“To CTA or not to CTA” – this is the riddle Salesforce professionals all over the world have been trying to answer for years. Is it worth the cost, time investment, and stress – or is it just hype?
Launched in 2011, the CTA certification is, according to Salesforce, the “pinnacle” of certifications. Globally, there are fewer than 400 CTAs registered to date – which means there are more rocket scientists, billionaires, and people who have gone to space!
The CTA is the cumulative effort of years of study, multiple prerequisite certifications, and experience. It is also financially challenging; the cost of the exam alone is ~$6K! However, according to one of our interviewees, this figure could be meaningless – you have to take into account the cost of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours learning, coaching, and taking time off work.
Salesforce Talent Partner, Cloudway Talent, spoke with Jakub Stefaniak (CTA, Director of Engineering, Dreamforce ’22 Speaker, and TrailblazerDX ’23 Speaker) and Devvrat Arya (Global Manager of IT, Enterprise Architect, and Certified System Architect) to find out whether the cost outweighs the benefits. We covered four main areas that you should consider before thinking of becoming a CTA:
- Job Opportunities
Please note, all opinions shared are explicitly those of the individual and not of their respective businesses.
Personal development is typically tied to career progression, and the CTA is very much geared towards this. With fewer than 400 CTAs worldwide, there is definitely a scarcity of people with this certification.
So, does the CTA give you access to career opportunities that you would not have had access to otherwise?
Jakub argues yes – aside from the obvious ‘supply versus demand’ arguments, the kinds of opportunities you get as a CTA (versus not a CTA) can change.
Before becoming a CTA, Jakub received lots of job offers like any other Salesforce Developer/Architect. But afterwards, they became more distinctive – companies looking to build their offices in Europe, or someone looking to hire an Engineering Manager or Chief Technical Architect.
However, Devvrat disagrees. Whilst he admits that there is a clear correlation between certification and the extent to which your resume stands out, he is an example of how you can progress without a CTA. Devvrat chose not to become a CTA and now holds significant responsibility over a multinational brand’s CRM. He argues that being platform agnostic creates opportunities in itself.
It’s hard to definitively say “yes” or “no” as you could argue either way. But it remains clear that those without CTAs do not necessarily struggle – many of the top leaders in the Ohana have succeeded without it. So maybe there’s an argument to be made that a CTA isn’t ‘essential’ after all…
Many consultancies and companies offer a pay-per-certification scheme, or weigh certifications highly in their pay review process. So, surely a CTA cert should be worth its weight in gold?
One advantage to having a CTA is that it is an “equalizer”.
Jakub lives in Poland and, without the CTA, he would have been impacted by “local rates and salaries”, whereas having a CTA meant he has been remunerated “globally”. As there are only ~400 CTAs globally, the salary has to compete with salaries in San Francisco, NYC, and London. This means that Jakub (and other CTAs) are paid based on the quality of their work, as opposed to where that work takes place (which is far more common – especially in Europe).
Devvrat agrees – a 50-60% hike in salary for a CTA versus a non-CTA is common. However, he argues it can also limit financial growth. Because you’ve dedicated two years (maybe more) to becoming a CTA, you are more likely to focus on Salesforce as a platform afterwards, as opposed to being more agnostic in your experience and use of technology. Because you’ve tied your future to Salesforce, you could lose out on the chance to gain other experiences, which could become the next ‘big thing’ – translating into even bigger financial opportunities.
Salesforce can only be trending upwards for so long, argues Devvrat, which begs the question: is a CTA pot-committed on a technological outcome that is far from certain judging by Salesforce’s corporate recent history?
This is far harder to quantify. “Exposure” in this context refers to how a CTA helps build your individual brand and separate you from those without the certification.
Jakub is a great example of this. He’s had the opportunity to speak at Dreamforce and he believes this is connected to his CTA certification. Equally, he’s been invited to attend, speak, and play a role in other local and regional Salesforce events.
For Jakub, being a CTA means that he gets advanced knowledge of new updates to Salesforce and has a really high-level personal network as a result. He’s also had the chance to participate in pilot/beta programs!
Devvrat, in general, agrees that the CTA gives a level of exposure in the Salesforce community that you wouldn’t get otherwise – a real boost to your personal brand. But, ultimately, this isn’t what everyone wants to do, and he says there are other ways that don’t revolve around expensive certifications and years of work. Instead, he says you should focus on experience.
Credibility is often why many enter the certification game.
It’s a universally acknowledged testament to your knowledge in a specific part of Salesforce. Almost every single Salesforce professional has at least one (even if it’s just the Associate cert) and has been on the Trailhead platform to get a few badges. But does a CTA create credibility that you couldn’t get otherwise?
The answer here is more complicated; both Jakub and Devvrat agree that in front of a client who knows Salesforce, or lives in the ecosystem as a hiring manager/decision maker, the CTA does mean a lot. It’s well known how hard the exam is to pass and what goes into preparing for it.
We also spoke to Mohit Sharma, a Salesforce CTO and CTA, who argues that the certification creates a level of “buy-in” that you will struggle to build as quickly otherwise – becoming their trusted digital advisor which, in turn, can help break down client barriers. CTA-holders can almost operate as a quasi-representative of Salesforce – certified for the quality of their advice and strict adherence to SFDC Best Practices.
Outside the Ohana, is there a recognition of this? Sometimes.
However, if the client is just beginning their Salesforce customer journey, what really matters is your experience, your communication skills, and the work delivered – none of which is mutually exclusive to a CTA.
Ultimately, good work is good work – CTA or not.
Is the CTA worth it? As frustrating as it sounds, it depends.
The CTA, if you ask Jakub, Devvrat, or anyone, is a monumental achievement. But is it recommended for everyone? It can’t be – not everyone has the time, funding, or focus to do that. Can it help some people? Definitely. And does anyone regret doing it? Probably not. Can you have a successful career as an architect (and beyond) without it? Of course you can!
It’s clear to me that the most important takeaway is that you should focus on being a good architect first, and a CTA second. The CTA (like any cert) should not be a replacement for real-world experience, but instead, something that enriches your own, your client’s, and/or your customer’s experience.