Thursday, June 30, 2005

Microsoft Certified Architect

As part of a re-vamp of it's entire certificatio process, Microsoft has announced the new Certified Architect cert, which is described in more details on the "Share Ideas: Explore Architecture" page.

This new certification recognises two types of architects: Infrastrucure Architects, and Solutions Architects. As I see it, this is sort of aligned to IT Pros and Developers. The Architect page also talks about an "Enterprise Architect" but this designation is not defined in any detail. Each of the recognised architects use specs provided by an enterprise architect to create/design an appropriate solution to the problem.

The process of getting an Microsoft Certified Architect certiciation is long and involved - and it's not based on multiple-guess exams. The candidate is expected to have 10+ years of experience and can apply to become an architect through a number of means (described on the web page). Once accepted into the MCA programme, the candidate is assigned a mentor, and gets access to a library of content to help them prepare a solution description document. When complete, this document is submitted to a Revie Board meeting for assessment. The candidate has to attend the board meeting an ddefend their solution. The MCA Review Board then determines if the candidate is to be awarded the MCA cert. The MCA Review Board has 4 voting members (plus two administrators).

The idea of a review-board based cert is excellent - and has echos of the way Microsoft used to do MSF trainer certification. Thinking back, my MSF trainer oral exam was amongst the hardest exams I've taken in my professional life. Part of this was the process itself (designed to be tough), and part of it was the incredible passion for MSF on the part of the examiner (the amazing Mr Rafal). If the MCA Review Board is as tough as Rafal was, then the MCA will never be a paper cert. Interestingly, this is the 2nd MS certification to use a review board. The Microsoft Certified Learning Consultant (MCLC) uses a simlar approach, and I'm on the review board for MS EMEA. I can post more about MCLC in another blog entry - if there's any interest. I suppose both these certs show that MS has listened to the cries of "paper certification" and has made changes to remove this from at least two certifications.

In many ways, the MCA is both long overdue and most welcome (same about MCLC!). Recognising architects for what they really do, as opposed to their ability to pass multiple-guess tests and having that recognition being based on what they've actually done (i.e. the case study), the cert has much more credibility. If the bar is set high, then that's both great for the cert, but also for the entire certification programme.

This approach gives Microsoft's lower level certification streams (i.e the current set of MCSE, MCSD, MDDBA, MCDST, etc ) a higher level to go for - a hard to get capstone certifications. This in turn provides both a longer term roadmap from the lower level certs to MCA and gives credibility to the entire programme. As an example, look at Cisco, and the CCIE (which very few actually achieve) for giving the whole Cisco certification a better name.

Since MCA can only be obtained by a (successful) development and defense of a real solution, it's far less likely we'll see the paper MCAs. In talking about this cert to the folks at MSL, they make it clear that this is a real architect's certification, not a Microsoft architect. That means we may see MCAs certified on the basis of a Novell or Sun, or IBM/Linux solution. This certainly improves the credability in my eyes. I'm waiting to see who will be certified!

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