The Truth About Senior-Level IT Certifications – with Pervez Kazmi

by Mirek Burnejko

Pervez KazmiThis is an interview with Pervez Kazmi. Pervez is the Head of Enterprise Architecture, Global Banking at Deutsche Bank.

Today we talk about his career and his certifications.

In this interview you will find:

  • Why certifications from independent bodies are better for your career?
  • What is the biggest mistake you can do when you start your career in the IT world?
  • THE Question – Are certifications important?

Mirek Burnejko: Hi Pervez. When I see at your profile on LinkedIn, the only word I can use is WOW. Tell us what are you doing right now and what was your first IT job.

Pervez Kazmi: Thank you for the kind words. I have been in the field of IT since before that term existed! I started on my BSc in Electronic, Computer and Systems Engineering at Loughborough University in 1979. I wrote my first computer program in 1980 – in FORTRAN on an ICL mainframe. I remember using punched cards and coming back several hours after submitting the batch job to see if it had run or not. The year after, we had the luxury of interactive interpreters with a paper printer that used rolls of paper for the input and output from the machine. In my final year we had green screen VDUs. I also saw my first PC, a Commodore Pet, which was wheeled to the front of the lecture theatre on a trolley for us to see the future of computing. I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed the journey so far and am still fully enjoying the world of computing.

I am now a senior Enterprise Architect in a global bank, providing leadership on the alignment of Business and IT strategies and on the adoption of industry-standard architectural processes and practices. I have a global role and am based in Singapore, which is a fantastic place that has used IT in amazing ways. My firm depends completely on IT to automate daily business operations as well as to drive new competitive advantage strategies. The bank is one very large information processing system essentially and all of that information is processed by computers that are located all around the world. We are always looking at improving how we use technology efficiently and innovatively.

My career of 30 years has been split roughly one-third each on the following: public sector IT in Singapore, teaching IT subjects to postgraduate students and working professionals at the National University of Singapore, and the last third in the private sector. In the private sector I’ve worked in Singapore, US and Australia.

My first job was as a Systems Engineer in a government agency in Singapore, working on a variety of computerisation projects. I realised at that time that IT would require lifelong learning if I was to be good at my profession.

MB: You have many certifications listed on your account. Do you know the number? Which one was the most important to you?

PK: I have the following professional certifications:

  • The Open Group – Distinguished Certified IT Architect (Enterprise IT Architect track)
  • The Open Group – TOGAF Certified
  • Oracle/Sun – Sun Certified Enterprise Architect for the Java EE Platform (renamed as the Oracle Certified Master Java EE Enterprise Architect)
  • IASA – Certified IT Architect Professional
  • Microsoft – Microsoft Certified Architect (Solutions)
  • IBM – Certified SOA Solution Designer
  • PMI – Project Management Professional

The most important one was the first one I obtained more than 10 years ago – Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) on the Visual Studio 6.0 track. It must have lapsed by now and I often regret not upgrading to the .NET Framework track.

I feel that a software solution architect should have a strong programming background to be able to lead development teams. I have never led a team where I cannot do the work myself that team members are expected to do.

MB: Which one was the hardest to achieve?

PK: The Open Group’s Distinguished Certified IT Architect was the hardest. The requirements are demanding and standards are high. I was interviewed independently by three people who held the credential and had to give convincing answers that stretched my limits. One benefit was that I was able to see Hong Kong for the first time, where the Board was held. I enjoy travelling to new places.

MB: I’ve found this on LinkedIn: “Architectural Director of a US$ 310M legacy modernisation programme implementing SAP ERP, SAP CRM, SAP MDM and other COTS and custom-built applications”. Do certifications and knowledge on architecture frameworks help with the biggest IT projects?

PK: I feel that the main value of the skills-based IT certifications is that they define the required competencies and provide a structured learning path and material to gain those competencies. Being able to prove that knowledge by having to pass exams provides motivation to do the necessary learning. We are all very busy people these days, juggling professional and personal lives and need to have goals to serve as key markers to achieve. Passing certificatiton exams provides a certain degree of self-satisfaction and validation if approached correctly. I have seen some people cramming for certification exams with the goal of simply meeting company requirements or obtaining some benefit without investing properly to gain and apply that knowledge. In those cases, I don’t think certifications are of much value to the individual or our employers or customers.

For the more senior types of certifications that require many years of experience and a track record, I must admit that the main benefit is self-satisfaction at having achieved peer review and validation by other professionals that are respected for their knowledge and experience.

MB: The most important question: Are certifications important? Can I become the Head of Enterprise Architecture in a big international bank without them?

PK: They can be useful in providing the endorsement of a professional body or an IT supplier that the individual has the required competencies. However, our field is changing rapidly and we must not believe that being certified means we can stop learning and growing. You can definitely get to such a position without being certified. However, anyone in that role who does not know the TOGAF body of knowledge for EA will not be able to stay in that role for long! Whether they choose to get certified in TOGAF is a personal decision but it will again provide a certain degree of credibility that one has the foundational knowledge. More importantly, the person will have demonstrated a track record of having successfully helped their companies to achieve the benefit of architectural practices. They must also never stop learning and growing so that they continue to add more value as they become more senior.

MB: What is the biggest mistake I could do when I start my career in the IT world?

PK: Assume that that your learning has ended with you obtaining your diploma or degree. In fact it has just started for real!

MB: Should Enterprise Architects have certifications from IASA or the Open Group? Maybe they should know only some frameworks like TOGAF?

PK: The best body of knowledge for EA is TOGAF and no organisation should undertake EA without referencing this valuable work by hundreds of people over many years. Having people who know TOGAF well-enough to be certified will be valuable but again the experience of having applied the techniques is equally important. TOGAF does not spell out exactly which techniques and processes are used for the different sub-architectures – there is no substitute for experience.

MB: I would love to know your opinion. We have more that 1600 certifications. How we can chose a good one? Should we concentrate only on the biggest players like Microsoft, Cisco and IBM?

PK: We need to categorise the types of certifications as there is no single answer to your question. For technology specific certifications, one would go to the provider of the technology in most cases.

For generic knowledge- and experience-based certifications, one would go to professional vendor-independent bodies.

MB: Is it easier to work with customers, partners and your co-workers with Open CA, CITA-P, MCA? Do certifications help you these days?

PK: My certifications don’t entitle me to respect from customers, partners and co-workers. I gain respect by adding value to the team with the knowledge and experience I can offer and in actively doing work rather than telling others at a high level what they should be doing. When I started work in 1982 I told myself that I would aspire to get to the top of this profession before retiring and that is still powerful motivation. I’m nowhere near the top yet.

MB: I believe you know the IT world as no one else. What certifications or technologies are the best choice in 2012/13?

PK: I definitely don’t! The world of IT is too complex and ever-changing for any one person to have even a partial mastery of a very small part of it. I’m fortunate to have been in the right places at the right time. I have a thick skin and am not shy to say I don’t know something and then go off to learn it quickly. Many times I have had to become an ‘expert’ overnight in some technique or pattern or tool or algorithm. The intellectual stimulation is what keeps me going. I’m fortunate to have found a career so long ago that I still enjoy a lot. There is never time to get bored and the modern world depends completely on computers. That’s fortunate for us but the responsibilities are huge.

MB: Thank you so much. What is the best place to find you?

PK: I’m reachable via my LinkedIn account.

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