As anyone in the Salesforce ecosystem will tell you, one of its pinnacles is becoming a Salesforce Certified Technical Architect (CTA). It represents those few who have a mastery of the platform, who have years of experience implementing, consulting, delivering and tinkering with the many toys that Salesforce gives us. It is illustrated as the top of a mountain; the end of a long journey. And that analogy is valid.
The CTA process has changed a few in recent years – but don’t worry about the changes, you as an individual architect will sort things out in order to take it to the next level. All you have to worry about is finding yourself good timeframes for preparing everything you need for your journey.
Some of our top architects, regardless of their 8+ years experience in project delivery, and the plenitude of satisfied customers by the projects completion, have been in front of the CTA Panel twice. No, like many before and many after who tried to take this exam, failed at their first attempt and had to regroup. But to [mis-]quote Edison: “I didn’t fail, I found a way that didn’t work.”
SET YOUR EXPECTATIONS LOW
Gemma, our CEO and an industry expert, has attempted the exam once. Andrew Hart, her mentor, passed it on his second try. Usually the later trial is the winning one, because you’ll be more motivated and focused on your goal. Don’t let your guard down when things don’t go right the first time around, always consider taking every failure as a step forward in your personal development.
WHY BECOMING A CTA IS IMPORTANT FOR YOUR PERSONAL GROWTH
The process of becoming a CTA is a valuable learning experience. You’ll feel yourself growing; perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to use your experience with real customers, too. Be proud to be part of that elite (though most of the people that got there are much more humble and keep their pride to themselves). This soon becomes part of your elevator pitch, and when talking to prospects and customers, your expertise is proven. It will open many doors for you in your career. As Andrew Hart said: “I learned a lot about the platform, and really had to push myself to get through the process, and be accepted and recognized by my peers to gain the CTA badge. It is not an easy journey, but it is a worthwhile one.”
Once you have the Architect certifications, you know enough to solve a scenario and come up with justifications for your solution choices. Passing the review board is far more involved. What you don’t know is what we’ve covered above: how to approach the scenario; to score easy points; to cover every item; to draw what you need to draw and remember what you need to remember.
From the base of the summit, it looks like an impossible task. But it’s achievable: if you’re prepared to put in the work, to learn, to listen, to enter the fray… then you can do it.
PRICE VS. REWARD
We all know that the Salesforce Certified Technical Architect (CTA) is expensive. Add $6k to the already-significant costs of completing the certifications needed to get to System Architect and Application Architect, and it’s enough to make any CFO break into a sweat. However, for a Salesforce partner, the benefits of having a CTA make it an incredibly worthwhile investment. Let us (attempt to!) tell you how.
CTA: CERTIFIED TO(be) AMAZING
To become a Salesforce Certified Technical Architect is to demonstrate that you have mastered the Salesforce platform; it’s no small feat to achieve it. It’s notoriously difficult to pass because you really do have to know your stuff. However, Salesforce has started making a significant effort to build relationships with CTA candidates in order to position them for success.
IT’S EXPENSIVE AND DIFFICULT – WHY SHOULD I TRY?
CTA is the absolute pinnacle of what you can achieve as a Salesforce expert. Once you’ve got the CTA, your colleagues, prospects, customers and future hiring managers have the confidence that you know what you’re talking about. You can be trusted to come up with the optimum solution, and to help others develop their knowledge along the way. This provides no end of benefits to your company and to your career.
WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO?
The #JourneytoCTA starts with passing the Designer exams, culminating in what’s known as the Review Board exam. This is a presentation the candidate has to give to a panel of judges, to show how they would take a hypothetical scenario and transform it into a secure, high-performing solution. It’s a big task, because you have to show how you’ve considered things like data volumes, security, sharing, integrations and identity – and you have to go into detail.
It takes hours of study to get ready for the review board; it also takes hours of study before you’re even eligible to apply for it. If you harbour ambitions of obtaining the CTA credential, one purpose of doing all those pre-requisite exams is to ensure you’ve got all the knowledge you need to succeed. It’s not about passing one exam and moving onto the next one. It’s then remembering everything you were tested on.
You’ll have to explain it in detail to somebody who knows it better than you do and can tell whether you truly know the material or not.
WHAT’S THE INVESTMENT?
Assuming you pass the first time (including the optional Community Cloud and Mobile Solutions Architecture certifications), you can expect to part with $3,000 (USD) plus tax to get to System Architect and Application Architect. Retakes are charged at 50% of the original fee.
Benefits for your company:
- A valuable font of knowledge – a mentor who inspires your team
- More accurate Statements of Work
- A strategic approach to implementation
- A trusted technical pre-sales resource
- An accredited technical leader for your most important projects
- Higher quality implementations
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Increased employee satisfaction
- Competitive edge – there are fewer than 250 CTAs in the world. Many of them work (or have worked) at Salesforce.
- A stronger partner relationship with Salesforce by showing commitment to developing your staff
- Increased sales opportunities
Benefits for you:
- Developing presentation skills
- Learning to explain things concisely
- Master elements of the platform you didn’t think you could
- The satisfaction of having that mastery recognised by community, colleagues and peers
- It puts you in a position to lead the delivery of a Salesforce project
- The opportunity to mentor and teach others
- People trust you more (this is all the more important for women who work in Salesforce consulting)
- You have the knowledge you need to be a better architect
- More career options available to you – I know some CTAs who say it has opened doors for them
- More money and more negotiating power
OK, WHAT’S NEXT?
If this is truly something you want to do, think about what your company values in its partnership with Salesforce and play to these when you put your case together.
If you’re lucky enough to have an architect development programme at your company, tap into it!
Our industry experts’ advice is to start at the beginning, work through some certifications you know you’d be strong at, see how you feel about it. For example, Gemma started working on her #JourneytoCTA in late 2017 after a simple conversation; she just wound herself up and before she knew it, she made her mind up to do it.
Working towards her Certified Technical Architect review board has been an intensive process, consisting of mock review boards every week, with plenty of study and practice in between. There are some misguided perceptions out there that the review board is simply one more step after achieving System Architect (CSA) and Application Architect (CAA). The truth is that achieving CSA and CAA means that you’ve gone about 60% of the way to CTA.
GETTING READY TO RAMP UP
There has been a fundamental shift in the way that Salesforce is handling its CTA candidates. There is no longer a mad scramble for places at the scheduled review boards; Salesforce wants to build personal relationships with candidates to give them the very best chance of success. The best way they can do that is to meet with you first, to make sure you have a few things in place:
- a mentor / coach
- a study plan
- a methodology for ramping up
and to see where you are in your journey at the moment.
So what is it going to be? Time is the big thing here.
- From our experience, we recommend you to take an 8-week ramp-up period, during which you should practice, study, present, score yourself and then you should take a go/no-go decision.
- You should arrange to have 1 day a week to yourself, out of billable project work, in order to focus your time on CTA.
- You should also use your evening and weekend time to study and work on feedback. You’ve got to know your stuff so well that you can literally tick off solutions while you’re reading through the scenario.
Our advice would be – before diving in – to have a conversation with your family. Tell them what you’re going to be doing and what you’ll need to do – before you start. This is like getting a degree in Salesforce – you have to study and practice. The pressure is very high and your stress levels are likely to rise. A supportive family will steer you through.
YOUR MENTOR’S SACRIFICE
The best-case scenario is that you can get a mentor who is already a CTA. Your mentor will help you a lot in your journey and assure you that your chances to succeed are sky-rocketing. Here is what a CTA mentor can do for you:
- Write mock review board scenarios
- Be a review board judge at your weekly mocks
- Give you difficult feedback
- Give you good feedback
- Help you work through areas of weakness
- Tap his network to get other CTAs to be judges at your mocks
- Give you his time
- Give you reassurance when you’re starting to doubt yourself
START WITH ACCEPTANCE
There’s absolutely no way you should expect to get a pass on your first six mock review boards. Ramping up is about improving in weak areas, strengthening your preparation plan, and getting used to the format. One of our CTAs once said it’s like change sets – if you expect them to work the first time (and they never do), you’ll only get more frustrated when they fail time after time. Acceptance is a great way to start – because then if you do well, it’s a massive step in the right direction.
MANAGE YOUR TIME
You’ve got 2 hours to prepare on the day. You’re given:
- an offline laptop (for creating slides)
- flipchart and pens
- A4 paper and pens (for your own notes)
More info is available in the exam guide. The crux of it is that you’re expected to dissect the scenario to demonstrate your knowledge of:
- actors and licences
- data model
- solutions for individual requirements
- role hierarchy and sharing considerations
- data migration
- risks and mitigation strategies
- identity solutions
- platform security solutions
Then you have 45 mins to present the whole solution, with another 40 mins for Q&A. You can expect to continue drawing throughout Q&A as the judges ask you to explain concepts.
We recommend you to not read your scenarios during mocks, because you need to look like an expert – after all, you are an expert. If your emotions are overwhelming, just take a deep breath and enter in the shoes of your mentor(as body language) – this exercise should help you a lot to overcome any difficulties you might have.
One of the CTAs from Architech Club agreed to share how her mocks were like:
Mock 1 (Phone)
- Good sharing model
- Good data model
- Nicely identified large data volumes
- Described governance techniques well
- Covered mobile well
- Nailed solution architecture
- Covered project risks correctly
- I didn’t give an introduction
- I forgot to draw a system landscape
- Didn’t communicate my org strategy: single org or multi-org
- I didn’t really understand Identity Connect properly, so I incorrectly suggested it
- I mixed up sharing sets and share groups
- I didn’t cover social sign-on properly
- Just-In-Time (JIT) provisioning was a disaster
- I was vague on my justification for using middleware
- Didn’t know Git and branching strategies well enough – forgot it all since the Deployment Lifecycle exam
- I didn’t tell a story – just dove right in
What I did after Mock 1
- Revised sharing sets and share groups – generally a load of community things
- Revised community licences
- Revised Just-in-Time provisioning
Mock 2 (Phone)
- Positioned single org early
- Strong on my mobile solution (it was fresh in my mind)
- Correct license types selected
- OWD and sharing rules: nailed it
- the data model was good
- Solution landscape
- Ran out of time to cover Identity. This was fundamental.
- Didn’t use middleware correctly and confused the judge
- Combined solution and system landscape diagram was a bit of a mess. Needed to split the two
- large data volumes
- Got Idp / SP – initiated flows mixed up for single sign-on
- Missed a requirement for Apex sharing
- System landscape wasn’t complete
- I was too consultative: I gave options rather than being prescriptive. I went into Client Mode.
- I really struggled with prep time for this scenario – I didn’t finish everything because I took too long talking through the solution landscape, then rushed through data model and sharing.
What I did after Mock 2
- Revised the OAuth flows we studied for Ladies Be Architects
- Started drawing out SP-initiated and IdP-initiated login flows EVERY DAY
- Started drawing out User-Agent and Web Server flows every day. At that point, it began to really go into my brain.
- Started to think of a strategy for using the 2 hours’ prep time
- Revised LDAP and Active Directory repositories
- Looked at a sample system landscape in an attempt to simplify for next time
Mock 3 (Phone)
- “Really good” system landscape (YES!)
- Good use of OWD and sharing rules
- Good identity solution
- Getting better at being prescriptive
- Clearly presented diagrams
- Good positioning of middleware
- Told a good story
- This was my best scenario yet
- Not enough time to cover reporting and analytics
- Still wobbly on JIT
- Just a little mixed up between the web server and user-agent flows. I talked myself out of using web server, because I was confused about the initial steps to get the authorization code. But it turns out I was right to begin with.
- Doubting myself
- Preparation time. I still needed a plan
What I did after Mock 3
- Continued to practice writing out the Single Sign-On flows every day
- Continued to draw out the OAuth flows and timed myself – every day
- Revised the exact steps taken in JIT, drew it out as a flowchart, then practiced drawing the flowchart every single day
- Revised web server OAuth flow and spoke to a Technical Architect at work about it. Clarified it in my mind.
- Over lunch, discussed Identity solutions with another Technical Architect at work. He then asked me questions and it gave me an idea of what else to study – when I couldn’t answer them!
- I spent 2 hours one evening doing a prep rehearsal for one of the test scenarios in the architect group. I focused on getting diagrams drawn quickly, addressing requirements in slides and trying to cover everything. It was a worthy exercise that helped me greatly in the next mock.
- I met with Tammi, our recruitment partner, to teach her about single sign-on. We had a great time talking about nightclub guest lists and acting out the token exchange!
The Change in YOU
After your review boards, you’re going to feel a change in the way you’re presenting and discussing solutions. That’s why the CTA journey is not just a walk in the park, but instead, it is more like climbing a tall mountain. You’ll get recognition in your industry, you’ll be considered an expert in your field, even your self-confidence will gradually go “through the roof”. It’s not an easy job, but it is for sure a great and rewarding achievement. Keep in mind that there are only a few hundred Salesforce CTAs in the world, so don’t criticize yourself too much if you fail.
There will be hard work, dedication and mentorship needed – if you want to have increased chances of success. If you already meet the first two requirements, we at Architech Club can provide the last one – mentorship. Nothing takes the edge off a complex solution like having someone there to share their experience and knowledge to get you through it. You may be thinking that having a mentor is an optional thing, but do you know what every personality that realized great things in their field had in common? Exactly, they had a wise mentor. You can book our team of experts anytime you want in order to help you navigate through any challenges you might have in your own #JourneyToCta. You’re not alone.