What it takes to fail CTA exam

Four years ago, when I joined PwC, we spoke about my visions and future and I said I want to have the knowledge of CTA but I’m not sure I want the title. So hard, so much study, so much stress.

Last year I got the offer to try go for it and I accepted. 601 last December, being part of the FlowRepublic, 602 as final word before the exam, a bit of time as the projects are slower during Covid. And then the final moment last week, when everything decided.

If you don’t know me yet, you should know I’m arrogant and I don’t follow the same path as others, which might be important for this summary.

I heard a lot of interviews with people who did it, how they speak about months and months (and years) of study (I would say do it as quickly as possible, 6 months max), how passing architect exam means nothing and you need to start from scratch, how you need developer background (actually not sure I ever heard this one, but I heard Gemma saying a lot that she wants to prove that it is wrong), how you need to dedicated specific days/slots to studies and all the other things. I probably ignored all of them.

What you Need to know

My feeling is, that you don’t need to be developer (but you definitely need to know how @future method is different to callout from APEX controller or platform event, what is REST and SOAP and a few other technical things), you need to know all the OAuth flows (still not sure why, but it is part of the exam), you need to be strong in licences and their capabilities (part I almost never have chance to propose on project), project management and governance (hi PMs, I should be able to talk about your area of competence and influence it), testing and deployment, sharing, know 3rd party apps and something about integrations.

Mentoring

What is crucial is mentoring or study buddies. Mainly because the main part you need to practice is presentation and QA and you are not able to do it yourself. I doubt you will be able to follow Jannis with his 3 mock tests which he didn’t present to anyone.

I was lucky to have Seb from FlowRepublic and he helped a lot. Their study course is great eye opener, topics you never really thought about, questions you won’t ask. Cheat sheets you should do and I would add that you really should compare them with someone and unless you meet someone as Johann you have no idea into which depth cheatsheet can go. What I can promise is, that you will learn something new.

  • what are the limits of sharing rules?
  • how many leads can web-to-lead handle?
  • which licence have access to Quote object?
  • how much file storage you get with each licence?
  • when is it better to use platform event than change data capture?
  • what might be main drawback of external objects?

Also just because you know the word doesn’t mean it is enough. „I’ll do callout from APEX trigger after save“ is definitely not enough details to score points. Or drawing „Dev -> QA -> UAT -> Prod“ and hoping that you covered deployment and testing because everyone knows what is being tested where is wrong.

Before the Day

I clearly misunderstood the „equality“ word even though I’m a big proponent. As non-English speaker I decided not to use the advantage of 30 minutes for preparation and 20 minutes for QA and it was mistake, especially for the QA part.

If you can get the extra time, ask for it. The QA is to help you get the bonus points to pass and more questions might mean more points.

The language might be tricky and you don’t want to get feedback like „Make sure to give short and concise answers to maximize time during the Q&A“ and „Be able to justify mobile platform choices with considerations and trade-offs.“ Meaning you need to be able to distinguish what is important and include it in your speach and skip what is not important. Super tricky for me and I wouldn’t say that judges will ask if they want to know more.

If you draw your artifacts in PowerPoint you might want to try it on some virtual machine with a bit of lag. It might change the experience even for writing, just be prepared.

The Day

Besides the fact that you should/will be stressed-out just because of the exam, there is nothing stressful. All goes smoothly, you are the one who start the timer when ready, in case of any problems just call them out and don’t worry. WebAssessor exam is way more stressful than this.

Preparation

It is the same as with any preparation you did for the mocks. The big difference here, which I realised shortly before the exam, is, that we never practised the whole things. I always prepared my presentation for the scenario and if scenario didn’t cover anything about deployment I didn’t have anything prepared.

I would say your presentation can be – kind of – your backup slides as well. During the exam is important what you say, but having slides for something might be they will be aware you are ready for it.

I missed slide about Integrations and it is one of the feedback (even though I passed this section), the same goes for testing, which I didn’t specifically written on the deployment slide and didn’t have time to speak about it during preparation. Having just a few bullets about what will be tested where might help here (again, I passed this section).

Presentation

Your shortest 45 minutes ever.

This is nothing special, just another presentation. Presentation during which you need to speak super quickly, because there are way more details to cover than what you are able to cover with your normal speed.

Go deep, provide reasoning, say all those words again and again – „will use external services in request and reply pattern“ or as 602 book says

Not Enough Detail: “I will create a sharing rule to allow internal sales managers to access fitness companies”

Recommended: “The requirement for all internal users to see all partner companies but not supplier account means that as my OWD is private. I will have to create a criteria-based sharing rule to share any partner accounts (companies) with all internal users as read only…making them visible but not editable

Pretty obvious how much more you should say than what would you normally expect.

Plus you should recommend only one solution for each specific requirement rather than offer alternatives – exactly the approach I hate, I prefer to have a dialog with customer, point out all the benefits and downsides, but it isn’t wanted here 🙁

QA

The most important part for the exam and the most quick 40 minutes, I would say. The whole exam is not about making you fail and testing your knowledge (as is my experience from school) but rather a nice chat during which you need to show your knowledge.

And it will make your head swirl and wondering what are they asking.

  • why you put files off platform, won’t they fit in? (still not sure I should use the whole file storage for existing files and effectively force customer to buy extra)
  • why single org and not multi-org?
  • describe the SAML flow.
  • do you really consider a few hundered thousands records as LDV? (someone says 5M someone says less, who knows)
  • is Event Monitoring able to block some transactions or you need something else for it? (still struggle to find out what the else is)
  • which Customer Community licence?
  • will you use Enterprise or Unlimited?
  • you really want to delete data as part of LDV mitigation? (sub-optimal solution, you should archive them somewhere first or use 3rd party app)

Done

And with that you are done, doesn’t matter how you feel, you will get the results in a few days or weeks and they will surprise you either way.

I failed and I know about some requirements I didn’t pay enough attention to and which were super easy to solve. It is just hard to know when there is a typo in the scenario and when it is on purpose. Plus when you visualise a solution it is hard to step back and look at it with fresh eyes (still no idea why I used the Asset OAuth Flow in solution and how I couldn’t see the requirement for Salesforce Connect).

Shortcuts and links

  • Robert Wing summary;
  • Integration Options;
  • Identity Flows + great practical examples on Trailhead Live and web site for practical experimenting, I’m not scared about them anymore;
  • Salesforce Connect and ESB is probably in every single scenario;
  • if you propose Territory Management you probably overcombine thing;
  • Ping, Okta, Conga, DocuSign, S-Docs, something for data archival – there aren’t many solutions you need to know, but something like these will be in most scenarios;
  • all the OAuth flows have basically the same concept and structure;
  • use standard objects as much as possible;
  • learn all the sharing things (there are like 22 ways how to share record including the „new“ Account Relationships Data Sharing).

What next

It all started with „want to have the knowledge not the title“ and I wonder whether I should let it be this way or try one more time. Still feel I have the knowledge, I just need to refrain of stupid mistakes.

At the same time I realised that I don’t really like the concept. You need to propose one solution, you cannot have additional questions, you need to be super quick in your presentation. While I prefer to offer alternatives with full list of pros and cons, prefer dialog rather than monologue.

Plus I’m probably more interested in all those clouds Salesforce offers and how they play together, something the planned Solution Architect certification might cover better.

Well, will see. Still need to do a de-brief with my bosses and will see, what they will have in plans for me.

But overall I’m super grateful for the experience, all the support I got. Especially when I look around and see that everyone else doing the same has been at least two positions above me, quite often even more.

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