ISTQB software testing qualifications

There has been much said about the ISTQB software testing certificates. Many software testing positions now require them, yet others seem to not really put much weight on them. So what’s the deal? Is it worth investing the time and money? Does having one open more opportunities for you? What do they actually test?

Firstly, a bit of background. For many years, software testing was very much an afterthought. Even though testing methods and principles are as old as software itself, many commercial software companies (especially smaller ones) didn’t invest too much into software testing. Schedule overruns were usually taken out of QA time, and quality was more often than not left up to the developers.

With the rise of agile methodologies and the widespread adoption of various testing frameworks, there has been an increase in focus on QA activities. The trouble is, there is no real software testing discipline. You can’t get a degree in software testing. You can’t even major in it.

The ISTQB certificate solves some of these problems. It provides a uniform knowledge base line (now available in over 50 countries) and covers basic concepts, terminology, technical methods and the ISO standards relating to software testing documentation. For many who have a formal education in software (either computer scientists, software engineering graduates etc) this will have been covered in software quality units or modules.

So why do it?

Well, if you have a software or IT related degree, you don’t need to. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are sure you want to pursue a career in the QA area of IT. If however you don;t have formal qualifications in IT, and want to get into software testing, this is an ideal certificate.

It isn’t for the weak though. You will need to know some basic things about software and how programs work to be able to get anything out of it.

The actual course content (for the ISTQB foundation level certificate) isn’t particularly difficult. There is some terminology that you will have to learn (definitions of defects, errors, roles etc.). There will be sections on the various types of testing such as static and dynamic analysis, software testing methods (eg boundary value analysis, truth tables flow charts, finite state machines) as well as development processes and the general software development cycle.

The questions in the exam are not very hard, however the phrasing is something you should look out for. Non-english speakers may be eligible for extra time, and if your understanding of english is not very good, you may have trouble understanding the questions.

The exam itself is very balanced, with each chapter having more or less the same amount of questions. Practice exams is essential as it will give you an insight into how the multiple choice questions are phrased, and some of the logic behind the answers. Many questions need to be solved via a process of elimination rather than directly, and some questions are quite tricky.

The ISTQB certification is ideal for people who are just beginning a career in software testing. If you are already a professional software tester with more than a couple of years of experience you’ll probably get little out of it. If you’re background isn’t in IT but you have worked with IT people (eg as a business analyst) you will also benefit from it.

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