Microsoft Certified Architect, Technical Certifications and An Architectural Finish – with Thorsten Wujek

by Mirek Burnejko

Microsoft Certified ArchitectThorsten Wujek is a legend. Not everyone has heard about him, but his knowledge, entrepreneurship and passion is an inspiration for me and thousands of other engineers.

He belongs to the small group of people who have the Microsoft Certified Architect title and, what is most interesting, he does not work for Microsoft. He has created a great company (STEIN) with many IT Rockstars and believes in the value of IT certifications, especially on the architectural level.

In this interview you will find:

  • How to prepare to the Microsoft Certified Architect certification and can we call that “preparation”?
  • What is the real goal with certifications like Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) or Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)?
  • Are certifications or maybe the certification process important?
  • How Thorsten’s knowledge about certifications helps him with finding great employees?

IT Certification Master: Hi Thorsten. It is a real pleasure to have you here. You have an amazing experience and one of the hardest IT certifications to get – Microsoft Certified Architect. Tell us more about you. Where you started your IT career? What was your first certification?

Thorsten Wujek: Hi Miroslaw, first of all thank you very much for the chance to describe my point of view regarding certifications.

Taking my age into account, I started my “IT career” at the beginning of pc technology as a “computer kid” at the age of 10. My first computer was a Sinclair Z80 on which I learned my first programming language, assembler. Over the years I followed the trends from C64 to Amiga and finally X86 architecture. I studied mechanical and electrical engineering but with a minor chance to get a job as an engineer in the 90s I decided to found my first IT company with a focus on software development.

At the beginning of my career I felt not very confident about the necessity of IT certifications but there were and still are prerequisites from vendors like HP, MS or Cisco for example which put people in a position to gain certifications to reach a specific partner level . Therefore my first certification were Cisco CCNA, CCDA and Microsoft MCP.

ICM: Can you describe your road to the Microsoft Certified Architect certification?

TW: It was a bumpy way and I know it like it was yesterday. I read about Microsoft’s idea of a high level, vendor-independent certification after I finished a big project which I led for 3 years. During that time Microsoft offered 2 tracks, Solution and Infrastructure, which has tried to cover the two different streams of IT.

One of the prerequisite to become a Microsoft Certified Architect was, that you are involved in big projects; so from that point of view I was able to check that on my list.

You also have to meet several competency like technical depth in two areas, in my case security and virtualization, and leadership to name two.

ICM: How about the exam and preparation to the exam? Did you receive any hard questions on the review of your application?

TW: To be honest, my feeling is, that there is no way to prepare and feel prepared for a board exam. It was a time-consuming task to write all the application papers and the board presentation. There was support of a mentor during the preparation period, but the difficulty was the vendor independence, so the question was where to start and what to cover.

Then there was the day of the board. It was very hard standing in front four board members with deep knowledge in your area firing question after question towards you after you have presented your project and solution to the board. Two hours later I left the room nearly “brain-dead” without any idea about passing or failing. But speaking about MCA I am telling no secret that I have passed J.

ICM: One more question about Microsoft Certified Architect. It is very expensive and hard to pass exam. The road to the exam is also very long. What is the real goal with certifications like MCA (Microsoft Certified Architect) or CCAr (Cisco Certified Architect)?

TW: From my point of view the biggest goal of an architectural certification like MCA, CCAe or CITA-P is the fact that the holder of such a certification has the ability to communicate with CXOs and understand their concerns. An architect must also be able to compare and contrast solutions with technicians deeply.

Those certifications help that architect is no longer a title on a business card which is granted randomly or by position but lined by measurable competencies. I know that to get that in peoples mind is a long and bumpy way but I believe that it is necessary and I will keep working on it. Therefore I am doing volunteer work for architectural organizations as a mentor and author.

ICM: You have the CITA-P certification. Can you tell us something about this certification, your preparation and the exam itself?

TW: CITA-P is a vendor independent certification offered by the IASA. It is similar to the first Microsoft Certified Architect certifications. Therefore you will find a lot of equivalence regarding competencies and experiences. There are also two tracks, solutions and infrastructure, to respect both “flavors” of IT, Software and Infrastructure architecture.

It is a hard board certification like the one from Microsoft.

If you want a vendor independent architectural certification CITA-P will be the one, because Microsoft is only offering product specific MCAs and no longer vendor and product independent MCAs.

ICM: You also have a HP MASE certification. We write a lot about this certification on the ICM website. What was your goal with this certification?

TW: Regarding HP MASE you have to consider “Master ASE Converged Infrastructure” and all the other Master ASE certifications. The converged infrastructure track is different from the other tracks because besides all written prerequisites you need to pass a board review, which I know on my own experiences, is very hard. With the converged Infrastructure track you will show a broad knowledge of actual technologies and solutions.

ICM: You are the CEO of STEIN. Is it easier to work with customers and other business owners with the MCA and CITA-P certifications?

TW: There are business cases where those certifications help but those situations are rare. The benefit comes from what I learned through the certification process. The ability to communicate in a proper way with all kind of stakeholders.

ICM: How you knowledge about certifications helps you with finding great employees?

TW: It helps, because when you know all different kind of certifications you are able to judge between the “good” and “bad” ones. That sounds hard but those facts are often excluded from the discussion. It is a pity but to be honest a multiple choice exams where you can “prepare” by achieving the questions, has no measurable worth for a company. In those cases you have to test employees to evaluate the “real” knowledge.

During board or lab exams you have to proof knowledge and experiences. Those are from my point of view the “good” ones.

ICM: Do you have any IT rockstars in your team?

TW: Yes I have. Talented people with a technical focus and a deep knowledge. Most of them have technical certifications from MS, Cisco and HP and one will the architecture track which is great from my point of view.

ICM: Let’s imagine you are starting your career one more time. What step or certifications is the best move to a great IT career?

TW: I am really to say, I would everything as I have done it again. Because when you are young most of “us” are techies and want to know every packet and every bit whatever it takes and how long it lasts. When you “grow older” and go through several big projects you will internalize the need for organizational structures and more competencies beside the technical ones. This is when people move to the architectural track which is an interesting and new impulse for your career.

ICM: I believe you know the IT world as no one else. What certifications or technologies are the best choice in 2012?

TW: I think it depends on what you want to try to show. If you want to proof your technical depth CCIE would be still the one I would focus on. If you want to stay on the technical track but claiming broad technology knowledge I would put MASE “converged Infrastructure” on my list.

For those who have highest technical certifications yet think about an architectural finish.

ICM: What do you think about the value of IT certifications. We have almost 1700 certifications in our industry. Do you think we should concentrate on many vendors or only on one vendor (like Microsoft) and go as deep as possible?

TW: As always the answer is „it depends“. But my opinion is that it is always positive if one is able to look beyond the horizon. How you plan and grow your career may change over time. There is no “right” way.

ICM: Thank you so much. Where we can find you in the online world?

You will find me on facebook and twitter. I am also blogging for IASA as well as on my own blog about stuff around architecture. So everybody who is interested in exchanging ideas around IT architecture is always welcomed.

What Do You Think? Do people with the highest technical certifications must think about an architectural finish? Let’s hear about that in the comments below!