Is it worth getting the ISTQB certification?

Some time ago, the Appunite QA team decided to take the ISTQB exam. What is it and is it worth passing? In this case the right answer will be ‘it depends’, so I have decided to share my thoughts with you.

What is the ISTQB exam?

The ISTQB (International Software Testing Qualifications Board) is a kind of driving licence for testers. These are just the basics you should know if you want to work as a tester. I would say it's not extraordinary anymore. ISTQB is an organization that has developed the best known certification path for software testers. It systematizes testers’ knowledge at the level of processes and techniques. Moreover, the certificate is well known and is an international certificate, which is another advantage if a significant part of clients are foreigners.

Who should take the exam?

People may assume that the foundation level is not suitable for people with some professional experience, but it’s totally not true. In my opinion, one should start thinking about taking this exam not earlier than one year after starting the first job as a QA/tester. If you have no practical knowledge, it will only be like learning Syllabus by heart. But it is only a recommendation. If you think it can help you to get your first job - go for it :) As I have written above, Syllabus systematizes tester knowledge, but you should also know that working as a QA in a big corporation and software house is something completely different. In my opinion, all processes presented in Syllabus are possible mainly in corporations, but that doesn’t mean that software house employees shouldn’t have it. Quite the opposite. The Appunite software house environment is very specific and every project is different. QA should be more flexible under these conditions, so it is good to systematize a tester’s knowledge in order to use it properly. In a workflow where projects are very different from each other, one flow will never work. A tester must be creative and choose the elements that will help them improve their work in a particular case.

Is training necessary to take the exam?

Again, it depends. If you want to prepare for the exam, you can either enrol in a course or study on your own. If you want to take part in a training as an individual, you must be aware that the course is not cheap. Everything you need to know to pass the exam is available on the Internet, so it will be a sin not to take the opportunity to learn the whole material yourself. The regulations do not forbid you from taking the exam without an ISTQB training, and the costs of the exam are affordable for individuals. The Syllabus and sample exam papers can be downloaded for free from the official ISTQB website for self-study. The cost of paying for the training individually is high, but there is an option that the company you work for will support you financially - then, it's worth considering. But don't forget that the training doesn't guarantee that you will pass. The ISTQB exam is not that easy, so you should take some time to learn. In fact, statistically more people pass the exam without a course than with one. This is not due to the level of teaching. This is because you cannot learn the whole Syllabus in 2 days.

Where to start?

The ISTQB certification program has Foundation, Advanced and Expert levels, but there’s no other way - you have to start with Foundation Level certification, even if you have a few years of experience. Then you can consolidate and pass the levels. The first step is to find the nearest exam date in your city, then download the Syllabus and dictionary from the official ISTQB website. Getting to the bottom of the Syllabus will be more efficient than taking the course. You can find many tests from ISTQB FL on the Internet, but you have to be careful. The vast majority of them come from the old version of Syllabus. It was updated in 2018, but the first exams were carried out at the end of 2019, so you have to be prepared for the fact that the real exam will be a bit more difficult than the exemplary ones on the Internet.

Exam scope

  1. Fundamentals of Testing - what is testing, seven testing principles, differences between testing and debugging, the difference between error, defect, and failure
  2. Testing Throughout the Software Development Lifecycle - different test levels from the perspective of objectives, test basis, test objects, typical defects and failures, and approaches and responsibilities, functional, non-functional and white-box testing
  3. Static Testing - types of software work product that can be examined by different static testing techniques, activities of the work product review process, different roles and responsibilities in a formal review, the differences between different review types: informal review, walkthrough, technical review, and inspection
  4. Test Techniques - black-box, white-box and experience based test techniques
  5. Test Management - tasks of a test manager and tester, purpose and content of a test plan, risk level by using likelihood and impact, a project and product risks
  6. Tool Support for Testing - benefits and risks of test automation, the main principles for selecting a tool, pilot projects to introduce tools

Advantages of having a certificate

In order to make your work more manageable you should have a solid knowledge base in processes and techniques. It doesn't only look better on your Résumé or Linkedin, but also gives you confidence to make decisions about your testing strategy. In my opinion, the advantages of the ISTQB include knowledge of the industry vocabulary, practical testing techniques and, most importantly, such a certificate is a formal confirmation of our professional qualifications. Apart from the public image aspects, it is easier to sell the services of certified testers. Sometimes it could be important for your company to have a quality assurance specialist with such certification, because If a company takes part in various types of tenders (there may be requirements for employees to have one), you must be certified to proceed with public procurement for testing.

To sum up, It's always a good idea to expand your knowledge, but you have to remember that the syllabus is not the only right source of truth about testing and should be used and interpreted to fit the current situation. The ISTQB certificate can help you get a better job and will not hinder you from getting customers who require it. It is possible that the skills acquired during learning for the exam will not be used in 100%, but having it, has far more advantages than disadvantages.