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This week hasn’t been too good; for the first time in ages, I failed an exam. I won’t lie, I spent two days with my tail tucked firmly between my legs. I was hacked off. But I wasn’t massively surprised. Here’s why.

Identity and Access Management is pretty heavy subject matter.

For those who have always delegated this part of a project delivery to someone else and simply doesn’t have the experience, it was always going to be something I had to study hard for. it’s full of terminology that it’s important to get right, and the exam materials are sparse in comparison to other certification exams. There are also a LOT of login flow variations and YOU NEED TO KNOW THEM.

I had way too much on my plate

Those who know me know that determination is in my DNA. When I booked my exam, I didn’t have much to do. I had no project work scheduled that week and although I had a Christmas party to run for kids and adults alike 3 days before the exam, I thought it’d be fine.

Then the work came in; as my diary filled up, I looked at options for rescheduling it and in the end, it was ME who stopped myself from rescheduling it. I became determined to just get on with it; get it out of the way before the workshops started. So by the time I got to the week I had scheduled my exam for, I had agreed to:

  1. Put Christmas decorations up
  2. A Christmas party for 15+ 5/6-year-olds in my home, followed by an evening party for the grown-ups
  3. Attending site 3 hours’ drive away to visit a client for a kick-off
  4. Prepare for the business process review workshops
  5. The Christmas fair at my local village hall – oh, and having a craft stall there
  6. Participate in the TwoWIT podcast (by the way, that was totally worth it. I’ll NEVER regret doing that)

I admit I cancelled the Christmas fair. My mum and I just weren’t ready.

I underestimated myself

I spent so long working hard at exams and juggling motherhood, events and revision that I had convinced myself that I was back to normal and fully capable. In fact, I underestimated just how tired all of the above was making me. It got to Monday, the day before the exam – and nothing was going in, no matter how long I studied. My body was so exhausted that my brain just wasn’t on form. I should have rescheduled it, but it was too late at that point (unless I paid the late notice fee).

I did NOT study hard enough

Prioritisation has never been a strength of mine. I have a to-do list that I picked up on my trip to Nashville – appropriately named “Can’t Remember Shit”. It has sections for appointments, jobs and meetings as well as your general to-do list; it’s been an absolute God-send.

As more things came in, I should have moved my exam around; the problem was the absolute stick-in-the-mud I’d become, by setting myself a goal to beat my own deadline and get to System Architect right before Christmas. As a result of my lack of prioritisation, not enough study went on. Yes, I know, I put my Quizlet together, but I got a bit of a shock in the exam when appeared that I just wasn’t familiar with.

How it felt afterwards

I spent 2 days feeling bruised and kicked around; it wasn’t anyone else’s fault but my own, but I had let my own success get the better of me; that was pretty humbling. Passing 8 certifications this year – first time – had obviously taken its toll – not just on my own fatigue levels, but on the way I was approaching it. I became so fixated on beating it before Christmas that I had forgotten just what an achievement it was to even get this far in such a short space of time. The irony of it is that I do celebrate every certification I see on my company’s Chatter, on LinkedIn and on Twitter as a huge achievement, yet I can’t seem to reconcile that to my own.

So I stopped, drew a line, then relaxed. Reminded myself that my body burns out a little quicker since cancer. Tried to talk myself into believing that. I decided to respect my original deadline of the end of February 2018. I scheduled some sessions in with my boss to talk about IdP and SP-initiated login flows. Watched some Dreamforce sessions about OAuth on YouTube. Accepted that today, at least, I wasn’t a System Architect, but that I hadn’t even had that in mind when I started this year.

What happened next? Of course, the moment I finally relaxed, a cold set in. Bleurgggghhhhhhh! It’s easy to say don’t get stressed out, but it happened anyway.

Why I’m glad I failed

It taught me a lesson I needed to learn. To give myself time; to at least attempt to stop putting too much unnecessary pressure on myself. To think harder about what the point of these exams really is – to become a better architect. I’ve asked the TA on my project if I can shadow him as he agrees and sets up Single Sign-On – and I don’t want to attempt the exam again until I’m ready. If CTA is going to happen, it’ll be when I’m ready, not just when I’ve passed the exams.

Guest Post: Andrew Hart's CTA Journey
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