The TechEd session on the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) program, presented by Sondra from my team, was HOT (red font! on purpose! can you tell I'm using Live Writer?). Although we are doing this same session next week via Live Meeting (register here), I took notes to share with those who couldn't make it. Here are said notes.

Everyone's an architect.

In IT, there is not much consistency in what makes an architect... lots of people have it in their titles but they all might define it differently. One of the presenters from HP pointed out that there were literally thousands of people at HP with "architect" in their title. So the MCA program came in to being to create a high-bar series of certifications to lock down, across the industry, what defines an architect. Designed by architects (not just MSFT architects, by the by), for architects.

Broad Architecture and Technology Specific

There is an MCA: Solutions and MCA: Infrastructure; both focus on broad architecture skills; software agnostic. There is also MCA: Messaging and MCA: Database (new)---you might also know these as the Ranger program--and they focus in depth on technology specific skills with Exchange and SQL Server, respectively.

Trusted advisor: Who are the MCAs? 

One presenter posed this question: "What is the difference between hallucination and vision?" The answer was "the number of people who can see it," and he used that to sum up his view of being an architect... I thought that was great way to look at it--the need to take your technical skills and strategy to come up with an amazing vision and use your leadership, collaboration, and communication skills to make it happen in real life. Candidates must be

  • practicing architects with 10 years experience, at least 3 in architecture, who have shown repeat success...
  • vendor neutral/trusted advisory-in the case of Solutions and Infrastructure, in particular--there must be an assumption that the MCA will look for the right solution for the organization's next 5-10 years--this doesn't always mean a MIcrosoft solution
  • There is a model for each of the four MCA areas that show an "ideal" candidate based on a combination of different skills/experience. it is different for each... but you'll note (if you look at the competencies--technical skills are not the majority... there is a lot of weight on Strategy, Leadership, Communications... )
  • Messaging and DBA programs are only open to Microsoft employees and Gold Certified partners; the other two are now open for public registration

Grilled & picked apart: the MCA process

For Solutions and Infrastructure MCA candidates, all you have to do is:

  1. Register
  2. Document a project/solution from your past
  3. Present your solution to a "review board."

Piece of cake! Except that the review board was described as being "picked apart," being "grilled for a few hours.." and likened to a PhD dissertation. No cake. The review board is made up of already-certified MCAs and is series business and happens in person--we've held them in Redmond, in Boston, in India, in Paris, in Singapore... a few review boards each year. For the Messaging/DBA programs, add a four-week on-site training program, written tests, and lab tests in addition to the three-steps above. Still no cake.

More than an ice cream sandwich; less than a G5

What it costs: $25,000US for Messaging/DBA programs. $10,000US for Solutions/Infrastructure programs. It is expensive, because it is time intensive. It is expensive, because it is not intended for everyone. Also, candidates for this credential are at a level where it is most likely their large organization will sponsor their program fee.

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