Microsoft Introduces Certified Architect to the Public

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Microsoft’s long-awaited Certified Architect credential was officially released to the masses at the company’s Tech-Ed 2006 conference last week when some candidate slots were opened up to a select group of attendees.


“We are finally taking the Microsoft Certified Architect program live and making it available and open for enrollment to the general public,” Microsoft certification program manager Al Valvano said. “We feel like we’ve got the process ready to go.”


The roll out represents the end of the 18-month creation-to-completion process of the Microsoft Certified Architect, which is a fairly typical development time span for one of the company’s credentials. However, the methodologies used in building the certification were dramatically different and included heavy engagement, interaction and involvement among a community of architects within Microsoft, its partner organizations and its clients, Valvano said.


“In this case, there was a very similar timeline, but a much different approach and process,” Valvano said. “This is a groundbreaking program in my view. We’re creating a certification that’s looking at their skills in a lot of different categories, including technology, but also including lots of other things. I think the nature of what we’re testing against gave us the opportunity to have a really unique approach to the way a candidate is certified. What I like most about this process is the level of one-on-one interaction that we get with this community.”


As a result of this development process, 65 individuals attained the Microsoft Certified Architect prior to the credential’s general release, about half of whom were internal personnel. This first wave will serve as initial members of the certification’s board—those who evaluate incoming candidates’ professional qualifications and knowledge, much like a Ph.D. dissertation. They also will mentor the next batches of aspirants.


One of the unique aspects of this certification is that the majority of core competencies are not technical. Of the seven areas of expertise evaluated—strategy, process and tactics, leadership, organizational dynamics, communication, technology depth and technology breadth—only two directly address technology. This aspect will make or break many candidates, said Andy Ruth, the “architect” of the Microsoft Certified Architect program. “For most of the people who came into the program and didn’t make it out of the other side successfully, it wasn’t because they weren’t technically skilled. It was because they didn’t exhibit the business skills.


“If you go and ask an architect what makes them an architect, they don’t much know,” he added. “There’s not a course you can go take to become an architect. It’s more the way that they approach problems. They’ve got to balance business acumen with technology. If you talk to those technologists, they’re all about technology and not much about business. The big first lesson was that IT architecture is not well-defined in the industry, but it’s starting to get that way. The other one was that you couldn’t come up with a fixed set of questions you could ask to identify someone with those (IT architecture) skills. But if you’re measuring demonstrated expertise, you’ve got to pull people together that have those skills who can say, ‘This person meets that criteria.’”


Because of the demanding and somewhat ineffable character of this credential, the number of certificants will probably never swell beyond more than a few thousand, said Rob Linsky, who handles many of Microsoft Learning’s certification portfolios. “We believe that if this program gets as big as it probably needs to be, it’s probably around 3,000 people certified at any one time as Microsoft Certified Architects. That’s looking out about five or six years, and that’s being able to certify an average of 500 to 600 a year. We’re not there yet, but that’s our goal.”


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