September 9, 2008

Let me set one thing straight – I have never been a big fan of certifications. It stems from ones on programming languages that require you to remember stuff that is easily found in the API docs. And, of course the aversion to written examinations that all of us with Indian schooling know so well of and consequently loathe 🙂 I have therefore never taken up any professional certifications.

So, it was with some misgiving that I responded to a colleague’s query if I would like to take up the Microsoft Certified Architect evaluation. Having used Java predominantly the last few years, my first and obvious question was – how is the MCA relevant to a Java person? I listened a bit to the process and decided to give it a try for two reasons:

  • The evaluation process was around a solution that one has architected i.e. it was case study based
  • My colleague’s persuasion that it was a worthwhile experience
I’ll leave the process of evaluation out and just say this much that I created a few documents on competency, case study and a presentation that was to be presented to the board. The initial screening round was telephonic and was done by an existing MCA.
The review board was a 4 member team that I had to meet face to face and “defend the case study” as the process put it. I was truly impressed by the end of it all – not because I got the certification but because of the manner in which it was conducted. The review by the board was the highlight of the process and I mentioned thus when asked about the motivation for taking this up.
A few impressive things about the process :
  • Emphasis on one’s own experience in architecting a solution and almost neglible theritical knowledge. One can in no way prepare for this evaluation overnight.
  • Thorough professionalism of the people involved. You work and interface with existing MCAs throughout the process. I interacted with a total of 7. This is significant if you consider that there are a little over 100 MCAs worldwide. Thats the amount of focus and attention every candidate receives.
  • Clear sepraration of roles being certified – Solution architect & Infrastructure architect. There is Enterprise Architect as well. I applied for Solution architect.
  • The feedback one receives at the end of the certification. This feedback is very personalized. For e.g. specific books that one is advised to read based on the board review.
  • The collective experience of the architects on the board. It is OK to admit you dont know answers to questions(you will during the review :)) that come at you in quick succession. I learnt it is difficult to match the collective knowledge of all those gentlemen on the board. I am guessing the average age of a MCA on the board should be well over 40 – seasoned architects surely!
  • Inclusion into the fraternity of MCAs. This is a small group of like minded people. I was invited to be a panelist speaker at the “Microsoft Architecture Days” session in Bangalore. I was allowed to talk about Java when discussing the topic “Software + Services”!  This might be unheard of before.
  • Lastly the nicely mounted  certificate signed by Bill Gates 🙂
Where does the “Sun Certified Enterprise Architect” stand in comparision? Again, I was unaware of its existence until recently when I saw it on a candidate’s resume. I was impressed by the name and the source and therefore did some googling on what it took to become a SCEA. This was before I spoke to the candidate who was a SCEA. I was disappointed by what I heard and what I read about the certification:
  • Firstly, the evaluation process tests one’s skills at application design and at best solution architecture. I feel it is a complete misnomer to have “enterprise architect” in its name. 
  • The process is mostly offline. I wonder how “cheating” is prevented i.e. one person defines the solution on behalf of another.
  • Competencies essential to an architect such as communication, leadership, process, e.t.c are not evaluated here at all. 
  • All the benefits or highlights I experienced in the MCA are missing here. 
It would really do good to make the SCEA more interactive, personal, effective and valued especially since it comes from such a credible source as Sun Microsystems. Until then I would continue to vouch for the MCA programme – true value from Microsoft.

7 Responses to “MCA or SCEA”

  1. Harish Says:

    Hi Regu,

    Cant agree More.The bench mark by Microsoft has been set very high.


  2. Shaik Says:

    Nice to hear about you from Harish.

    Good article. Quality comes with the money? what do u say?

    BTB what is the fee for MCA?


  3. Shaik,

    Agree that quality comes with the money. If that is the constraint, the cost of appearing for a SCEA should be higher. After all, the title of “Sun Certified Enterprise Architect” is a lofty one and implies a wealth of knowledge and ability. Platform and programming language specific certifications can continue to be kept reasonable to keep it within reach of developers.
    Don’t know the exact fee for MCA – I hear it is quite expensive though. In my case, it was through our partnership program with Microsoft.

  4. Sumit Says:

    This program a weeks training and then exams at the end ?

  5. No, there is no training. You need to submit a case study of a project that you have architected and write up a document demonstrating capabilities required in an architect. There is a telephonic screening round followed by the board where you defend your case study in front of a panel of 4 architects.

  6. dhans Says:

    glad that u have given this analysis. its true that most of them cheat. we have a SCEA guy here who dont even know basic java architect. he some how cleared the level 1 by reading some dump, modified someones project for level 2 and level 3. Even i was thinking whether i need to continue in J2EE platform. We usually struggle a lot to design and build apps in j2ee, while other ( microsoft) guys dont have to do soo much. we are not the saviors of j2ee, so we dont have to defend the issues in it.

    i think its better we do other certs on architecture like TOGAF or microsoft

    Please let us know if u get any tips on MCA for preparation.

    • I would differ on your point that it is easier to design and build quality apps on the Microsoft stack. You need good skills there too.
      Also, as developers, we are free to choose a technology platform that suits us best and yes we don’t have to be saviors. In fact, J2EE is robust enough and does not need saviors in my opinion.
      TOGAF is about Enterprise Architecture while MCA and SCEA operate in the Solution Architecture space. I wouldn’t refer to both of them in the same context.
      Regarding MCA preparation, the foremost requirement is prior experience in architecting a large and complex project (on any technology platform). The remaining parts is writing it as a case study, preparing an honest assessment of competencies and facing the review board to defend the case study.
      So you can see that one does not prepare for a MCA appearance in a conventional sense of an examination.

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