Test Vendor Certifications

Are They Worth It?

Quality Assurance and Test Professionals need to update and maintain their technical skills on a regular basis. With ever-changing technologies, methodologies, and platforms, it is difficult to choose a "specialty." One option is to become certified in a particular vendor test tool. Is this certification worth your time? What types of certifications should testers receive?

As Quality Assurance and Test Professionals, our goal is to make sure that we are of constant value to our organization. Technologies and platforms such as XML/SOAP, .NET, and J2EE force us to continually change with the times and keep our skills current. In these constantly changing environments, how can testers keep up? What skills do we really need to "prove our worth?" The objective of this article is to explore whether test vendor certifications are actually worth your time, money, and effort.

What Does it Mean to be "Certified"?
The Quality Assurance Institute (QAI) has it. The American Society for Quality (ASQ) has it. So do Microsoft, Red Hat, Sun, IBM, Citrix, and Cisco. Certification means that you have taken and passed an exam (or several exams) that demonstrate your proficiency in a particular vendor's product and/or methodology. Certification shows your employer (or potential employer) that you have the knowledge to work with a particular vendor's hardware or software. But, what does it really mean to receive certification from a test tool vendor?

The Certification Process
Let's examine what processes are in place for the commercial software vendors. One must first research what is involved in actually getting certified in the vendor's product. Some vendors offer certification through a correspondence course. This means that you can take their "test" at your own pace, and send in the results.

In the mid to late 1990s I received a test tool certification from a commercial vendor through this method. The test was very trivial, at best. It asked me questions about where certain things were in the application rather than how to implement the tool. It resembled a "Where's Waldo" kind of certification rather than anything meaningful. The test was easy, and really did not challenge me. In addition, the certification did not carry any influence with the companies who were looking to hire test engineers.

Traditional certifications started out as multiple-choice tests, which did not vary from each test taker. This allowed those who are great test takers to get certified without any real-world experience with the product.

In order for their certifications to carry any weight, all test tool vendors should follow the same process as the major companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Novell, Red Hat, as well as organizations like the Quality Assurance Institute and the Association for Software Quality. The test should be structured in a way that not just anyone can pass it. The test should also be administered at a regional testing facility. In addition, the test should reflect a person's real work experience with the software. For example, the major vendor's above, now offer what are known as adaptive tests. An adaptive test begins by giving you a question with a moderate level of difficulty. Depending on your answers, the questions will get either more difficult or less difficult. The test ends when the system concludes that you have answered enough questions with sufficient ability to pass. However, the exam will also end if too many easy questions are presented. In other words, the program either approves or disapproves of your ability to pass the test or answer any more questions in the exam.

Case study exam questions would also enhance the test. Microsoft offers case-study questions in their latest certification exams. This is used as a means to simulate as accurately as possible what real-world users do on the job. Case study questions would allow test vendors to increase the level of difficulty in their exams, as well as test analytical skills as they relate to the implementation of the test tool.

Any exam offered by the major test tool vendors should not be "too easy." The entire process should thoroughly challenge your knowledge of the software. I would personally like to see a joint venture between organizations such as the Quality Assurance Institute and the major test tool vendors. A standard core curriculum and adaptive strategy to certified quality assurance professionals in test automation could be developed. For example, just as someone could earn an MCSE + Internet certification from Microsoft, QAI, or ASQ (or some other QA certification body), something like the Certified Software Test Engineer (CSTE) + "[X Test Tool Vendor]" could be offered. This would allow one to gain specific knowledge in a particular area (i.e., capacity planning, performance tuning, etc.) using a particular test vendor's tool.

In addition, a test tool vendor certification should not saturate the market, as the Microsoft Certified Software Engineers (MCSE) did. The easier the process, the more "paper certified" individuals there will be in the marketplace. There should be a continual effort by all vendors to update and improve their examinations. The more challenging the process and exam, the more confident you will feel that the certification process was worth your time and effort.

Should you get test tool certified?
People have to answer this question for themselves. My opinion is that anything one does to improve oneself is worth the effort. The litmus test of certifications is one's ability to implement those skills on the job. The certification does not make you better than the next applicant. Education for specific work happens on the job and it is a continual process.
Another question one should ask is, "Why get the test tool certification in the first place?" Is it to secure a new job, improve your skill set, increase your knowledge with a tool, or increase your income? Probably the broader question is, "Will anyone care?" Perhaps most important, will you care?

As a child my mother and father always taught me to never stop learning. The ultimate goal should be self development. Carefully examine test vendor certifications and see if they are right for you. Will you learn more than you know already, or are you just getting a stamped piece of paper? What is your opinion?


About the author

AgileConnection is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.