Sam offers his top tips for others who are aspiring to become a CTA, highlights some of the key traits needed to succeed and discusses how the role of a CTA will evolve.
Salesforce Republic (SR): To start, could you tell us a bit about your career in the ecosystem and how you got to where you are today as the Chief Technical Architect at PwC?
Sam Wadhwani (SW): I’ve been a technology consultant for my whole professional life and started, as many others do, learning by being curious about how technology works and by making many mistakes. By doing so, and at that stage working with clients both big and small, I gained more and more experience and soon realised that using my knowledge there were areas in technical design that I had an opinion about – increasingly becoming responsible for designs that ensure the same pitfalls aren’t encountered. This allowed me to develop into more demanding and senior roles on projects, including as an Architect.
In 2010 as a Siebel Architect, my colleagues and I heard about Salesforce and could appreciate the benefits of Cloud technology in the CRM space. We started a boutique Salesforce consulting company and grew it via many successful implementations in the Financial Services industry to the point where we were taking on large, complex enterprise-scale challenges. Our clients expected that we would consider multiple perspectives and risks that would be impacted by the technical solutions we were proposing, so I had to be proactive to seek out the answers to show and explain them. As Chief Architect at that time in a relatively small company there weren’t a lot of architects to bounce ideas off. Fast forward and now part of PwC the scale and complexity of digital transformation has increased, but I’ve continued to develop as an architect by mainly embracing being out of my comfort zone. It’s also allowed me to help to develop others and grow our practice. I’m lucky to work with hundreds of talented and technically sharp individuals across a spectrum of competencies and industries, so plenty more now to bounce ideas off!
SR: The #JourneytoCTA is a difficult task, how did you decide that it was the right path for you?
SW: The short answer is by speaking to others both who I worked with on projects, as well as in the community. There’s a certain kind of mindset that I find exists in people where a shared desire and drive to solve a problem sparks conversation, which is further ignited when the people involved have similar experiences and broad and deep technical knowledge. This is something I also saw when contributing to the community CTA study groups. I can’t recall exactly when or where I first heard about the CTA credential but I recall it being a topic of discussion on a project with a Salesforce architect called Stephen O’Halloran who was going through the journey at the time, and also introduced me to another CTA called Jon Joseph. Both operated at a level I found inspiring, and having discussed multiple technical challenges over a period of time with them, it was affirming to be able to converse technically with the same fidelity. They encouraged me that it’s something I could look into.
I studied the exam structure at the time, attended a couple of Salesforce CTA programme briefings, considered the scale of effort involved, and discussed it with my family. I knew it would take a lot of commitment and sacrifice but the value of operating at CTA level or beyond was far greater. I will freely admit I failed at my first attempt. With client projects and associated technical challenges monopolising my time, I questioned whether it was something I would re-attempt. You will see from my blog at theaccessiblearchitect.com that the journey is fraught with challenges you wouldn’t necessarily expect but that many candidates go through. What became my beacon, however, was the realisation I was already operating at the level and I needed to get out of my own way and focus on refining and showing it. After another failed attempt and with renewed clarity and determination, many conversations with others in the community, negotiation, and support at home and at work, a much more structured plan, and a lot of lessons learnt, I passed the Review Board in November 2020.
SR: What are your top tips for others who are aspiring to become a CTA?
Be clear about why you want to do it.
Most importantly take the time to consider what you expect to do with it. It is not a badge nor a terminus. Some misconceptions I’ve heard involve money and status, but consider that many companies offer extensive packages for highly competent architects even without the credential, and status can be forgotten or unrecognised if the employer doesn’t know what value it truly represents. Discuss it with others around you and carefully consider their views because they are part of your journey whether they intend to be or not.
Don’t rush it and take it seriously.
Be prepared to give up years of your life! No that’s a joke and not true, but planning and structure is key to avoiding it. Gaining the breadth and depth of domains across the platform and practising the multitude of skills takes time, can be overwhelming, and therefore isn’t effective if done ad-hoc. Without a considered plan that accommodates your immovable commitments and a degree of the unexpected, there’s a significant risk it could become inconsistent, leading to procrastination or dwindling motivation, and ultimately taking longer than you would like.
Don’t take shortcuts and be prepared to fail.
Don’t be scared to fail, as I and many others are living proof of, it’s how we as humans learn best. Each CTA candidate should operate as a free-thinking individual who forms their own opinion that they can stand by, considering multiple perspectives. Consulting others is critical, but as an authority for robust and scalable Salesforce solutions, if you cannot justify your decisions, you will erode the trust that your team and CxOs put in you or your solution.
One of the key skills of an architect is to evaluate the different options and trade off merits and limitations. It obviously applies to solution design, but absolutely also applies when formulating your own approach and strategy to tackle Review Board scenarios. When you observe or listen to others, ask yourself and understand why an artefact or justification is of value before considering whether you agree.
Be transparent with others, and be prepared to negotiate.
Your commitment to this journey will no doubt impact other areas of your personal and professional life as you go through it. This includes the people around you in both contexts, so they need to understand the demands you’re undertaking in order to support you. The job of explaining it lies with you. To succeed, be prepared to compromise. Family events, work performance expectations, your personal commitments, etc need to be factored in to balance your time between them. Some of those will be difficult conversations, so open negotiation is imperative.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Take time through your journey to build self-awareness and take care of yourself. Study, time management, mocks, and all the other moving parts won’t always go to plan and the consequence can be to the detriment to your wellbeing. Beware of burnout, take a step back, and reflect on the recent events to understand how you learn, and why you reacted a particular way, or fail. This will be invaluable both to achieve the credential but also to adapt to unexpected events with a measured approach.
SR: In your experience, what are some of the key traits needed to succeed as a CTA?
Be proactive and respectful of others who can help.
The architect community – especially CTA candidates – is growing and all those members are themselves going through a journey involving balancing their own time commitments and study. Those who judge as well have added constraints and it’s valuable if candidates can be proactive and considerate in arranging their mocks. Time is precious on both sides, so make the best use of it.
Try to see the bigger picture, but not at the cost of detailed consideration.
I think this comes up during almost everyone’s journey – the challenge of finding the balance between a holistic view of the problem and process, but a comprehensive understanding to provide detail in the solution. It’s the core skill of a CTA and an element of the breadth and depth of domain expertise required. The ability to quickly visualise the moving parts and their interrelations ensures that we make decisions that are complimentary and do not introduce unmitigated constraints in performance or scalability.
Think before you act, and be concise.
There is a lot of detail to comprehend and articulate, as a candidate architect and a qualified CTA. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using more words to ensure you cover it all. This results in a pretty well known phenomena called a “Word Salad” – just lots of related words tossed together. It makes it difficult to follow a solution logically. Story telling helps a lot in this regard which you may see some examples of in the episodes on the ‘Architect Ohana’ YouTube channel that we’ve launched recently.
Listen to others, but form an opinion of your own.
This is critical. With a large number of architects and CTA candidates now collaborating in the various communities, there are a lot of voices, opinions, and perspectives offered on similar topics. Be humble enough to listen to differing approaches to justify a solution but be mindful that there’s a chance it could be based on a misunderstanding or gap in knowledge. As an architect working with C-level stakeholders (and as part of the review board) you’re expected to be able to propose a solution and your justification with confidence and reasonable consideration. Basing your approach on others’ approaches risks missing considerations or not fitting it correctly to the scenario.
SR: How do you think the role of the CTA will evolve?
SW: It’s a bit self-prophesising to ask a CTA that question, but are you ready? I think the CTA credential will remain as the proof that a Salesforce professional has the breadth and depth of technical knowledge and experience to design Salesforce-centered solutions that are robust and performant at scale. Phew!
More practically, we all know the Salesforce platform has grown significantly in its breadth of Clouds, and it’s challenging for CTAs to know all clouds at the same deep technical level as the current core – Sales, Service, Field Service, Experience, Marketing, CPQ. However, I do see other parts of the platform becoming capabilities that will expand the core to include e.g. OmniStudio (rather Salesforce Industries), CDP, Customer360, Commerce, etc.
I think CTAs will continue to be looked toward to apply their experience and provide technical assurance as the complexity of Salesforce solutions increases. However, I do see the increasing breadth heralding the opportunity for other architect roles that CTAs will absolutely need to coordinate closely with to achieve the same. It’s great to see the higher level (B2B and B2C) Solution Architect credentials, but there is more room for developer, admin, and functional professionals to become specialised Integration Architects, Data Architects, Experience Architects, Marketing Architects, CPQ Architects, etc.
SR: How can someone interviewing for an Architect role, at an established company stand out from the crowd?
SW: Be honest, and don’t misrepresent your experience. Know your strengths and equally your limitations, and evidence these with practical examples including the contribution and impact you specifically had to the outcome. It goes without saying that it helps to show what you know, but it is far more important to show how you apply it day-to-day or in past experiences to show your real potential. Most established companies don’t necessarily want someone who has all the knowledge – let’s face it, in the Salesforce ecosystem that’s hard to do anyway – but that they have the competence to learn, develop, work with others around them, and use their own acumen to drive for the highest quality result. It’s good to say “I don’t know” but even better to describe how you would address gaps in experience or knowledge to show your aptitude.
Do your homework and understand what the different Architect roles do, and what is expected of them before you interview. Understand what the differences between a technical architect, a solution architect, a business architect, and an enterprise architect are. These are nuanced and it takes some consideration to figure out which appeals to you most.
SR: Finally, what is the best piece of advice you have received that will help others navigating a career in the ecosystem?
SW: The advice I was given was not what I liked to hear but it’s reality – your network, and your knowledge and experience, is your biggest asset… But use it wisely.
My advice to others however is: The answer, the information, and the people are out there. Be respectful, work hard, and be hungry for opportunities to show you can.
Ask yourself… what’s really stopping you?
If you’re a Salesforce professional and would like to join Sam in our Q&A series, please get in touch with us today!