CXO

What do the MCAs say about the Microsoft Certified Architect Program?

Richard Godfrey is one of the selected few that have earned the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) certification, the newest, most robust Microsoft certification offered. Click here for an in-depth description of the MCA program. Richard is presently the CEO of www.iprinciples.com, which specializes in the design and delivery of high quality Rich Internet Applications (such as 3D book and magazine technology over the Internet), Software Deployment tools and Software Architecture consultancy. He was kind enough to spend some time talking to me about the program. Here's the content of our interview.

What prompted you to go after the MCA certification? Richard: I was a critic of the typical multiple-choice certifications (where you can read a book and regurgitate information to achieve success). I raised my concerns with the guys who were thinking about the MCA programme at the time and I think they decided to call my bluff. I got an email inviting me to take part and to do the 80 hours of prep work for it over the Christmas holiday (which didn't make me very popular at home!).

Once I'd asked about the goals of the certification (to give accreditation to practicing architects around any technology platform with many years of real-world experience) and the process (to be peer-reviewed) I decided that it covered all my criticisms of other certifications and that I wanted to give it a go.

Did you find it harder than you anticipated? If so, how? Richard: Yes, hugely. The pre-work was very self-focusing which is something I don't like to do. The review itself was very comprehensive and pulled me to my limits in all sorts of directions. What was the interview board like? Richard: The board was hell.... and a huge pleasure at the same time.

Rarely are you put in a position where you are being drilled on your real-world experiences and capabilities across seven very different competencies by four of your peers where they are trying to understand your weaknesses and strengths in a very focused quick-fire precision-questioning manner. The adrenalin is running sky high as you try to listen, absorb, think, re-think and try to communicate all at the same time. I wrote a review of my experiences at the time on my previous blog

What was the hardest part of the certification? Richard: I think the hardest part was the wait afterwards. Having gone through the process I really couldn't tell if I'd passed or failed - all I knew was that it had pushed me very hard and I'd learnt some of my own limits and strengths through the experience. As the certification is based on questioning your real experiences and understanding how you did or would act in different circumstances there is very little you can do to prepare for it - you can't really revise for it so you just need to be yourself! How has it helped you in your career? And do you think the high cost justifies the value? Richard: I think it has helped rather than hindered but I don't think it has changed my opportunities for fame or fortune - and to be honest I never expected it to. I do think employers and people buying consultancy services should look at the MCA certification as just one of a number of indicators of capability.

The peer-review process is expensive but very necessary at this level. I don't look at the cost as ‘expensive' despite it being a large amount of money (this is definitely not a profit centre for Microsoft!) but I do think people need to look at their own individual cost/benefit analysis - just because you don't sit the MCA certification doesn't mean you aren't a great Architect!

Do you think Microsoft made a legitimate attempt to raise the bar here? Too high perhaps? Richard: Yes, I think it is a very legitimate attempt to raise the bar. I really can't fault the overall approach having sat in front of and on the board; the process tests genuine experience in a way which is very hard to predict or manipulate. I think the pass rate is on the low side but feel this is indicative of how comprehensive the testing is and how difficult it is to get the initial selection process right. Any other comments you'd like to add? Richard: I think Microsoft has done a very brave thing with the MCA programme.

Firstly, having sat on boards with some great guys who have predominantly non-Microsoft experience and assessed/passed others with mainly non-Microsoft backgrounds I feel it truly is a certification of Architects rather than Microsoft Architects. For a major technology vendor to take this approach needs to be applauded in my opinion.

Secondly, having worked for Microsoft, I know the temptation to try to reduce costs, increase throughput and automate the MCA certification process must have been enormous. The fact they have persisted with the expensive and laborious peer-review process and the kept the quality bar high is a credit to everyone involved in the programme.

Jeremy L. Smith writes about Microsoft products including: Active Directory, and Exchange. As a former Microsoft Certified Trainer he taught hundreds of students on many of Microsoft's most popular products.

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