Friday, 8 February 2008

ISEB, and the train that won't stop going

What an easy target ISEB makes, it comes in for a lot of criticism. And I think it should. To an outsider like myself the certification train looks like a money spinning exercise, why else keep cranking out certification levels? I wonder what they could do to change my perception...


ISEB currently promotes 4 testing certification levels - the Foundation, Intermediate, Practitioner Test Manager and Practitioner Test Analyst.
I find it too easy to believe that ISEB has money making intentions rather than the 'profession's best intentions to hand. Given that the names of the writers of the syllabus all supply training towards ISEB Certification. I find it too easy to perceive a conflict of interest.
I don't want to believe that 'It's all about the money' because the BCS has registered as a charitable organisation that states "Its objects are to promote the study and practice of computing and to advance knowledge of and education in IT for the benefit of the public." For the benefit of the public, not for its own monetary gain.
So I'm going to step back a little and say some good things:
  1. Syllabuses freely available on the web, this counts towards the public good.  I won't critique the content here.
  2. The foundation syllabus has matured and represents a very basic, committee produced, introduction to 'software testing'.
Encourage any students using the syllabus for self learning to look for other sources of information on the web.
Bad points:
  1. You have to chain through the exams
  2. The other syllabus do not match the maturity of the foundation and don't really add much to augment the foundation documentation.
Why do you have to chain through the exams? Why can't you just jump ahead to the practitioner if you want to? Even if you have worked as a tester for 25 years, you still have to sit and pass the foundation, and the intermediate. Why? To protect the candidate from their own risky predisposition? Let them take the risk if they choose to.
A tester, a person who deals with risk on a daily basis.
A cynic might think that the chaining related to making money or selling further training.
Suggested Fixes:
  1. Have Industry provide a syllabus which contains the things that 'it' wants the testers to know.
  2. Have ISEB ratify the syllabus and organise the creation and sitting of the exams, and the marking facilities.
  3. Remove the conflict of interest with the trainers.
    1. Do not let the trainers write the questions.
    2. Do not let the trainers define the syllabus.
    3. Do not let the trainers mark the exams.
    4. Do not let the trainers sit on the 'board'.
    5. Do not do anything that looks like a conflict of interest and makes this look like a money spinning exercise.
  4. Allow anyone who wants to, at any point in the chain take the exam. Have no dependency on a previous exam. Just charge them a fair price to cover the cost of sitting and marking the exam.
  5. Make trainer costs and pass rate/fail rates visible on the main web site to allow candidates to choose
  6. Make pass/fail rates for self study candidates visible on the main web site
  7. Provide a simple, visible, online mechanism for taking comments publicly on the syllabus and publishing a summary of disagreements. (this would help prevent duplicate comments coming in)
  8. Make any multiple choice test completely automated and as nominally priced as possible (try and make it free).
Note on the above:
On making multiple choice exams nominally priced (or free). Any fee should cover the costs of writing questions, hosting the site and database, and all related admin. Think of it like a charitable act to the testing 'profession'. This would provide a public service to the testing community. I suspect that the foundation exam has probably paid for itself by now - if so make it completely free.
Trainers can still train.
It seems entirely possible to me that when you remove conflict of interest you may lose all the people required to run the programme. This may indicate a lack of business value and business demand for the certification.
So please ISEB, and everyone involved, just stop now, add no more certifications and remove all the constraints. It really does look like you keep feeding coal into the money train.
"Old Charlie stole the handle and
The train, it won't stop going --
No way to slow down. "
Locomotive Breath, Jethro Tull
Ironically, this post will end up surrounded by Adsense adverts for ISEB certification training. Oh well, I only do this for the money anyway.

2 comments:

  1. Good points, well made. I'm a PTM with 10+ years of experience but I have no exams (!). If I had to follow the chain and needed to start at the Foundation level, I would be very concerned about my competency to charge £x per day running testing programmes.

    The good news is the ISTQB. OK, you still need to have the Foundation stage - but you can get straight on with specialisation (Eg: test managament/tech test analyst) at Advanced level without needing to do the Intermediate ISEB. Cost effective and I can quickly study for a qualification which might be of some use to myself and my clients, rather than just adding 'window dressing' to my CV.


    Hopefully someone, either you or your clients, will identify some value in you having passed the ISTQB. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. I do agree with both of the comments. I do not even think whether the ISEB themselves practise what they preach. For example ISEB was advertising for over a year that there will be a new publication for intermediate level available in this September. However, now in September they are claiming that the publication will be released in Quarter 1 of 2009. Iseb could not manage their own project! lol.

    Thus, the their candidates are left with no choice other than paying for expensive courses to prepare for their exams or wait patiently until ISEB eventualy manage to publish their book.

    Or skip the exam altogether? Two options = dilemma. Three Options = real choice.

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