You Don’t Have to Code to Become a Certified Technical Architect

For the last month or so I’ve been thinking a lot about using downtime at work to improve my skills and standing as a Salesforce professional. When I started working at Bluewolf, I scoffed at the thought of jumping up the triangle and reaching Certified Technical Architect. I went as far as to say that there was “absolutely no way” I would even attempt to do it.

At Sixth Form, Visual Basic was a key part of my A-Level ICT and I hated it. I used to cry with frustration and I made a conscious decision that coding wasn’t for me. Then when I got to university and they announced that we would be learning VB again, I put my head in my hands, but, as time went by, I started to become more confident. My lecturer was much stronger than the A-Level IT teacher had been and she spent time with me to build some cute little programmes. At the end of the first year at uni, I had achieved an A in my Visual Basic module but still decided to leave it behind. It just wasn’t for me.

From no code to sometimes code…

Fast-forward to 2008 when I first started working with Salesforce. Apex and Visualforce was something completely alien to me – “No way, not touching that!”- and I found that mentality influenced my design style. I’d do anything I could to avoid having to design a coded solution. After I’d completed a few more projects, it became easier to identify situations where the code had its place and working with some great offshore developers helped, since I found that writing specs for them were also a great way to organise your head and learn about what is possible.

…To often code

As I became familiar with the limitations and capabilities of coded solutions and started to prove myself in the art of consultancy, I found I was writing more specs for code than I was for config. Working with and learning about FinancialForce PSA really helped me understand how to build dynamic and flexible solutions; there are many settings built into the app that are referred to by the code and this approach ultimately influenced the way I design solutions today.

Still, I was thankful I didn’t need to learn to write it. By the end of 2013, I had completed all the certifications I could get without doing the programming ones and I was happy with that.

Architect Journey

When Salesforce released the architect journey I was quite excited to do the Designer exams. I looked at the pyramid – the moment I saw Platform Developer I on there, I immediately decided that CTA was completely out of my reach – a pipe dream. I thought “I’ll do the Sharing & Visibility Designer, the Data Architecture, the Integration and possibly the Deployment cert and leave it at that. No way am I doing PD1.” I went to book my first exam, found it was $400 to do, then turned around and left it. It was too expensive and I was sure I wouldn’t be allowed to do it on the company; since my manager had poo-pooed the idea of getting certifications, saying that they were worth nothing compared to experience.

Addicted

Then came Bluewolf. Bluewolf wants you to succeed; they want you to gain recognition for your hard work. Having certified architects is something valuable. With a little time to spare, after a project I was working on went live; seeing that a colleague of mine had achieved 2 certifications within a month of starting, I felt inspired to give Data Architecture & Designer a bash. I revised solidly for 2 days, using Quizlet to help me, then passed the exam on Friday afternoon. Looking up at the certificate on the wall, feeling a rush of pride at having passed, I decided that wasn’t enough. I booked myself in for Sharing & Visibility Designer the following week and passed that too.

Inspiration

By this time, I’d had a couple of one-to-ones with my manager,  Andrew, who is a Certified Technical Architect (CTA) and sits on the panel from time to time when others are trying to achieve it. When he asked me if I was going to try for CTA, I flat out refused, citing that I wasn’t going to do the Platform Developer I (PD1) and lamenting that you could only get to CTA if you could write code, which was total nonsense. Lying to myself, I felt strongly back then that Salesforce should have split the journey into pillars, rather than pyramids, meaning someone who had made the decision not to learn to code could still reach the top, but as a Certified Solution Architect. Andrew chuckled and said that I’d have no trouble doing PD1, especially with the designer certs and almost 10 years’ experience behind me. I wasn’t so sure.

Bite the Bullet

I reluctantly challenged myself, booking my exam for mid-late October, thinking that if I failed it, I’d just keep going until I passed. I took on more exams in the meantime, right up until PD1 was the only thing standing between me and the Application Architect credential; the one that paints you as an expert in your domain. I watched and congratulated others at Bluewolf as they achieved theirs, picked the brains of those who had recently passed PD1, then sat down and passed the exam last Friday (20th October). What a feeling that was!!

And Now?

Now, thanks to the promotion Salesforce ran back in the summer, I’ve got 2 free exam vouchers to use before the end of December! I was planning on having a certification break, but now that I’ve got this far, I’ve only got 3 more exams to do until I have achieved the System Architect credential. It’d be a shame not to use the free exam codes, so I am booked in for 2 more before the end of the year. I’m committing to achieve System Architect by the end of February, then, if I have time, maybe CTA isn’t such a pipe dream after all. I’d be so immensely proud and happy to achieve a pass and reach the summit next year.

The Only Thing Stopping You is You

Lots of people working on billable project work, implementing Salesforce, cite lack of time as a reason not to get certified. The truth is, it’s valuable to you and your career, it’s valuable to your client, because of your new / revised knowledge and it’s important to your company. Planning your time around study and certification isn’t a crime; if you have to move the exam because something more pressing comes up, then so be it, but re-book it. If I hadn’t booked the exams and forced myself to plan time around them, I probably wouldn’t have the certs and knowledge I now have as a result.

I eagerly look forward to my next project, knowing that when I get there, I’ll be able to ask so many more relevant questions, thanks to the effort put into revising for the certification exams. And I’m a lot less scared of CTA; the experience so far has knocked my superstitions out of the park. You DON’T have to be an expert programmer to reach the summit. You just need enough understanding of its capabilities and limitations and the rest is possible without being a coder.

If you’re planning to take on CTA, I wish you the very best for your journey and would love to hear how you get on! Tweet me @gemziebeth.

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