I am glad to share the latest article I wrote for utest.com forum of testers globally as a part of their #BackToSchool campaign – where writers are sharing their experience with formal education , degrees and certifications on their profession.
I was excited as soon as I read about the #BackToSchool campaign on http://www.utest.com. As someone who has 5 certifications and numerous conferences to my credit, I definitely needed to share my insight and experience here.
Please read and like my article on the forum at
For a background – I am certified by ISTQB at – Foundation Level (CTFL), Advanced Level Test Analyst (ISTQB Adv TA) and Certified Test Manager (ISTQB Adv TM).
I am also certified by Agile Test Alliance ATA body at 2 levels—Master Agile Tester (MAT) and Automation Agile Tester (AAT)
Just to clarify– none of these certifications were a mandate for my job or a part of my yearly ‘goals’ as some companies I have now heard do to their entry or mid-level testers.
Why did I take these up?
I took up all these certification exams at different points of my career for different purposes.
When I started out my career, I was working as a tester in a start-up like company where I had minimum guidance or hand-holding into the testing world, its terminologies and processes, during being responsible for a huge project in its nascent stage. After about a year of working I had begun to realize that there were some things missing in my knowledge. Though I had learnt about writing test cases and had gotten pretty good at finding bugs and reporting them, I hardly knew the broader perspective of why we did what we did and what the industry outside was working with. I did not have any software background before that and did not study it in my college course too. So I decided to take up some kind of course of learning about the basics to gain confidence about my own work. I looked up online and found out about ISTQB which seemed to be the most popular course and certification for entry level software testers. I started to study for the same. I bought a book, researched online, and did self-study instead of taking up a training course. The course is designed to open up the complete picture of software testing world in front of you so that being in any industry or domain or level of testing, you can relate to where you are and what is the process around you. Every day I learnt about more types of testing that can be done, what they meant. I appeared for the exam and cleared it. But the purpose it solved for me was more than the certification. It was making me confident about what I was doing, what improvements I could suggest in my processes and even what terms we were using wrongly in our team. It also made me stand out amongst my peers – not because of the certificate only (start-ups hardly care about that right) but because of this drive to improve myself and my team and the knowledge I could now share.
Note – That is why I suggest the best time to do this exam is at the onset of your testing career, probably up to 2 years into it.
This later inspired me to take up the next level (ISTQB TA) which is supposed to be an extended level for functional testers at a senior level. I studied for the course just the same, but the exam experience was a lot different from the foundation level. It was a more scenario based exam wherein I had to apply the learnt lessons into real-world like situations and exercise decision-making. That was fun – and probably that is a reason why the pass-rate is so much lower for advanced levels.
After a couple of years of doing both these, I felt now I had reached a place where they did not suffice my needs. I was in a dynamic team working in Scrum and needed a more hands-on learning. I wanted to interact with people outside my team. I looked up online and stumbled upon ATA and their 3-day program happening in a nearby city. I talked to my company and being the supportive group they were always, they agreed to sponsor me! So, I went and participated in the CP-MAT (Certified Professional-Master Agile Tester) program by ATA. Now, that was fun! I met a small group of people from different companies and had deep discussions on their experiences, the trainers who had fun team exercises planned all along and a very hands-on final exam which required actual agile tester skills.
A month after it, ATA approached me and invited for their next level training and also offered me a train-the-trainer program since they liked my drive and skills. I was interested to give it a try and so decided to go for that. I did not ask for sponsorship again from the company though, just the leaves for those days. So, I went ahead and did the CP-AAT program which was based on behaviour-driven development using Cucumber tool and its integration with Fitness tool. Since my team was not into any of these practices, I never got to use the knowledge I gained in this program. So I thought it was too specific and confined.
So, now you know about why I did each of these and that they just sort of happened over my 8+ years in the industry.
What I gained from them?
As I explained, from my first ISTQB CTFL and TA certificates, I gained insight into correct testing processes and terms, and knowledge about the things that were not happening in my team. This gave me confidence that I was relevant around the industry and to share opinions in the team at an early stage in my career. But yes, it definitely also was a plus that I could put it in my resume and increase my chances of being shortlisted for interviews, because many companies find it as a plus.
From the Agile Testing certifications I gained the insight into agile and how testing should fit in and all the hats a tester must wear for the team to succeed. Since then I progressed into a mentor and leader’s role and also acted as a scrum master and agile pod leader, so it must have helped in some way.
It didn’t hurt that it also brought some credibility and value to my profile. So, when I had to move to another city and find a new job a year later, I wasn’t worried about the switch because of the background I had created for myself. It also pushed up my biography when I wanted to submit proposals to talk at national level conferences and I got the opportunity to speak there.
What I did not gain from them?
Please be sure that though some companies may give preference to certified candidates or they may get shortlisted quicker, but a certificate can never replace actual knowledge. The interview process has to ensure that you have practical experience and knowledge instead of just having cleared a few exams.
Agile teams, start-up teams and communities like u-test do not require any kind of certificates, they need real skills.
If you have worked extensively around the industry and gained that experience, good enough!
If you have self-taught yourself by keeping updated with different skill sets, good enough!
If you have had great mentors who have guided you through the learning, good enough!
If you have studied for different courses and learnt the skills of the industry, good enough!
All study must be done with the aim of learning and gaining some skills and not to get some certificate. The advantages of having the certificate are shallow and short lived as compared to the learnings you get. Do a course only if it has relevance for the level and point in your career and if you have learnt enough without it, so be it. Some certificates even require to keep upgrading or reappearing every few years to ensure that your skills are still relevant.
The real knowledge will come from practical application of the learnings and skills and that is what will distinguish you from the crowd!