Certifiably Influential?

CertificateRecently, I have been involved in several conversations about the Architect certifications. It is an interesting topic that comes up more and more as the number of people who call themselves Architects increases. It is only natural. After all, when every other person is an Architect, how do you tell the “good” one from the “average” one. One answer may be that only certified ones are “good”…or is it?

Before we get any further, I would like to recall the era when IT certifications became popular. They started as a way for people with limited experience in the field to move up in the ranks or get that dream job. As more and more people obtained the certifications those with real experience started feeling left out. It seemed that they were the only ones without the certification and the employers fanned the flames. So what is one to do? Get certified of course! In the end almost everyone with some skills got certified and the quest for differentiation had to start over. Oh what an opportunity for the certification vendors!

I believe that this game continues now with the Architect certifications. Some certifications are based purely on a study+exam model. Others attempt to add the component of experience assessed through personal interviews. In the end it all boils down to being able to understand number of architectural concepts and explain them to others. In other words, it’s largely about taxonomy and mechanics. It has little to do with the overall skills of an Architect.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t hold any Architect certification and don’t plan on getting one unless the game described above forces me to do so. I do have a TOGAF certification obtained through my employer but that’s just a framework and one of many at that.

As you no doubt have guessed, I believe that the Architect certifications are worthless from the point of view of experienced Architects (can there be any other kind?). I think that anyone who practiced architecture, especially Enterprise Architecture, will agree that architecture can be seen as part science and part art.  Often dealing with ambiguity, varying levels of abstraction, and uncertainty of long-term strategies. It requires a blend of vision and pragmatism and often relies on influence rather than authority. In fact, influence and compromise seems to be the name of the game, the modus operandi of successful Architects in the industry.

Can you certify one’s ability to influence? How about one’s ability to compromise? I don’t believe you can. Those are traits usually acquired through experience involving number of successes and mistakes in previous endeavors,… actually mostly through mistakes. I also believe that for some individuals those traits are more difficult to acquire than for others and it has nothing to do with them being less smart or less educated. It may have something to do with their personality types or maybe with their level of emotional intelligence (EQ). Can those be taught? Personality – NO. EQ – some believe that it can. In any case, I have trouble believing that Architect certifications can be useful as a measure of a skill of an Architect. But then again, maybe they are meant to signify something else. Maybe they are truly about taxonomy and mechanics and nothing else. Certification bodies seem to disagree, but then again, they do have a skin in the game. What do you think?