Is ISTQB worth it?

A common conversation among testers is certification, and whether it’s worth it. I only have experience with the ISTQB certification: I have both the Foundation and Advanced (Test Manager) certificates, so my opinions are on these.

I think that in certain circumstances, having an ISTQB pass to your name can be beneficial. Sure, lots of hiring managers might just ignore it, but in some cases you might want to consider the test anyway.

Your manager/company asks you to and pays for it

This is perhaps the most overlooked reason to attend an ISTQB course and take the test, whether or not you pass or fail. And I think it’s probably the most important reason. Heck, it’s the reason I have done it.

For me, the conversation started during my annual appraisal at work. I was given the objective to attend a course and to pass the examination. At the time, I didn’t have a clue what ISTQB even was: I was a newcomer to the testing world. But I accepted the objective, I attended the first course I could get onto, and during those three days I worked hard to make sure that I passed.

This made me look good to both my line manager and to the company as a whole. During my next annual appraisal I could say “I did this, because you asked me to it”, and it helped me prove to my line manager that I’m serious about improving my skills.

It also showed me that the company was serious about helping me increase my skills: they were happy to pay serious money for this to happen. To refuse to take up this offer would look bad. It shows dedication from both the employee and the employer.

It teaches trainees to a certain (minimal) standard

OK, so it may not be your company’s own processes and standards, but ISTQB is a good way to teach QA to those new to the field to at least some standard.

As long as the tester understands that the ISTQB foundation syllabus only touches the iceberg of QA -- and they are encouraged to continue learning -- I see no harm in using the ISTQB foundation course and examination as a “kick start” to learning what you need to know to be a good tester.

Your enthusiasm during the course will be noticed

You never know who might be in the same room as you. It could be your next colleague, or even your next employer.

The training course before an ISTQB exam is a good way to show everybody how much you care about the art of QA. If you ask lots of questions, and generally try to get involved, you’ll be remembered. And when it comes to your next job or your next promotion, getting noticed has never harmed anybody.

Of course, on the flip-side, if you’re sitting there looking bored and wondering what time lunch will be, that will be noticed, too.

It’s a standard vocabulary

OK, I know, you might not like this one, but it’s there. ISTQB is a standard. It might be a standard that you disagree with, but it gives us all a common vocabulary.

It helps imposter syndrome

This is why I took the Advanced (Test Manager) exam. Unfortunately, imposter syndrome is all too prevalent in our industry. Something objective to prove that you do indeed know what you’re doing can be a step towards controlling these doubts.

Conclusion

If you already have a career in QA, and have had one for at least a couple of years, then I don’t think it is worth the cost and time to take an ISTQB course and test. The value it gives you (a minimal standard of knowledge, and showing your dedication to your managers and peers) is something that you can show through your years of experience.

But for people who are new to testing -- less than a year -- I would absolutely recommend that if given the opportunity to sit the ISTQB, they should take it. They are still fresh and unproven, and there might be things that they just don’t yet know (as there may be concepts that just haven’t come up during day to day testing).

The courses are not cheap, granted. I only took a course because my employer paid for me. To be clear: I do not think that an individual should pay for an ISTQB training course. But the exam itself is affordable for individuals, and you can download the syllabus and sample exam papers for free from the ISTQB website for self-study. In fact, this is how I received my ISTQB Advanced (Test Manager) certificate.