I’ve got problem and its called the ISEB exam

“Ordinary examinations … tend to favor the accumulators of knowledge rather than the thinkers” …  Tweet

“I’m certified dog trainer. I’ve never actually trained a dog, nor seen a dog in real life. But I bought a book & passed an expensive course” … a quote I saw and though apt.

Credit to Cartoon Tester

I’ve got a irritating itch – and its called the ISEB exam.  This exam is seen by many as an essential qualification to enter into testing; it shouldn’t be.  I see it as a money generating exercise for the ISEB board and those that host the courses.  I find it isn’t a good indicator of a candidates ability.   Lets also put aside my belief that I think testing is a role that should be shared by everyone (business analysis’s, developers and PM’s) and not just the exclusive domain of a ‘qualified few’.  I also find a large section of the ISEB Test to be unfair, some of the questions fail to check your understanding but instead attempts to check your command of language and syntax.  Let me give you an example:

Question: 1 + 1 = ?

  1. -1+2*3/2
  2. Square root of 1 * 2 +1
  3. 4–3-5
  4. -4+-2

You know the answer – but the options presented to you are deliberately confusing and designed to catch you out. The answer is ‘2’ but if you pick the wrong option does this mean you don’t know the answer?  No.  Quite a few of the questions in the ISEB exam are structured in this way and I find them deliberately complicated and I suspect – structured so people are more likely to fail.  This is particularly unfair if English isn’t your first language.  Many crash courses now teach people how to just pass the exam – they don’t actually take time to teach the principles and understanding.  This means people pass the exam but often have no clear understanding of underlying concepts.  We live in a industry where people now mistake knowledge for understanding.

The ISEB qualification had little meaning to me on inception – it has even less now.  What it does mean is that people can speak  a common language and feel qualified.  I am ISEB Practitioner qualified – and I personally found 85% of the course irrelevant (to reality) and more importantly, of little use in the real word.  I got to put a shiny new qualification next to my name that had no real use.  It also started to have a negative effect on me – if I received a call saying that “Company X are looking for tester with ISEB qualifications only” .. I then thought the Test Manger in charge woud likely be clueless and the project heading into trouble.  You can’t buy in expertise with a template qualification.  I understand it makes people feel better about the rates they pay – but it doesn’t mean the people are worth those rates*.  I don’t need this  exam or qualification to tell me if someone is ‘good enough’ – I just need to speak to them for 10 mins.

Other reasons:

  1. *There was a lage testing consultancy I knew (Imago QA).  It recruited graduates (from any discipline) including bricklayers put them through the course until they passed and then put them on client sites at a very high rates.
  2. I know software professionals that now ‘feel’ they have to get the qualification because everyone else has.  Not because they need it.
  3. Its become a tick in the box by companies that want to feel better about putting employees on a cheap training course.
  4. The ISEB foundation should not be taken as a indicator of quality.
Its odd – but the qualification has become self perpetuating as a result of its ubiquity. Ubiquity does not mean it is useful.

I’ve also spotted a new trait and excuse used by a new breed of lazy developers – “we aren’t qualified testers, we don’t know how to test” ……to which I reply “Everyone is responsible for testing”.  Testing shouldn’t be viewed as an isolated part of the software development lifecycle, everyone, particularly developers should be involved in testing (see increasing quality).

Key Takeaways:

  • Knowledge does not equate to understanding
  • Everyone involved in the SDLC should be involved and responsible for testing to some degree – Testing should not be isolated and discrete phase of the SDLC.
  • Testing experience is more important than a ISEB qualification

You don’t need this qualification to get a job – the qualification needs you more than you need it.


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