I had the good fortune to spend some time on the phone last week with Fred Weiller, Director of Marketing for Learning at Cisco, along with Erik Ullanderson, Manager of Global Certifications for the same company. We talked our way through the new Cisco Certified Architect credential (sometimes abbreviated as CCAr). The Cisco Certified Architect is the highest step on that company’s “design track” which starts with the Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA), goes onto the Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP), then to the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE), where the aforementioned CCAr credential serves as the capstone for that sequence. Cisco’s impetus for this program came from customer input regarding the job roles they seek to cover with certifications, and the kinds of skills and knowledge that should go with them.
As is typical for many capstone or top-rung credentials, including numerous other architect certifications, the Cisco Certified Architect is completely performance based. Rather than relying on various types of automated question banks, which may or may not be accompanied by lab or other performance based tests (like the lab tests that go with the CCIE and CCDE), the CCAr credential starts out with a variety of qualification steps and hurdles to overcome, and includes several interviews and face-to-face encounters along the path from application to completing a design exercise, to defending that exercise before a panel of other certified architects, to earning the certification. The process kicks off with an application that includes a resume and professional experience component, followed by a phone interview to determine if an applicant’s verbal skills and real-world knowledge match up to his or her professed experience, skills, and capabilities.
For those candidates who survive the phone interview, their next step is to respond to a series of questions and requirements that add up to something like an RFP. This is delivered via email, and a lengthy and formal written response is required. Of course drafting such a response takes substantial preparation and research, with time and room for candidates to submit follow-up queries to elicit additional details and information as needed. In fact, the response and submission process is realistic enough that it includes mid-course “curve balls” of the “can you add this?” or “can we change X to Y?” form so familiar to practitioners in the field who service real client needs and requests. Once the proposal is submitted, a candidate must appear before a committee of certified professionals (Cisco expects those individuals who earn the CCAr to be willing to give back to the community by serving on such panels themselves, once they make the grade) to explain and defend its content, strategy, and so forth. Questions and coverage come from the worlds of business, technology, finance, and so on, where proposals must meet financial needs, match stated business visions, meet feasibility and implementation requirements, and match up with enunciated short-, medium-, and long-term goals for their target businesses or organizations.
Right now, less than ten individuals have earned the Cisco Certified Architect credential, and Cisco’s expectation is that in the next 36 months that number will climb to something higher than 10 but less than 99 certified individuals. Interestingly, Ullanderson emphasized the importance of soft skills to earning the CCAr credential as well as a solid and substantial mix of business and technology skills. Individuals must provide strong verbal responses to the telephone interview to get past the initial hurdle to program entry, and then make a substantial showing in the proposal defense before the committee that follows submission of the written version. That written proposal also means that candidates must demonstrate solid and convincing verbal communication skills, as well as business skills and knowledge necessary to deal with financial and business considerations, as well as technical ones, at each step along the certification process. And of course, quick and well-informed thinking will be essential to surviving the proposal defense, where candidates will be probed on more than just the proposal’s contents and coverage.
A typical profile for potential candidates is someone who’s got ten or more years of networking experience with plenty of technical background and on-the-job training and learning behind him or her. People who have worked on implementation and troubleshooting will also have to be able to draw upon design skills and experience as well as understanding how to navigate in and around the business-technology interface. A typical candidate who survives initial screening should need somewhere between three and six months to complete the certification, but the greatest amount of effort for this credential is bound to go into personal preparation, development, and learning. Would-be candidates need to make sure they’re ready to tackle the demanding CCAr credential, particularly by interacting with other certified or qualified individuals (Cisco will make various online venues and communities available to vetted candidates) and also by working through the proposal research, development, and defense efforts.
This sounds very much like a solid and substantial certification, and is bound to help develop the Cisco certification community further. Visit the Cisco Certified Architect home page for more information.