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Microsoft Certified Architect Program Ahead of Pace with New MCAs

Update: Dozens of newly minted Microsoft Certified Architects announced as program begins "pilot phase."

Orlando, FL -- The Microsoft Learning Group tells MCPmag.com that the Microsoft Certified Architect program is entering the pilot phase and announced that it has already minted 39 Microsoft Certified Architects. Of those, 19 are internal to Microsoft and seven are employed at the Hewlett-Packard Company, one of several companies to help Microsoft develop the program. The Interlink Group also had a hand in the development; on Tuesday the company issued a press release announcing that two of its employees have obtained the rigorous, peer-reviewed certification.

The pilot phase marks the end of a six-month-long beta development phase and marks the beginning of another important phase in which program developers can test key parts of the certification's rigorous requirements, such as recruiting and mentoring. Program Manager Andy Ruth offers one anecdote, in which a candidate who possesses architect-like experience and credentials was coached to appear before the peer-review board. Ruth says that the board was able to expose the candidate after a short battery of questions.

Mentoring may have been key in helping that architect candidate get through, but "we didn't have the mentoring in place," says Tony Redmond, CTO of HP Services and HP Security, who was able to observe the board's work for a week. Redmond believed that the help of a mentor and additional experience are the hurdles that's keeping that architect from getting through.

Program Manager Andy Ruth says that the Learning Group has already received lots of interest in the program. "We expect a flood of e-mail the day we announce that the program is live," he says. The board is currently running two board reviews per month; as more board members are added, the program will be able to increase the number of board review events. Ruth says that it plans to certify about 500 MCAs by the close of 2006.

Looking more closely at the MCA, one might perceive an obvious gap between that certification and the other certifications. "We're working on how best to address that," says Keith Loeber, chief certification strategist with the Microsoft Learning Group, but says that there is a breadth of experience and skills that come from working outside of Microsoft's technology domain. For one, he cites the difficulty in being able to develop the skill that comes with working on a project with technological and personnel diversity. Secondly, he cites the high level of expertise that candidates need to obtain certifications that already exist in the marketplace, such as the Project Management Institute's PMI title, one of many which can fill that gap. "Candidates will have to have extensive external expertise," he adds. Redmond said that a significant number among the more than 2,000 program managers at HP possess the PMI cert, but the architects have nothing that they can use to showcase their expertise. "We have our own way of [certifying architects at HP], but it's not an industry cert," says Redmond.

MCPmag.com will follow this story with more details next week. To read a Press Pass roundtable discussion with Tony Redmond, Andy Ruth and Interlink Group's Joe Shirey, go to http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2005/jun05/06-06MSLearning.mspx.

In other news, Loeber has confirmed that exams for SQL Server and Visual Studio are expected soon after the release of the respective products later this year. He also says that release of the 70-293 and 70-294 exams with performance-based questions has been pushed to the August/September time frame, citing problems in rolling out international language versions of the 70-290 and 291 exams in March.

About the Author

Michael Domingo is Editor in Chief of Virtualization Review. He's been an IT writer and editor for so long that he remember typing out news items in WordStar.

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Reader Comments:

Sun, Oct 30, 2005 Colin Anonymous

In this industry, it seems like we have to deal with a bunch of more or less incompetent egomaniacs who understand little more than the latest buzzwords and the fact that they've been delivering (poorly developed) solutions with all their "10-plus years of experience"; a fact which they'll remind you of as you, the "less experienced" developer, try to convince them of an elegant solution to a problem which they didn't solve well.

Up until recently, Microsoft certs seemed like a good way to set oneself apart from these bozos by providing a tangible, measurable means of proving skillsets. Now it seems that Microsoft may have given these people a cert. Ugh!

It's not that I don't understand how judgment of architectural capabilities can't be measured by, say, a computerized test, but the proposed system really does smack of a "good ol' boy" network (as others mentioned) because it’s purely subjective and doesn’t require candidates prove knowledge of the technologies they’re designing solutions for.

My 2 cents is that the cert should seek to measure tangible ability. This should involve peer-review, but in my opinion the requirements should add a high-level cert (Microsoft or otherwise) as a prerequisite to prove competence with a technology, and also drop the "years experience" requirement (because, let's face it, there are freshies out there who can design circles around older, but less sharp developers: ability can't be measured in years).

Thu, Jun 23, 2005 Andy Redmond

Nope. Acceptance into the program is based on proven experience delivering architecture successfully.

Thu, Jun 16, 2005 Grant UK

As far as acceptance into the program goes, will candidates who already have MCSD.NET, MCDBA and MCSE certifictions be considered in a better light or are these considered irrelevant to the MCA program.

Wed, Jun 15, 2005 Jason Minnesota

Kudos to all of those who go after this and even more to those who pass.

Unfortunately, I don't think this one will be attainable for me. This one would take too much in terms of personal resources and committment - plus, what would be the guaranteed return other than maybe some respect? Are hiring managers going to recognize this certification and automatically roll over with a salary well above 6 figures?

Looking at the MCA certification: It's definitely a lot to strive for as a candidate. If I'm a small or medium sized business, could I even afford to hire one?

I partially agree with the good 'ol boys club comment above

Tue, Jun 14, 2005 Andy Redmond, WA

A good start for studying for this would be to read the weblogs of architects that are out there. If you go to www.microsoft.com/architecture, there is a good list of places to start looking. There won't be an application process for 6 months to a year, but, we are working on putting up a subscription list for people that are interested in additional information. It will be at the same site as listed above, but will likely take 30-60 days to get it up there. The Interlink group is a small (~200 people) consulting company; Microsoft Learning is the group inside of Microsoft that is responsible for MS Press books, Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC), Microsoft eLearning, and Microsoft certifications (like MCDST, MCSA, MCAD, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA). Both HP and Interlink (along with a long list of other partners and customers) helped us put the program together and define what the skills are that an IT architect has. They also participated in the beta process, and are part of the 44 people we have already certified. Of those ~75% are solutions architects and ~25% are infrastructure architects. We have people from corporations and consulting companies, from around the globe, from inside of Microsoft, and both men and women. As for specific vendor or product skills, every architect I talk to suggests they create architecture based on capabilities for a given technology, then look at products to see which are the best fit for the solution, also that the critical technology skill is in being able to understand the relationship between various technologies and how they interact. They bring in subject matter experts for specifics on a given technology, such as the G4 380 packaged SQL cluster mentioned above.

Mon, Jun 13, 2005 IntegrationArchitect S. Florida USA

PMI cert a quasi-prerequisite OK..... How to study for it? How do we take it, is it by invitation? Do you start with MCSE/PMI? What is estimated cost? How do you get on the application list?

Who are Interlink or Microsoft Learning Groups?

The HP aspect of this is interesting, perhaps the candidate should know how to build a G4 380 packaged SQL cluster, and know HP channel attached storage, and full HP model line up? What about a Sun/Oracle or IBM/AIX candidate who knows Windows architecture and integration?

The MCA 'measurement of experience' could be subjective unless it will be vendor neutral and not be developed under HP’s oversight. If the board ‘measures’ how a candidate might fit in or emulate the existing pool of MCA’s from the insider group it could be a good old boy certification, but this is how MCP/MCSE started long ago.

Fri, Jun 10, 2005 Michael Domingo Irvine, CA

There are quite a few folks out there who do have the expertise to pass it, but there won't be that many, as Microsoft still needs to grow the number of board members and mentors who are able to bring architects in front of the board. Growth and access will be slow for several years and -- who knows? -- perhaps someone will come up with a competing and alternative architect cert. I got the sense that Microsoft would welcome other certification programs coming forth, to hear it from the Learning Group themselves during Tech Ed. There currently isn't a certification program of this caliber out there until Microsoft has come along, and Microsoft has done it because they're financially capable of putting it together. We'll follow up more in the next few weeks.

Fri, Jun 10, 2005 Richard Siddaway UK

Can't agree with the previous comment. I would say you need the experience & exposure to large projects to be able to call yourself an architect.

Be interesting to know split between infrastructure & application architects that have gone through this already

Fri, Jun 10, 2005 Chris McCain St Pete

I think it might be pertinent to point out to the IT community, though they may not want to hear it, that this certification will never be attained by 99.9% of them. The qualification restrictions that include years experience, size of infrastructure solutions, and cost are going to eliminate all but the few hot shots at large organizations. They may disagree but it certainly seems like this is Microsoft's "good ol' boys club."

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