Certification – a personal history

As a matter of record, I wanted to post a note on my involvement with the testing certification scheme best known in the UK (and many other countries) as the ISEB Testing Certificate Scheme. I want to post some other messages commenting on the ISEB, ISTQB and perhaps other schemes too, so a bit of background might be useful.

In 1997, a small group of people in the UK started to discuss the possibility of establishing a testing certification scheme. At that time, Dorothy Graham and I were probably the most prominent. There was some interest in the US too, I recall, and I briefly set up a page on the Evolutif website promoting the idea of a joint European/US scheme, and asking for expressions of interest in starting a group to formulate a structure, a syllabus, an examination and so on. Not very much came of that, but Dot and I in particular, drafted an outline syllabus which was just a list of topics, about a page long.

The Europe/US collaboration didn’t seem to be going anywhere so we decided to start it in the UK only to begin with. At the same time, we had been talking to people at ISEB who seemed interested in administering the certification scheme itself. At that time ISEB was a certifying organisation having charitable status, independent of the British Computer Society (BCS). That year, ISEB decided to merge into the BCS. ISEB still had it’s own identity and brand, but was a subsidiary of BCS from then on.

ISEB, having experience of running several schemes for several years (whereas we had no experience at all) suggested we form a certification ‘board’ with a chair, terms of reference and constitution. The first meeting of the new board took place on 14th January 1998. I became the first Chair of the board. I still have the Terms of Reference for the board, dated 17 May 1998. Here are the objectives of the scheme and the board extracted from that document:

Objectives of the Qualification
• To gain recognition for testing as an essential and professional software engineering specialisation by industry.
• Through the BCS Professional Development Scheme and the Industry Structure Model, provide a standard framework for the development of testers’ careers.
• To enable professionally qualified testers to be recognised by employers, customers and peers, and raise the profile of testers.
• To promote consistent and good testing practice within all software engineering disciplines.
• To identify testing topics that are relevant and of value to industry
• To enable software suppliers to hire certified testers and thereby gain commercial advantage over their competitors by advertising their tester recruitment policy.
• To provide an opportunity for testers or those with an interest in testing to acquire an industry recognised qualification in the subject.

Objectives of the Certification Board
The Certification Board aims to deliver a syllabus and administrative infrastructure for a qualification in software testing which is useful and commercially viable.
• To be useful it must be sufficiently relevant, practical, thorough and quality-oriented so it will be recognised by IT employers (whether in-house developers or commercial software suppliers) to differentiate amongst prospective and current staff; it will then be viewed as an essential qualification to attain by those staff.
• To be commercially viable it must be brought to the attention of all of its potential customers and must seem to them to represent good value for money at a price that meets ISEB’s financial objectives.

The Syllabus evolved and was agreed by the summer. The first course and examination took place on 20-22 October 1998, and the successful candidates were formally awarded their certificates at the December 1998 SIGIST meeting in London. In the same month, I resigned as Chair but remained on the board. I subsequently submitted my own training materials for accreditation.

Since the scheme started, over 36,000 Foundation examinations have been taken with a pass rate of about 90%. Since 2002 more than 2,500 Practitioner exams have been taken, with a relatively modest pass rate of approximately 60%.

The International Software Testing Qualificaton Board (ISTQB) was established in 2002. This group aims to establish a truly international scheme and now has regional boards in 33 countries. ISEB have used the ISTQB Foundation syllabus since 2004, but continue to use their own Practitioner syllabus. ISTQB are developing a new Practitioner level syllabus to be launched soon, but ISEB have already publicised their intention to launch their own Practitioner syllabus too. It’s not clear yet what the current ISEB accredited training providers will do with TWO schemes. It isn’t obvious what the market will think of two schemes either.

Interesting times lie ahead.