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im a techy now, how do i become an architect? March 30, 2012

Posted by Chris Eaton in architect, careers, people.
Tags: , , , ,
I am lucky enough to receive the odd email from readers who ask for advice on architect careers. The most common theme is from developers and operations staff asking how to move into an architect role.
Here is my tuppence:
  • Bank your deep technical specialist skills and broaden your technical knowledge
  • Get comfortable with busking!
  • Tell everyone you want to be an architect! If they don’t know that they cant help you
  • In the long term, focus on soft skills and business understanding, this will pay a huge dividend and this is the only way to the most senior roles
Bank your deep technical skills and broaden your technical knowledge
If your a developer you probably know more than any architect will ever need to know about your specialist subject. Bank that you’ll never need to know deep techy details as an architect. If you want to be an architect you are going to have to give up the comfort of deep narrow technical knowledge for a broader, shallower knowledge of many technologies. I went through this myself it feels uncertain at the start but soon it become more comfortable.
Get comfortable with busking!
A challenge to technical experts is they understand that to be a true expert you can only be focussed on a few technical skills through a large investment of time and knowledge. Your only the expert when you wrote the book or the open standard. Credibility with other true technical peers is hard won. However, engage with 99.999 of the populace on technical matters they will consider you an expert even when you know your knowledge is pretty superficial.
Just think when you helped your mum fix her PC you just did standard stuff that anyone can do but she thinks your a hero because she had no idea what to do and never would have resolved it without you help. She thinks your the expert even when you know you not.
Thats busking!
As an architects you need the experience to spot what’s good, bad and indifferent and cram on any given subject to become a mini expert as well as use wider expertise to make good decisions but you cant possibly be the expert in everything
Tell everyone you want to be an architect
Who know you want to be an architect? is it 0,1 maybe 2 people? you need to tell everyone! only then can people help you achieve your aims. I learnt this lesson the hard way after many years of feeling suppressed in a role I started to be more directive about what I wanted (i.e. do this or im going to leave) and it worked and it has continued to work – dont be shy. Peers and managers are not mind readers! You need to tell people you ambition and they can and will help you achieve it.
In the long term, focus on soft skills and business understanding
In the long term peak your head above technology and concentrate on consulting and people skills. I started off as a pure technologist and indeed avoided touchy feely courses on stakeholder management, communication, performance management, team effectiveness and all that in preference to technology courses. Eventually i was ‘made’ to go on courses like this. These were the most important courses i ever went on. Now I only go on courses like this and use conferences and experts to give me enough information on technical matters so that I can credibly busk.
In summary
Finding a first architect role is tricky. In fact in my IBM days there was a specific study into how to create first time architect roles because upcoming talent expressed a difficulty in understanding how to move from developer and designer roles to architects. The conclusion was that specific effort was needed by the organisation to make this happen and create first time architect role and once in role give the assistance required to help first time architects succeed, typically through mentoring and coaching.
Demonstration of pure technology skills can only get you so far. I am currently recruiting for a couple of senior enterprise architects. The majority of CVs i get are very technology focussed. XML, SAP PI, basis, j2ee etc. That is useful, however,what is really important is demonstration that you are able to engage, persuade, leverage and lead a larger architect brain to solve a problem – that means solving problems of greater and greater significance by leading and leveraging others either inside or outside of your organisation. Show that is in a CV and you will go much further than a pure play technology CV
hope this helps


1. Udayan Banerjee - March 31, 2012

It may be useful to add a twitter button to your blog. http://en.support.wordpress.com/publicize/

Lionel Stanley - June 7, 2012
2. ericweinstein - May 4, 2012

Right on Chris. The soft skills are the key differentiator to a successful architecture caree!

3. Yawar Saeed Khan - May 9, 2012

Can you elaborate a little more on the areas the Enterprise Architect has to cover in his/her job role. You have stressed on busking, soft skills and business understanding as the key weapons of a EA. This sound more like a IT Solutions Consultant.

My understanding of an EA is that a person who can present an overall solultion for any enterprise with available solutions/technologies in the market. like Oracle or SAP. An EA should not know about just one particular area of the enterprise, but he/she must know how all functions in an enterprise wide solution can integrate with each other and what solution/technology is best suited for those functions.

Currently I work in a large bank as a Solution Architect. My role is comparable to that of a Business Analyst. I work as a bridge between Business and Technology. And i find myself sometimes doing what i described above as a description of an EA.

Can i call myself an Enterprise Architect?

4. Oliver - June 6, 2012

Great article Chris. Thanks.

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