Sharayu is Australia’s first female CTA! We caught up with Sharayu shortly after she got the news that she’d passed her CTA board exam. Sharayu is a Technology Delivery Architecture Manager at Accenture, leading large enterprise implementations of Salesforce. Sharayu got her start in the Salesforce world in 2011 coming from a developer background, with experience in Java before picking up Apex.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue the CTA credential?
Towards the end of December 2017 I started pursuing the Salesforce architecture domain certifications. I completed all of these (including the optional certs) by September 2018, and that’s when I knew I wanted to continue on to achieve the CTA.
I got involved with Accenture’s internal CTA program and did a mock exam in early January 2019 which is when I put my full focus on studying for the CTA exam.
How did you prepare?
I studied mornings, evenings, and on weekends. The last three months leading to the board exam were quite stressful – I tried to wake up at about 4-4.30am three times a week to study before I went to work.
Most of all, I tried to apply what I was currently studying on the project to get hands on experience. The biggest advantage that helped me was the role I was playing on a current project – Lead Salesforce Architect. I think some people struggle with not having the right role (to support them in their study) but the Lead Salesforce Architect role was perfect. I felt like I was learning, and applying a lot of things on the project which really helped.
Taking mock exams was also really important for my exam preparation. I did around 6 mocks altogether.
Lastly, I asked for help. Whether it was a colleague at Accenture or a CTA in the Salesforce community in general, I would reach out and ask for 30 minutes of their time. People helped in a variety of ways, from reviewing and providing feedback on my artefacts, or just chatting about topics where I felt my knowledge was weak. Everybody’s journey and experience is different, so I could listen to everyone and ultimately, turn that into something I would feel comfortable presenting to the board.
Did you have any other commitments around the CTA?
Yes, my family – especially my husband. When I started my CTA journey, I warned him that this would be time consuming and he was really supportive. All up, my studies took about 18 months – that’s 18th months of my husband taking care of everything, including running up to the local Office Works to get me flipcharts and supplies to help me practice. He spent a lot of time by himself on weekends.
My husband isn’t in the IT industry, but he would sit on the couch while I presented a mock solution to him. He provided feedback on my presentation style, like letting me know when I was speaking too fast – although I consider that a strength, because you have so much content to present in the short 45 minute time frame the board exam gives you. Sometimes, he would fall asleep, but I still found the practice valuable.
What did you learn from the process?
Passing the exam has made me much more confident in my abilities as an architect. I feel comfortable speaking to other architects who have years’ more experience than me.
Throughout my journey, my colleagues have asked me, “how were you so calm before the exam and after hearing the results?” I know people go through a lot of stress, but my mantra was to stay calm. I put the CTA exam in perspective – I just wanted to learn, and grow as an architect. Obviously I wanted to pass, but I treated it all as a learning experience.
How do you feel about the experience?
Overwhelmed! I’m definitely happy as well, but it’s a little stressful, there’s so much attention so I feel a bit restless. It’s amazing – but I don’t think I have absorbed it yet. People have said, “wow, you’re the first female CTA in Australia!” To me, I’m still the same person, I just passed an exam. The learning and growth took a lot longer.
I also feel relieved, I’m sleeping so well! I have so much free time I don’t know what to do with myself. I am taking it easy for now, spending time with friends.
The learning hasn’t stopped, either. I feel some pressure to keep on top of the constant changes happening with Salesforce products. I’ll keep studying and reading to keep my skills sharp.
Any myths you would like to bust?
Well, there are some rumours that are true, and others that aren’t.
When you present your solution in the exam, the judges don’t nod, they don’t show any expression on their faces – that is very true. It feels quite different to presenting to a customer in the real world, because customers will have questions as you go, they will nod, or show a reaction – positive or negative.
I finished my presentation early, and it’s true, they do take those minutes and add them to the Q&A time. The Q&A is a daunting aspect, but it’s there to help you. I think the judges understand it’s nearly impossible to come up with a perfect solution in just 2 hours. Chances are, you will have made some mistakes due to running short on time. The Q&A tests you, and gives you an opportunity to clarify any mistakes you might have made and show your knowledge. The Q&A felt more like a normal customer presentation, where we were having a conversation rather than just me talking.
While I come from a background of development, with experience in Java and Apex, it’s been about 5 years since I really did any development. I don’t think I would be the best developer now! I don’t think you need to know how to code in order to achieve the CTA, but you definitely need to know when and why to recommend a code-based solution. No one will actually ask you to form an HTTP request in the exam, but as long as you know how you would overall structure your design, you can stop there.
What advice would you give to those who are working towards the CTA?
The CTA is not a theoretical exam. You need to consider – how would you actually apply the solution practically, in a real-world project? You may not always be able to get hands-on experience on a real project, but when you’re studying, try to think about when you would want to use a particular feature in a solution. When would you use indexing vs. skinny tables? Big objects, or external objects? What are use cases for each solution? This applies to every single domain, there are always so many ways to achieve something in Salesforce.
Getting hands on experience will really help, and you can use Trailhead or Developer Edition orgs to get that. Earlier in my journey, I found Identity a really tough domain – I had heard of OAuth and SAML, but I didn’t know how they worked. I got some hands on experience by connecting two Developer Edition orgs, I focused on this topic and now this domain is one of my strengths.
Have an attitude of always learning. Talk to your colleagues, or people you connect with in the Salesforce community, if you haven’t got experience in something – perhaps they do. I spent time talking to everyone from developers, to scrum masters, to product owners.
How will you be celebrating the achievement?
I took a week off after taking the board exam, so now I’m back to work after a short break. I feel like I’ve been away from work for a long time! I do plan to go on a short holiday during the December break with my husband.
Mostly, I just want to do some good work and try to apply all my learnings on a project, and help out some other aspiring CTAs that may need my help. It’s not that I know it all now, but I will have some tips that I learned on my journey that may help others. I haven’t read the latest release notes so I will be doing that, too.