Break Into Software Testing with ASTQB (and ISTQB) Certification

Software bug tester at work at desk

In my experience, any software vendor that doesn't have a dedicated testing staff does so at their peril. Even the smallest of shops has their hands full supporting the most "basic" line-of-business applications.


The software testing situation grows increasingly complex when a business wants to branch their application across platforms, such as the following:


? Windows 10/Universal
? OS X
? iOS
? Android
? Windows Phone


How in the world can you ensure application stability across OS versions, hardware platforms, and variable Internet/network connection speeds? If you're thinking to yourself, "Wow, I never thought of that. Software testing is a full-time job!," then you're exactly on point.


With all that complexity, software testing is both an art and a science in itself, and requires testers with keen analytical skills.


What Do Software Testers Do?


Nowadays software customers expect to obtain new software on their phones or computers almost instantly, and leave feedback just as instantly. If you're not taking pains to ensure your code is as free from bugs (defects) as possible, then you're on the fast track to losing customer trust and revenue in equal measure.


If I haven't been clear enough thus far, software testing is an indispensable part of the software development lifecycle.


In a nutshell, a software tester is an IT professional who makes it his or her occupation to design and run tests to verify that software applications:


Meet the software publisher's functional requirements Respond correctly to all known customer use cases


A good software tester is someone who is ultra-methodical, thinks logically, and enjoys solving puzzles. So much of information technology is about solving puzzles, isn't it? Today's proliferation of project management frameworks can both simplify and complicate the life of the software tester.


After all, the software tester spends a significant amount of his or her time communicating with the company's development staff. This staff may subscribe to any or all the following methodologies:


? Traditional/waterfall
? Agile/Scrum


On the other hand, the software tester likely works and communicates closely with the other corporate stakeholders, including software support staff, subject matter experts, and decision-makers. These people may use a different PM framework, or none at all.


It should go without saying that you need to have achieved "power user" status on all contemporary Web browsers, desktop operating systems, and mobile operating systems. Most businesses nowadays recognize that today's expectation is that their software should run on just about any device, whether desktop or mobile.


Introducing ASTQB and ISTQB


The good news is that there exists an international standards body that developed (a) a standardized best-practices framework for software testing; and (b) a certification program to validate that skill set. The International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) is a non-profit organization based in Belgium that was founded in late 2002.


According to ISTQB reference materials, the group has issued more than 350,000 certifications since 2002. The "I" in IST QB stands for "international"; as of June 2014, 49 member boards exist, spread across 72 countries.


Here in the United States, we use the American Software Testing Qualifications Board (ASTQB). Don't be concerned, though — the certification program and its underlying syllabi is the same, regardless of the country.


Of course, any prospective software tester worth his or her salt wonders if studying the ISTQB materials and earning their certifications will offer return on investment (ROI) in the marketplace.


In my experience, having an ISTQB certification on your resume definitely makes you a more competitive candidate. For example, visit Dice or another IT-related job search board and you'll see job titles like the following that either require or strongly recommend the ISTQB certs:


? Product Support Analyst
? QA Analyst
? QA Project Lead
? QA Tester
? Quality Assurance Engineer
? Software Application Tester
? Software QA Tester
? Test Automation Engineer

Understanding the ASTQB/ISTQB Certification Portfolio


Software bug tester concept art

Thus far we've outlined how important professional testing is to software development, and we've introduced you to ASTQB and its parent organization, ISTQB. Now let's have a look on how to earn your first ASTQB/ISTQB certification.


First of all, know that the ISTQB offers a multi-level certification portfolio. Because the ISTQB Foundation exam is the entry point to the rest of the program, let's start there.


Officially, the ISTQB Foundation certification has neither a minimum experience requirement nor a required training course. The ISTQB, however, suggests that you have at least six months of practical experience as a software tester, and that you study their ISTQB syllabi and glossary at the very least to get a handle on their body of knowledge.


The syllabus itself is a 78-page document that concisely explains the ISTQB's view of software testing. Any ISTQB Foundation prep book or training course ultimately derives from this body of knowledge, which means that you theoretically can use self-study with no additional monetary investment to prepare for the exam. (In the United States, accredited training providers are vetted by ASTQB to ensure that the material in their courses properly addresses what's in the syllabus.)


Besides the syllabi, the ISTQB also makes their glossary and practice exams freely available on their web site. They also list the following textbooks as viable self-study options:


? Foundations of Software Testing
? Software Testing
? Software Testing Foundations
? Fundamentals of Software Testing
? What is Software Testing?


Drilling Further into the Foundation Exam


Fortunately, the ASTQB/ISTQB is pretty transparent about how the Foundation exam works. Here are the details for U.S.-based certification candidates:


? $250 per attempt (you can retake the test as as many times as you need if you don't pass)
? 40 multiple-choice questions
? 60-minute time limit
? 65 percent pass mark (this is 26 questions out of 40)
? Pretty equal content distribution across the six chapters in the syllabus


In the United States, ASTQB has partnered with Kryterion to deliver their computer-based exams. That may complicate your testing process, as Kryterion isn't quite as bountifully spread across the map, in terms of its testing centers, as Pearson VUE or Prometric.


On the other, you won't need to hunt up a testing center again, or at least not unless you decide to move up the ASTQB/ISTQB certification ladder to the Advanced or Expert levels. ASTQB and ISTQB certifications at the Foundation and Advanced levels don't expire, and the Expert level certs are valid for five years instead of the three-year period that's the norm for most certification programs.


By contrast, the credentials offered by the International Institute for Software Testing require recertification (more time and money!) every three years.


Parting Thoughts


The ISTQB software testing certification isn't the only credential in the world, but it's the largest and appears to have the best name recognition in the software development marketplace.


For reference, let me give you some competing entry-level software testing credentials so you have a basis for comparison:


? Certified Software Tester (CSTE)
? Certified Software Test Professional Associate (CSTP-A)
? Master Certificate in Software Testing


The latter option is an honest-to-goodness professional certificate from Villanova University. This goes to show how valuable and important the software skill set is in 21st century information technology.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Tim Warner

Timothy L. Warner is an IT professional and technical trainer based in Nashville, Tenn. A computer enthusiast who authored his first BASIC program in 1981 on the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III, Tim has worked in nearly every facet of IT, from systems administration and software architecture to technical writing and training. He can be reached via LinkedIn.