BOSTON, June 13, 2006 – As announced last year, Microsoft Learning has developed a new generation of senior-level certifications to address the evolving needs of IT developers and professionals. The new certification program, Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA), officially goes live today.
In beta testing for over a year, Microsoft Certified Architect is a rigorous, peer-review board certification that recognizes the technical and business expertise of experienced IT professionals. It provides an opportunity to have their breadth of knowledge verified, offering additional credibility that is recognized by peers, hiring managers and company executives.
“Microsoft Certified Architect is a misnomer, because people think it’s only about Microsoft technology,” says Jim Wilt, chief software architect for Metrics Reporting, who earned a Solutions Architect credential early in the beta phase of the program and has participated on four review boards. “One of the things I like about the process is that it’s completely technology vendor–agnostic. You have to have a breadth of knowledge and understanding of a variety of technologies, as well as a depth of knowledge in several technologies.”
Certifying technical and soft skills
Architect candidates must demonstrate their skills in seven competencies: technical depth, technical breadth, communication, organizational dynamics, leadership, strategy, and tactics. A candidate must prove the ability to strategically balance business needs with technology to provide optimal solutions. He or she must also show good leadership qualities ranging from selling solutions to executives to mentoring staff.
According to Turner Broadcasting Chief Architect Don Browning, another certified Solutions Architect and review board member, “You shouldn’t focus on technology. It needs to be ‘This is how I led a group of people to produce this application that had these technical aspects.’ It’s not enough to be technically astute. You need to demonstrate soft skills as well.”
Peer board certification
The centerpiece of the architect program is the four-member peer review board, an in-depth deliberation on a candidate’s command of the seven competencies. Key to the review board’s success is the consistency of process and the caliber of the board members. “The four board members collectively have more knowledge on any subject than the person being reviewed,” says Browning. “Ensuring that the board is seeded with people with different mindsets helps maintain a balance.”
And while the composition of each board varies, the process is consistent and measured. “Microsoft has done a good job of taking something that could be subjective and made it very consistent across boards,” adds Browning.
“The process is very mathematical and methodical so you don’t let your opinion of the person sway you,” adds Wilt. “They’re not comparing you to other people. They’re comparing you to an ideal, a strawman. You have to have this competency at this level.”
Professional growth and learning
The sessions, which are vigorous and intense for both the candidate and the board, result in more than just a pass-fail outcome. The board provides a wealth of feedback to help all candidates improve themselves so they can grow professionally—whether that is from a developer to an architect or an architect to an advanced architect.
“What I really like is whether you pass or fail, you get an hour to two hours of deliberation on your skills, what you do well, and what you need to do to improve yourself,” says Wilt. “It includes what books to read, what classes to take, things in the industry you should do, and people you should shadow. It’s a complete, thorough review of yourself.
“From a career perspective, this is the kind of stuff your manager could tell you, but it just wouldn’t sit as well as these four people in the industry who are your peers and are from all aspects of industry and all over the world.”
Certification provides benefits both personally and to IT organizations.
“Personally, I wanted to do this,” says Browning. “I have proven to myself that I have a certain level of skills. My boss wanted to make sure we were doing well organizationally compared to the rest of the world. Having me get the certification builds validation for our entire organization. It was important for Turner. We’re not a technology company, but we consider ourselves technically astute, so we wanted somebody on staff who was a certified architect.”
Getting in the door
“When they asked me in my review why I wanted to be certified an architect, I was honest,” says Wilt. “I told them it’s not because I need recognition for all the things I’ve accomplished in my career. I want to evangelize technology, but there are a lot of people in the world that won’t let me in their door because I can’t prove how I’m different than any other person in the industry that says ‘I’m an architect.’ This certification for me is going to give me the credentials to go in front of a CIO or CFO or CEO and say I want you to consider listening to me, and the reason I think you should is I carry this credential which states that my peers have reviewed me and said I can do what I say I can do.
“Being a Microsoft Certified Architect allows me to go in and evangelize the proper use of technology to the people who need to be touched with that.”
Breadth and depth
In addition to the MCA: Infrastructure and MCA: Solutions architect credentials, a third discipline is being added, the MCA: Messaging architect. While the first two disciplines are measured on their breadth of knowledge across the IT landscape, the MCA: Messaging architect is measured on depth of knowledge of messaging systems and their dependencies. An MCA: Messaging architect has proven that he or she is capable of architecting the most complicated messaging solutions available.
“The program is focused exclusively on messaging systems and their related technologies,” says Ian Gauld, a MCA: Messaging and senior principal consultant for Avanade, a leading technology integrator specializing in the Microsoft enterprise platform. “It’s specifically focused on the challenges faced when architecting messaging solutions in large enterprises. It’s not just the technical knowledge you need to have to architect the product effectively, but it’s also assessing the candidate’s ability to operate in those kinds of organizations.
“For Microsoft Exchange customers, the MCA in Messaging program ensures there is a body of messaging professionals who are trained to the highest standard and are capable of delivering the largest and most challenging projects. For MCA members, it provides a community of peers whose collective knowledge and experience can be drawn upon to ensure that our work is of the highest quality. It also greatly facilitates the communication of new issues and resolutions and the development of new best practices.”
More informed hiring decisions
For a hiring manager seeking a qualified architect, the MCA credentials provide a proven, trusted benchmark that makes hiring decisions easier.
“Everybody can throw ‘I’m an architect’ on their business card or résumé, but how do you know they really are?” Wilt says. “A lot of times you don’t know until two weeks into a project when you realize ‘This guy is a great solutions developer, but he’s not really an architect.’ The Microsoft Certified Architect credential gives you that discernment that this really is an architect.
“I would trust anyone who has passed the certification to work on any project I have ever worked on. It could be a $5 million project or a $50 million project or a $500 million project, I would be confident they could do it well and would be able to handle all of the dynamics of personalities and politics, as well as the business side. You just have that level of trust.”
For Avanade, certification is a key aspect of hiring and retaining its senior consultants. “I think a lot of the competencies that are assessed during the MCA program are the same kinds of things we look for in consultants at Avanade,” Gauld says. “There are nine MCAs in Messaging at Avanade. Avanade’s commitment to the MCA program is proof of our investment in our people. This is what makes us so different from our competitors and continues to be a huge part of why people join Avanade and stay here.”
Companies don’t have to be large to reap the benefits of MCA certification. Horizons Consulting, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner specializing in applications and solutions leveraging Microsoft Exchange and Internet technologies, has implemented internal programs specifically designed for individuals who have attained the MCA certification.
“For a smaller company like ours, the investment both in time and money can be much more significant resulting in a great desire to take full advantage of those individuals who have attained the certification,” says Joe Cirillo, Senior System Engineer for Horizons Consulting and a MCA: Messaging. “We have built internal programs around the architects, have created service offerings for our customers and continually engage in dedicated technical sessions with our co-workers. We acknowledge the benefits of this program and continually challenge ourselves as individuals and as a company to further our investment in it so that the true benefit is recognized by our customers.
As new as the MCA program is, customers are already seeing its value and are specifying it as a requirement when hiring outside consultants. “There are engagements where an MCA certified consultant is a firm customer requirement,” adds Gauld. “We would probably not be considered or would not have as firm an offer if we weren’t able to back it up with MCA-certified resources. We’ve always differentiated ourselves on our offerings for Exchange by the fact that we’ve had these certified individuals within our consulting organization. It has been and continues to be a large part of the way we win business on Exchange engagements.”
Evolving to meet IT pros needs
The Microsoft Certified Architect credential is the pinnacle of Microsoft Learning’s new generation of certification programs. It continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of IT professionals and developers worldwide.