CTA – three magical letters many in the Salesforce industry aspire to. Becoming a Salesforce Certified Technical Architect is a major milestone of a long journey for many Salesforce professionals; however, becoming a Salesforce Certified Technical Architect can seem an illusional goal. So far, only 300-400 people have managed to achieve it. As you can imagine, many try but most fail.
What does it take to become a Salesforce CTA? There are many war stories and rumors circulating – you have to be a hard-working genius, you need to be an amazing developer, you will not see your family for two years, you have to know everything about Salesforce – and so many more myths.
I started my preparation for the review board at the start of 2020 and asked myself the same question. Fast forward several months, I have interviewed 9 CTAs on how they prepared and combined with my experience. In this blog post, I will discuss all my findings, which are categorized into the following topics: classes & coaching, money, support, experience, time investment, and general tips.
Everybody’s journey is different but there were some common themes. I hope our advice helps you achieve the CTA milestone.
Classes & Coaching
There was one common theme among all CTAs: they took all help available at the time. Over the last few years, more and more offerings became available. All CTAs had either a very dedicated CTA Coach in their network or joined a professional offering like FlowRepublic. The certificates leading up to the CTA are mostly multiple-choice exams for certain topics.
The Certified Technical Architect exam is a panel exam which ecompases many different topics from different areas around Salesforce. Therefore almost nobody passes the CTA exam alone. There are great Trailhead Academy preparation workshops available. All candidates are recommended to take as much help as they can get and not skip any offer of guidance.
Money is a big factor in your journey. The title ‘Certified Technical Architect’ promises a big pay increase – but also requires a big investment.
The investment varied from candidate to candidate, between $8,000 to $20,000. There are too many factors involved to accurately predict the investment you will end up making. Your total cost might include review board fee, preparation workshops, additional coaching, extra (unpaid) time off from work.
What sounds like a lot of money at first is not as bad as it sounds. Most CTAs I interviewed got financial support from their company to become a CTA. Some people paid all of it themselves but still told me it was still worth it! Your salary expectations increase significantly once you get the knowledge and CTA title.
(*Disclaimer: Always check the Trailhead exam guide for the latest information on pricing)
Support was highlighted by all of the CTAs I interviewed. Employers, family, study partners – there are many people that an aspiring CTA needs to lean on.
Support from one’s company is one that stood out from the others. The months before your review board preparation will be very stressful, and it’s very helpful if your company supports your effort. Working overtime and having demanding projects are major factors contributing to failing the review board. You need to be able to focus as much as possible.
This brings me to the second support group: your family and friends. Every CTA I spoke to spent most of their free time studying and taking mock exams in the months running up to the board, so your family and friends need to be understanding along the way.
Lastly, almost every successful CTA has some kind of study partner/s. These fellow aspiring CTAs help you to uncover your gaps, practice your presentation and justification, and motivate you in your dark times.
Depending on the individual, some CTAs did say it is possible to reach your goals alone. Going for the CTA is a group effort, nobody passes by themselves.
The topic of experience is a very controversial one.
The backgrounds of the CTAs I spoke to were diverse. Many CTAs out there have never worked as a professional coder, some don’t write code but all understand what code can and should do! Most had experience in pre-sales or consulting. Most (but not all) had some experience working as a Salesforce Architect.
The average work experience was 10 years, pure Salesforce experience was around 5 years, going as low as 3 years. Working experience is necessary, even more than solely Salesforce experience.
The last topic was the time invested in preparing for the review board – covers the hours spent studying and practicing between the last certification and the review board. This topic is probably the most surprising based on how much time is needed to pass the review board.
The time investment required really depends on the individual’s experience:
- One candidate only spent ~150 hours but had 10+ years of experience as an Enterprise Architect.
- The average amount of time invested was ~500 hours.
- You will be surprised to hear that a third of those I interviewed spent 1000+ hours!
I learned that almost everybody underestimates the time investment required to give themselves a good chance of passing the board. Be aware that you will need to spend at least 15h–20h per week for 6 months to have a shot at passing the board.
Becoming a Certified Technical Architect – Tips
1. Failing is part of the experience
Failing can (or should) be part of the experience. Of course you should try everything you can to not fail the board. But even if you fail, you come out of the journey as a better architect than you went into it – plus, there’s always a second try.
2. Don’t rush, but keep up the momentum
I got told several times that there seems to be a sweet spot for preparation – a timeframe of 4–12 months. You cannot rush: preparing in less than 4 months won’t lead to success, but you should also not drag out preparation beyond 12 months.
If you spend too little time, you will either not be prepared or burn out in the process. The stress is already immense – trying to do it in less than 4 months just adds to the pressure unnecessarily. On the contrary, spend too long and you will find you have to re-study many topics – you either forget, or the platform changes in the meantime.
3. Focus! Focus! Focus!
The CTA review board entails a very specific set of requirements and potential solutions. The Salesforce ecosystem is incredibly vast (and growing), and not all elements of the ecosystem are part of the review board. Focus on requirements for the review board only – don’t get distracted!
4. Practice! Practice! Practice!
The review board is a very demanding test which spans more than 5h in total. You don’t have much time to think, so your knowledge needs to be available to you in seconds. Therefore, you need to practice as much as possible – solutioning, presenting, drawing, and Q&A.
5. Have fun
Going for CTA is a long (and exhausting) journey. Most choose this path because they enjoy working on challenges, so see the CTA journey as a fun project more than anything else – this way, you can stay on track.