You thought no other certification could be tougher to attain than the CCIE. There is now. Cisco this week launched interview-panel1the Cisco Certified Architect program, which sits above the CCIE and its design sibling, the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) certification, to become the company’s highest level of accreditation.

Cisco explains that the Cisco Certified Architect “recognizes the architectural expertise of network designers who can support the increasingly complex networks of global organizations and effectively translate business strategies into evolutionary technical strategies.”

Candidates must first already hold the CCDE certification and have approximately 10 years of industry experience before they can apply to enter the program. The certification doesn’t have the usual Cisco written or lab exam, but instead candidates are required to meet before an in-person review board made up of Cisco-appointed exam committee members. There, candidates defend their proposed network solutions and must be able to revise the proposals on-the-fly when challenged to by the review board.

The Cisco Certified Architect certification joins other similar programs that recognize IT professionals at this elite level. For example, The Open Group and Microsoft run similar programs named The Open Group IT Architect, and Microsoft Certified Architect, respectively. Both programs are aimed at IT professionals with about 10 years of industry experience and have designed IT infrastructures. Both also require candidates to interview with peer review boards as part of the rigorous certification process.

These programs do several important things: they help non-IT people recognize the strategic value of IT and that senior IT professionals should be viewed with the same level of importance as their chief finance people and corporate lawyers. These programs also give entry- to mid-level IT professionals a potential career path.

But even if you don’t see yourself becoming a Cisco Certified IT Architect, I think it would be a useful exercise to see what it takes to become one. That’s because many of the qualities of an IT architect (read senior IT professional) should be qualities that all IT pros should have.

The chief among these is an understanding of your employer’s business sector. Often employers lament that while their IT staff are great at what they do, they often lack an understanding of their business challenges. According to Cisco’s description of the Cisco Certified Architect, the individual “understands the impact of a company’s business on the design and operation of that company’s network,” and specifically “goes beyond technical decisions to consider how the network and business direction interplay.” Architects must also “ensure business requirements are incorporated into extensible, resilient, secure, and supportable architectures and designs.” They must also be able to “clearly communicate and advocate proposed network architectures to both executives and expert-level technical leaders.”

Indeed, hiring managers often prefer candidates that can demonstrate both technical skills and business knowledge.

The Cisco Certified Architect program is available January 2010 and cost $15,000.

Do you see the Cisco Certified Architect in your future?

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Jake Bergeron is currently one of Plixer's Sr. Solutions Engineers - He is currently responsible for providing customers with onsite training and configurations to make sure that Scrutinizer is setup to their need. Previously he was responsible for teaching Plixer's Advanced NetFlow Training / Malware Response Training. When he's not learning more about NetFlow and Malware detection he also enjoys Fishing and Hiking.


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