Architecture Credential for IT Problem-Solvers

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No area of corporate investment may be asked to provide more agility than the IT organization. Increasingly, IT departments are expected not only to ensure their technology infrastructure is up-to-date and running efficiently, but also to have the skills and experience to create IT solutions that solve many business problems. In addition, veteran IT employees are expected to help convince top executives of the value of these solutions, then champion them throughout the organization.

Until now, IT professionals who have stepped up to these challenges have had limited options for getting certified. While most veteran IT professionals possess a broad base of knowledge about specific products and technologies, they are expected to solve problems that require the highest level of both business and IT skills.

The gap between business needs and IT training and certification can impede the success of corporate IT projects. A Gartner Inc. study from February 2005 lists numerous causes for IT project failure—the most common cited by company executives fall squarely in the realm of IT solution architecture. Among them: major planning errors and deficiencies in system delivery and organizational change management. The failure rate is significant: In its May 2004 “IT Project Report Card,” Gartner found that 13 percent of the 355 small projects scheduled in 2002 were cancelled.

The new Microsoft Certified Architect credential is aimed at improving this success rate. It will help IT professionals develop, certify and continue nurturing the highest level of IT and business skills.

This certification offering from Microsoft Learning is not a job-hunting tool, but rather a way for IT professionals to distinguish themselves with their employer and within the IT community. Candidates won’t need to hold other certifications to become a Microsoft Certified Architect, but will need to demonstrate their experience creating architectures that solve today’s most complex business challenges, potentially incorporating technologies from multiple IT platforms and vendors. As a result, most candidates will need more than 10 years of IT experience. Moreover, Microsoft Certified Architects will be required to stay current on new IT technologies and trends, as well as help others attain the credential.

The certification already has received the thumbs-up from some of the IT industry’s most influential veterans. “Setting standards is important, especially if those standards are high enough to create an assurance that someone who meets the standard is capable of doing a high-quality job,” said Tony Redmond, vice president and chief technology officer for HP Services, whose team worked with Microsoft Learning to develop the Microsoft Certified Architect credential. “Apart from individual achievement, a program like this is great for customers because you know that when you work with one of the elite, you truly are working with one of the best.”

The Microsoft Certified Architect credential doesn’t have a prepackaged curriculum or traditional exams. Rather, candidates must demonstrate their skills and knowledge by creating architectures that solve complex business problems. To ensure that they have the necessary skills, and to prepare a presentation of their architecture solution, candidates work with an architect who already holds the credential.

Similar to a doctoral dissertation, candidates will present their work to a panel of IT architects. A five-member board—which includes non-Microsoft architects—will judge the technical proficiency of the architecture along with the candidate’s ability to explain and defend his or her work. The panel also will review the candidate’s curriculum vitae and references.

“Peer reviews are essential to judge advanced skills such as those needed in IT architecture,” said Ryan Plant, a solutions architect for a major U.S. airline and one of the first to gain Microsoft Certified Architect certification during beta testing of the program. “While computer-based examinations have their place, the highest level of certification in other technical careers, such as building architecture and medicine, all require rigorous peer review,” Plant said. “Why would we demand anything less with software architecture?”

Microsoft Learning has developed two types of Microsoft Certified Architect credentials to reflect a common separation of architect duties within organizations. Candidates can seek the Solutions Architect credential to demonstrate their ability to develop solutions requiring application development, or the Infrastructure Architect credential if they create and operate IT infrastructures.

For candidates who need to build their architecture skills and experience, Microsoft Learning has developed the Microsoft Associate in Architecture program, which offers a course of study to gain architect-level experience on projects and develop the skills needed to begin the Microsoft Certified Architect credential process. The course includes online training sessions facilitated by an instructor and a series of exams.

Shaped by Veteran IT Architects

Microsoft Learning worked with veteran IT architects to ensure that the certification reflected the daily realities of this highest level of IT work. Most notably, candidates have the freedom to create solutions using technologies from disparate vendors and platforms. This aspect of the program is important because the vast majority of organizations run software on more than one platform and from multiple vendors. As a result, architects need to be able to build technology solutions best suited to these increasingly complex IT environments.

Microsoft Learning gathered input from the architects during several weeklong work sessions. The sessions helped Microsoft Learning overcome one of the fundamental challenges of developing the certification, namely, the IT industry’s sometimes-conflicting definitions of an IT architect’s role. At the outset of the planning sessions, some who attended joked that putting three IT architects in a room would produce seven opinions about what they do for a living.

Microsoft Learning worked with the IT veterans to identify the common characteristics architects must possess. The consensus was that architects should be able to do the following:

  • Demonstrate visionary approaches to using technology.


  • Investigate new technologies.
  • Understand architectural frameworks and best practices.
  • Follow frameworks, but know when to diverge from them.
  • Quickly develop deep knowledge in a technology.
  • Work with ambiguous or incomplete information.The architects also helped Microsoft Learning identify the core competencies that IT professionals will be judged upon when they seek the new credential:
    • Technology: Understand system components—what differentiates them, how their interfaces work and how they work with other components.


  • Strategy: Design a system that can serve as a guide for the larger enterprise architecture and an organization’s future technology vision.
  • Leadership: Motivate employees and others within an organization to embrace IT changes.
  • Communication: Translate and sell an organization’s vision and applied technology to executives and others who must be on board to ensure success.
  • Organizational dynamics: Understand how new IT solutions and vision can affect people throughout an organization.
  • Tactical and process management: Shepherd the day-to-day implementations of the vision.Ongoing Learning and Collaboration

    Microsoft Learning hopes to build a distinguished community of architects who will work together to drive innovation in the field of IT architecture. To this end, the Microsoft Certified Architect program will encourage ongoi


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