When choosing which software testing certification is the best one, our post can help you make a decision based on your needs and planned career path.
When deciding to pursue a software testing certification, it is important to have a clear goal in mind. To help you with this, here are a few reasons one might consider certification:
- To prove your knowledge to a potential or current employer
- To open up career path opportunities
- To further your knowledge in testing best practices with a guided curriculum
- To differentiate yourself (and your resume) from other job or promotion candidates
While certifications can support these outcomes, they will not completely satisfy any of these goals. As any QA professional will tell you, experience, demonstrable technical skills, and strong interpersonal (or “soft”) skills are far and away the most important elements hiring managers consider when selecting candidates.
As such, this article will evaluate each certification for their intrinsic value in light of those objectives. The reader is encouraged to consider which software testing certification is the best one for them, as well as being just one component of a well-rounded personal development plan.
This article compares the two most prevalent entry-level software testing certifications:
- The Certified Tester – Foundation Level, awarded by the International Software Testing Qualifications Board.
- The Certified Associate in Software Testing, granted by the International Software Certifications Board, a subdivision of the Quality Assurance Institute.
The CTFL is offered by the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) a Belgium-based nonprofit that works in partnership with global member boards. The ISTQB is devoted to improving the testing profession, promoting the value of software QA practices, and maintaining an open body of knowledge on software testing. The central ISTQB defines the syllabus and rules for member boards, while the member boards accredit training providers, administer exams, and award certifications.
The CAST is awarded by the International Software Certifications Board (ISCB), which is a subgroup within the Quality Assurance Institute. The QAI seeks to provide workforce development for the Software Quality Assurance profession through instructor-led training, workshops, and certification paths. The QAI also provides consulting services for “information-intensive organizations”. They are a for-profit firm founded in Orlando, Florida, the United States in 1980.
The CTFL has no formal prerequisites, but the ISTQB recommends a minimum of six months’ experience in a software or testing role before attempting the certification.
The CAST has stricter requirements. Applicants must have no less than a total of 3 years of combined college education or experience in a related field, and the ISCB may screen applicants at random to ensure they meet these qualifications.
Content and Training
Each syllabus covers a body of knowledge on software testing. Both certifications reviewed in this article aim to provide a fairly comprehensive base of knowledge for entry-level software testers. These bodies of knowledge are maintained by the certifying boards and are updated periodically. The ISTQB publishes their body of knowledge publically. In contrast, one must pay an application fee to access the ISTQB body of knowledge.
The CTFL covers a comprehensive syllabus that defining the key components of an entry-level testing role:
- The Fundamentals of Testing
- Testing Throughout the Software Development Lifecycle
- Static Testing
- Test Techniques
- Test Management
- Tool Support for Testing
The syllabus is available as a free download on the ISTQB website that briefly explains each of these components, and includes helpful keyword terms for each section to guide one’s studies.
The CAST is fairly similar in scope, but the full syllabus and body of knowledge are not public for the CAST as it is with the CTFL. The following skill categories are covered in a CAST certification:
- Principles and Concepts of Software Testing
- Building the Ecosystem of Software Testing
- Managing Test Projects
- Risk in the Software Development Lifecycle
- Test Planning
- Checkpoint Reviews, Inspections, and Walkthroughs
- Designing Test Cases
- Executing Tests
- Test Status, Analysis and Reporting, and Measurement
- Testing Specialized Technologies
More detail about these knowledge categories is only available when a student purchases an exam registration. From the time of purchase, the tester will have a period of one year to study and sit the exam.
Both groups offer training courses for their certifications. The ISTQB offers their training through accredited training providers that are managed by their local member boards. Live online training for the CAST is provided directly by the Quality Assurance Institute. In-person training can be found for either certification through third-party providers.
The ISTQB works with local member boards to administer exams and award certifications, so the price for a CTFL exam will vary, based on the country where the applicant is working. For example, in the United States, sitting the exam through the American member board ASTQB is $229. Pricing for the CAST is uniform and expressed in USD only.The application fee for the CAST is $100 and includes a PDF copy of the 350+ page Body of Knowledge for the CAST exam.
It is difficult to accurately assess the relevance of either certification in obtaining a job or promotion, because neither body publishes any research on the topic. When a software testing professional considers a certification, they are encouraged to research open job postings in their market that require or mention the certifications.
ISTQB reported in 2017 that have awarded more than 500,000 certifications through their programs, while ISCB reports they have awarded certifications to approximately 52,000 professionals.
ISTQB provides three progression tracks: Agile, Specialist, and Core. Different certifications along these paths can be earned at Foundation, Advanced, and Expert level. This gives professionals many options for continued advancement for a variety of roles. The specialist certifications include industry-specific certifications along with those focused on security and test-automation certifications, and with in the core specification, there are options for management and advanced analysts. For a full breakdown, see the certification paths on the ISTQB website.
ISCB also provides three progression tracks, Software Quality, Software Testing, and Business Analyst. Within these tracks, they offer an associate-level certification, an intermediate certification, and a manager level certification, but they do not offer industry-specific certifications, unlike ISTQB.
By comparing CTFL (Certified Tester Foundation Level) and CAST (Certified Associate in Software Testing), the CTFL is recommended for entry-level testers. The CTFL’s body of knowledge is available free which allows candidates to study and understand the certification’s value before purchase. The ISTQB is also open about their numbers and operations, and have certified vastly more professionals than ISCB. Finally, the range of progression paths following an ISTQB are much more varied and relevant for today’s market.