"We are rather cynical about certificates that simply say someone sat in a classroom for eight hours," said Bill Walker, who recently gained the ISEB practitioner certificate in software testing. "An exam focuses the mind wonderfully and also makes training much more effective."
Walker said his department's policy at BT Global Solutions is to choose courses accredited by the BCS, partly because they are subject to independent assessment and also because the training leads to a qualification, which provides an assurance that it has been effective.
"I am a strong advocate of professional qualifications. They are not a substitute for hands-on experience, but where they involve an independent assessment they are a useful complement to it, and a set syllabus can help to give goals and structure to a personal development plan," said Walker.
"Qualifications are a way to validate experience and put it into a recognised context, so taking the practitioner certificate is a way of complementing my experience with a more formal, structured approach. My colleagues and I prefer training courses that lead to independently assessed qualifications because it is easier to justify the expenditure."
BT Global Solutions is part of a business that designs and builds complex systems, and it encourages its IT staff to study for professional qualifications. Walker, for example, was building on earlier work for the foundation certificate in software testing. The training also complemented his studies for the ISEB diploma in business systems development.
He was previously a software testing team leader and in that job he put his team through the ISEB foundation certificate in software testing.
Holding the software testing qualifications will help him in his new job as a systems designer. "There is more to assuring quality than running tests on software, and the parts of the qualifications that are relevant to the whole of the lifecycle are directly relevant to my job," said Walker.
"I am in a better position to understand what is going to happen to the system I design and specify up-front at the end of its lifecycle, so I am less likely to design things that are untestable.
"The ISEB qualifications have given me a broader perspective of techniques, a richer vocabulary to communicate those techniques with others, and the confidence to speak and act with authority."
Last year almost 19,000 people took courses leading to ISEB qualifications, which are run by training providers accredited by the BCS.
Walker took a course run by training company SIM, which uses tutors who teach from their own experience in testing rather than just from theory.
Details of ISEB qualifications
Subjects covered by ISEB courses
Business and management skills
Business systems development
Dynamic Systems Development Method
Information communication technology
Information security management
IS consultancy practice
IT service management
Programme and project support office
This was first published in February 2004