A new cash CAT?

Two weeks ago I had a discussion with an account manager of a testing consulting company about CAT: Certified Agile Tester. His company sells this training and he told me he sees a certification training as a driving license: once you obtain it, you still need to learn how to drive like an expert. I do not believe that ISTQB or TMap certification makes anybody a better tester. And this agile tester certification is even worse… How can you give somebody a certificate for a mindset?

I do not think you’re a good tester if you have an (advanced) certificate in ISTQB or whatever. It tells me nothing about your motivation. Especially not when the certificate could (or even worse, should) be obtained during working time paid by your employer… I think that certification is not necessarily bad, but it is certainly no blessing to our profession. James Bach wrote a great blog post about it in 2005 (!). IMHO certification gives a kind of false security about testing skills. And unfortunately this is maintained by the whole market. The big companies (let’s just for convenience call them “demand side”) have difficulty selecting the right external hires. So they look for certificates which makes selecting easier. The “supply side” is more than happy to participate in the certification hype. Because they earn a lot of money by providing training. But also from a commercial interest because the “demand side” keep asking for these certificates. And if they want to sell their people, they must have certificates. Sadly a mechanism that keeps the certification alive!

Certification says very little about a tester. I know plenty of testers with lots of certificates that I would never hire. Why not? Because they are no good in testing! And the certificates do not make them any better.

The CAT website explains: to become a Certified Agile Tester you have to succeed in three different ways:

  • A soft skills assessment on capacity for teamwork
  • An exam, which requires free answering – no multiple choice questions
  • A practical section where the examinee’s testing skills are put to the test.

This soft skill assessment makes me wonder. As a manager I find it difficult to assess my testers after some months or even a whole year, but the trainers of this course can in only 5 days?

The exam doesn’t prove the examinee is a good agile tester! How many exams have we taken during our lives? And do we still know everything we have learned? Like I said in my last blog post, you become a better tester by continous learning, not by taking exams!

The practical section sounds good. Although I cannot imagine that you can fail your certification on this part.  

The course itself looks okay: the subjects trained are interesting and on the reading list are books I have read and would recommend to others. But the whole idea of certification is bad! Agile is a mindset and how can a mindset be certified?

The testing/training industry has found another cashcowCAT!


  1. checkner

    Hi Huib,
    certification is stupid. I really agree. But I can tell you something.

    Last year I started to work in an agile team. Only me as a “Testexpert” in a chaos team full of developer.
    I was doing kind of agile testing before. But more v-model in sprints.

    When I started in this agile environment I was lost. I could not belive that developers have to test as well.
    And what the hell is User Story, an Epic – who has to write it and how? And what is the Product Owner doing. How can I test and survive when I am all alone?
    All these questions were in my head and I wanted to leave and go back to the “right” things I have done before.

    When I saw the CAT training I really wanted to do it. Just for getting answers to all my questions.
    We organized an inhouse training and had four days full of training. I learnd so much in those days and when I was writing the exam I didn’t care if I will fail. I was so satisfied and lucky of all these things I have learned and noticed that agile starts in mind.. not by just following an agile prozess and doing scrum, kanban, etc.

    No I am so agile and love to work in this way. And I am laughing about all mistakes me and my team mates have done in projects before.

    So, I have the certificate now – but I don’t care. And this is what I tell all people when we are talking about CAT.
    Maybe it is not needed to visit the CAT course, but for me it was the right decisson.
    I needed someone who took me by the hand to show me the fantastic agile world.

  2. Chris Poetiray

    Hi Huib, I totally agree on how you reflect on this certification-issue! Back in 2008 I followed the ISTQB-Foundation course at Polteq in Dordrecht, where one of the course-days was under your supervision. You told us about this book ‘Lessons Learned In Software Testing’. I totally believe in lesson #272. I think we can place this article in this lesson #272! The CAT certification does not make you an agile tester, nor did the ISTQB certificate make a tester period! It just gave me a nice piece of paper of which I don’t know where I left it anymore!

  3. Jeroen Mengerink

    Hi Huib,

    The certificate itself might not say alot, but in my opinion the course provided some interesting material. Since the course consists of a lot of discussions and elaborating on the topics, you learn from the experiences of all the attendees. The attitude of the attendee mainly decides how useful the course is, like with a lot of courses. I came out of this course with a better understanding of certain aspects of agile and I’m also able to provide more examples than before.

    It used a nice combination of practical exercises and theory, which in my opninon is completely lacking in the ISTQB courses. This combination provides more depth and ensures that the theory get applied. It might not make you a better tester, but after attending the course you should be able to achieve better in agile teams than before the course.

    • huibschoots

      Thanks Jeroen. And I fully believe you when you say this course is a nice combination of practical exercises and theory. And this course might even be a good course. I still hope you or Cecile will show me the content one day.

      But I dislike the certification! Why certify? What does it add? I do not believe an agile mindset can be certified. This certificate doesn’t show much. But I know a lot of managers/companies will be starting to recruit agile testers by this certificate. #fail

  4. Patrick Goossens

    Ja, het certificeren van Agile is natuurlijk vreemd. Zoals ik al twitterde, het certificaat geeft geen garantie dat ik nu een goede tester ben. Wel weet ik nu nog beter waar ik het over heb.

    Je leest wel eens dat een automobilist is opgepakt en bij controle bleek dat hij al 40 jaar zonder rijbewijs rijdt. Persoonlijk stap ik liever bij zo’n figuur in de auto, dan bij een gast van net 18 die gisteren zijn rijbewijs heeft gehaald.

    Nog beter is de combinatie. Dus zowel op papier de kennis, als in de praktijk. Mijn ervaring is dat bij intake gesprekken vooral de nadruk op de praktijk ligt. Nu Scrum steeds meer gebruikt wordt (volgens mijn eigen waarneming) zal er echter door inhuurders gekeken gaan worden naar de Agile-ervaring en kennis en kunde. Dan helpt het als je kan zeggen dat je Certified bent. (Scrum Master, Agile Tester, …) Dus ja, het examen heeft voordelen en voegt waarde toe.

    Translated in UK:
    Yes, certification of Agile is strange of course. As I tweeted, the certificate does not guarantee that I am a good tester. I now do know better what I’m talking about.

    You read sometimes that a driver has been arrested and a check revealed that he had been driving for 40 years without a license. Personally I’d rather step in the car with this man, rather than with somebody who just turned 18 yesterday, and got his license just recently.

    The combination is even better. I mean the knowledge on paper and in practice. In my experience intake interviews are focussed on practice. Now scrum is used increasingly (according to my own observation), however, hiring managers will be looking at the Agile experience and knowledge and skills. It helps if you can say you’re certified. (Scrum Master, Agile Tester, …) So yes, the exam has advantages and adds value.

    • huibschoots

      Thanks for your comment.

      The only reason why a certificate has value is because the hiring managers/recruiters do not know how to recognize real skill. If want to play for a high level soccer team, they won’t look for qualifications or diplomas, but will judge you on your soccer skills. Ever tried to get a role in a movie or musical? You have to audition. Why? To show you can do what they ask you to!

      This certificate you have now, doesn’t tell me much! Perhaps it says you have the (theoretical) basic (!) Of agile testing. Something you can learn in five days can’t have much value.

      By the way: to return to your analogy of driving: this course does not even give you your license, but only prepares for your theory exam. The certificate is your theory certificate. Once you have obtained that, you learn to control the car in the practical lessons. Once you have you driving license, only then you /really/ learn how to drive by praticing it for many hours…

      • Patrick Goossens

        Huib, I agree for the theory certificate.
        And indeed, the hiring manager should read my resume and ask me some deep tought questions, to verify that I’m more than “just another Certified Agile Tester”. (However, there are only 10 CAT in the Netherlands ;-))
        Part of the exam is a practical exercise, the other part is theory. You have to pass both with a minimum of 50% I think and a minimum of 65% overall.

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