Friday, October 29, 2010

ignoring certification; with numbers

All of the questions about tester certification were answered many years ago. They exist and they cannot be made to unexist. The only remaining question on the subject is: how many tester certifications can be sold? And the answer to that question doesn't matter to anybody except the people selling the certifications.

A while ago on the writing-about-testing mail list we did a little exercise to come up with some back-of-the-napkin estimates about the number of software testers in the world. We used US Department of Labor data and also some other public information about software employment worldwide. We also had access to some privileged information about magazine subscriptions. In addition, a number of us have done serious work in social networking, and we have some analytical tools from that work to help estimate. Using all of that, we came up with a pretty consistent estimate that there are probably around 300,000 software testers in the US, and maybe 3 million in the whole world.

That is a pretty small market in which to sell tester certifications.

Elisabeth Hendrickson recently did a fascinating analysis of QA/testing job ads. According to her data, it is a good bet that 80% of the people doing modern software testing work in the US have programming skills of one sort or another.

Jason Huggins of Sauce Labs has been tracking job ads that mention browser automation tools. Jason notes a remarkable recent increase in the demand for Selenium skill. You can see the trend for some popular automation tools at The QTP vs. Selenium trend in job ads is fascinating, but looking closely, this graph indicates a general across-the-board increase in demand for technical skills in traditional UI-based software testing.

Finally, sorry I don't have a link handy, but I have seen a number of reports of a radical increase in the rate of adoption of agile practices among US companies of every size and description. And the agile whole-team approach to software development makes dedicated, siloed traditional V&V test departments irrelevant.

The existing tester certifications simply do not apply to this sort of work. Certification is becoming more and more useless to US testers, and to their employers as well.

I feel like I am pretty plugged in to the world-wide tester community and the world-wide agile community, and anecdotal evidence suggests that indeed, the market for tester certification in the US is very small. Again, this is anecdotal evidence, but the hot spots for certification seem to be the UK and Australia/New Zealand, possibly areas of Southeast Asia, possibly areas of Eastern Europe. Once more with the anecdotal evidence, but I would suggest that in political climates that favor a high degree of regulation of business practices, certification will be more popular.

So if we eliminate from our worldwide tester population of 3 million the majority of US testers and a significant fraction of the rest of the world as potential buyers of a tester certification, that leaves a pretty tiny market for tester certification.

I think we can say with some confidence that professional tester certification can safely be ignored by the vast majority of software testers. That said, if you are required to get a certification, or if you just want to get a certification, go ahead and do it. It won't hurt you, and at the very least, you'll learn how software was tested in 1996.

I think we can also safely say that any supposed controversy surrounding tester certification is overblown and can also be ignored.

Which suggests one more interesting question: if the supposed controversy over certification really is as trivial as these statistics indicate, then why does so much of the testosphere spend so much time agonizing over it?

I have a cynical answer to that, but I'll keep it to myself.

Update: made the links nice


Joe Harter said...

Hi Chris, can you explain this line a bit further?

"it is a good bet that 80% of the people doing modern software testing work in the US have programming skills of one sort or another."

What do you mean by "modern software testing"? If you just mean "software testing being done today" then my observations are vastly different than your statement. Perhaps 80% of jobs are listing programming skills of some kind (though I question that stat too), but I have a hard time believing that 80% of testers have programming skills. Is that what you were saying?

- Joe

Charley Baker said...

In a few words, I'll give my own reply on the last part. Why are so many people in the testosphere still talking about this?

Because it's easy.

The answer is more complex than that, but if I'm to assume the cynical view, then this is what comes to mind.

It's the old situation of "someone on the innertubes is wrong":
* It's irritating and offends what "I" believe to be right.
* They'll dupe newbs into paying money for this snake oil and take advantage of them - I'll do my best to protect the unwashed newbs from this egregious atrocity.
* etc, etc

Also, it is *simply easy*. The arguments are already out there, the luminati agree, there's nothing controversial or new about the position, and you might find a "right on" or "go get 'em" from the testing community.

As you point out, it's not much of an issue, it doesn't cause any waves and really doesn't expand the frontiers of testing.

And there's the challenge. Expanding the frontiers of testing is not easy, it means coming up with new ideas, risking controversy and unpopularity and in the worst case, your ideas may just be wrong.

I'd posit that it's worth the effort to be wrong, come up with new ideas, reapply existing ideas from other areas, and explore how we tackle this semi-nascent field of software development. There will and have been a lot of missteps already which comes along with pushing boundaries.

This is what I expect from conferences and why I've skipped out on a lot of testing and development conferences lately, particularly the large ones, as a lot of them seem to focus on rehashing old rhetoric and not really stretching boundaries.

Anyhow, I'll leave it at that. I've somehow blogged on your blog.



testalways said...

Asking and insisting on certifications could be a good sign that the position is not very reliable for someone with a relative experience and skill.

paddyslacker said...

Interesting post, Chris. I noticed one small error that I couldn't let pass: "Elisabeth Henderson" should read "Elisabeth Hendrickson".

show_me_the_$$ said...

Elisabeth Hendrickson...nice lady. Just recently attended her conference this past Monday and Tuesday on Agile Testing Practices.

I'm currently looking for a testing certification that would back up what I know about testing. WHAT ARE SOME GOOD ONES? SQE? ASTQB? Someone HELP...Thanks in advance

TestWithUs said...
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