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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.
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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

Three core skills of an enterprise architect April 27, 2010

Posted by Chris Eaton in architecture, EA, people.
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1 comment so far

as ever the most stimulating questions come from the populus at large. In response to a question of what skills does an enterprise architect need by Lisa I posted this response

In my mind there are three core dimensions for the skills of an architect:

– Leadership ability
– Technical ability
– Business ability

For leadership – As you become more senior then leadership skills become more important, displacing deep specialist technical skills. Leadership is often defined as the ability to get things done through others which i think is a reasonable take on matters.
Leadership is more about knowing what to do and how to approach problems, achieve buy in and make them happen, than a deep understanding of a subject. Personally in terms of leadership i am very dependant on prior experience on successful projects to guide me as to what to do, and also role models – what would my role model do?

For technical ability – broadly (and matching togaf) you can categorise architects into:
– Application Architecture
– Data Architecture
– Infrastructure Architecture
– Business Architecture
and some might argue integration architecture as it’s own area because middleware is so prevalent and a particularly important area to have good architecture.

Within these domains it is important to have a good level of expertise and have some level of expertise in the others. An application architect with no understanding of data wouldnt be much use.

For Business ability – deep knowledge of a business area or areas and the related business processes is a must for delivering strong business centric solutions

how do I become an enterprise architect? May 14, 2009

Posted by Chris Eaton in architecture, artitecture, EA, mentoring, methods, people.
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in a recent discussion with a mentee the question was raised ‘what is the difference between solution and enterprise architect?’

My standard answer to this is to talk about the difference between cityplanners who think about city wide infrastructure and future objectives (enterprise architects) and architects of individual buildings who think about how the house is laid out, how strong roof supports need to be and whether their plan will fit to the city planners constraints.

the next question was, ‘ok how do i become a city planner?’

interestingly the city planner/building architect planner analogy does not answer this question, it simply states a comparison of job roles. So after a little thought here is my answer:

artITecture Skills Model

artITecture Skills Model


in essence as a developer (a specialist in IT) you know lots about a specific IT subject matter.  For instance you know how to write J2EE applications, test the code, deploy this into a container, use an integrated development environment and so on. Detailed stuff. In terms of exposure to different types of technology the experience is fairly narrow, working with specific technologies and probably with little care whether the solution is in a Human Resources, Finance, Supply Chain, Procurement and so on.

As a specialist you have some understanding of a particular business area but little thought or care for business strategy.

This growth in business and technical exposure leads to a point where there is a choice: remain specialised or loss the specialism and become more broadly focused – become an architect orchestrating the build but not directly building (rule of thumb says if your write code regularly you are probably not an architect).

Your sphere of influence is your code and immediate team.

Interpersonal skills are not so important as long as the code works!


Within the architect space the breadth of technical experience grows, but the hands on technical experience is shallow. On occasion deep dives return you to the specialist space.

You have the experience and credibility from the specialist experience to generalise, relate and guide specialists without ever having to have directly worked with the technology.

The trick here is to use specialists for their specialist skills, and bring this together at the solutions level.

In business terms you have probably medium to deep understanding in one or two or perhaps more business areas.

In strategic terms you probably have thought about business strategy within a business area i.e. Finance or Supply Chain, but probably not in a true enterprise sense.

Your sphere of influence is the other architects and technicians on your immediate project. You act as a consultant to key business and project management staff on your assigned project

Interpersonal skills are becoming increasingly important to communicate your ideas and sell them to your immediate project team.

In my own experience moving from a specialist to an architect I clearly decided my time with code was done, and i had a great model who i strong thought ‘i want to be like him and do the job he does’  I still count this role model as one of my best friends

The transition to an architect did stretch me, it was difficult to give up the security of specialisation but it was a decision i never regretted.

Enterprise Architect

you have very broad and shallow exposure to all kinds of technology and business area with depth in some areas. You have a good understanding of technology and technological concepts but the detail isnt of significant interest but the impact it can make is very interesting particularly how it could reduce the cost of doing business or differentiating the business in market.

In strategic terms, and for me this a key differentiator for Enterprise Architects, you have a good understanding of business strategy models (i.e. Porter), think in broad business and IT terms and can apply this knowledge to sell a vision of the future,  the benefits of the future vision and how it can be realistically achieved.

Interpersonal skills become a critical success factor especially negotiation and  influencing. Selling is probably the most important skill. It is required to achieve buy-in for visionary ‘to-be’ solutions at all levels of the business

Your sphere of influence is to aim for company wide impact through process or IT change and influence people who didnt even know they needed influencing!

My own experience of moving from architect to enterprise architect was similar to my transition from specialist to architect, i felt i was giving up a comfort blanket in business and technology architect specialisation for a very broad, perhaps somewhat inspecific role with an emphasis on strategic and inter personal skills, and not too emphasis on technology expertise – something which i had always seens as a personal strength and passion – but again i never regretted the move it was right at the time and i really enjoy the influencing aspects to my EA roles.

In summary, I hope it is clear that business, technology breadth and strategic business thinking is way to become an Enterprise architect, it will take work, it will take opportunity and a good dose of sponsership but in my view it is well worth it.