Last Friday I got the fantastic message that I had successfully passed the Microsoft Certified Architect - SharePoint 2010 (MCA) certification, something I'm really proud of - but something most of the community never ever heard of. During this weekend I've been pinged and messaged by a lots of people asking the question "What is a Microsoft Certified Architect?". In this post I intend to answer it as thorough as possible, including my own personal aspects of it.
First of all let's answer the most common question - "How does the Microsoft Certified Architect relates to the Microsoft Certified Master exam?".
I might agree that Master sounds way cooler than Architect, but that isn't the real story. The Master certification (MCM) is the most highly technical exam you could ever get in the Microsoft world. The term technical is important here. During the MCM rotation and the exam you explore and learn all the scary and exciting internals and externals of SharePoint (or the other MCM:able products/technologies) from a technical perspective. You will learn from the best teachers and SME's and you will be in a class together with some really awesome and skilled persons. The MCM is both a course (3 weeks on site, or 1 week on site and 10 weeks off-site), a written exam and a qualification lab. Read more about my MCM experience in one of my older posts. To even apply for the MCA you need to be an MCM on the specific product your applying for and on the current version. This means that Microsoft already tested and verified your technical skills! So one could actually say that the MCA is like the Microsoft Certified Grandmaster...
"What is the MCA then?".
So, let's take a look at the Architect certification (MCA). The MCA takes the certification to another level, and focus on the business side of SharePoint (or the other MCA eligible products; SharePoint, Exchange, SQL and AD). The MCA is not a course, it is not something you sit in class and learn for a couple of weeks, it is not something you can study for - it is something you learn over the course of several years of experience with the products, in real business cases together with one or more customers.
"How do I apply for the MCA?".
When applying for the MCA you must supply a portfolio which includes details about real customer gigs, your CV and other documentation to prove that you are in the business for real. Once the program manager thinks you have "what it takes" and that you proven that, you will be scheduled for a board appearance. You need to work on your documents and prepare for the board presentation. This is not something you should do with your left hand - you need to put in some real effort here to produce a good set of documents and a good presentation. It is up to you to prove that you have "what it takes".
"So, how does the MCA board appearance work?".
The board appearance is the certification. You will spend almost a day together with the MCA board (consisting of other MCA's or specific SME's). You will do a presentation, a case study and you will have several intense Q&A sessions. Enough to make you choke. The board will then grade you on six different competencies (full list and details on the official site). Once you are done - all you can do is wait for the pass/no-pass e-mail. This is an exhaustive day for which you need to prepare. But as I said earlier - it all comes down to the actual experience you have in the industry and how used you are to being in these situations with clients. You can't study for the Q&A sessions.
"What's the value of an MCA certification?".
The MCA, and the MCM for that matter, costs a lot of money. So is it worth it? In my opinion definitely. It's really hard to say what the exact payback is. We're currently early in the SharePoint MCA process with quite few certified MCA's and only time will tell. I can directly say that I learnt a lot while preparing for the board appearance - with a lot of time reflecting on past projects. Also the actual board appearance was great in that way that the board tested me; both on my strong areas and weak ones - and now I know what parts I might need to step up on. Studies done on the MCM community shows benefits such as a higher hourly rate, easier recruitment, better and safer deliveries. So the MCM/MCA are really a quality stamp, with MCM focused on the technical aspects and MCA on understanding and implementing business requirements.
"Why did I do this?".
This is the question my wife asks me! Well, first of all I always try to be better in what I'm doing. And going down the MCA route surely did this. I now know what I know and know what I don't know and know what I want to know... Also I think it is great for my company, Connecta, to have this certification - it will definitely be a USP in attracting clients and co-workers. A big thank you to Connecta and my managers who believed in me enough to send me on both the MCM and MCA journey! In the end I know that both me personally, my company and my co-workers will benefit from this.
"I want to learn more about the MCA?".
So, now I've been ranting about the MCA (from my perspective) and there are probably tons of questions that remains unanswered. Use the following links to learn more.
- Microsoft Certified Architect program
- Microsoft Certified Master program
- Regularly held online events with the MCM/MCA program managers. If you're just a little bit interested make sure to attend one of these held by the awesome program mangers for the MCM/MCA programs and have your chance to ask your questions
- Announcing the Microsoft Certified Architect: SharePoint Server 2010 - MCA/MCM/MVP Spence Harbar writes about the SharePoint MCA program
That's it. I hope you have a far better understanding of what a Microsoft Certified Architect is.