Those were the longest days of my life. The seemingly endless days I had to wait to hear the results after sitting for one of the most intense certification assessments I've ever experienced... the infamous Salesforce Certified Technical Architect (CTA) Review Board. 


The wait was finally over when I received that hotly anticipated email titled, “Salesforce Certified Technical Architect— Exam Results,”. My heart skipped a beat and I had to collect myself before I clicked to open it.


The first words sent my heart off again at a gallop:

What a moment! I had finally done it — completed my #JourneyToCTA and on my very first attempt too.


Proud doesn't begin to describe the feeling.


CTA myth busting


Now that I'm on the other side, I think the name Certified Technical Architect (CTA) can cause some confusion. It implies that you have to be technical or come from a developer background to even consider attempting the credential.


Well, I'm here to tell you that's not true.


In the interest of busting this myth, I am a CTA, but am neither a developer nor a super coder in my spare time. I am an architect and strategist — someone who can bridge the gap between a business' vision and the technology. I've learned how to make use of technology to achieve real business results, and that's what a CTA does best.


So to those out there who feel you are not “technical enough,” do not let a word put you off. I've found that being an architect is at the heart of my CTA journey.


Back when I didn't know where to start


My adventure started when I joined Salesforce back in November 2015. I was at the top of my game as a strategy advisor and architect but had no previous experience with the Salesforce platform. Let me tell you, it was a big (and somewhat scary!) move for me, having been in the Oracle ecosystem for more than 15 years.


What was I thinking? I'd decided to move from being a recognized Oracle platform expert to starting almost from scratch with new technology. I was joining a juggernaut of a growth organization but with no knowledge of their platform. This made me both excited and nervous at the same time.


It was in my first week at Salesforce that I got introduced to the “Architect Journey,” although it wasn't called that at the time. Back then, the CTA mountain seemed like a daunting prospect as there was no Trailhead or invaluable Architect Journey trailmixes. You almost had to hike the whole way on your own. So I started tackling it, one step at a time.


A long and winding road


My first step was to sit for the Salesforce Administrator certification to gain a fundamental understanding of what the CRM was all about. “Clicks not code” was a somewhat new concept for me yet it made sense when I saw the power of the platform.

After I had that first credential under my belt, and after a ton of learning and studying, I ran a 10-week certification marathon to pass my Platform App Builder, Advanced Administrator, Sales Cloud Consultant, and Service Cloud Consultant exams. Phew! But I then had a well-rounded view of the core capabilities — invaluable for my role at the company.


Next, I began to climb the “Architect Pyramid.”

With each level, I gained an even more in-depth understanding of each domain and how to apply them to real customer scenarios. Due to experience, I found a few to be familiar (like Integration Architecture) whereas others wholly covered new territory (like Apex and Visualforce—making the Platform Developer I certification a tough one for me).


The last domain I earned was the optional Mobile Solutions Architecture. After I passed, it seemed impossible that I was one step (a superhero leap of a step, mind you) away from the coveted CTA title.


“Bring it on!”


One of the most challenging things was finding the time to fit everything in. I spent hours studying and preparing for the Review Board but still needed to do my day job and spend time with my family. Going for this credential wasn't an easy decision, and I must stress that the time commitment shouldn't be taken lightly.

Here's where I warn you that strength and determination won't push you past the finish line. You will also need the support of family and friends. Make sure you get them on board before you start, explain to them exactly what's involved in preparing for the CTA Review Board. Since you will spend hours locked up studying over weekends and you may have to give up social activities. And it's always best to set expectations.

There were times when juggling everything became too much for me, and I did think about giving up. But with every domain I passed, I got one step closer to my goal. And my family and friends gave me the strength to carry on. Everyone around me knew what becoming a CTA meant to me — even my 6-year-old son!


“Bring it on,” I thought.


The bigger picture


Although I was inspired by colleagues who had passed the CTA Review Board, I also knew that if I wasn't properly prepared, it could take multiple attempts to get that elusive “Pass.”


Doing it right the first time meant that I had to grasp the technical aspects through studying but also needed to supplement this knowledge with hands-on experience. Through this journey, I began to understand what people meant when they said, “Becoming an Architect takes you to a whole other level!”


Passing the pre-qualification exams was only about 60% of my prep. Amazing, right? The bulk of my CTA Review Board prep focused on applying all this knowledge to the bigger picture of real-world business scenarios.


Six top tips to help you on your #JourneyToCTA


So what insights can I share? Well, the number one and MOST important takeaway is — it's hard work! Here's what I found most helpful:


  1. Take your time
    The CTA is not just an exam — it's a journey — so it's important to get the foundations right.
  2. Build on experience
    No amount of theoretical learning can replace real-life project experience. Make a map of what you studied for the pre-requisite Architect Designer credentials and how you can apply this knowledge to real-world business scenarios.
  3. Always know the “Why?”
    Knowing the “Why?” is the game-changer for excelling in the CTA Review Board. It proves you have the ability to justify your recommended solution in the context of the use case you present.
  4. Get organized
    I found that organizing my thoughts and breaking down the whole business case into different sections was helpful. I knew exactly what aspects of the solution I needed to cover, and it helped with time management.
  5. Practice, practice, practice
    Present to your peers, friends, and family (even if they don't always know what you're talking about!) This will help you find a flow and gather your thoughts while speaking.
  6. Always be thinking
    Buying groceries? Think about how your store's system landscape might look and how you would architect a best-in-class CRM for it — just don't forget to actually shop!


The future is bright


When I think about my journey, going from knowing nothing about Salesforce to being an official expert and part of the elite CTA club, every step has made me better at — and more confident in — what I do. Yes, it seemed daunting or even impossible at first but making progress, one domain at a time, and embracing the continuous learning process is what made it achievable. 

And my journey doesn't stop here. I now coach and mentor aspiring CTAs and hope to get involved in activities to give back and help bring more CTAs into the ecosystem. Plus, I'm still learning loads.

When I received this Super CTA reward from my son after passing the Review Board, it made the whole journey worthwhile. "Emely Super CTA" has a nice ring to it, don't you think? And, I must get myself a blue cape!


Want to learn more? There's a trailmix for that! Check out Architect Journey: Prepare to Become a Certified Technical Architect (CTA).