So I’m trying to figure out my 2011 (and beyond!) professional development plan.

I’ve got a lot of ideas — I like to try a lot of things at the same times and see what sticks.

In 2009, I started a formal, zero-profit, non-commercial school for testing known as Miagi-Do, and that has gone well. So well, in fact, that in a recent email thread on test certifications, someone wrote:

I confess that all I know about Miagi-Do is that all the people who have mentioned they are Miagi-Do rated in some way are people I respect highly. This leads me to believe it is a good program.

That was nice.

That got me to thinking about certifications, and risk.

Think about it the main arguments for test certification: The it reduces the risk to the company in the hiring decision, flattens expectations, maybe reduces some of the communications friction because people use the same words and know what those words mean. Mostly, though, I think it is about risk.

Test certifications create /some form/ of differentiation, allowing an HR department without discernment to winnow two-hundred resumes down to twenty with relative ease.

But that’s the problem: The department lacks discernment.

So what if, instead of a test-er certificate, we came up with a test management certificate?

It wouldn’t have to be limited to test managers, of course. A development manager could earn it to demonstrate his expertise in the discipline.

So I took the idea to the Rebel Alliance List (an informal group of software testers) and we kicked the idea around a bit.

Certifications have problems.

What does a certificate mean?

The words “certified”, imply to me that some authority has decided something about you. So a certified test manager would mean that this authority (whoever it is) claims the person has the skills, tools and abilities to be successful in a certain role.

For some very specific jobs that are well historically defined, like plumbing, bricklaying, or for an electrician, it seems reasonable to me to have a certification.

But in testing, I’ve seen far too many people be successful in one environment, jump ship, and the very things that made them successful in one environment made them fail in the next.

So the best think we could do is say something like “If you company has this sort of values, and if they are doing this sort of testing, we think this person has the abilities to have success.”

Nothing is ever guaranteed, of course, but I do think that within our community we could find the skills to do an evaluation to make such a statement that stands up to scrutiny.

But that kind of statement is too complex for the lazy HR person who wants to check a box.

Which, as my friend Joe Harter pointed out, is a problem – a test management certification might enable someone to be lazy, but at best that is treating a symptom, not a root cause. (I said “at best”; Joe was … more choice in his wording.)


After looking into the issue seriously, I don’t think a test management certification is something I can reasonably pursue in 2011. It is appealing, and I won’t rule it out for the future, but it’s not the top of my stack for next year, and I don’t think it should be. Moreover, if you do pursue a certification, you might want to ask the people offering the cert if they have wrestled with the questions above — and what answers they came up with.

If you get a reply that is a sort of sheepish grin, handwaving, or “mature organizations don’t have those sorts of problems”, well, you can probably figure out what I think of the cert.

Yet there is another, less often discussed, benefit of certification: It offers a concrete development plan, combined with some sort of sense of accomplishment. Those are good things, and important things, and I don’t want to downplay them.

What I recommend instead, though, is that you write your own plan. One place to start is with reading, and piles of it. If you’re here, you’re in the right place, and I could drop a suggested reading list as a blog post anytime.

Why I’m thinking of that, though, is mostly from an interview I did recently with Jurgen Appello on Software Management, in preparation for his upcoming book on Management 3.0.

Or to paraphrase James Bach — “If you can’t find a certification with integrity, go certify yourself.”

More to come.