I did a bad thing last week
Last week I attended the BCS SIGIST (no, that isn’t the bad thing!). As usual, the day was well spent and enjoyable – Michael Bolton was excellent, as expected.
One of the presenters was Lloyd Roden. Lloyd is a very good speaker, I have heard speak him a few times and I like to listen to him. Lloyd belongs to Grove Consultants and I have enormous respect for Grove and the people in it, having recommended them to a number of people and I will continue to recommend them. His presentation this time was on his top ten controversies in Software testing and it was very entertaining, Lloyd is good at that. I agreed with his view on 8.5 of his top ten. The one I had a major disagreement was on certifications. Lloyds view is that they are useful, I disagree. That is not a bad thing that I disagree, however, I became incensed by his argument, interrupted rudely and argued with him whilst he was doing the presentation – that was the bad thing. I should have talked to him off-line, not interrupted and argued during his presentation, especially not argued with him whilst annoyed, as I was. Lloyd did a very good job of shutting me up politely, well done to him.
I have emailed Lloyd with an apology, and let this be a public apology.
What got me annoyed?
Lloyd argued that other professions use certifications, and he gave examples, therefore we should too. He also said that ISEB/ISQTB are good because they give common terminology. There are fallacies in this argument, as I see it, as follows:
Other professions do use certifications, it is true. There is a big difference, however, between the examples given and what we have in ISEB. The big difference is that professional certifications, like CORGI (now the Gas Safe Register), which was one of Lloyd’s examples, require the person who is certified to not only undergo training, but to show their competency. They can also have their work inspected to show that they do good, safe, work. From my own life, as I have mentioned before in this blog, I enjoy Ballroom and Latin American dancing (see http://www.sqablogs.com/petenairn/783/Dancing+is+like+Testing.html). I am currently training to be a Dance Teacher. I will (hopefully) get certified and to get that certification, I need to know the theory but also to demonstrate that I can actually dance as part of getting my certification. I cannot even study to become a teacher until I have passed other tests that show I can dance to a reasonable level. These are measures of competency and knowledge
What do you have to do with ISEB? Turn up to a testing station, answer some multiple choice questions and hey presto, you are a certified tester! Yes, you can go on a training course and even if you don’t then you will have to do some self study. But, you do not have to show you can test. This certification is, therefore, a measure of knowledge, not competency. See my previous entry for where the two can become confused http://www.sqablogs.com/petenairn/2296/Certifications+don%26%2339%3Bt+give+competency.html
To be fair to Lloyd, he made it clear that you can be a good tester with no certification and you can be a bad tester and have certification, which I agree with. So, I have to ask, what is the value of having the certification in that case? I find it difficult to respect a certificate if someone who has never tested software can pass the exam – and I personally know of two people who have done just that. If I know of two people, how many other people have also passed the exam who have never tested? How is that certificate valuable?
Is there a way of measuring the competency of a tester by the use of an independent body? This is where it is very difficult for a national or international certificate to be devised. I don’t have an answer to it, except to say that when I was at IBM, we had an internal certification program whereby you had to show competency before getting that certificate. It worked reasonably well, I was on the board that examined testers request for certification and we were very stringent in making sure we understood whether the person was competent enough to get that certificate. Certification wasn’t done by the use of a test, but by examining the actual work that the tester had done on one or more projects. That has its flaws too and I am not convinced in my own mind that the flaws outweighed the benefits, but it is a better measure than only sitting a test.
The real problem with the certification of testers, is the view that companies and recruiters take with respect to the certificate. I see a number of job adverts with certification as a requirement to even apply. This tells me that that the industry ascribes more weight to the certificate than it deserves.
Being able to apply for jobs is the only reason I got the certificate! Does that make me a hypocrite? Possibly, probably, but feeding my family is more important than principles to me. I wonder how many other testers took the test for the same reason? Is that a good reason for having a certificate? It appears to me to be the only valid reason I can find, but it isn’t a good reason.
Turning to the point about common terminology, which is another argument for doing certification, this is also fallacious. Common terms exist, but what people mean by them is different in the context of the company, project, test manager involved, culture, etc, etc. I don’t believe we will ever all agree on what is “common” because it always varies, even if slightly, depending on what you are doing at the time. In some professions common terminology is vital, e.g. if one surgeon calls an organ a “heart”, it is useful if the assistants on the operating table know what is meant. If we were all doing the same project at the same time, then common terminology would be important, but software development isn’t like that.
One other point I would like to make is that there is a difference between getting the certification and getting the training. I have heard the argument that certifications are a good way for consultancies and training companies to make money out of training courses. This may be true for some organisations where they only teach people to pass the exam. Some organisations, however, provide education on testing and also teach people how to pass the exam. The former are doing the industry no good, the latter are definitely performing a good service. I put Grove in the latter category – I have not been on one of their training courses, but people I know and respect have and from what they tell me and from the course materials I have seen, the courses are good. And, no, I do not have any affiliation to Grove whatsoever!
The arguments both for and against certifications can get emotional (as I did at SIGIST); I suspect the arguments will continue for some time and there will not be a successful conclusion for either viewpoint.
Last point from Lloyd’s presentation was the other 0.5 I disagreed with. He stated that Test Managers should set aside time each week to test. I think this is something we managers should do, but only if it makes sense on the project. When I have over 50 testers to manage, my time is better spent on managing than doing. By “better” I mean better for the project, better for the company, better for me and better for the testers – I am paid to manage, not to execute tests. I will expand on this in a future blog entry.
So, once again, sorry, Lloyd, for my behaviour – I won’t do it again. Shall we agree to disagree?