Insights What to expect from your architects

What to expect from your architects

The architecture profession is one that means something.  We sometimes say the phrase, “he or she isn’t an architect yet, they are functioning more like a Sr. Engineer”.  I know and the other person knows what that means intuitively, but we often struggle to attach actual rubrics to the title of architect and the functions.  Every company I work with has some form of architect, but they all seem to diverge on the core responsibilities of that role. So… what to do?

To start, here is the TLDR version of this conversation… it starts with three elements that represent tensions in any architect’s career, but all need to exist in a successful architect to different degrees:

  1. Deep technical competency in a particular domain(s)
  2. General design competency across domains
  3. Business capability and executive EQ

The path most architects follow is the start as deep technical experts in a technology domain and move from being a sr. engineer into architect.  This move requires the newly minted architect to exercise technical muscles in the original domain in the form of the architectural standard that solutions within follow, but that is only part of the job.  The other parts are the relationships between their domain and the connected domains, as well as the influence of the business on both.  These are tools that many architects have never wielded.  The biggest struggle for most is learning to navigate the inevitable change in skills and being ok with a drop in some of those skills.

To learn more about this topic, I’d like to point you to my interview with Grant Ecker, the leader of the Chief Architect Forum.  In this interview we get into many of these topics, especially the tension that exists as architects grow and how they change over time.

My biggest take-aways from the conversation were these:

  1. There is a legitimacy of architects who stay very vertically focused vs. those that become broad and executive/business focused.  Both are valuable, although each requires a different set of skills.
  2. The patterns of success (or failure) that exist in architects will repeat themselves as companies adopt AI solutions.  The companies that have architects (and leaders) that can help navigate the adoption and governance pattern will be more successful than others.
  3. The architect profession means something and is not simply a title we should bestow without strong alignment to expectations.  Most of the time architects are just “the next step” rather than a clear set of expectations that a person is aware of. This needs to be corrected with clear role/level guides and “what got you HERE will not get you THERE” types of movement.
  4. We all need organizations of our peers to exchange ideas with.  Although the IT community is vast, we can sometimes find it tough to make those meaningful connections.  Organizations need to prioritize time for architects to make connections with other architects to be successful.
  5. An architect can remain very technical but will still require EQ and business awareness skills they may not have developed in previous stages. Even a super-effective distinguished architect will be more effective with business-aware capabilities. These skills are often developed earlier in a career in roles such as business analyst or help desk and sometimes are wrongly perceived as less necessary during sr. engineer back-end roles. If business-aware skills are missed early, it can be difficult to pivot later. Understanding and requiring these skills from a growth and expectations management standpoint is critical.
  6. A successful architect is often thought of a person that can “own a room”, but even more, they should be a person that can get the best out of a team of business and technical individuals alike to arrive at the right outcomes.
  7. It can be difficult for an architect to “let go” of technical skills in favor of a broad understanding, or in order to effectively delegate. This is another example of where setting clear expectations is important. The successful architect is a great collaborator, understands the big picture, and can connect the dots. In many cases they CAN go deep, but don’t need to because they are empowering the team to take action.
  8. Growth mindset and curiosity are key to the architect’s forward outlook and their ability to change skills over time. The effective architect can become deep in their domain but needs to be continually focusing forward on how the ecosystem shifts. Very few paradigms last and the architect that can keep pivoting meaningfully toward the future is one that will successfully lead vs. one that simply becomes very deep in a given domain and refuses to see the forest for the trees.

I hope this is a great opportunity to improve and align the career path of every architect, regardless of the path forward.