Monday, June 5, 2017

Certified Tester: Foundation Level Course Thoughts

I recently completed the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) certification course for “Certified Tester: Foundational Level” (CTFL). And while taking a foundation level course with nearly sixteen years in software development under my belt wasn’t the most educational experience of my career, it certainly gave me some perspective about the class and who should be taking it.

I wish I could have taken this class just a couple of years into my career. Oh, it wouldn’t have helped when I was a controller monkey at Nintendo, following someone else’s test plan and guessing out areas of a game that might have issues based on intuition, and it still probably wouldn’t have done much good on my first Microsoft assignment, where I was still mainly putting in hours for someone else’s test plan, but it probably would have helped on my next assignment the first time my boss asked me to write up a test plan for one of the areas of the game we were testing, and it definitely would have helped when I took charge of test planning for a major area of Monolith’s first and only MMORPG title in 2004.

Unfortunately, the video game industry still tends to keep QA as an afterthought. Oh, sure there are embedded QA teams at every studio, and even a handful of fulltime employees who staff each studio and publisher’s QA department, but the vast majority of QA is still being done by contract staff who are treated as though they were as replaceable as car tires. Developing new skills, learning the hows and whys of developing a test plan, or even the different kinds of testing are things left to a tester to learn on his or her own time, or through experience.

That’s a shame, and it deprives the game development industry of some valuable resources. The Test Associate II who can follow a test plan but doesn’t know the difference between black box and white box testing may be good at finding collision bugs and score issues that test automation can’t catch, but he’ll be hard pressed to tell you why that case is true. Restricting paid training to a tiny coterie of full timer’s deprives a development team of quality advocates up and down the chain. The test manager may advocate for testing all throughout the project lifecycle, may even point out that it’s a part of the Agile process, but when he has almost no resources until the last third of a project, Agile goes out the window. Continuous testing mostly falls by the wayside, and it’s back to sixty-hour crunch weeks, grunt rushing, and too many hours of exploratory testing in the hopes of catching most of the issues before release.

Contract QA testers meanwhile, for the lip service paid to “self-development” rarely have the time, or the cash to spend on classes or certification. When they’re working, most of the time it’s during crunch time, when there’s overtime money to be made, and long weeks that make turn a single contract into a full time job and a half. When they’re not working, then money is very tight, and they’re mostly looking for their next gig. The big companies that pay their agency contracts aren’t interested in paying for on the job training, and when a contractor isn’t working, then he or she is a liability, not an asset, to their last agency. Few and far between are the contract agencies that will part with a single penny of their earnings for the education of liabilities.

To my original point: this is a course that I feel anyone serious about making a career in QA should take, probably somewhere between two and four years into their professional career. That’s enough time to learn some basics, figure out if you want to do this for a while, then take a class like this and apply it as you progress through jobs with greater responsibility. At $1,345 for the online course plus test, it’s not cheap, but it’s worthwhile.

Here’s the thing. By the time I got to the end of the eLearning course, I realized I knew and had experience with most of the concepts that were taught. I’d picked them up the hard way. The beauty of this course is condensing what I learned in ten years of QA experience into an easily learned package that can be done is less than a week.

For people in the first few years of their career, this information is invaluable, and will make you a more valuable resource in your job, a stronger advocate for good QA practices, and perhaps strengthen your chances of being hired. I would hope that more companies, both within and without the game development industry, will start springing for this kind of training. Good QA advocacy and practices are only becoming more valuable as software becomes both more complex and more prevalent across all areas of life. With Agile development becoming ingrained in more software projects, well trained QA people need to be involved earlier in the process.

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