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Navigating the Maze of EA Certifications

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There are over a dozen Enterprise Architecture certifications available and they are becoming increasingly critical when hiring and evaluating architects. Microsoft’s Mike Walker categorized these certifications into a Reference Guide that can help architects better understand which certification(s) to pursue.

Certification is becoming an important way for enterprise architects to differentiate themselves to employers and demonstrate practical knowledge. This is the opinion of ZDNet’s Joe McKendrick who included “growth in certification” in his 2012 outlook for enterprise architecture. But architects can become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of certifications offered by a multitude of parties. Walker’s Reference Guide attempts to add clarity to the situation by decomposing the various certifications into the following classifications: Competency-based Certifications, Industry/Specialized Certifications, Foundational Certifications, Applied Certifications and Supporting Certifications. Walker describes the classifications as such:

  • Competency Based Certifications – These certifications are focused at evaluating your experience to validate that you are indeed an architect. Much like many other certifications in the industry (e.g., PMP). These are much different to others that determine what you know instead of how you applied the knowledge.
  • Industry / Specialized Certifications – Driven from a predetermined set of concerns such as the federal government or a specific industry is where these derive from. While these certifications are critical in that vertical, often times they do not transfer well across verticals given the difference in drivers and motivations of these very specific bodies of knowledge.
  • Foundational Certifications – Provides the essential skills for EA’s. These certifications are different from the other two in the respect that they validate that you’re an architect while foundational certifications validate that you know a specific methods, models and/or tools. These certifications are essential to EA’s as they populate the EA’s toolbox. For example, without an overall enterprise architecture framework how would we be truly effective as EA’s?
  • Applied – Divided into two primary areas, Academic and Vendor Tailored they either support a certification or provide a certification highly tailored. These are in a supporting function to Competency Based Certifications.
  • Supporting Certifications and Learning's – These certifications make a well rounded enterprise architect. These are often referred to or leveraged in the day in the life of an EA.


The Competency-based Certification that Walker highlights is the Open Group’s Certified Architect (Open CA) which is an IT-centric designation that requires the applicant to submit a certification package and subject themselves to a board review and approval. Walker himself is an Open CA Level 3 (Distinguished Chief Architect) and finds this certification a compliment to the other major Open Group certification: TOGAF 9.  In Walker’s model, the TOGAF designation falls under the Foundational Certifications along with other well-known offerings from Zachman International and the IASA. These foundational offerings contain a mix of both conceptual and practical knowledge about the discipline of (enterprise) architecture.

For architects working in government, the Industry/Specialized Certifications address the Department of Defense  Architecture Framework (DoDAF) and Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF). Both certifications require coursework and presentations that deals with the process of planning and developing architectural models. Architects who are looking for training in a more academic setting can pursue education from organization’s that Walker classifies as Applied – Academic.  These include new programs at Penn State University’s Center for Enterprise Architecture and Kent State University’s School of Digital Sciences.  If an architect desires a certification flavored by an industry-leading technology company, they can evaluate offerings from the likes of Accenture, Oracle, IBM or Cisco.

As one might expect, the various EA certifications vary with respect to focus area, award criteria, fees, and validity period. An architect looking to acquire certification will want to ask themselves if they are looking for a more casual certificate versus a rigorous board-reviewed evaluation, and whether they want to train on foundational frameworks or strengthen expertise in applied architecture techniques. Answers to these questions will guide an architect to the certification that provides the most personal and career impact.

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