The Cost Of Certification And Professional Exlusion

There’s been a fair amount of chatter recently regarding certifications & whether they’re good, bad or actually provide any value.

I’ve been looking at them from a different perspective – As a self employed Tester, if I can’t afford the certification & any related training costs then I am immediately excluded from roles at companies where the certification is mandatory.

It’s not that I’m not good enough to do the role, its the fact I can’t afford it.


This post is in the context of Testing – it may apply to others, but I don’t know that, so I am not including any other roles in this post.

Here’s my logic:

  • Employers are requiring applicants for their testing roles to be certified
  • Certifications (& associated training) cost money
  • Those Testers who work for themselves & budget their own training might not be able to afford the certification
  • Those  self employed Testers cannot apply for testing roles which require certification
  • Those self employed Testers are professionally excluded from a role, not because of their skills & experience, but because of the cost of certification

There isn’t just the cost of the certification & training to consider – its also the time out of the office. As a self employed Tester, I was only paid for the hours I was in the office. If I had to attend a week long course on top of paying for the training it would have significantly increased my costs.

Interestingly, the ROI for Testers is a lot more “fluffy” than the ROI for Test Managers (from ASTQB site):

It makes you more competitive

(when compared to an “uncertified”)

This statement is preceded  by:

“…with more than 300,000 certified software testers…”

So if their ambition is to get more Testers certified, there’s a greater chance of more applicants for a role being qualified, thus negating this benefit. (I’ve heard stories of recruitment consultants sitting the foundation to help sell testing roles)

Other benefits of ISTQB include (from ASTQB & ISTQB sites):

It gives you the flexibility to choose your education

It gives you a career path

Gain independently assessed knowledge and skills

Have greater career opportunities and increased earning potential

Can add the “ISTQB® Certified Tester” logo and credential to their resumes

Are recognized as having subscribed to a Code of Ethics

Apologies, but how do these translate into an increase in cold hard cash? How long will it take me to get my course + exam + time out of office money back?

And give me a career path? Isn’t it mine already? Can they give me something which already belongs to me?

I can’t believe I haven’t been using the logo for all these years. I wonder how many career opportunities or increased earning potential I’ve missed out on…

For the ISTQB Foundations – I trained myself & sat the exam directly. I passed, but I’m not sure how much value passing the exam gave me.

People I have spoken to who have taken the Practitioner have mentioned they got great value out of the training, through interacting with others as well as the course material. I can go for that, but then they didn’t pay for the course themselves as they were employed.

After the Foundations my “career” progression stalled until I landed a gig at a company (still self employed) where self development was valued. This really inspired me to get on & sort my own career out.

Initially I was going to continue down the formal certification path until I started following people on Twitter who showed me things could be different.

I have now tapped into a wealth of training resources & material – all of which is cheap or free & most of which adds tremendous value (for the price!)

The most expensive training I have undertaken in the past 7 years is Rapid Software Testing (provided by James, Michael or Paul), AST Foundations & Problem Solving Leadership – all of which gave me great value & focus on the doing & learning & not the certification.

If you’re looking for free/cheap resources to flex your grey matter, you can do much worse than try these out:

This is just a fraction of the resources out there – once you start looking, you’ll find loads more!

If this wasn’t the conversation you were looking for on certification, you should try these guys, they have some great points to make:

I think what I’m trying to say is that if you’re a self employed Tester & you value your hard earned cash, paying for “official” certification & training is unlikely to help in seeking excellence in your craft.

More & more companies are not requesting certification, others go one step further & reject you if you are certified.

It’s these companies I aspire to work for & I wouldn’t have found them if I remained on the certification path.

Take a look around before signing up for that certification…

  • DuncanNisbet

    “…paying for “official” certification & training is unlikely to help in seeking excellence in your craft”

    I was thinking about this statement last night – it applies to me, but it might not apply to others.


  • Joe Strazzere

    “others go one step further & reject you if you are certified” Have you ever actually been rejected solely because you were certified? I keep hearing this fear, but I’ve never actually met someone who had this happen.

    • DuncanNisbet

      Hi Joe, thanks for stopping by!

      That’s a good question & its got me reflecting a bit deeper on what I have written.

      I personally haven’t been rejected for a role based on having a cert, but I have spoken to hiring managers who (say that they) reject CVs of applicants if they have a cert.

      Maybe this comment is based on the CV only having a cert as its main selling point & I’ve taken the comment out of context.

      I have seen job descriptions & spoken to recruiters where possession of a cert is seen in a negative light.

      Perhaps they have had previous experiences of having to unlearn new recruits?

      • Joe Strazzere


        I’ve heard tales of managers who reject CVs which have certifications. Perhaps one day I’ll speak to one.

        I’m still wondering if this is all “legend” or actually exists. If the latter, it seems rather silly and shortsighted.

        • DuncanNisbet

          I’ll keep a closer eye out for evidence of rejection in the future & let you know 🙂

  • Jim Hazen

    Certification is one thing, Qualification is another. There is a saying in scuba diving “certified does not mean qualified” (I used to be a Scuba Instructor), and it boils down to experience can triumph over training. Yes, we do need to be trained (and given a certificate to show proof of training). But that training plus work experience is so much more valuable, and some people just get their training the old fashioned way… on the job (OJT). I did, and long before I went for the CSTE (because I knew I needed some real world experience too).

    Over the last 10 or so years the ‘certifications’ have really become a bit of a joke in my opinion (and this from someone who twice held the CSTE from QAI). These are the equivalent of the ‘MCSE’ in the testing world. Everyone has gotten one, but how many people really can apply that training in the real world?

    As I said about scuba diving, training (certification) is just an initial step and you have to go get experience to really be equipped to perform the dive (job) properly (safely). You need to go get experience to become qualified to attempt other types of activities (Deep, Night, etc.), then go get other more advanced training (Mixed Gas, Rebreather, Cave, Wreck, etc.) along with experience in those disciplines to become qualified to perform them on your own.

    The problem is that the certification groups have become ‘cert mills’ (big money to be made) and business people are misunderstanding what they are really getting (I’ve met some people with certifications who couldn’t test their way out of a wet paper bag).

    Anyway… enough of the diatribe. If you can show yourself to be knowledgeable and ‘qualified’ to do the job then you should be good to go.

    Jim Hazen

    • DuncanNisbet

      Hi Jim, thanks for taking the time to add your voice to the conversation!

      I believe its those cert mills & the business misunderstandings that were causing me the problem. Speculate to accumulate model…

      I agree with the certified does not equal qualified statement. You use the great analogy of diving, I might use driving (as I’m unfamiliar with diving) – getting the licence (cert) is just the start of learning to drive (qualifications)

      (I also think drivers should be re-tested to see if they’re still qualified to drive…)

      Do your comments also tie in with 10 years experience at 1 company provides different experience to 2 years stints at 5 different companies?

      As in 10 years night diving is not the same as 2 years of Mixed Gas, Rebreather, Cave, Wreck, etc. diving?

      • Jim Hazen

        Interesting take on the experience time and levels. I was speaking from the 1,000 ft view of experience (cumulative) that it can carry more weight to the discussion of suitability (qualification) for a position.
        In regards to my analogy with diving it comes down to the initial training and then gaining experience over time (multiple dives and dive conditions). I would always tell my dive students that they need to start with easy dives first, gain some experience and then go with someone more experienced on the harder dives. They just can’t go from the basic Open Water class and jump into doing deep water drift dives the next day. It doesn’t work that way.
        So just like the certifications you may appear to be book smart, but you’re not ‘street’ smart just yet. That is where OJT comes into play, and that is what can lead to someone being ‘qualified’ (experienced).
        That’s my take on it.

        • DuncanNisbet

          Like it – thanks for the clarification Jim.

          This gets me thinking about orders of ignorance & how maybe people think they can jump orders by obtaining a cert, but as you say, experience has to be earned over time.

          Orders of ignorance:

  • Rosie Sherry

    Most jobs ask for a degree too. Do you need a degree to test software? No, but employers prefer it. Does it cost alot of money? Yes. Will they not employ someone because they don’t have a degree? Perhaps.

    The problem, imho, is not the certification, it’s how employers look to hire people. Any self employed person or someone running a business (normally) understands the needs to ‘sell themselves’ and stay on top of things/trends/knowledge. As someone who runs a ‘business’, I can safely say that I’ve never been asked if I’m certified. I’ve been asked many other questions – most importantly can I convince them that I have the right skills for the job (and have proof & experience to back that up).

    Rather than fighting against certification why not focus that energy on educating those in charge of hiring?

    • DuncanNisbet

      Hey Rosie, thanks for commenting!

      Of course you can relate my post to university – degrees are another form of certification, aren’t they? Do you need university? I’ve seen lots of reasons to suggest otherwise…

      I agree with you completely wrt how employers look to hire people. There are many other ways demonstrating you have the right skills for a role other than a cert.

      That’s a major reason why I put myself out into the community – to demonstrate who I am, what I can / cannot do (qualifications) & to see if I can help anyone else from my very limited experience.

      (I guess this could lead onto another question “are testers who are not at large in the community as good as those who are not?”)

      I would say I am trying to help educate hiring managers, by demonstrating & providing examples of what people are capable of without certification.

      I’ve only recently been in the position in hiring new recruits & it was a great learning experience (& kind of bench marking myself against the applicants tbh). I was a little surprised at how little reading around the subject the applicants did.

      Thanks again for stopping by Rosie!

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  • Ruma Dak

    Interesting post, to which I completely agree, not because so many people are talking about it at the moment, but because I feel it myself.

    I know people who don’t even have IT background , sat for ISTQB foundation and scored 90+ % and they claim being a tester. They have to be taught testing basics at work right from scratch. Moreover, they don’t even remember the basic terms covered in the syllabus!

    Additionally, people with some experience, when they possess certifications, it doesn’t really make them a better tester.

    Frankly speaking, I wrote ISTQB foundation only because I don’t want some recruiter to reject my resume just based on that!

    And as far as money is concerned, it is insanely high for trainings for these courses. For foundation , there is not training required at all. paying 2K for things like this is just overburden and is promoting only money making business of some big fish in the industry.

    I recently got CAT (Certified Agile Tester) for which it was compulsory to take the training, else you cannot sit the exam.

    The fee is 3K , which is huge. My Employee only paid half of it. I can understand the pain of people who have to pay themselves.

    I don’t know when people will realise the best way to judge testers is not by mere certificates.


    • DuncanNisbet

      Hi Ruma, thanks for sharing your experiences. It sounds like you are in a similar to position to me with regards to training & certification.

      Like you, I also obtained the ISTQB foundation so that my CV was rejected solely for not having it. Silly logic really IMO.

      What currency are you paying for your training?

      Did the motivation for CAT come from you, or your employer? If it came from your employer, should they have paid the full 3K?

      Slight side topic – did you enjoy the CAT course? Was it “worthwhile”?

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