We first met up with Jannis at TrailheaDX in May 2019 – and we’re thrilled to share his advice and CTA story with you all. Jannis is German and settled in Sydney, Australia. As a practice partner for solution engineering, innovation and incubation at System Partners, he leads a team of Solution Engineers and acts as a strategic advisor and Salesforce product expert to some of the largest, most complex enterprise customers in ANZ. Jannis is married and has a young son.
Tell us you how got into working with Salesforce
I think like many others I did not make an active choice to be part of the Salesforce ecosystem and rather fell into it. When I made the move to Australia in 2010, I was offered a sponsorship to head up the IT department of a firm that primarily worked in the not-for-profit space. Just before I joined, that company chose Salesforce as their CRM and it fell into my patch to figure out how to implement it.
Back then I worked with an implementation partner to help us with the implementation. With my growing knowledge of the Salesforce platform, we started to take on more of the administration and development in-house, all the way to the point where we were building mobile apps on top of the platform. I eventually hit the ceiling in this organisation and moved into the consulting world where I worked on much larger enterprise projects and worked my way through the ranks from consultant, developer to architecture roles. I worked for larger implementation partners as well as a contractor and for ISVs, which gave me a chance to see many different challenges and solutions build on the Salesforce platform.
What was your background before Salesforce came along?
I was running a small software company with a few friends that turned out to be more successful than we ever expected. We founded the business early on in our careers and developed basic cloud software for schools. I was heavily involved in the product management and go-to-market strategy before I received a call from the army to request me to attend the compulsory military service in Germany. I declined national service and had to do a year of social work instead, which I completed at the Red Cross – driving organs and blood donations. I was set on studying medical science and becoming a neurologist surgeon after the year of service and I decided to go to Australia to travel and explore the world before starting university.
For obvious reasons, the trip to Australia changed all of those plans entirely.
Why did you decide to pursue the CTA certification?
The biggest reason was to challenge and push myself to achieve a rare certification. I was conscious that the journey would provide a tremendous amount of value due to the level of detailed knowledge that is required. I knew this would make me a much better architect, regardless of passing or failing. Despite the fact that I had 10 years of professional experience already when I passed my CTA, I felt that, prior to passing, I didn’t always get the same respect from peers or customers immediately, due being a younger architect than other enterprise architects that I worked with.
I saw in the CTA the credential that removes those doubts and gives me credibility – right from the first meeting.
What did you do to prepare during the ramp-up?
My first line of action was to open the setup menu in my Salesforce developer org and to expand every single section. I then looked at each menu item and if I did not know immediately what it was for, I added it to my study list. I also started to ask myself questions about certain topics and then drilled down deeper and deeper – for example: What does 2-way SSL actually mean? How do I set it up? What is a CA-signed certificate? What is the difference between public and private keys? How can I use certificates for inbound or outbound integrations? How do I create my own certificate? etc. I think my biggest challenge was to “not know, what I didn’t know”.
To get around this I found my amazing study buddy – Chris Baldock. The two of us jumped on calls at the weekends to ask each other questions around a specific topic and gave our best answers. I found this beneficial because when I wasn’t able to explain a topic well, it was very likely that I had not fully understood it. Trying to explain such topics to somebody else really helped to identify gaps. Lastly, I did a lot of sample scenarios to get my approach, my timing and my messaging right. Again, Chris was a fantastic person to do those mocks with because I always got honest and direct feedback.
How long did it take?
I started preparing 6 months before I attempted the board. In the first three months, I focused on expanding my knowledge and studying all areas of the platform in detail. In the next three months, I got into a more regular cadence with Chris and started to do mock exams, whilst still diving deeper into certain knowledge areas.
I had a partial pass, whereby I passed all sections except System Architecture. I gave myself another 8 months before attempting the retake, which I used to give myself a break and recharge the batteries before I went into further study.
Take a moment to acknowledge your allies – what did they do to help you and what was the impact?
There are three people that come to my mind immediately. Chris who I mentioned before already was extremely supportive in getting me ready for the board and because he was going through the same experience it felt like we are in the same boat.
The second person to acknowledge is my incredible wife who gave me the emotional support, sacrificed weekends we would normally spend together and just gave me general coaching to keep my feet on the ground and my mind focused.
The third person is Suzanne from Salesforce, who, especially on the exam day, gave me great emotional support and helped me to focus on the immediate next step in the exam (e.g. “take 15 minutes now and clear your head, next you will present, remember to tell a story…” etc.).
You worked full time and were also completing two masters degrees while you were passing your CTA – how did you manage the pressure and your time during the ramp-up?
To be honest I am not sure when I am looking back now. I did about 40 hours of work and another 30 hours at uni in the evenings and weekends. I was very focussed and tried not to waste time by procrastinating and doing useless “googling” or watching random youtube videos. Instead, I had a clear study plan which outlined what I needed to cover on which days, in order to hit the date of the board.
My support network played a vital role in this and I recommend to everyone attempting the CTA to make sure that this network exists and that expectations are clearly discussed and agreed prior to getting started.
Tell us about the day of your exam…how did it go and how did you feel?
I think like everyone else I was nervous. Especially because I had not seen anyone else that passed the CTA before in how they present and hence had to go with the approach I prepared. I tried to manage my fears by telling myself that I had prepared for this for a long time; I know what I am doing and that ultimately this is just another test. The exam itself was challenging, I had a pretty long scenario (~ 9 pages including cover letter and index) and was really challenged for time.
When I left, I was certain that I failed and hence when I received the message a few weeks later about my partial result, it was a real motivation booster. For my section retake, I was a lot less nervous and knew what to expect. I also felt much better prepared and actually finished my preparation with time to spare (which I used to ensure that I didn’t miss a requirement).
After I left the Salesforce office, I walked to my hotel. 10 minutes into my walk I got a call from Suzanne including all the judges who congratulated me on passing – this was a very special moment.
What advice would you give to aspiring CTAs?
Give yourself time and be really clear on why you want to become a CTA.
Being a CTA doesn’t mean you are a good architect.
Not being a CTA also doesn’t mean that you are a bad architect.
It will take a significant amount of time to prepare, hence knowing your reason as to why you are doing it helps in times of doubt. Also, don’t rush it – it is a journey and the journey should be enjoyable, but is also necessary because your knowledge needs to be wide and you must be able to go deep at any given time and topic.
Lastly, ensure that your knowledge is backed by experience – I have seen a few candidates attempt the board who have a fantastic knowledge of the Salesforce platform but lack the practical experience to make the right choices.
What changes have you noticed in your job since you became a CTA?
It opened a lot of doors for me. I got out of it what I was after – credibility.
I moved from being a contractor back to an employee at a solution implementer after passing my CTA because I wanted to share my experience with other community members. This opportunity only came up because I was a CTA and provided in many areas a purpose to me.
How has doing this affected you as a person and a Salesforce practitioner?
The intense study period has made me a much better Salesforce consultant, developer and architect. By simply studying all the content in such detail, I closed many knowledge gaps and also feel that when I talk to customers now, I am considering the impacts of solutions that I would not have considered or known before.
Any other tips and advice for the community?
Definitely find a study buddy – it’s crucial to have somebody that you can share successes and failures with but also somebody that can learn from you and you can learn from. There are a lot of supportive people in the community that are willing to help – make sure you come prepared when asking for help (e.g. have a study plan ready, know your realistic timeframe, know your reason etc.) and don’t expect to be hand-held throughout the process – you need to be the driver.