Extra stepping stone makes testing less of a trial

Stepping stonesAs the relatively young profession of software testing gradually matures, certification is changing to keep up. ISEB has just updated the content and structure of its practitioner level and added a stepping stone to reach that standard, as Helen Boddy reports.

Certification in software testing, like the industry, is relatively young. The first software testing certification in the UK was launched by ISEB just nine years ago for entry level, foundation. The next rung up, practitioner level, was added to ISEB's qualification portfolio in 2002.
In those nine years, interest in the ISEB certifications has ramped up, as the industry itself gradually matures. From 1,300 candidates taking the ISEB Foundation in Software Testing in the first year (1999-2000), numbers reached 10,000 last year. In total, 46,000 candidates have now sat the examination worldwide.

The ISEB Software Testing Practitioner Certificate was launched in 2002 and has similarly grown in popularity. Last year, more than 800 candidates took the practitioner exam, which covered test analysis and test management theory and practice.

Several factors combined last year to make the time right for ISEB to start reviewing the practitioner syllabus, for which the courses and examinations are now appearing. One reason was that ISEB wished to bring the practitioner level in line with the ISEB integrated qualification portfolio. To do so, it has added an extra level between foundation and practitioner - the intermediate - and split the practitioner level into two different streams - test analysis and test management.

'By bringing the qualification in line with the structure of the other ISEB qualifications, it makes career progression for software practitioners much clearer,' believes Angelina Samaroo of Pinta Education. 'There is then a defined route to reaching BCS Chartered IT status (CITP).'

By adding the intermediate level, ISEB has also addressed the need for a bridge between foundation and practitioner level.

'With the "old style" Practitioner qualification most companies offered a 10-day course which was a long time to invest in a single qualification, when many topics were not relevant to all partcipants,' says Samaroo.

ISEB split the practitioner level qualification into two streams in response to customer feedback and extensive market research, which showed that most people in software testing go down either the test analysis or test management route. 'They therefore do not have to study something that will be of little use to them back at work,' says Pete Bayley, qualifications director for ISEB.

Robert Ward FBCS CITP, software test manager at Site Intelligence, who passed the examination two years ago, agrees. 'The old style practitioner level was very expensive in terms of time,' he says. 'Practitioner level was phenomenally challenging and I know others on the course found the same. An intermediate level should make it more accessible.'

While changes were being made to the structure of the exam, ISEB thought it also made sense to bring the qualifications up-to-date with industry changes in testing.

'The new intermediate and practitioner syllabuses have made a huge leap forward in quality compared to the first generation, original syllabus,' says Peter Quentin of SQS. 'Many technical issues have been ironed out, the syllabus has been brought in line with the Foundation syllabus, the structure is better and the use of Bloom's taxonomy of educational learning objectives has meant that it is much clearer what level of knowledge and understanding will be expected in the examination.'

Both Quentin and Samaroo have found that in the new intermediate courses students were very engaged with the material. Students have particularly appreciated that they can be tailored to individuals' own experience, as opposed to just teaching what is in the syllabus.’

Pinta Education and SQS are planning to offer the two new-style practitioner level courses, subject to ISEB accreditation, and were in the process of writing the course materials as IT Training went to press. ISEB is also aware that other training providers are currently writing materials for the new courses.  Meanwhile, the old-style practitioner exams will continue to be offered until March 2008.

ISEB is set to make further developments to the qualification, and looking to introduce other practitioner streams. The examination board is also intending to develop a diploma level during 2008 and is currently working on its possible format. 'ISEB is keen to offer a certification route for all software testers as they develop their careers,' says Bayley.

The value of certification

Why bother with ISEB certification at all? Arguments in favour range from it helping individuals' career progression to giving a more professional status to the industry.

Ward sees definite advantages: 'When interviewing for test analysts, or even for a contractor, I don't even look at their CV if they haven't got the ISEB Foundation Certificate.

'Software testing is often seen as an easy way into IT as you don't need the skills of a developer. But if an applicant has bothered to do the certificate, it proves they really are interested. Equally, if contractors are any good, they will have at least achieved the foundation level certification. It is only three days and reasonably priced.

'For me, personally, the foundation was essential for my career, and the practitioner opened doors to interview.

'More generally, I think that people don't understand testing properly because it is still a fairly young profession. ISEB has helped establish it as a career choice.'

Quentin agrees that certification has been good for the industry: 'ISEB has had a huge impact on how software testing is perceived within the software development industry.

'Today most clients like to see their software testers qualified to foundation level within their first year working as a software tester. We are even seeing developers and other people who may not actually be doing testing, but need to understand software testing principles, getting qualified to foundation level. It is a sign the industry is maturing, and testing is being taken more seriously.

'Certification means that individuals, as well as organisations, are recognised for the software testing skills they have. It provides a career path for software testers and motivates individuals to become better software testers.'

In addition to ISEB software testing certification, other skills areas can be useful for testers.

'Other skills areas that a tester should consider are in the related technology that the business is using,' suggests Ward. 'This could be technical, such as Java or SQL, or it could be business specific training such as investment banking or commerce.'

The ISEB qualifications portfolio (known as the ISEB wheel) encourages testers to take up qualifications in other areas such as business analysis and systems development to complement their qualifications in testing.

More information

November 2007