Enterprise World and Certified Enterprise Architects – with Willem Cilliers

by Mirek Burnejko

Willem CilliersThis is an interview with Willem Cilliers, a former IBM architect.

Willem is a real ARCHITECT – Open Group Master Certified Architect, architect in IBM (the IBM Certified Senior Architect certification), mentor to architects and subject matter experts on career development and certification

In this interview you will find:

  • Why certifications are important for enterprise architects
  • Why certifications from The Open Group are a good choice
  • Why it’s easier to work with clients when you have IT certifications


IT Certification Master: Willem, it’s a big pleasure to have you here. Tell us something about you and what is a project you’re currently struggling with right now?

Willem Cilliers: Hello Mirek, thank you for inviting me. I’ve been in IT since graduating as a mathematics major. Currently I’m working on resolving conflicting stakeholder needs on a large State Government Healthcare expansion project. An Architect Role involves more than applying IT to solve business problems. Requirements management and scope agreement is a crucial prerequisite.

ICM: What was your first IT job and your first IT certification?

WC: My first IT job was a junior COBOL programmer for an oil company. I received a COBOL programmer certification from the local IBM training center.

ICM: You have many great certifications on your account. Which one was the most important to you?

WC: From a practical perspective, the Microsoft MCSE proved to be the certification that opened the most doors for me. It was an excellent investment.

ICM: Which one was the hardest to achieve?

WC: The hardest certification for me was the Novell Certified Trainer. I had to complete the Novell Certified Netware Engineer training curriculum, pass the tests at a significantly higher level and then pass a grueling two-day in-person interview at the Novell head office.

ICM: I’ve found this on LinkedIN: “Architectural Team Lead on multi-million dollar IT outsourcing projects”. And you are talking about IBM !!! Do certifications and knowledge on architecture frameworks help with the biggest IT projects?

WC: That’s an interesting question Mirek. I have known great architects who have the experience but no certifications, and others who – despite having the certifications – make poor architectural decisions. So it really depends very much on the individual. The most powerful skill combination for a successful architect is logical thinking, business sense and the formal certifications to support effective architectural principles.

ICM: The most important question. Are certifications important? Can I become an Enterprise Architect in a big international company without certifications?

WC: Those are two great questions, Mirek. I believe, and it is my experience that certifications are important for two primary reasons: Certification solidifies your knowledge and understanding of the domain in which you certify, and the credential supplies market confidence to yourself and your employer. To answer your second question, you can begin practicing EA under the guidance of a certified EA mentor, but in order to act as a lead architect on a big project, most organizations will require a Certified Enterprise Architect.

ICM: Most Enterprise Architects have certifications from The Open Group? Is it a good way to start and why?

WC: When you certify as an Architect with IBM, and with many other organizations, you qualify to join The Open Group as an Open Certified Architect. You can also certify directly with The Open Group by following the process defined on their website. The advantage of having an Open Group certification is vendor neutral market credibility. Open CA is a great way to start.

ICM: Are certifications without experience a good idea?

WC: Certification and experience are two sides of the skills coin. You cannot get certified as an architect without showing evidence of experience.

ICM: I would love to know your opinion. We have more than 1700 certifications. How we can choose a good one? Should we concentrate only on the biggest players like Microsoft, Cisco and IBM?

WC: You are correct Mirek – there are so many certifications to choose from. I would recommend you start by eliminating those career paths you are not interested in. Then do your research in the job market to discover the hot technologies and the corresponding certifications. A good place to look is in the Skills & Expertise search engine in LinkedIn. You can see the growth and trends from which you can select your next certification. Size of the company providing the certification is not as important as market demand.

ICM: Is it easier to work with customers, partners and your coworkers with Open CA, CITA-P, IBM Certified Senior Architect? Do certifications help you these days?

WC: Certification gave me greater confidence, and in a time of change, confidence in yourself inspires confidence in your stakeholders. I also believe that you must commit to continuous learning and to building your skills to keep current and provide value to your customers.

ICM: That was amazing. Thank you so much. What is the best place to find you? (LinkedIn, Blog – I will link to your page here).

WC: Thank you Mirek – it was an honor talking to you. Keep up the great work with your certifications web site. You can find me on LinkedIN.

[This is part of the Interviews with IT Pros Series]