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How useful is QA certification for career advancement?

If you're new to the field of quality assurance, you might find having QA certification helpful for career advancement.

For a substantial fee, numerous organizations provide quality assurance (QA) certifications. If you do an Internet search, you'll find several in roughly three different flavors: QA organizations, training centers and university courses. There are several QA organizations, including the American Software Testing Qualifications Board (ASTQB), and its International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) certificate and Quality Assurance Institute (QAI) that have been around for a long time. The next group, training centers, offer software testing training or their own QA certifications in combination with one of the QA organizations. University certificate programs are newer, but encouraging for the future of the profession.

I have a certification -- Certified Tester Foundation Level (CTFL) from ASTQB. The only reason I have it is because the company I worked for at the time paid for it. We used it as a team building exercise for those who wanted to take the exam. Although the exam was free, only about half of a 40-member QA group took the exam. We used it as a training exercise and it helped the team understand common terms, processes and procedures. It is valuable information, but we never used any of it in our organization beyond a few testing types. Again, I stress it is valuable information to have, but it likely doesn't translate directly into actual QA job experiences. Would I pay the $200 to $500 fee myself?  No, I would not.  

Has the QA certification helped me find and secure a job?  It's possible. Having the CTFL certainly didn't hurt. Organizations reviewing résumés like to see a certification. When I was let go in 2013, I think it helped me get more contacts for job openings and interviews.

Why? I have no idea, except that having a certification helps employers feel confident you understand the job. I am excited to see a number of universities offering certificate programs in software testing. I believe this is a positive step. And for newbies graduating from college, it's a really good idea to add to schooling. But for those of us that have been around a long time, there is probably not as much value.

My advice is to get the QA certification if you plan to look for a job in the future and you can afford the cost. Otherwise, in my opinion, experience is of higher value. A wide variety of software development QA experience is likely more valuable than any number of certifications. However, the people reviewing résumés aren't going to see your experience; they see the QA certification. Although QA certification gives employers more confidence in your abilities, having more than one certification can be a mask for a low-performing employee. Adding numerous certifications for the same job function should be a warning sign.

Do your research and pick the best QA certification for a reasonable fee. Personally, I prefer the ASTQB or ISTQB. The training is well-defined and the examinations are tough, but by no means impossible. A QA with 3 to 5 years of experience should pass the CTFL by reading source materials and various books on QA and software testing.

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