Sunday, July 3, 2011

ISTQB: Possum Certification

In my last post, I talked about the concept of possum testing: Doing testing-related activities that the tester does not value, motivated on some level by fear.  I'd like to extend this concept out, and talk about the fundamental problem I have with ISTQB certification: It's a possum certification.

If possum testing is testing that the tester does not value, motivated on some level by fear, then possum certification is the acquisition of certification that the receiver does not value, and the attainment of that certification is motivated at some level by fear.

ISTQB rely on deceiving their customers that what they will be getting is a valid qualification.  They have successfully created a vicious cycle where employers believe that ISTQB certification is somehow some kind of valid measure of a tester's skill so they ask for it in their job ads.  Prospective employees see it in the job ads, and therefore think it must be a valid qualification, after all, look at all these companies asking for it, so they go out and get it.  Employers see employees with it on their CV, and thus confirm in their minds that ISTQB certification is a valid certification, after all, look at all these applicants with it on their CVs.  And on the cycle goes.  Meanwhile, ISTQB do nothing to correct the situation.  But why would they?

I can only conclude that the ISTQB is deliberately exploiting the fearful, at the point in their careers when they are the most vulnerable.  Instead of helping possums cross the road safely, they are creating a deception in the industry.  The name itself "International Software Testing Qualifications Board" has been deliberately constructed to dazzle employers into thinking it is somehow an official industry board.  They are taking our craft, and diluting it into a three day dictionary definition course, and passing it off as a legitimate qualification.  They are stifling innovation and critical thinking by indoctrinating new recruits into the field with "best practices" and definitions that don't even hold up to a moment's critical analysis.

They are making money off the fear of new testers, who fear that they aren't employable without certification, and the ignorance of employers who don't understand the field.  They perpetuate the ignorance by giving themselves an official sounding name that implies universal acceptance and authority.

To me, it is wrong for ISTQB to be intentionally misleading employers, and exploiting the fear of newbie possums.  If you feel the same way then speak out, and stop letting this ruining our profession.  Stop the spread of folklore and myth that the ISTQB syllabus teaches, and perhaps we can take back our profession from those who seek to only profit from it, rather than study it.

EDIT 21 August 2014
Karen Johnson has written an eloquent piece about certification here. If you feel the same way, then I urge you to sign the Professional Tester's Manifesto is available here:


  1. Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for this.

    I would also like to reiterate the comment that I made during KWST.

    In my view spending the companies training budget on ISTQB training courses and exams represents a misuse of company funds.

    From an ethical standpoint it is a difficult practice to defend - should you ever conceive a desire to do so.

    I just do not understand the mindset that allows people to take the sort of mental shortcut that is required to look at what the ISTQB offers and say “this is a qualification that I want to have, and will value once I have it”.



  2. I totally agree with this. but the problem is that there are no good certification for QA/Testers and for most of the small companies a certified employees are very important to catch new projects.
    We need a good certification but not like ISTQB, after I read the documentation for ISTQB, I realized that more than 80% of this documentation is only theoretically, and you just need to learn by heart the definitions from their glossary(my experience of almost 3 yeas as a tester didn't helped me to much). And this doesn't prove that you are a good tester or not.

  3. Agreed it doesn't help an experienced tester much, but i still think ISTQB helps a guy who has never done any testing get into the mix a bit quicker.

    But is this really different than any other certification in the world?

    I for one got alot out of getting a ISTQB early in my career, if for nothing else then to know some theory and yes i totaly agree that ISTQB is nothing but theory and very little which is usefull but none the less i think it's usefull to know as long as people take it for what it is and don't think it can be directly applied to the real world.

    That being said i think the foundation level is rather useless and i think advanced level could be done in 2 days.

  4. "Motivated by fear" - that is a good comment. It is true, it's like from nowhere this organisation has grown which has a kind of stranglehold on the careers of people.

    At the same time though it's an unfortunate fact that you have to cater to the lowest common denominator, and many people who know nothing about testing, will insist on it in the recruiting process. I think it's useful to have the foundation level if you get the opportunity, and it will open some doors for any tester who does. But at the same time I think it's wrong to expect that.

    I also would be interested in finding out how many of the projects which have issues in testers have ISTQB quals vs don't have.

  5. Great Post. As an aside, I was recently on the Advanced Test Analyst course with 8 other testers from various companies. The consensus was that the material was either already known to us, or entirely irrelevant to our day-to-day jobs. The instructor was keen to stress that he thought the course was a joke, and several of the practice paper questions were ambiguous or flat-out wrong. This is a money-making operation and should be held to account as such.

  6. Greetings Aaron,

    I understand your position on the ISTQB issue now :) thanks for pointing me here.

    Some comments on your post:
    What have you (or the folks of your position) asked the ISTQB to 'correct the situation'?

    In what way is(are) the ISTQB certification(s) a deceit? Besides there shiny official sounding name, that is?

    And do you truly believe that Companies are that naive and decide to do business with the ISTQB just because of their name? If that is the case then how come you or the other posters in this thread or the entire context-driven school of testing or even me are not just basing it on the name?

    I do concur that many testers get this certification "out of fear of not getting the job" or "out of greed because they want that job" but that could be said for anything in this world. There are folks that go to birthday parties just for the food or for the dance or for the other people. For anything other than the birthday guy / gal. But that doesn't mean that we are now going to say that birthday parties are illegal because "folks are using them wrong".

    There are folks that go to college and get an official looking degree that says they are a Bachelor of Science just because they feel it will earn them more money when they start working. They have no interest in the content just in the end result. But that doesn't mean that we are now going to label BS as a bad thing. And what about all those "online masters degrees" a bunch of people take those just to get that "directors position theyve been waiting for", not worried about the content at all or learning anything. Just the degree please.

    I just mentioned a few examples above in which, just because some people take the classes / courses just to get advanced does not mean that everyone does as well and therefor should be labeled a bad practice or frowned upon by the rest of us.



    There are folks

  7. Aaron,

    Regarding the manifesto. I'm afraid I would also pass on signing this. Instead of a manifesto is sounds (and it is not my intent to offend anyone who wrote it or its signers) but it sounds, to me, like an anti certification whine.

    I expected to read a manifesto that would encourage me to sign it by promoting unity within our community, variety and values shared by all of us, regardless of if we belong to a school of thought or not. Instead I found an anti-cert anti-standard rant that I do not identify with; so I was disappointed.



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