Sunday, 5 February 2012

Certified Salesforce Technical Architect



This week I received an email from Salesforce Certification informing me that I'd passed the review board and obtained the Salesforce Technical Architect certification.  This post details my experience and hopefully provides some guidance for those that are considering attempting this certification.

Please don't ask for or post any exam questions/answers, as this is contravenes the test taker agreement that we all sign up to at the beginning of the exam and devalues the certification.

I participated in the beta of this exam for the first two stages, so things may have moved on a little.

There are three parts to the certification:

1. Self Assessment

This is a questionnaire in which you rate your experience with various technologies, both on and off Salesforce platform.  Some of the items I rated myself on didn't feature again (e.g. JQuery).  The most important thing here is to be honest about your abilities.  The second and third parts of the exam are tough, so if you claim experience that you don't have, you are likely to be quickly found out.

2. Multiple Choice

After clearing the self-assessment, next up is the multiple choice.  This is 60 questions over 2 hours, which gives a clue as to the level of detail in the questions and answers - the beta had 139 questions over 4 hours, so it could be worse.  Like the cloud consultant exams, many questions had answers that were all correct, but you had to pick the best practice, and there were only a handful of questions where I felt that the answer was obvious if you had worked in that area.

Unfortunately for me, the study guide wasn't released at the time that I took the exam, so I only had the description of the exam to work from when deciding what to revise.  The thing that really surprised me about this exam was how little actual Salesforce knowledge was tested - a lot of the questions were around how Salesforce could integrate with other systems.

3. The Review Board

The next step is the review board. This requires a significant investment - $6,000 - which increases the pressure to pass!  While it sounds like a lot of money, there are 8-9 people involved in the review board for the best part of half a day, so its easy to see how the costs mount up.

Prior to the actual event, you have to produce a case study of a real-life customer implementation that you have architected.  The study guide recommends at last 10 hours, but I'd say I spent easily twice that, mainly because I kept changing my mind about what needed to be in there.

The certification packet you get sent when you book the review board indicates the areas that you need to cover, but only at a very high level so choosing which details to leave in or out takes some thought.

Something to bear in mind for this is that you will have 30 minutes to present it to the review board.  While that sounds like a lot, once you get into your stride and start talking around the points in the presentation it quickly gets eaten up, and the most useful piece of advice I can give you here is to dry run the presentation a few times to check your timings and learn your lines.  I really struggled to keep to 30 minutes, and in my first couple of attempts ended up hurtling through the final 10 slides or so and having to speak at an incredibly fast rate.  I'd suggest that 30 slides is the maximum that you can use if you are intending to have a reasonable amount of information on each.  The next key piece of advice is that if you put something into this presentation, you had better be prepared to drill into it in great detail.

The review board was being run out of San Francisco, but unfortunately I couldn't swing a trip out there so I had to take part remotely via a web session.  Handily enough we do quite a lot of webinars with our customers so this was quite a familiar environment for me.  The review board is made up of subject matter experts and technical architects from Salesforce and the wider community.

The review board is a 4 hour session, broken down into 5 parts:
  1. First you are given a hypothetical scenario with a current architecture landscape and set of business requirements, and you have to architect/design a solution and produce a presentation  in 75 minutes.  At first glance, 75 minutes sounds like a lot of time, but the time flew by.  The   scenario was a lot more complex than I had anticipated and it was quite a struggle to cover everything.
  2. You then have 30 minutes uninterrupted to present your solution to the review board.  If you don't utilise the full 30 minutes this gets added to the next section.  I only used 22 minutes and learned a valuable lesson the hard way!
  3. Next the review board has 30 minutes (plus any time you didn't utilise from the previous section) to question you on your solution in an interview format. This is the toughest part by far - you are already likely to be rattled from trying to produce the solution design in quite a short amount of
    time, and you'll no doubt have started questioning yourself while presenting it.  Once the experts start drilling down into the detail it can become a real test of character.  Apparently there have been candidates that have been very nervous during their presentation and have then been too nervous to answer questions - I'd imagine this applies to candidates who weren't really ready from an experience perspective and had relied on memorising information.

    Its not a hostile or unpleasant environment, but you will be expected to speak to quite a level of detail across a number of technological aspects, and if you don't give enough detail the questions will keep coming!  This 38 minutes seemed to last an awful long time.
  4. After a short break, you then have another uninterrupted 30 minutes to present your case study that you have prepared in advance.  The difficulty here is to lift yourself after the previous session and not to dwell on any mistakes you feel you've made earlier.  This is where the rehearsal can stand you in good stead, as you should know this material like the back of your hand.  Learning from part iii I took 29 minutes and 52 seconds by my stopwatch, thus only giving the board an additional 8 seconds to quiz me!

  5. Finally, another Q and A session on your case study.  This covers a lot of the wider aspects of the Technical Architect role, so you'll need to be prepared to talk about things like the development methodology, testing strategies, project governance, interaction with project stakeholders and the wider business users.  My preparation really paid off here and as far as I recall I was able to answer pretty much all of the questions to quite a level of detail.  This final section flew by and I was quite surprised when the board indicated they had no further questions.
I really had no idea how I'd done at the review board - its quite intense and reactive, so its difficult to judge your own performance.  Another key piece of advice here is to ensure some of your colleagues are waiting to buy you a beer straight afterwards!  
 
I realise I'm making this sound like a really tough experience and that is because it was.  I don't feel I could have been much more prepared but it was still a real challenge, so if you are going in underprepared or lacking experience you really aren't going to find it much fun.  This is as it should be of course - this is the highest level of certification so it shouldn't be easy.
 
After the review board its a wait of up to 4 weeks to hear the results - I received my results in just under 2 weeks and I was rather pleased to pass to say the least.
 
Areas that you need to know are:
  • Integration - the various APIs that Salesforce has and when it is appropriate to use each one
  • Clicks versus code - the pros and cons of each and which is appropriate to use for a given scenario
  • Identity management - the various types of single sign-on that can be utilised with Salesforce, user provisioning and if there are any caveats around sites/portal access
  • Multiple org versus single org - again, pros and cons, which to use for a give scenario and also elements that may push you towards multi org having started out in a single org
  • Large data volumes - techniques for handling large volumes of data from a migration, integration and analytics perspective
  • Mobile and desktop access
  • Agile versus waterfall development methodologies
  • Design patterns
  • Project governance
  • Stakeholder management
  • Testing strategies
  • Deployment strategies
  • Change management
  • Portal options - customer, partner, Force.com sites, Siteforce and Heroku.  Again, the pros and cons, which is the better fit, license restrictions and cost
  • Security and privacy - from a number of perspectives, e.g. technical configuration details, benefits of certifications, physical versus logical, firewalls, DMZs, proxies and reverse proxies
  • Performance and scalability
  • General architecture concepts - a lot of the time Salesforce will be one component in an architecture, so you'll need to know what is a good fit for Salesforce and what needs to be in an external system
Q & A
 
Q. Can you please share links for the preparation of exam specially relating to integration and SSO topics.
A. The best resource for SSO I've found is the Developerforce Consultant Resource Center page at: http://wiki.developerforce.com/page/CRC:SSO (This link is now defunct).
The Developerforce Technical Library is a good starting point. Here are some links to this:
Q. When your results came back to you, did the review board give you any feedback?
A. Yes, you do get feedback.  There are around 12 areas and you get told what you were strong on and what you need to work on.

If you have any questions on this, please post them into the comments section below and I'll add them to this section.  

 

37 comments:

  1. Very informative. Thanks Bob

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  2. Hi

    Great!! Congratulations!.Thanks for sharing.

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  3. This was Helpfull

    Thanks

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  4. Firstly, congratulations on your achievement! I appreciate you sharing your experience. I'll be sure to pass your post on to the folks I know who are moving in the Certified Technical Architect direction.

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  5. You did it ! That's very impressive, Congrats !
    Now you will be invited to the other side for the review board ;)

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  6. Well done. Sounds tough.

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  7. Many Congratulations & Thanks for sharing your experience. Greatly Appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Ashish Agarwal
    http://www.asagarwal.com

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  8. Well done! I'll be going for my TA this year and this is exactly the kind of resource I need to give me the confidence to prepare appropriately. Again, well done.

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  9. Contratulations!! If you do not get this exam who will do!!:)) @Indy_dakota!!!!

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  10. Congratulations!! I am also preparing for this exam, Can you please share links for the preparation of exam specially relating to integration and SSO topics.

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  11. @kamiesh - the best resource for SSO I've found is the Developerforce Consultant Resource Center page at: http://wiki.developerforce.com/page/CRC:SSO

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    1. I suggest you post this to the developerforce discussion boards.

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  14. Bob,

    When your results came back to you, did the review board give you any feedback?

    My biggest complaint on the SFDC certifications I have worked on is that you get ZERO feedback, so you dont know if you passed by a margin or what areas you did well vs what you need to learn more about. I hope working with a review board earns you better feedback from Salesforce.

    Congrats.

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    1. Yes, you do get feedback. There are around 12 areas and you get told what you were strong on and what you need to work on. The Advanced Developer certification has this feedback too - like the TA cert it is marked by humans.

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  16. Hi Bob, You did a great job presenting at Dreamforce today! I was the one who asked you about what case study you presented. I am starting the journey to become a technical architect (I have about 2 years with a small consulting firm mananging project delivery as well as completing all business analysis within the organization) and I hoping that you can help me understand what skills I should really focus on over the next couple of years to ensure that I am ready for this exam.

    Thanks for your time!

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    1. Hi Tyler,

      In my presentation to the London platform developers group, I went in to the case study in a little more detail. The slide deck and a recording are available at:

      http://bobbuzzard.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/london-sfdc-user-group-technical.html

      I'm going to put together a page for architect resources etc as there seem to be a lot of interest, so stay tuned.

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  17. Hi Keir,
    In the self-assesment part, do you need to submit any customer references? I believe I read that somewhere.

    Thanks / Niklas

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    1. Yes you do. I used a customer (the one that the case study for the review board came from) and a colleague.

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    2. Should have been clearer - you need to give the names of two referees, it didn't say they had to be customers when I took it.

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    3. And do you know if there are there any requirements on those references? Do they have to be connected to projects of a specific art and extent? And furthermore will these automatically be used in step 2 and 3?

      Thought it would be good to have this clear before taking the self-assesment.

      Appreciate your feedback!

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    4. I didn't have to provide anything further than the names, and I think company information. I don't recall there being anything to say that this tied me to those for the purposes of parts 2 and 3.

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  18. Did you join a chatter group or commmunity as study group? I heard there is one coordinated by Salesforce

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    1. I did use the chatter group. Its available to partners through the partner academy org. If you are a customer, I believe it is possible to gain access to this group, but I don't know the process for that.

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  19. Hi Bob, How did you get access to the beta exam? I would like to take the beta exam to test my knowledge prior to multiple exam. Thanks!

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    1. The beta exam isn't one that you can sign up for as a dry run - SFDC exams go through a beta phase when they are first launched. You can't sign up for the beta now, as the exam is generally available.

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    2. Thanks for your timely response. I plan on taking the part 2 in the next month and half.

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  22. Hi Bob, this was very informational and helpful. Thanks for posting this. Can you please tell me how you prepared for this exam? Is there any way you could provide some links, documents and details and how to approach the preparation for the architect exam?

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  24. Hi Bob,

    Is there any time-window restriction for completing Level 2 or Level 3 Architect Certification ?

    Eg: If I completed TA Level 1 Certification by July 2015, then Is there any time-bound for completing level 2 and then level 3.

    Thanks,
    Dilip Singh

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    1. Hi Dilip,

      I believe this is covered in the study guide, but when I did the exam you had a year after passing level 2 to appear at the review board.

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