Becoming a Certified Technical Architect: Preparation Cheat Sheet

It is no secret how difficult the Salesforce Certified Technical Architect Review Board is, even the most talented fail (by the time of writing this the Artisan Hub shows 192 CTAs). There is plenty of material in form of blog posts and recorded sessions out there, with people sharing their experience of how they prepared in long form (check out this excellent article by Gregory Cook for a comprehensive list of material). This is not another one of those posts, this is the ultimate cheat sheet for the Review Board extracted from the FlowRepublic coaching framework. It is an evolution of the one we applied at the renowned Tquila Architect Academy with a track record of 7 CTAs and a pass rate of 100%, including myself.

(Please be aware that all CTAs are bound by an NDA in regards to the information we are allowed to share about the exam. This article is not going to cover any specific exam questions, but rather gives you guidance on what to prepare based on experience and publicly available information such as the CTA study guide).

Learn to Relax

My dear friend and fellow Tquila CTA from Aus, considered one of the best out there, shared with me after the exam: “Dude, this was an insane ride! It was so stressful it almost fried my mind and had moments where I really got stuck”. 12 months later I stood in front of the board, hearing his words in the back of my head and I knew exactly what he meant. Thankfully I trained a couple of mindfulness and breathing exercises, which helped me stay calm and stay in the zone.

  • Learn deep breathing for relaxation of your body and mind
  • Practice meditation, even 5-10 minutes every day is somewhat helpful
  • Learn how to think on your feet under pressure, because you’ll have to – the board is designed for it.

Being Mindful

Ellen Langer the author of the famous book “Mindfulness” once wrote that a key characteristic of mindfulness “is focus on process before outcome or doing rather than archiving”. It’s like looking at the breakthrough of a scientist and saying genius as if his discovery happened overnight. I am not saying you should not be aiming to get your certification, but rather than chasing the goal, focus on the process, which in itself will help you grow considerably.

  • Embrace the process, but don’t leave the goal out of sight
  • Focus on the question “How do I do it?” rather than “Can I do it?”
  • Accept that growing takes time, step by step

Soft Skills Excellence

In a video on the preparation, someone described the CTA exam with the words: “… [it] is there to find out those folks who are able to stand toe-to-toe with the CxO of a fortune 500 and be the advocate for the Salesforce solution in their Enterprise environment.”. I couldn’t agree more, but what does this mean for your prep, here are some examples of techniques to pick up

  • Practice your general presentation skills and learn how to tell the solution story
  • Adopt phrases to structure your sentences “For [requirement], is the optimal solution [solution components] given the following considerations [considerations].”
  • Learn to really listen to questions by repeating questions and confirming the intention. “Your question is and you would like me to [intention] (e.g. “describe alternative options for the proposed solution)”
  • Learn to break complex concepts apart and explain in understandable language
  • Work on your body language to signal confidence and trust
  • Work on your visualizations techniques on whiteboards and flip charts
  • Learn to become mindful of your verbal and non-verbal communication rather than talking away

Technical Depth and Breath

The first step to work on your depth and breath are the various designer certifications and domain certifications, but there is an essential difference in the way you apply knowledge between those certs and the Review Board. With multiple-choice exams, the correct solution for a narrow scenario is right in front of your eyes. With the CTA, on the other hand, you have instant access to an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge and being able to design the optimal solution from your knowledge rather than picking it up.

  • Get your Designer and Domain Architect certifications
  • Study the available documentation and TAKE notes!
  • Create your own cheat sheets for important areas such as Sharing, Integration Patterns and Licenses with options, variables, considerations and limitations.
  • Learn concepts and strategies of complex topics such as SSO, Org Strategies, Enterprise Design Patterns and considerations around them.

Work in Different Roles

One of the most important parts of preparation is the practical experience and the best way to gain this is by working on projects. Try to extract and apply knowledge by working in roles that require you wearing different hats such as

  • Business Analysis
  • Solution Architect
  • Technical Lead
  • Migration Lead
  • Release Manager

To get you the exposure, make your intentions clear, share your goal of becoming a CTA with your resource manager or recruitment agent. You may not be able to fulfil the role yourself, for instance, Business Analyst but you can try to shadow people or get some of the work done – check with the project manager. In my career was lucky enough to work with some exceptional Business Analysts and Solution Architects and sometimes I would just sit quietly in the back during a business workshop and observe their work.

Skill up Governance and Project Management Skills

With the CTA roles comes almost automatically the demand for Project Management and Governance, which people often forget to prepare for. Those are critical skills which you not necessarily all have to master, but you must have a solid understanding of those topics.

  • Managing Requirements, Risk, Stakeholders
  • Process Engineering
  • Work in multi-project and streams environments
  • Design and Coding Standards
  • Release Management

Practice Exercises

Do practice exercises where you have to work out strategies and approaches for use cases, they are your templates which you must populate with variables to come up with the optimal solution. With practice you’ll forget about the templates and become intuitive in those areas, that you can almost freestyle a solution. Here are some inspirations for you:

  • Establish an Org Strategy for an international large enterprise
  • A Sharing Decision Guide with the various patterns
  • Design a framework for a Center of Excellence
  • Design a test strategy for a multi-project environment
  • Map out data migration processes

Mock Exams

Last and for sure one of the most important aspects of the preparation are mock exams. With mock exams you get the opportunity to improve and test the skills and knowledge you have acquired. Here some valuable insights and tricks:

  • Relax: Do not get frustrated in the beginning, with practice comes quality
  • Timer: Get a physical timer – not your phone – and place in front of you for preparation, presentation and feedback and stick to the time limits of the scenario
  • Repeat: After the presentation and QA, come back and create the ideal solution for the scenario without time limit
  • Template: Come up with a template for your presentation and tell a story that is easy for judges to follow (for instance start with the requirements …)
  • Analysis: Learn how to process the requirements efficiently
  • Peers: Present to peers, who can challenge you on your design and ask you questions

Get a Mentor or Coach

One of the reasons why the Tquila Architect Academy was such a success was the structured framework we had put in place in combination with mentoring and coaching efforts by senior people like Wes Nolte and Cameron Cronin. Having this kind of calibre as your mentor for the preparation is an ace. Finding a mentor can be challenge, especially one that can cover all the different areas we talked about – in German we call this “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” (literally “egg-laying wool-milk-sow”, god I love my language) and has the capacity to help you on your #JourneyToCTA, because those people are normally very maxed out with their day jobs. Once you got a mentor, you need to develop a plan on how to approach the exam and get the mentors on-going support. In regards to the mentor you got a couple of options

  • Find the “Wollmilchsau” in your company or the community
  • If you can’t get the one mentor, finding different mentors for the areas
  • Enroll in one of FlowRepublic’s CTA programs, which not only gets you a CTA as your mentor, but also the structured learning journey and material that has proven successful for 7 CTAs.

Conclusion

Phew, that was quite a lot of bases that we have covered and I hope you got some valuable insights for your #JourneyToCTA.

What you have just read was an extract of the framework we are using for the FlowRepublic coaching programs, which has been specifically designed to help you become a member of the elite. We’ll be launching new coaching rounds with limited spots soon, check out www.flowrepublic.com for more details.

About FlowRepublic:

FlowRepublic offers unique mentoring & development programs for aspiring Salesforce Certified Technical Architects by CTAs. Sebastian Wagner, the founder, graduated from and was a key contributor to the renowned Tquila Architect Academy, which by the time had seen 7 out of the 20 CTA in Europe graduate.

Offerings

  • CTA Board Review Coaching – bootcamp to improve success rates of candidates attempting the Review Board
  • CTA Mentoring – mentoring program to support high potentials on their #JourneyToCTA
  • In-House Academy – we offer tailored academy concepts for Salesforce and Recruitment Partners

For more information checkout https://www.flowrepublic.com

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