At TechEd in Boston (on 6/12) we opened the first public offering of the Microsoft Certified Architect program. The offering was for the first 250 applicants or until July 14th, whichever came first. We've been developing this program for over two years and have been hosting review boards for over 1.5 years, selecting the people that participated. We currently have 70 certified architects based around the world.  

The first public application window is now closed but from the number of emails I've received it sounds like a number of people were not able to take advantage of the offering and wanted to. They've asked me when we would open the application process again and how often it would open. The short answer is sometime early in 2007 and as we have capacity in the program. Two things I want to cover in this entry are what the overall process looks like and when/how often we plan on opening the process.

To achieve the certification, a potential candidate must:

- Apply for entry into the program - People that are interested in the certification must apply for entry into the program. We have limited availability for candidates to go through the process because this is a high-touch process and requires a lot of interaction with people that have achieved the certification. Also, the cost to the candidate in time and money is significant and the role of IT architect is ill-defined (currently). Before we have a person go through the effort and cost required we want to make sure they have a good chance of being successful and that they are the type of architect we are certifying.

- Be selected to enter the program - We will take more applications than we have slots available in the program. We ask the applicants to submit documentation highlighting their experience and background. Though a series of processes we will stack rank each of the applicants and invite as many applicants as we can to enter the program until the availability is gone. The cap I've currently set is a 5:1 ratio but that may change as we fine-tune the process.

Complete four mentoring sessions - The person accepted into the program will work on their own for the most part, but will have the opportunity to work with four different MCAs. The idea behind the mentoring is to help the candidate prepare for the interview process that is the certification. It is not to transfer architectural skills and knowledge from the mentor to the mentored.

   - First session, the candidate will talk to the mentor about the project or case study to present to the review board and help the candidate select the one that will best display their skills and experience as an architect to the review board. The mentor is providing advise to the candidate, but ultimately it is the candidate's decision what they present to the board.

   -  Second session the candidate has completed a draft of the documentation that they will submit. The three documents are a resume/CV, a document describing how they have demonstrated expertise in each of the seven competency areas (~500 words per competency), and a 20-page brief on a solution or case study that they designed. The brief should cover the project through the IT lifecycle describing the business problem, design,  development, testing, and handoff to operations for the project, provide physical, logical, and functional diagrams, describe the metrics used to determine success, overall cost (capex and opex) of the project, and insights the candidate gained that they will employ on future projects.

   - Third session is a mock interview. The candidate will present their solution (in 30 minutes) and then the mentor will question the candidate in the 7 competency areas. This is meant to prepare the candidate for the types of question they will get and to make sure the candidate is at the right level to be successful during the interview.

   - Fourth session is a mock interview. This is the "final" check ride and the mentor is an MCA that has served on a review board. They are also the gatekeeper for scheduling the actual interview; they have to approve you to go for the interview.

- Go for your interview - The interviews are a week long event where we have 13 candidates go for their interviews in front of the review board. The events are scheduled regularly and will be hosted around the world. The candidate will be given a time and date for their interview. For them, the interview process is 2 hours long. The candidate has 30 minutes to present their solution/case study and then the review board has a total of 40 minutes to question the candidate about what they presented. The candidate then has a 5 minute break and comes back for a second round of questioning. The second half of the interview is also 40 minutes in length. The first half of the interview is to give the review board an understanding of the overall level of the candidate. The second half is to identify the areas that require futher investigation and then to validate the candidate's level of competency in those areas.    

As you can tell, the process requires a lot of interaction with a certified architect. Once you get your certification part of the requirements to maintain the certification are to support the community and the program; a portion of that is to mentor others going through the process. Still, there is a limit to the amount of time the MCA can invest in the program and that throttles the number of candidates we have enter the program. As we have more certified architects and more robust self-mentoring tools for the candidates we will be able to increase capacity.

We'll open the application process several time a year once we have a critical mass of certified archtects to support the program. Until then, entry windows will be limited and less often. That said, I plan to open one early in 2007 but cannot provide a specific date. As we get close to that date I'll post here and on our public web site. Stay tuned...