I had a very interesting discussion with a guy from NetApp at the E14 Airlift last week about the Board process for attaining MCA status, and how rigorous, fair, subjective or not, the process may be. It made me have a think about it too and I sent back an email which I'm using as the basis of this post, as I hope it's useful info for anyone contemplating the Board.
First off, if you have no idea what the Board I'm referring to is about or what MCA is then take a look at this site and read through that first.
To try and answer the most common questions I get;
- Who can take the Board? For an MCA | technology, that is, Exchange, OCS, SQL etc, anyone who has passed the relevant MCM for that technology. For MCA Infrastructure and Solutions there is no pre-requisite Master program, but there are significent years of industry expertise required.
- What are my chances of success? If you have 10+ years of industry/consulting expertise and are working as an Architect, I would say, pretty fair. If you have 2 years of working experience and really have no idea of what architecture is about, pretty unlikely to be honest. It's a test of experience in many ways.
- What can I do to prepare? I usually work with the MCA | Exchange folks to make sure they are ready and not wasting their time and money by appearing before they are prepared. But the best advice I always give is this - look at those 7 competencies and think about how your presentation addresses each of them. It's up to the candidate to demonstrate their skill, not for the Board members to drag it out of them. If you can touch all those competencies in the first 30 minutes you are doing well.
- Who sits on the Board and how do they decide? Well that's the reason I started this post, so here's my reply to this interesting question...
- I am very confident in the process we have for determining pass/fail on the Review Board. The people I have sitting on the Board are extremely skilled and experienced and I have absolute confidence in both their integrity and their objectivity. We have run literally hundreds of Board reviews, the process is very well tested.
- To emphasise this point further, we usually have at least one non Microsoft person on each Board, I have had plenty of partner MCA’s on the Board and I will continue to do so to ensure that all parts of the community are represented, both inside and out.
- We have a moderator whose role it is to ensure not only the logistics run smoothly but to ensure the process is conducted fairly and based upon the evidence presented, not personal prior experience with the candidate should there be any.
- The Board process has even been independently assessed in addition to all of this. All Board members receive training prior to sitting on the Board and the Board only ever has one new member each time it runs.
- I do not allow observers unless those observers will be serving on the Board at a future date. This is to ensure the process is secure and that observing doesn’t unfairly increase the success rate of someone attempting the Board in the future. In short, learning by watching others. The performance a candidate puts in should be based on their own skill alone.
- I also do not want to add to the pressure of the candidate by adding to their audience. All the people in the room have a function, we do not have an audience.
- What's it like, appearing in front of the Board? It's nerve racking, in a nutshell. I did it myself. I always give the same piece of advice though, about how to appraoch it - treat it like a customer meeting. The people that appear in front of the Board have usually done hundreds of those, they have stood up and presented content to audiences large and small - so what's the difference? Just do your day job and try to forget about the four people watching you and scribbling notes... not easy I know, but that's what I did, that and imagining them all with no clothes on... isn't that the other thing that's supposed to help? Didn't work for me, not my type, any of them...
So a brief intro to the Board process. I really do enjoy sitting on the Board. The hardest part for me is telling people they didn't pass, so I always try to give solid and constructive feedback to help them next time round. None of us are too proud to learn, I learn something new about Exchange every day, and I've been doing this thing for 10+ years. That's what I love about it. That and the little yellow envelope in my taskbar. Hello, my name is Greg and I'm addicted to email.
Any questions or if you want to hear about any other aspects of the Board, just ask...