If you are ready to take the next step in your software QA career, you will appreciate the insights from our conversation with test manager Aaron Emery.

Aaron originally planned to get only a Foundation Level certification, but the birth of a child made him want to buckle down and accomplish more in his career. That was a primary driver for the ferocity with which he attacked – and passed – nine ASTQB exams in less than a year.

Editor’s Note: Aaron Emery has the distinction of earning nine certifications through ASTQB in less than 12 months: Foundation (CTFL), Agile, Mobile, Usability, Performance, Business Analyst, Advanced Test Manager, Advanced Test Analyst, and Advanced Technical Test Analyst. Those three Advanced Level core certifications automatically grant Aaron CTAL-Full designation as well.

Aaron had an interesting path to software quality assurance that began when he was 14, continued with an entrepreneurial venture, led him to Japan where he met his wife, then back to the U.S. where he is now software quality assurance manager, senior test manager for the Medicaid program for a state department of health and environment.

Below are interesting topics from a recent conversation between ASTQB and Aaron. We have edited and shortened the excerpts below for clarity and quick reading.

ASTQB: What prompted you to choose ISTQB certification through ASTQB?

Aaron: I’ve always been really intertwined with software, more so in kind of a daily use, non-formal education capacity. So I was quite excited to come across ISTQB where I could better formalize that education in a professional capacity, especially given what ISTQB and ASTQB have done for the software testing community.

Aaron: There are so many certifications schemes out there. I was really initially paralyzed by choice. Some seemed to require extensive training, maintenance credits and fees.

Aaron: I’m a huge proponent of open source software. So what really initially attracted me to ISTQB and ASTQB was the information is readily available … I know this sounds kind of cheesy: but with the benefit [for] humankind.

Aaron: I had a testing mentor that said, “This is the one to get [ISTQB] and if you’re going to get one, get the ASTQB because the questions there are better written, as a localized community, and I took that to heart. I was using the materials for about a year and a half before I thought, “You know what, this isn’t as hard as I thought it would be, let’s go and try for an exam.” And once I started I couldn’t stop.

Aaron: …To spite a peer BA, I got business analyst [certification]. After getting the BA certification my mentality has kind of changed. I think that everybody needs BA skills, especially software testers. We’re at the very end and it’s impossible to get a design right the first time, so having those skills really helps in that final period of making sure that the programs are ironed out before we go live and give it to the end user.

ASTQB: Judy McKay, the current ASTQB president, did a webinar about a year ago on why everybody needs BA skills. So you’re finding that to be very true and what you experience as well?

Aaron: Yes. And I actually I made our BA’s watch as well. And then all my testing staff.

Aaron: And that’s another thing I really liked about ASTQB – all the white papers and the webinars and again all that stuff, it’s freely available if you’re interested. You don’t have some fiscal bar that you have to jump over or be the part of some special club to get this knowledge. It’s out there for those who want to better their quality of their software. And any software tester that takes their job seriously is going to want to do that.

ASTQB: ASTQB also takes tremendous pride in creating exams that don’t have misleading questions that are fair and understandable. You and I were talking before, and you said you noticed that the ASTQB exams seem to be very fair and well written.

Aaron: Yeah, I mean it’s a lot less cognitive overhead to go through the sample exam process.

Aaron: I find [an ASTQB exam] to be a lot easier to understand as it gets to the point more than [an ISTQB exam translated from another language, as is sometimes done by other exam providers]. I do think that the ASTQB do a wonderful job of building those test questions from the ground up in English so that it’s more relevant to what we’re doing over here in the US.

Aaron: When I’m looking to hire a tester, if one of them has an ISTQB [but not via an ASTQB exam] and one of them has ASTQB [an ISTQB certification via an ASTQB exam], I know that if they have the ASTQB they can do this in English. In my experience on software projects, it’s not the technical skills that really make or break a project, it is the communication skills. So that’s one of the big bonuses I think – the hiring sphere for having ASTQB.

Aaron: One of the things that I love about software is there’s people from all over the world. You get to meet so many different backgrounds, culture differences, and language differences. And while those bring their own benefits, they bring their own challenges as well. So if there is someone with ASTQB, I know that they can do this in English. I know that I don’t have to proof the stuff that comes out as much as I might have otherwise. But again, especially those English as a foreign language learners, not only have they got their certification but they’ve got their certification in my native language and the main language that they want to work in, and that shows serious business. So I would commend anybody who gets their ISTQB, but special commendation for doing the ASTQB and in a foreign language to them.

ASTQB: Tell me a little bit about the order in which you took the certifications and whether you thought that was a good progression.

Aaron: I think it depends on the individual, their core interests and goals. There’s going to be people out there who aren’t going to be interested in doing the entire catalog and that’s fine. I know when I started I didn’t think I was going to the entire catalog. I was just going to get my Foundation and move on to something else. But if I had to do it over again with the current catalog, I think I would take the Performance Tester and possibly the Model Based Tester before taking Advanced Technical Test Analyst.

ASTQB: The speed with which you progressed through the certifications might make some might think, “Well, they’re just too easy.” But, you did come in with a tremendous amount of experience and a wealth of knowledge, and you obviously put in the study time that you needed. How did you end up training for these?

Aaron: Well generally I take the ASTQB practice exam as a baseline before I officially review the syllabus. That let me focus on the areas that I was weak in because I did have some sort of exposure in some capacity, some areas significantly deeper than others.

Aaron: I get that baseline first exam and I try and read the syllabus cover to cover the first time. Once or twice a week, I’ll take another practice exam to kind of gauge my progress. Then once I’m scoring consistently about 80 percent or higher I’ll go ahead and schedule the exam two or three weeks out.

Aaron: Given my language background, I kind of approach the exams and especially the keywords in pretty much same way that I study foreign languages. Learning a language, like anything, it’s lots of repetition. I’m a big fan of the Leitner flashcard system. It’s easy to use, there’s the immediate feedback, and you just chunk it down. Just like in agile, you don’t have your full project in a sprint. You break it down so that it is easier to digest. That sort of thing works best when you use it over a longer period of time rather than just two nights before the exam.

ASTQB: What was it that drove you toward taking all of the available exams?

Aaron: I think in certain areas testing can be seen as a bad word. But, testing is important. I don’t want to be involved in a process that provides poor quality software to end users. So if my name is going to be on the project, especially in the quality assurance or testing capacity, I want this to be a standard that my peers know: “Oh hey, Aaron touched this. We know it’s good.” So I want to do everything that I can to build up those areas and make sure that I’m helping provide the best software I possibly can.

ASTQB: That’s excellent.

Aaron: I work in the government sector. My friends and family use the system that I’ve worked on and helped develop.

Aaron: And you know with it being the government, you don’t know how much money you have … So again having that freely available information from ASTQB is a huge boon…. I’m really thankful for the framework that ASTQB put together because it makes my job and training a whole lot easier.

ASTQB: For someone thinking about getting their certification, what benefits do you think you’ve gained from the certification? If they were to go to their supervisor and say, “Hey boss, I would like to get my ASTQB certifications and here are the reasons why I should,” what would you offer in terms of advice?

Aaron: Well you know, I think just the fact that they’re asking their boss or saying that they’re interested, to begin with, shows a level of distinction. It’s quite apparent the difference in quality comes out there, if they’re interested in sitting for the exam.

Aaron: I’m big on servant leadership. I work for my team. And since I’ve already been through those certifications, I would love to provide any sort of guidance I possibly can. Usually about once a week my team will meet in the conference room going over a sample exam question, and I try to help my staff figure out how this gets answered. [For example,] the differences between branch coverage and statement coverage. Yes, that’s a hard one, especially trying to teach that to people who aren’t native English speakers. It’s difficult, but it is really enjoyable. And it makes me a better tester. You know, if you really want to learn something, teach it. Even though I’ve got the certification, I’m still polishing my knowledge for the curriculum. If they come and say they are interested, I see my job is to help them get there. And I love it.

ASTQB: Any closing thoughts on why someone should get their ASTQB certification?

Aaron: [Getting the various certifications such as automotive testing] – it’s just interesting. I may never work in that sector, but knowing those techniques to test those [areas], there is some transference of the projects and it’s another tool on the belt. When … you have all those tools, you can adapt and provide the sort of testing service that the product needs. But it also helps even if people don’t want to stay in testing – they want to move to a new area or go further in development or business analysis. These [testing principles] are principles that apply to all those spheres. So you might be doing testing now and you don’t want to do that forever. In my mind [learning and passing the exams] is going to make you better. It’s going to make you a better developer. It’s going to make you a better BA. It’s going to make you a better PM. It’s going to make you a better stakeholder too, because you have this foundation you can communicate in, you have these these testing principles. You know, I would love to have a developer that has that exposure to ASTQB. I know that the product they would deliver to me to test would be much better.

Aaron: I think no matter who you are you can do this. You know, just pace yourself and have fun with it.

We will soon post the entire interview with Aaron in the ASTQB Podcasts area so you can hear all of his career insights.