BBST: Black Box Software Testing Course Review

Well that must be the least catchiest title I’ve used thus far, at least its specific to the BBST course.


This week I celebrated completing and passing the Black Box Software Testing (BBST) course, hurrah, this is a four week intensive course on the fundamentals of software testing. Don’t get fooled by the title there’s some White Box Testing there as well and some particularly hard maths, (for me at least) involving program loops and paths through a program.

When I started the BBST course I was full of enthusiasm and energy with eagerness to start, after the initial welcomes and preliminary tasks, I immediately started to immerse myself in to the program. The first problem I encountered was understanding the dates when assignments and quizzes needed to be completed by. I had a printout which clearly stated these dates, but for some foolish reason I got the deadline for the second quiz wrong and missed it. I’d even had a conversation on twitter with Julie Hurst who had said it was due on Saturday, but did I listen, no? I then instantly felt like a fool how could I have got something so obviously wrong; call yourself a tester? Pah!

BBST Gripes

Another issue which was apparent at the start was the format for the course material using Moodle, all course material was there for you to peruse at your leisure, so you have a chance to get ahead of the game. This is advantageous, however it does at first cause an information overload and I did feel somewhat overwhelmed at the start until I get more acclimatised with it.

On this particular topic Geoff Loken has also commented in his review of the course; ANARCHY IN THE AST, with a much catchier title than my posting.

Furthermore I found the forums very difficult to navigate with regards to keeping up to date with new posts. New post where supposed to be highlighted, however during the first week I discovered that this feature was  intermittent and couldn’t be relied upon as many posts where not highlighted at all. I’d subscribed to all forums but still the problem persisted, so I then had to rely on the flurry of emails to track of others comments.

Next problem, don’t worry I’ll get to the good points soon, was the group work. As I’ve already mentioned all assignments had deadlines, you had two submission dates a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, not Sundays. First we have students contributing to the course based all around the world, with this being an online course, so midnight for me could be 8 hours before or after in the UK. Secondly, and this for me was the most frustrating part, was that people like to work at their own pace, this meant that obviously some waited until the very last minute before contributing.

In the past I’ve usually been one of those people, but I was determined that wouldn’t happen this time around. With one particular assignment, with five people in the group, only two people seemed to be contributing with two days to go. I got quite irritable and frustrated with this, to the point where I nearly threw in the towel, not with the course but with that assignment. Not wanting to be overly negative, the others did finally contribute, but a little too late to stop me making a frustrated comment in the forums. For which I still have double feelings about. On one hand I think it was unacceptable when working in a group to not contribute until the last minute. I also realise other people have other commitments and do leave their work to the last minute. Still I think it’s inconsiderate, so I just submitted what I’d done and moved on to the next assignment in a huff.

Now let’s have some positivity here shall we?

Although there was a vast amount of material to get through during the BBST course I consumed it with zest and every spare moment I had during the course was spent reading, taking notes, doing assignments, quizzes and responding to forum threads. I couldn’t get enough; I probably spent on average 30 hours a week however I didn’t see this as a problem as I was so enthusiastic. I actually retained this enthusiasm throughout the whole four weeks. Some people on the course did mention the amount of work that was required and asked how others where coping with it. There was a suggestion that it should be extended to 6 to 8 weeks, I don’t agree with that as I think 4 weeks was perfect to be able to keep the momentum going. For me if it was longer I think I may have reverted to leaving submission of assignments to the last minute and maybe not reading all the materials that were recommended let alone the required materials.

The general format of the BBST course is quite freeform and encourages the students to interact with each other and discuss topics amongst themselves with intermittent interactions from the instructors who are mainly there to guide you down the right road rather than just tell you the answers. Having said that about the answers, there are key things that you need to know to be able to discuss with other, but I wouldn’t say there is one definitive answer to most of the questions or assignments. There are many varied interpretations so there are not really any perfect answers. These discussions proved fruitful as they mostly always gave you very different insights on different ways of approaching a problem and added to your knowledge base.


The BBST course also has quizzes, which fortunately are not compulsory or go towards your overall course work and thus are not used to determine if you have passed or failed. Which is good for me, not only did I miss the deadline of one, but my overall score for the four quizzes I did was just under 50%, I’d have failed an ISTQB course with that mark, thankfully the BBST course is not based on 40 multiple choice questions. This course is about challenging what you currently think you know about testing and adding significantly to that knowledge base to hopefully make you a more improved tester, that thinks, really thinks about what they are doing.

BBST Certificate

I can’t recommend the BBST course highly enough, if you’re interested in improving your testing skills and backing that up with testing knowledge this course is a must for any tester who wants to become a great tester. On its own it won’t make you a great tester, much like no one study program will, but it’s a perfect foundation to build from.

8 Responses to BBST: Black Box Software Testing Course Review

  1. gloken says:

    Good review, thanks for sharing. I think this would be a very useful overview for anyone considering taking the course.

    Group work is an interesting problem, even more so online. It was really challenging trying to plan HOW to approach the assignment with the group, let alone actually do the assignment. That’s probably a learning exercise in and of itself.

  2. Kiran says:

    I have been on this course and I like it very much as well. While most of the content and terminology of the course was new to me (being a new tester), it wasn’t long before i realised this is a basic course which teaches testing fundamentals.

    I am not sure if this course would have provided me the same value if I had a few years of testing experience in my bag.

    I highly recommend this for all newbie testers. For those who are experienced I would leave it to their own judgement to analyse their skill level and compare it with course contents to see if it fills any gaps.

    • Hi Kiran, thanks for the comment.

      I don’t think I agree when you say this course is more valuable for junior testers. I have 17 years of testing under my belt and I still found I learned a tonne of stuff from doing this course. You state it’s about fundamentals, yes it is, but even experienced testers have different views and definitions about what the fundamentals are. Working along side testers if we all have a different definition about what something means how can we all deliver on the same goal?

      Fundamentals are key for the sciences, and when you have difficulties with anything in particular it’s useful to go back to basics and then extrapolate out, but you need to fully understand the fundamentals to begin with.

    • Chris K says:

      Hi Kiran,

      I’m not sure you phrased your comment well. In a world where software testing fundamentals (like the information in Foundations) are taught at say a University at the undergraduate level then yes I could see this not having much value for experienced testers. However this isn’t the case and as such will likely provide experienced testers, like Stephen, lots of valuable information.

      • Kiran says:

        So clearly from what Stephen and Chris say, it appears there is a lot to learn to take away from this course even for experienced testers.

        On an other note, I will revisit the contents of the course after a few years experience in my bag to see what it is about the fundamentals course that even experienced testers think are not fundamentals in the testing industry.

  3. Chris K says:

    I think this is mentioned in the slides (and I know I overlooked its importance) but one of the main goals for BBST Foundations is to acclimate the student to taking the format of the BBST online courses or as it’s called course skills. I’ve taken all 3 BBST courses and the fast paced nature never really gets easy but it does become manageable and fun.

    So the big question is, what did you learn from Foundations? =)

    • Thanks for the comments Chris, with regards to what I learned that will be for some future blogs with examples of how I’ve used what I’ve learned in the workplace.

    • Kiran says:

      Chris, this is a very interesting question, “what did we learn from the foundations”. With out looking at the contents of the course, here’s a few things that come to mind in no particular order
      * Complete testing is impossible
      * Broadly there are two types of testing, black box and white box. There is some emphasis on other types of testing (which are essentially variations of the two. I wouldn’t really worry myself to distinguish the minor differences between the other variations.
      * Testing heuristics/oracles. I still can’t differentiate between an oracle and heuristic, so I would treat them the same for now until I revise these topics in more depth.
      * Other terminology such as Easter Eggs
      * Measurement ( I still need to come across cases where I would apply concepts from this lesson, but I am looking forward to it )
      * Familiarity with terms like Test Mission and Objectives. There is mention of Test Design etc., but i think the meat is saved for an other course. I am looking forward to that course.

      Note: This is not the comprehensive list of the actual topics covered, and I may have missed some significant topics.

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