I had every intention of writing the next Tony Robbins #UPW post last weekend, but later on in the week decided to take, erm, a “minor diversion”. I knew I had some time out and wanted to get as much as possible out of it…
TOGAF (The Open Group’s Architecture Framework for those unfamiliar) certification is something I’ve had on my distant radar for a little while. I felt that getting a solid grounding in Enterprise Architecture would only enable me to become a better architect. To be much more aware of the bigger picture and place more emphasis on the business (as opposed to just focusing on the applications/technology) seemed invaluable to me. At the end of the day what a customer genuinely needs to take their business forward should always be the focus of IT/technology in general. Technology should be an enabler in growth/progression and overall success in business, especially in today’s modern world. In a lot of cases due to the organic expansion of the technology landscape over time, often many years, the nature of it tends to be one which is out of alignment with the needs of the organisation. This can result in parts of it becoming a hindrance, rather than a help. Not ideal.
Late on last week, I decided to spend 4-5 days adopting a total immersion approach to learning (more on that later) to acquire this knowledge efficiently, and to take the exam. No small feat but as I always say – I do like a challenge! This blog post talks more about why I decided to go down the TOGAF road, how I prepared and a little about my exam experience. A few tips are thrown in for good measure for anyone thinking of or actively preparing for this certification.
For those of you that are unfamiliar, there are two levels of certification. The Foundation level exam is a 40 question multiple choice, with what (in their words) are simple questions – essentially, they are brief. The Certified level is a more advanced exam that tests your application of the framework with eight scenario questions. The Open Group refer to the certified exam questions as complex, and I have to agree – think 5/6 paragraphs of scenario, then four answers each at least a paragraph in length! The Foundation is a closed book exam while you have access to the PDF in the Certified. I sat the combined exam which seemed sensible given my learning approach, which means I’m now officially TOGAF 9 Certified.
I knew little about the specifics of the framework other than it focuses on Enterprise Architecture and tends to be adopted by large corporations looking to develop their architectures. I was aware of the purpose of EA generally, in that its scope is much broader than just towers of technology, or even technology full stop. I knew there was a large business architecture element which was of particular interest to me, to expand my knowledge and insight in that area.
While I’m not currently working as an Enterprise Architect I decided that TOGAF Certification was something that would allow me to take a broader perspective on architecture generally, and therefore how I refine my approach to it. I figured it would enable me to further my skills and enable me to gain a more comprehensive understanding of customers, their businesses and their requirements. I expected it would provide me with different techniques and ways to go about developing architectures, working with stakeholders and ensuring their needs (and those of the business) are met, among many others. In the past week I certainly got all of that and a whole lot more…
So I mentioned a total immersion approach to learning in the intro, which was something I picked up at the Tony Robbins event a few weeks back. The message was that the most efficient way to learn anything, whether that be a language, a technology, how to do something – whatever – is to totally immerse in the topic for a period of time, as long as is needed…
For those of you that don’t know, the TOGAF 9.1 specification is a 692 page PDF document. I recognised that while I could go on a course, then spend some weeks at a few hours per night studying, it would be a long route to exam success. Absorbing that amount of information in a piecemeal manner is bound to be difficult, especially on top of the day job and everything else that life throws. I therefore took the decision to give total immersion a try. I booked myself into a hotel for four nights; I went last Sunday, and from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday evening I lived and breathed TOGAF…
There were some pretty tough days in the mix, the language within the spec is pretty heavy going, so it was challenging to maintain focus at times. This wasn’t helped by the fact that almost three weeks ago I decided to remove coffee from my life for a while. Not having a false sense of alertness from copious amounts of caffeine did make it more difficult but as I said earlier… I like a challenge! Despite there being a Starbucks in reception (I know…) I’m pleased to report I came through this experience without crumbling and reverting to coffee – or worse.
How I prepared...
As I mentioned above the spec is a length 692 pages. Good luck to anyone who thinks that reading that over and over again is a way to pass this one!! I did some research online and found that the two official study guides (3rd edition) were well reviewed, contained all the topics on the exam syllabus plus some test yourself/example test papers. I therefore bought both of these and knew they would be a core part of my learning.
I also did some research and found some awesome courses on Udemy by Scott Duffy (@scottjduffy.) These are available via the links below and map to the Part 1 and Part 2 exams. Naturally, with sitting the combined exam I used both.
My approach was to go through the CBT courses, making notes for pretty much everything. I then read over relevant sections in the spec (as called out by Scott during the courses) and my study guide books. I added to my notes with further details as while the courses are great, they are relatively high level. I read over my notes number of times, adding to them or revisiting content as necessary.
By Tuesday I was pretty much happy with the overall framework at a decent level and decided that this was the time to gauge my knowledge and work through the example questions in the study guides. To my surprise, even at this point I averaged around 80% which was excellent news! I did questions from both books, so both “simple and “complex” types. Anything I didn’t get right I made a note of, went back through the process of reading/noting and so on. By Wednesday evening I’d filled a lot of the gaps and went through the questions again, this time coming out with more than 90%. I then decided (my exam was Thursday) to get some rest and get myself toward exam mode.
Throughout my few day adventure I was sure to take care of myself. I knew absorbing this volume of information was going to be difficult, so I made a point of taking steps to ensure I didn’t burn out. I trained each morning in the gym or went for a swim. I made healthy eating choices and ate when I was hungry (which was a lot of the time I might add!) I also ensured I meditated both morning and evening, to allow my brain to switch down a few gears for a while. I think this was a vital aspect and played a part in getting the result I wanted. It’s important to take care of the mind, especially when stretching it as I was here. Finally, I had an hour long Thai massage on Wednesday which while downright brutal at points only helped me get to a great state of relaxation and preparedness.
My exam experience
So as I mentioned above the combined exam is really two, part 1 is the Foundation level and part 2 the Certified. They are treated as separate sections, once you finalise part 1 you can’t go back. There is an hour available for part 1 and 90 minutes for part 2.
Part 1 was to be honest, fairly straight forward. You do need to know the framework though of course, there were some tricky questions which delved quite deep but overall the majority were not too challenging. I’d finalised part 1 in about 25 minutes after going through all 40 questions twice, so I think that should give you an idea.
Part 2 was more taxing, as I said above there are only eight questions. The questions are very long winded and the answers not far behind. What I will say on this is that the vast majority of the scenario is irrelevant to the question. You still need to make sure you read it all as in some cases important considerations are in the earlier paragraphs. Just bear in mind that 80% of the scenario will not have any impact on how you answer the question. My approach was first to read the actual question, then extract the key points from the scenario and note them down on the whiteboard. I then digested each answer and logically applied the statements to the scenario to find my answer.
The good thing about part 2 is that the answers are graded. There is one answer with the maximum (5 points), one worth 3 points and a third worth 1 point. There is also what is described in the study guide as a “distracter” worth 0 points. More often than note this sticks out like a sore thumb as it is just plain wrong or incomplete. It’s good to know this, but again, you do need to know the spec to identify how wrong a given answer is, and quickly.
As I mentioned the part 2/certified exam is open book, so you have access to the PDF. This is useful in some cases (I think I used it for three questions) but there a few points to note regarding the interface. The PDF is chunked based on parts, e.g., Part II for the ADM, part III for ADM Techniques. If you’re anything like me however, you will have been quickly using the search and index during your prep, on the full document. While you can search because the PDF is split it isn’t as quick to navigate as it is with the full PDF in a single document. Just something to be aware of…
Although gruelling at times, I enjoyed my challenge over the past week. I certainly know a hell of a lot more about TOGAF than I did, and am going to go over my notes today to identify opportunities to apply specific areas. I already see some techniques to incorporate into how I approach technology/infrastructure architecture. In time I’m sure I’ll be using much more of the overall EA concepts and ADM process in my work.
The great thing about frameworks is that they are designed as a guide and are intended to be tailored. There are very few organisations who can justify taking a wholesale approach to applying TOGAF, and I think it’s imperative to remember this. Which phases, steps and techniques are implemented should be in-line with what the organisation needs, given its attributes. No matter the scale of the business I feel a lot of value can be gained by adopting elements of TOGAF, enabling organisations to look at their relationship with IT/Technology in a somewhat different, more holistic manner.
I’ll be back with more on the Tony Robbins event over weekend, bye for now…