incomplete and impefect standard is still a good place to start. These aren’t factual, based in validity, or even a good starting place. The standards are of low quality. I consider them much worse than nothing. For a standard to have value, it must meet a minimum bar of validity and quality. It seem ironic that we fail, when the topic is quality.

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