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12 Tips for Success at an MCA Review Board

With good preparation and attention to detail, technologists with between 10 to 15 years' experience should be able to approach an MCA board with confidence. Microsoft will provide a mentor to every candidate accepted into the MCA program; this relationship will be invaluable to candidates preparing their presentation to the review board.

Preparation is always a key factor in achieving success. Here are 12 points for MCA candidates to take into account as they prepare for an MCA board appearance.

1. Select a recent project for the presentation, ideally one on which you had significant leadership responsibility and which was completed successfully. Be prepared to discuss the challenges that arose in meeting that responsibility: the internal politics involved, the compromises you made, how you communicated with senior management, and your own management style. Practice the presentation and make sure that you can make the major points that you consider important within 30 minutes. The majority of board presentations cover the technical aspects of projects, but some presentations primarily address organizational dynamics or project management. In these instances, be prepared to cover key technology concerns in the project if the board asks you to do so.

2. Include diagrams in your presentation to illustrate the logical architecture of your solution in addition to important details. Be prepared to illustrate on a white board other aspects of the project in sufficient detail to convince the board that you have deep knowledge and understanding of the solution.

3. If you are an infrastructure concentration candidate, have knowledge of different ways to approach infrastructural designs—particularly Active Directory (AD), networks, and messaging environments—so that you can contrast and compare the different solutions.

4. Be prepared to discuss an IT architectural framework such as The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) and how to effectively apply architectural frameworks in projects.

5. Be prepared to discuss how the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) can be effectively applied in projects. The ongoing operation and monitoring of a project is often as challenging and interesting as the initial design and deployment.

6. Be able to discuss how to take a project from concept to design to deployment, and understand the different challenges that exist at each phase.

7. Don’t waffle if you can't answer a question. Acknowledge that you don't have the answer and move on.

8. Be prepared to discuss how you think technology will develop in the future, especially in your own areas of competence, and be able to show how these developments may affect the projects you work on.

9. Be prepared to discuss areas of technology outside of those you cover in your presentation, including some that the review board might introduce (such as a question about Linux or Open Source when you present Windows as one of your areas of competence). You have to be able to show the board that you are not a one-hit wonder when it comes to technology and that you possess knowledge across a wide breadth of technologies. Assume that the board possesses enough knowledge about the technologies that you plan to discuss to understand the importance and impact of your work. It is a mistake to underestimate the board and attempt to convey information that is untrue or misleading.

10. Be able to show that you have achieved a longstanding and ongoing relationship with customers. Consultants who hop between projects to act as troubleshooters or in a presales role are unlikely to be as convincing as architects who have long-term involvement with their projects.

11. It's good to be able to show that you understand the economic impact of IT projects and technology as a whole. For example, understand how ROI is calculated, the difference between capital costs and running costs, and how to make trade-offs to meet project budgets. It's also good to be able to demonstrate awareness of customers' business environment and the dynamics that influence their business.

12. Take the time to submit timely, well-prepared documentation to the board. Submit documents that meet the same standards as customer deliverables. Ensure that the documents are clear, concise, and formatted appropriately. Spell-check your work. Remember that the board members have a mountain of documentation to read and comprehend before they begin the interviews. If your material is easy to follow and interesting to read, you'll begin by making a great impression on the board.

Apart from these points, candidates who remain calm and measured will prosper during board questioning. Confidence is a good thing when you undergo questioning by the board, but arrogance is usually bad unless it can be justified by absolute mastery of all of the technical points you are questioned on.

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