IT Architects are like Drivers/Riders
Drivers of any vehicle like two-wheelers, four-wheelers, or the x wheelers are admired the way they drive and what they drive. For an IT-Architect it would be a great person to be seen as the driver of the IT-Business. The starting point typically is good, because IT-Architects are somehow special.
They are essential for the success of an engagement, and often they know it
They don’t wear cool suits
They tend to be open-minded and direct
They are focusing on solutions to overcome the given challenges
This analogy fits quite well.
Practical than bookish …
Drivers won’t learn to drive by reading books. For sure it’s helpful to understand the underlying reality,
but in the end, you must get on the roads and just do it. Drive, more drive, experience, and get on the roads.
As an Architect, you can read tons of published books and attend workshop lectures. You will learn a lot and master the theory. In real life the job as an Architect is multi-dimensional, it’s about technology, methodology, processes, and very important people. During the last my 2 decades I learned most by just doing things and observing seniors learn from their experience. I just want to give you some examples:
Designing domains, services & interfaces: For an Architect, it is essential to make the initial design for an enterprise service and solution. There is no standard methodology you can follow to achieve this. Designing the domains often starts with a gut feeling, intuition, the best guess. Based on this you iterate and improve the solution. There are some methods to support you like Domain-driven design or TOGAF, but in the end, you need to know the “magic trick”.
Performance: For almost all systems I built in past years performance was critical. The tricky part is that sometimes you need to make decisions about algorithms and implementation early without knowing the details of the actual system to build. In this often the gut feeling helps you to make the right decisions.
New technology: Often we need to master technology that we never used before and this will have an impact on our design. For this we typically lack good literature and best practices, thus it’s up to the experienced architect to create a proper design that works.
Design Process: As we work in teams, we need a proper design process to create the system. From my point of view, there is no one-size-fits-all process. You must shape it to your actual needs. For this, you need to look at several dimensions and decide what fits best in your context: People, Technology, Tools, and Process.
Re-shape and reinvent oneself …
Drivers always look out for other challenges and sometimes reshape and re-invent themselves. For example, some drivers wondered what they can do during a hi-speed road rush in a street and just invented the skill in the professional track...
Architects also need to look at their profession and work on their profile. Technology, Methods, and Processes are changing over time and we need to adjust or even better drive this change. Life-long learning shouldn’t be an unknown pattern for an Architect, thus always try to improve! In the service industry, this can be achieved by just moving on to other engagements and with each change, one can always change roles or responsibilities. So, get out of your comfort zone and try to get better every day.
People connect is the key …
Drivers need to know the best tracks and biker’s trips to find and ride the best trips. They’re typically part of the huge professional bikers or racing community and are very well connected. Once they start to take part in a championship they are in!
For Architects, it’s key to have a well-working network of smart people. This should be inside and
outside of their company. For Architects, it’s almost impossible to have all the knowledge they need for their job. Thus, one needs to rely on others. When you start your career it’s essential to work on your people besides the obvious content-driven topics. It’s essential to know whom to contact or even better call for a specific challenge. Over time it’s a best practice to invest time regularly in your network to keep it active and alive. Liquid people connect is a special way of doing so, that typically works very well in the bar full of architects during conferences, training, or other events. Missing my TechReady days at Microsoft.
Brand of Me …
Cool Drivers are often a “brand” like “Ghost Rider” my favorite. They are well known in the community and even more important to the possible sponsors. This is essential if you want to earn a living as a professional rider aka Driver.
For Architects, it’s also a best practice to build your brand. You can look at that from different angles. First: What is your specific topic? What are you well known for? Where are you an expert? You should be able to answer the question: I’m the “go-to guy” for “whatever topic”. In Architecture, there are tons of topics you can choose from. This evolves!
Play the game to win …
Driving is individual, however, you need to play by the rules! You “hunt in a pack” and this has several positive effects. First, you have an audience to “prove” what great ride on the roads you did. With all the social media nowadays, you need someone to make a video of your achievement. On the other hand, for riding the real big trips you need someone in an ambulance to pull you to be safe and you need to trust this guy because you might get fatal if something goes wrong.
Cool Architects work in teams! The typical challenges we face are big, thus you need to work together and utilize all the available skills in the team to overcome them. I strongly recommend not being an Alexander the great-Architect, but rather a real team player who listens to others and lets the others shine too. They will honor that, and you will grow!
Mentor your fellow member …
Architects need to spread their knowledge and the easiest way to do so is to coach their fellow members. By the way that’s the best way to get “out of your engagement”. So, I strongly recommend each Architect to select his or her successor on the first day of the new job. In the upcoming month and years, one should coach and train him or her to be able to leave the engagement at a given point in time smoothly. Besides that, you can learn a lot from your fellow members. They are close to academia and the latest technology, method, and process trends. For me, it’s a best practice to discuss with them and reflect the new stuff with what we learned in the past… once more the roads there to ride.
Get your hands dirty …
Drivers must be on the roads and do their trips. They need to get their hands “dirty” to succeed in what they do. In addition, all great riders work on their rides, e.g. their nitros to improve speed and getting better in trips.
With Architects, it is the same. Once you live in an ivory tower and work on design and architecture without getting feedback about the impact of your design and decisions you won’t learn. Thus, I strongly recommend getting involved in the actual implementation of your design. Walking around and talking to people helps a lot. Over a coffee, you can learn much more about the impact of your work, than reading books and/or emails.
Finally feed the demand …
Architect also need to know how to sell things. There is and was always a debate how much management skills and Architect needs.
My view is quite simple on that: A good Architect in a large-scale engagement needs also to be a manager to some extend and for sure he needs to be a leader. To make it more concrete: I wouldn’t recommend focusing on controlling, but an Architect should be always involved in change requests, estimations, staffing, strategy and innovation topics. A very easy way to achieve this is to sit in the same office as the project managers. I know that some Architects don’t like that, but it works … it’s almost impossible not to be involved in the important topics once you are in the same room! By the way an Architect should always keep in mind not to over-engineer the solution. This will lead to additional effort and thus cost. Good is good enough is not only a phrase.
Some Architects think it’s a good idea to make themselves indispensable in an engagement. I strongly recommend not to do so, but instead selecting a successor early as already mentioned. This is a good way to make a career by getting new and challenging roles in a different context.