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I can see why the community can sort of look down on the ISEB exams (at least the Foundation - I haven't looked at the material for any of the others). So I got to wondering exactly what similar courses are out there that could genuinely help you become a better tester? I've heard of the Weekend Sessions but don't think im quite ready for that level yet.

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Craig - please don't feel you're not ready for the Weekend Testing sessions, they're absolutely intended to be a safe space for testers of all levels to try new things and make mistakes in a friendly and supportive environment where they can learn from them. We've had people who've never worked as a tester but who are interested in entering the profession someday attending the sessions and enjoying them. (I think the youngest testing student we've had was 14).

There is no need to commit to attending a series of sessions, you can just turn up whenever you're free to attend one. There are sessions in various timezones, so pick one that fits in with your schedule. There's also the WeekNight Testers

Courses

If you're a member of the Association for Software Testing, you can sign up for the BBST Foundations course for free: http://www.associationforsoftwaretesting.org/training/ and then the following courses (Bug Advocacy is currently running, with further courses in preparation) currently charge a (fairly low) fee. The courses are run online, so are available anywhere in the world where you have internet access.

I'd recommend this for the following reasons:

  1. The course content will give you an excellent grounding in the problems and approaches you will need to tackle as a professional tester. The material is both genuinely challenging, academically solid, and relevant to testing professionals. It will give you the vocabulary to discuss the major problems in testing.
  2. It will help you to develop higher level skills. Unlike some commercial courses which merely test your recall of material, the BBST courses assess your ability to apply it to your day to day work, to analyse it, and to evaluate what approach is suitable for different problems. In order to complete the AST course, you'll have to (amongst other things) be able to explain a test approach to your peers, and justify what testing you would do, and why. They'll then critique your explanations, and you'll do the same for them. This is a really key part of the AST approach IMHO - you will learn so much from discussing these issues with your peers. When you've completed the BBST foundations, you will really understand the material.

The BBST series of courses are based on work originally developed for software engineering students at Florida Institute of Technology. The course content is available free online for anyone to inspect it. Even if you don't take the AST presentation, I'd recommend anyone involved in software testing who aspires to calling themselves a professional should make themselves familiar with the course content.

Other courses:

I can strongly recommend the Rapid Software Testing course, should you have the opportunity to attend one near you.

There are a lot of other good courses, but dependent on geographical location.

Recognition

The BBST courses will post (with your permission) the names of successful BBST graduates.

For professional recognition, Elizabeth Hendrickson recently launched Entaggle - I believe this might have been inspired by discussions at Agile Testing Days in Berlin in 2010 about the lack of a respected certification for testers, and Agile testers in particular.

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+1 for Weekend Testing (and for a great answer) –  Alan May 7 '11 at 18:01
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