This article written by Jonas Nordin originally appeared on LinkedIn.com
Participating the CITA-A course with the Solutions Architect specialization, was clearly an comprehensive experience. On top of that, the exam based on the course and all its pages of study material, was another comprehensive piece to master. More can be read below about that. I have had an fantastic journey of this and glad to finally share with you. I have wait long time, but want to craft it once I also passed the exam, for the full perspective.
This article will roughly guide you through following questions.
How I ended up at CITA-A
The reason I chose this course and exam was a direct result of the IASA Core course and CITA-F exam, I did earlier at 2017. I was greatly satisfied of that course errata, providing me the formal frame of structure and taxonomy of a IT architect. IASA Core was an eye-opener more than a boost in skills. Sharpened views, as I asked for in beginning of that course. Reading blogs and colleagues has usually caught me in a “should I listen this, or verify it’s correctness in another forum?“-considering. This course gave me community support and a society validity in what I should embrace and focus on. And what to avoid. Additionally, it’s framing of the different architect specializations did also help me to build my own roles base to valuate against, when try to understand the plethora of architect titles and describing of it’s roles. Passing the 75 questions in the CITA-F exam also helped the feeling of – Hey, I really got all areas covered here!
On the con’s side of IASA Core and CITA-F, was the lack of tools, methods and frameworks. They covered a lot about the Architect, but not much about the Architecture. So therefore I was required to look further to find coverage for the applying of architecture and knowledge of relevant tools.
Choosing the architect specialization
According to IASA’s career / certification track, CITA-A was the next move, recommended after CITA-F and after approximately five years of architect experience. CITA-A provided five options for me, same as the specializations in the previous course; Business, Information, Software, Infrastructure and Solution. Where Solution is rather a inter-skilled kind that hold the holistic view of the previous four. “A Solutions Architect is an expert in many categories. They should have hands-on experience in multiple industries and across several disciplines. They can master a variety of hardware platforms including mainframes, distributed platforms, desktops, and mobile devices. Akin to that, they should also possess skill and understanding of a variety of Operating Systems. A broad and deep understanding of Databases is also required“.
What was _not_ said in this description, was the business focus. But let me return to that soon. For me, this choice was easy to take. Eventually, it might also meant to be the most complex option. But my background would support most of this description, so why would that be a challenge more than a verification? The option to get into a specific specialization such as Software would be waste of value for both me, future architectures and companies.
About the course package
Once I got the initial course package and pre-reading material, I immediately start to get an high level idea of the structure of the course. The Solutions architect training material was designed to cover a wide range of skills. Beside the wideness, each specialization covered a certain level of depth. One can think of it spread out similar to this model:
As one can see – there is a large business focus in this course. In the study material, you can even find this comment; “Many architects think that business acumen is outside of the subject areas they need to be proficient at, but without business skills you are just a technologist with a fancy title“, which correlate well to the distribution of the content in the course and number of dedicated questions in the exam.
I am also, initially, surprised of this distribution. It wasn’t that clear from “outside”, before ordered the course. But consider the framing of an Solution Architect role all together, I found the errata to be well compiled.
1) Proving business understanding and can use the language of business, and understand finance
2) Showing ability in describing technology in business terms and methods
3) Being able to make a good fit in the culture, use relevant communication and tone
4) Being able to sew the stuff together in short term as well in long term.
The specializations, Information, Software and Infrastructure did however contain lot’s of facts. But instead of being technical, most of them orients around strategy. For instance VoI (value of Information), identifying valuable models and capabilities, Information as IP (intellectual property) and Information as Strategy instead of getting into more techs. For instance I could jump things like between data and knowledge, Kimball vs Inmon or IA vs UX. While it would be nice to have a day training design of dependencies in software architecture, it would still not be enough (instead: learn at home or in a special purposed course), we instead learn how to manage the pitfalls of popular views or objects. Such stuff that make a lot of sense when you as a Solution architect might need to review a number of software diagrams to get a holistic perspective.
I did appreciate the Business Architecture module with many details of business concerns. Also the Solution Architecture modules where common SDLC frameworks, methodologies and tools with a good pros, cons and pitfalls mentioned in a comparable way. Even the Spiral method was mentioned, that at least I haven’t touched in reality. I am also glad, afterwards, of all knowledge and references that the BTS course provide. Roughly it’s grouped into a Mini MBA described from a technology valuation perspective. What I mean? Well, a regular MBA would probably exemplify a service, a product or so as objective, instead of a DataCenter or a IT Service Desk to develop business case or valuate a strategy prior to the realization phase, where it’s time to go from strategy to form a team to build the solution.
Performing the class room course
The class room course and the teaching was very entertaining and valuable. The time went fast and there was a huuuge amount of facts provided during the days. I really loved the holistic perspective provided in almost endless of cases. Each of our workshops, that afterwards was to present back to class, was even more valuable. It does provide some reality. Workshops of this kind is time constrained in a completely unrealistic way. 30 minutes might be enough to create a embryo with logical view and a Bill of material together with one time and recurring cost, for a faked solution. But consider that you in same time need to fit into a unknown team of five, understand the question and finilize a product to present back to class, time can fly away just getting consensus to the question.
One will soon find out that the team members will differ in pragmatism and those that suffer of perfectionism. The risk of get stuck on perfectionism is by the way one of the real and serious keys here. What stands first? A fluffy architecture finished in time, or a perfect one, which isn’t? Assuming both was finished; Which of them will most likely suffer from continuous updating, once requirements change? To make this culture stuff even more interesting, the teacher choose to blend new teams for every each of our workshop.
There was also an effect of the course that kicked in much later. I realize that the Solutions track assume that I already know a lot in the technology domain, to be able to master it. But there was not much of technical depth in the course. Instead, it expect me to “see through”, holistically, where Business, Information, Infrastructure and Software do (may) have inter-dependencies. Where changes in requirements, constraints, external impact or almost any event may have significant impact on architecture or not. From there, I will automatically be able to navigate in depth and find out whatever I need to find out to get answers. It’s not that I need to know all RAID levels, all SCSI types or fibre channel throughput – but yet I (may) need to understand how the difference between a SAN or a DAS impact the architecture. And eventually if a fibre channel throughput may limit or enable business need. That’s a valid reason why approx 70-75% of the course is about business, solutions and SDLC.
To prepare for the the exam
In total I spent five months between the course and the exam. I rather not say “how much time” I spent, because it was many mobile hours during movement. Just the three videos times 40 minutes, take 4 hours to repeat only once (i repeat at least three times). 1600 pages of papers take some more time to read through.
Knowing that the exam has 100 questions built on top on this content, I had to read it, until I read in a way that I continuously reflect the content, such as crafting my own potential questions of it. For instance, when read about the BOST framework in the Business Architecture module, a question like this would be viable to craft; “What view would be created by an architect after a discussion with business“. Or in the Solutions module, maybe “You are asked to use Gartners five R’s to describe the impact of a migration of existing system. What would you pick if you change database technology from SQL to Oracle?“. This way, such load of pages take some time to process – BUT – it’s very effective for understanding.
Every time I repeat the study material from scratch, my smile at the face increase. This load of papers grow each time I read through! I am sure those papers will continue grow as I return back to it, later on.
The large number of models, frameworks and methodologies stands out better and better and memorable. I crafted my own lists and indexes as reference. I took screenshots of models and note purpose, pros, cons, pitfalls and my own relationship to each. It takes all from “obvious” as V-Model, Scrum, Zachman, TOGAF, ITIL, FMEA, PBA, ATAM to VOI (Value of Information), MIKE, Muda, RACI, Miles & Snow, TOGAF, Value Stream Map, Capability Maps, BPMN, BMC, Lean Canvas, Business Capability Map, CBA or (for me) far away models like MIT-CISR, Porters topology, McKinseys 7S model, DuPont Chart or Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions. To mention few of all from the material.
I did also a similar dictionary for a number of financial formulas such as NPV, DCF, ROI, EPS, P/E, PSR, differences between EBIDTA & EBITA. Speaking again about BTS. A surprise was unveiled after a while. I have been self-employed for 6 years, quite known to accounting and what else it takes, but was somewhat confused by BTS. I found out it was because of a language barrier, once I took time to craft a Swedish-English Financial-Glossary with some careful translations. Suddenly this load of papers was clear as a lightning to repeat. One self-awareness came of that: I have worked a lot with financial and corporation stuff up to this point, but not internationally.
Conclusion all in all
The number of tools provided in the study material is not the key nor the reason to define the success or the disappointment of this course. Of course it’s valuable for me and all participants to be introduced to this large number of tools that I faced (and will face) in the solutions (and hopefully enterprise) career track.
One insight to me was: There is (almost) always a tool. The answer is not in knowing A tool all the time, nor being scared of a new unknown tool. The key is to see through, find out what problem the tool is there to solve. Identify the purpose of the tool in the current context, how it satisfies the problem it’s there for. If it’s unsatisfactory, one might find out how the tool was selected, why it was selected. Then work out the gaps between current and satisfactory.
One another insight is already mentioned. The framing of the Solutions architect was clearly a good outcome of the course. It’s fully possible that the knowledge greedy person in me will write a Software specific CITA-A exam in near future, but now I know for sure that I choose the right strategy (proof the Solutions track). Now I can continue grow and innovate in my technology interest, trending and emerging technology, with the eyes of the business. Being able to communicate it’s capabilities and move to realization in a valuable way.
But wait, there can be more conclusions. I need to point out that this is a course and a exam that do have more then a full coverage of the IT architect profession. A challenge for me was to choose perspective and objectives to embody in this article. An triad combination of 1) space taken in article, 2) my existing knowledge level and 3) the effect for exposing the fact I chose. For instance, one insight would have been that the architect does not need be the expert in certain or all areas, because an architect make use of specialists and hire them into the team for this. But is sort of no brainer. Another would be that a goal for an architect is to valuate the technology right, even if it means that a project won’t start or it even turns down. If a project does not provide value, there is no point to build it in absurdum. But is also a sort of no brainer.
So, back to the initial question in the title;
Did I became an successful Solution Architect by passing the IASA CITA-A? I answer with a counter question. Does a badge create the architect? Does it provide the architect right to dictate what’s right and wrong? No, it’s just a step on a journey. The badge just tell you what certain level this architect know at that particular point in time. Not how the architect apply it or when the architect was mastered it. But it tells that from this milestone, skills include the badge and continue evolve over time. To me, the badge is an qualifying gate on a life long journey. An architects success is defined by her/hims contributions, deliveries and value provided by acting a technology strategist for the business.
I am extremely happy to be able to continue support and innovate useful, scalable, valuable, understood, thoughtful, intentionally crafted IT architecture together with you for a long time to come. Looking forward in the IASA certification ladder, I see that the Solutions specialization of CITA-A is the one who best approach CITA-S and CITA-P. I will let you know when I am ready to face those and again share my experience. Probably CITA-S in first place.
Thanks a lot again for the journey, IASA.