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Tips for Becoming a Certified SOA Architect

In this article, Thomas Erl provides a high-level overview and introduction to the Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) Certified Architect certification program. Its content also includes practical advice for self-study as well as test-taking tips. Specifically, you learn the importance of mastering the topics covered in course module 1, using vendor-neutral terminology and viewpoints, learning to use design patterns, understanding service orientation, and preparing for the lab exam.
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The SOA Architect certification is, in many ways, a milestone accreditation amongst the SOA Certified Professional program. It was the first certification offered by SOASchool.com and has remained an important designation for practitioners to prove their skills in relation to designing and building technology architectures for services and services-based systems.

A Certified SOA Architect is a professional who is capable of more than just applying practices and positioning technologies. This accreditation ensures that the certified professional can take ownership of the design phases and processes within a given IT enterprise and as a primary member of an SOA project team.

The key to understanding the learning objectives that form the basis of the SOA Architect Certification requirements is in identifying what distinguishes an SOA Architect as a profession and as a role. When we refer to how SOA Architects are involved in the design of service-oriented solutions, we mean specifically the physical design and positioning of the moving parts that comprise the solution architecture. This can encompass industry technologies and mechanisms, but it also includes the patterns and principles that represent the design methods used to ensure that technologies and mechanisms are shaped and utilized so that the resulting technology architecture is truly service-oriented.

The SOA Architect is further associated with the design phase of a typical SOA project lifecycle. This phase follows the analysis phase, meaning that the SOA Architect generally uses as input modeling deliverables produced by the SOA Analyst. Therefore, an understanding of the conceptual blueprints produced by SOA Analysts is also required, because these commonly form the starting point for the subsequent effort that leads to the definition of concrete design specifications.

So then, with this in mind, let’s cover some tips to help you prepare for the SOA Architect Certification exams.

Master Module 1 Before Proceeding

To attain the SOA Architect Certification requires the completion of Prometric Exams S90.01, S90.02, S90.03, S90.08, and S09.09. The first three of these exams are fundamental in nature and also provide you with credit applicable towards other certifications (as explained at http://www.soacp.com). Exam S90.01 corresponds to Module 1: Fundamental SOA & Service-Oriented Computing. This course module covers terminology and concepts that are absolutely essential to the rest of the curriculum and to the field of SOA in general. Therefore, do not proceed to other modules until the topics in Module 1 are of second nature to you.

Become Comfortable with an Industry-centric Perspective of Technology

Many IT practitioners are used to working with vendor products and, of course, several vendor product training and certification programs exist (many of which are related to SOA). However, the SOA Certified Professional program is strictly vendor-neutral. From a technology perspective, this means that the focus is on industry technologies and standards. To prepare for the SOA Architect Certification exams (especially Exam S90.02), it is helpful to detach yourself from any vendor-specific terminology or proprietary viewpoints regarding the usage of certain technologies. Sticking to the vendor-neutral manner in which the SOACP curriculum defines and refers to industry technologies will help minimize any potential conflict or confusion.

Learn to Study and Use Design Patterns

Design patterns within the IT industry have been around for many years. Because patterns provide well-defined and explicit solutions to common design problems, they make excellent building blocks with both educational and practical applications. The Advanced SOA Design & Architecture course and the SOA Design & Architecture Lab course (Modules 8 and 9, respectively) rely heavily on the use of a specific set of SOA design patterns. Be sure that you gain a solid understanding of what design patterns are and how they can be used prior to embarking on Modules 8 and 9 (and the corresponding Exams S90.08 and S90.09). An extensive design patterns catalog exists for SOA that is the result of a three-year-long community effort involving more than 200 contributors. You can preview these SOA design patterns at the SOAPatterns.org community site, but the most detail is provided in the textbook SOA Design Patterns published by Prentice Hall.

Understand Service-Orientation

Although the "SOA" acronym has historically been the source of some confusion, it is explicitly defined within the SOA Certified Professional curriculum as a distinct form of distributed technology architecture with a distinct set of concrete characteristics. This, of course, needs to be clear to an SOA Architect. Moreover, the curriculum makes a clean separation between the service-oriented architectural model and the service-orientation paradigm. The latter topic area represents a common thread and context that runs through almost all of the course content that is part of the modules associated with the SOA Architect Certification (in particular, Modules 1, 3, 8 and 9). It is therefore critical to gain a solid understanding of the individual design principles that comprise the service-orientation design paradigm and how the combined application of these principles shapes software programs in support of realizing a strategic (and very specific) target state within the IT enterprise.

Don’t Underestimate the Lab Exam

Module 9 is a course comprised of a series of lab exercises that require you to apply skills and knowledge acquired as a result of having previously completed Modules 1, 2, 3, and 8. This lab course is especially relevant because it prepares you for Exam S90.09, which essentially represents the final exam requirement for the SOA Architect Certification. Unlike the exams for the preceding course modules (which are one hour long and comprised of multiple choice questions), Exam S90.09 is a two-hour lab exam that consists of a set of questions that require you to solve complex design problems. Each question has a background scenario and a problem statement that first must be analyzed in order to determine the correct solution. The key to being prepared for this exam is in understanding how the previously covered technologies, patterns, and principles can be collectively combined. The Audio Tutor CDs that accompany the individual Self-Study Kits can be beneficial in gaining this insight. Additionally, the supplemental textbook references provided by the Self-Study Guides can be helpful as they point you to more detailed resources beyond the content in the course booklets. Either way, be sure to study the sample questions in the Module 9 Self-Study Guide in order to get a good feel for how the lab exam questions are structured.

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