5 October 2009

Find me an Enterprise Architect!

Or… how do I know that the person sitting in front of me really is an Enterprise Architect?

The Princess and the Pea
Once upon a time in a kingdom far far away, the King and Queen needed a wife for their son the Prince, but there were no princesses. One windy night, a girl arrived at their castle soaked and dirty, claiming to be a princess.


But what if she wasn’t a princess?

The King called for the wise woman, and explained his dilemma. The wise woman told them to place a pea beneath the mattress on which the supposed princess would sleep. If she knew the pea was there, then she truly was a princess. Sure enough, the girl passed the test (despite ten mattresses being piled one on another). A princess had been found, and the Prince was finally married off.

If only there was a similarly straight forward test for an Enterprise Architect…

Can I see some ID, Please?
Maybe there is? If you examine the job market, it would appear that there are certificates out there that do the job. A quick trawl of the internet reveals a variety of bodies offering Enterprise Architecture certification. A sample of these organisations is listed below:
  • The Open Group
  • The Federal EA Certification Institute
  • EA Center of Excellence
  • Global Enterprise Architecture Organisation
These certificates certainly claim to take some of the guess work out of distinguishing the true Enterprise Architects from the impostors, but what exactly do they actually prove?

I have to admit at this point, that I approach this subject from a position of extreme bias. In my opinion and experience, many of these certificates can be obtained fairly easily after a quick training course followed by an exam. This very fact indicates their true value (or lack of it). You do not become an engineer in a week, nor do you become a solicitor after a quick correspondence course, so why get an architect badge in this way.

Certificates of this type are meaningless, but they do create a ready market for training companies to churn out a course to an eager market (especially if you persuade a large organisation that all their people are architects, and all their architects need a certificate). What is more, an easy to obtain certificate devalues the very profession it is trying to support.

There are more Questions than Answers
And then there is the question of what type of architect are we certificating for? Most certificates are IT related, so where does the Business Architect feature in all of this? Do we need one for each type of architect, and then by whose framework do we judge that these architects exist as separate entities. There are then certificates to support specific architecture frameworks such as TOGAF.

Collecting architecture certificates could become a full time activity, and the prospective architect might still not possess the actual certificate required by the organisation for which he or she is intending to work.

Certificates (if of use at all) are best suited to specific subject areas or activities. An example from the building trade: In the UK, plumbers can (and must) obtain a certificate that permits them to fit pressurised hot water systems. Enterprise Architecture encompasses a wide variety of activities and disciplines and can be executed using many different frameworks. Certification is not an appropriate answer.

You Have Much to Learn, Grasshopper
If a certificate isn’t the answer, perhaps there may be a more significant qualification that would fit the bill. Consider an MBA - a significant and widely respected qualification in the business community. I have also been reliably informed that there exists a one year conversion qualification in Law that entitles a recipient to practice in certain areas of the legal system. Surely something like this might make sense?

Interestingly there is already at least one such course, offered by the RMIT University (Australia), entitled Master of Technology (EA). Obviously, the title implies that this is IT focused, but perhaps this is a potential route?

I do not feel that the analogy holds true here, and I have my doubts as to whether EA is really big enough in itself to justify such a postgraduate qualification? Business and the Law are two huge topics with many strands and specialisations. The addition of a masters level qualification makes sense in this context. Similarly, a masters qualification in engineering makes sense as once more this takes a huge subject to a new level.

I would expect Enterprise Architecture to start to feature in these higher qualifications (especially the business and engineering related ones) as one of many topics to be considered, but to study it as a subject in itself does not make sense to me.

Seek and Ye Shall Find
So, if I believe that certificates are not the answer and further education does not fit the bill, then how do I propose that we separate the wheat from the chaff?

What we really need is something significant that builds on the existing higher education structure. Something that reflects the educational and employment history of the individual, and that describes their wealth of experience leading up to and including their activities as an Enterprise Architect. This needs to be backed up with a list of real references from those for whom they worked, and finally we need an assessment to ensure that the candidate is a good fit for our organisation.

Hmmm…   Isn’t that a CV and an interview process?

The Enterprising Architect


  1. And the perfect question at that interview?

    ".. and where do you see yourself in five years time?"

    Extra Brownie Points if the interviewee asks it first?

  2. Im glad to see you heading this direction. It is always difficult to make the leap from what 'I' think to what 'works'. Ive seen it many times now and it is a very satisfying shift.

    A couple of notes to help along the way. We must be very careful about words (even though that is pedantic I know) and actual numbers. For example, out of people who identify as architects, only roughly 15-20% or so are 'enterprise' architects. Out of those most (85%~) identify as IT architects. Of those who are not 'EAs' they generally identify with their specialization (software, infrastructure, information, business) but are willing to use the IT architect as an umbrella/general term to unify them with the other specializations. BTW, the identification with other 'types' of architects does happen quite easily. Practicing infrastructure, information, software, business and even EAs recognize a similarity with each other almost naturally.

    Now to the point of your post. The question you may want to ask yourself, which we have answered through pretty painstaking research, is whether architecture is a profession or not. By profession I do not mean role. Professions follow very particular rules:
    - It has a unique body of knowledge
    - It has value to industry or society
    - Its value and BoK do not completely overlap another profession (such as software engineer)
    - It can be taught
    - (optional) It has specializations

    Once you have answered the question of profession the process becomes relatively straight forward. Research existing professions and borrow the components that apply. For example, medicine has a very drawn out and regulated internship process. Why? Because doctors need to practice their skills under supervision to ensure that they dont kill people. So does that apply to architects? I will leave that for you to decide.

    The fundamental guiding rule though is that professions control themselves. They do not wait for CEOs to want them. They do not allow others to certify them (though they may allow universities and governments to educate and license them). Professions are self-fulfilling. The goal of the membership is career-growth and quality. This mechanism has existed for thousands of years (through the old guild model) and is readily accepted.

    A profession may for example decide to accredit universities to offer a degree program in their field. A profession may choose not to (my grandfather was a licensed plumber but not a graduate of a plumbing university). However, the key is that the profession decides this based on their needs (educated skilled practioners).

    I hope you keep asking these tough questions.