I’d been involved in various discussions in the past about the certification of ‘Architects’ and, to be honest, have held quite a cynical view about the whole thing. Sitting in front of a book and then regurgitating what I’d read wasn’t appealing to me in the least. I remember having a few conversations about it at the Microsoft Architect Advisory Board last year where I had commented that certification for Architects needed to be all about demonstrating experience in the real-world; understanding more than Microsoft technology; demonstrating effective use of soft-skills; full-lifecycle experience; etc. Anyway, I left thinking I’d hear nothing more of it.

So… just before Christmas I was asked by my Redmond colleagues if I’d like to sit a new Architect certification which was being pulled together to try to create a level of assessment of Architecture experience that would be recognised industry-wide and world-wide. Not interested was my first impression, but then the invitation suggested I would need to spend 80 hours preparing the paperwork for the submission. 80 hours! Over Christmas! I could see Mrs G’s face would be a picture when I mentioned it :-)  … and indeed it was :-(

I managed to get the submission back just in the nick of time and waited for a response. The submission consisted of:
 - Current CV/Resume.
 - Detailed documentation of a key project where I’d been the Lead Architect.
 - Detailed documentation supporting the 7 key competency areas being assessed with real examples to back it up.
 - A questionnaire which covered Architecture resources I use among a host of other data
 - Contact details for 5 referees who could be contacted to address the competency area claims
 - Examples of relevant artefacts that I had created, such as technology strategies, requirements/design/test specs, etc.
 - Details of my other industry recognised qualifications like CEng, etc.
 - Oh… and a kitchen sink.

The full details of the certification process can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/architecture/default.aspx?pid=share.certification if you’re interested. Also take a look at the roundtable discussion about it on http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2005/jun05/06-06MSLearning.mspx

Well, Mrs G convinced me that I should take her to Seattle when I sat in front of the board (thanks to airmiles!) at the end of January. I figured we’d at least have some time away together even if I failed the interview.

I turned up at the hotel in Redmond where the assessments were taking place and went in to the room mentioned on my instructions. It was a huge room with a small table in the middle with a bottle of water placed strategically on it (next to the network cable that snaked across the floor). I sat down at the table and waited – frantically wondering why I’d put myself up for this. After 5 minutes (which felt like an hour) I was beckoned in to meet the board. The first impression was that this must have been the smallest room in the hotel and why the hell hadn’t they swapped the rooms around? There were the 4 board members sat at one side of the table, 3 on-lookers at the side and a video camera staring at my face with it’s red light flashing away.

First up was the presentation and my laptop synced to the projector first time – Result! The board heard me speak for 30 mins (exactly) and then the grilling started. After another 40 minutes was up I was asked to leave the room for a short while. I stood around the corner and waited… and waited… and waited. After 10 minutes I was discovered (they thought I’d run away!) and went back into the lion’s den. On reflection, that 10 minute break in the middle was pure genius and a technique I’ll be using for interviews in the future. When the questions started again, the questioners had re-grouped and were clearly drilling me on the areas where they had found uncertainty or weakness. The next hour or so was a nightmare and we covered an incredible amount of ground. What if you’d done X instead? What were the top X reasons for Y? How would you have done it different today? Surely this would have been better? … you name it!

Then… Finally… the last question… what do you want to tell us? Phew, I knew there would be an easy one eventually! It wasn’t! This was the last opportunity I had to make my case so it had better be convincing I thought. Well, I muttered a few well chosen words, shook some hands and that was that.

I walked out of the hotel door and back to the car. I just sat there for 15 minutes trying to take it all in and wondering if I stood a chance. Apparently I would hear in 2 weeks time if I’d been successful or not. I reflected on the experience and came to the conclusion that if I had failed it then ‘so be it’. It had been a tough and yet completely fair, professional and positive experience which had challenged me in lots of areas and helped me identify areas I could improve on. Believe me, it was not about reading books, knowing only Microsoft technology or any of the other concerns I’d had about this kind of certification in the past, and it was certainly a lot harder to achieve than some other industry recognised things I’ve done.

The relief of getting it over and done with was huge so we had a fun time catching up with friends and making the most of Seattle for the rest of the stay. Maybe I’ll take Mrs G back for the re-assessments in a couple of years?