News from the Microsoft TechEd conference held in early June in Orlando, Fla., and a recent article by Microsoft Learning group product manager Al Valvano have helped shed more light on the company's forthcoming flagship certification program -- Microsoft Certified Architect. This certification is aimed at more senior and experienced IT professionals who want to demonstrate their abilities at leading various types of IT projects and to make themselves stand out in their employer's eyes and in the IT community at large.
What was already known at TechEd this year, following the credential's initial introduction in a keynote address at TechMentor in early April, was the following:
- Microsoft Certified Architect is broadly focused on IT projects and is aimed at individuals with documented, relevant work experience.
- The credential will require working with a mentor, who may come from inside or outside Microsoft, but who will have strong IT architect credentials and experience.
- In addition to covering technical topics, tools and technologies -- of which Microsoft-specific elements will only constitute 25% of overall coverage -- the certification will stress soft skills involved in managing people and projects, as well as business analysis, communications (written and oral) and decision-making skills.
- Qualifying for the certification will involve more than taking exams and documenting relevant work experience: Individuals must also submit written materials and will have to present an oral defense of those materials before a panel of experts, in much the same way that Ph.D. candidates must mount an oral defense of their dissertations.
Recent revelations includes these items:
- There will be two tracks in the Microsoft Certified Architect program -- one for solutions architects and another for infrastructure architects. The first is more development oriented. It stresses development tools or frameworks that include .NET and J2EE, which are used to create custom business solutions, along with an emphasis on translating business needs into related software functionality. The second track is more technical and involves working within an IT environment as well as with CIOs and CTOs to drive the evolution of the IT infrastructure in the organization. It addresses networks, servers, desktops, storage, security, management and operations and other aspects of the infrastructure for delivering and supporting appropriate uses of technology and solutions.
- Newer discussions of the Microsoft Certified Architect program focus on important soft skills that include terms like "leadership," a "desire to mentor others," and the "ability to navigate the politics of an organization." These are invoked to explain the reasons for and value of the credential's work experience requirements.
- It entails a peer-review process because the certification's designers believe that practicing architects know their work better than others can, and that such practitioners can quickly separate more competent certification candidates from less competent ones. It's also something of a real-world stress test that shows candidates' abilities to function under pressure, to demonstrate listening and communications skills and to be able to separate promising looking tools and technologies from those that can really do what's required of them.
- Key analytical skills requirements center around the ability to balance business needs against current and future technologies and come up with optimal solutions. An understanding of business strategies and priorities is important, and learning how to design and implement solutions that meet business demands is perhaps even more vital to an architect's success on the job.
At the roundtable on the Microsoft Certified Architect Program at TechEd, program manager Andy Ruth summed up things best when he said: "The common characteristics architects have include leadership, good communication skills and strategic thinking in combination with good tactical skills, organizational dynamics and a depth and breadth of technological expertise. Everyone in the IT job space needs some level of skill in each of these areas," Rath said, "but the architect must have significant skills in each of these areas. They are well-rounded individuals who are passionate, can think abstractly and are constantly seeking new knowledge and to better their skills."
You can find more information and opinions about the certification process at Certification Magazine. If you were unable to attend the TechEd roundtable on the Microsoft Certified Architect program, you can read the transcript, What Makes a Good IT Architect?, on Microsoft's website.
What's still not yet clear are the details involved in pursuing the Microsoft Certified Architect credential, like the cost of the program, the exams, written work, mentoring assignments and interaction and so forth. Microsoft spokespersons indicate it will probably be late in 2005 before such information becomes available, making it likely that candidates won't be able to start down the trail toward earning a Microsoft Certified Architect credential until sometime in 2006.
Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer, trainer and consultant who specializes in certification and training, information security, markup languages and networking topics. He writes for TechTarget Web sites, is technology editor for Certification Magazine, and writes an e-mail newsletter for CramSession called Must Know News. He has written or contributed to many computer books; his latest is The PC Magazine Guide to Fighting Spyware, Viruses, and Malware (Wiley Publishing). E-mail Tittel at firstname.lastname@example.org.