Salesforce Certified Technical Architect

A short while ago, in my Salesforce certification — more than a numbers game post, I suggested that in order to pass the Technical Architect review board you need more preparation than simply getting through the pre-requisite certs as quickly as possible. In this post I’ll cover a few of the things that I was doing prior to passing the review board that I think made the difference for me.

I passed the review board and became a Certified Technical Architect (CTA) in January 2012, so I’ve been one longer than I haven’t in terms of my Salesforce career. This was very much the early days for this certification, and at the time I really had no idea how to prepare, so I tried to go as deep as I could on everything. In hindsight this was an excellent approach! The following items are based on my experience — your mileage may vary and you shouldn’t take this as steps to pass the review board!

What helped

Most of this experience was outside of Salesforce so I’d had first hand experience of how many other systems and technologies worked. It won’t be long before people are attempting CTA without ever having worked outside of the Salesforce platform and I think that will make it tougher. When you are working on projects with integrations to external systems, make a point to find out and understand as much as possible about those systems.

When you work for a partner you typically work in a number of different industries and the whole spectrum of solutions. You are likely to be involved in greenfield implementations where you start with a collection of requirements, or an existing system that is on the way out, and a blank sheet of paper. If you are working for an end user it’s unlikely you’ll get this level of exposure across Salesforce and extending existing implementations is only part of the story.

This meant that I carried out multiple roles. I was involved in all aspects of projects — discovery, design, development, QA, training and ongoing service management. I would also work with Salesforce Account Executives, putting together high level designs and estimates after very short overviews for them. I’d typically have responsibilities across multiple projects and often be required to jump onto a new project at short notice, with minimal time to get myself up to speed. We didn’t have the luxury of a team to build out demos, so I would often be putting something together the day before which meant I had to be a fast learner and happy to make decisions quickly, often making a fair few assumptions.

This was highly relevant experience for the review board and the sheer variety of projects that I would work in in a very short period of time was incredibly helpful.

It was certainly growing in popularity as a suite of applications and a platform, but nothing like it is today. I’d often go into pre-sales meetings to face a hostile audience that were being given Salesforce rather than asking for it. Salesforce definitely wasn’t something that every IT department was keen to see added to their architecture landscape and sometimes they would be downright unpleasant. I’d typically be given a short overview of one or two of their key use cases and asked to show on a whiteboard how these would be handled on Salesforce, and once I’d done this there would be a number of changes and blockers thrown at me. Typically there would be Salesforce staff in the room as well — AEs, SEs, SEMs — who would be ready to jump in if I went down the wrong rabbit hole.

This was the key to the review board for me — thinking on my feet in a pressured environment, coming up with solutions to problems that I then had to explain the pros and cons of to people who sometimes didn’t want to be there in the first place. Anyone coming into the Salesforce ecosystem now isn’t likely to experience this kind of thing. IT are now on board and have realised that Salesforce isn’t going to take their empires away, there are typically live examples of Salesforce being used in the exact way that a company is considering. It’s also highly likely that some of their staff will have experience of Salesforce, or the company will already have Salesforce implemented and be looking to do more with it.

If I could give one piece of advice to any aspiring CTA it would be get yourself on as many, and as varied, pre-sales engagements as you can.

What didn’t help

Preparing for the review board wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns for me. I was accepted on it at 10 days notice, which didn’t leave a lot of time for brushing up on the areas I was less experienced on. I also had to put together a case study and get the customer to sign it off. Plus I had an all day workshop with an existing company. I don’t remember having much of a social life for those couple of weeks.

The study guide hadn’t come out until after I’d taken the multiple choice exam and hardly anyone had taken the review board so I had no real idea of what to expect when I got there. It’s safe to say that I was overconfident when I walked in, but that changed after just a few minutes.

Not everybody gets to be an astronaut

The second piece of key advice I’d give any aspiring CTA is this — not everyone who earns a Salesforce certification is starting a journey that ends with CTA.

It’s really hard to become a CTA, as it should be. The failure rate has traditionally been pretty high throughout the process, but especially at the review board. If you are in any doubt about this, just search on social media for the number of people posting about passing rather than failing. You won’t find that many. If it truly was a natural progression for anyone earning certs then we’d have way more than we currently do.

According to SalesforceU “CTAs are the Salesforce elite” and elite is defined as “A select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society” (it’s also an insult to politicians and the like in 2017 Great Britain, but I’ll ignore that aspect). By definition not every member of a group can be a member of the elite. There’s nothing wrong with this — there are plenty of other ways to specialise and there’s no shame in topping out earlier in the certification pyramid. The review board is unlike anything else in Salesforce certification and it’s a big step up from multiple choice exams.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go for the CTA cert — we definitely need more of these in the wild — but you should be realistic and attempt the review board when you are confident that you will perform well and have a great chance of passing.

I’m better known in the Salesforce community as Bob Buzzard — Umpteen Certifications, including Technical Architect, 6 x MVP and CTO of BrightGen, a Platinum Cloud Alliance Partner in the United Kingdom who are hiring.

You can find my (usually) more technical thoughts at the Bob Buzzard Blog

CTO at BrightGen, author Visualforce Development Cookbook, multi Salesforce Developer MVP. Salesforce Certified Technical Architect. I am the one who codes.

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