Monday, July 7, 2008

Who is an architect?

An architect is someone who is involved in the planning, design, and oversight of a building's construction. But the one that I'm about to unfold is the same title offered in the software world for planning, design and oversight of software solution. Given the abstract definition of a software architect, some might ask: well how does the architect know if the plan or design is going to work?. The answer is in the details.

The next question that some might have is: well how much of details should the architect know? The answer is as much as possible. Knowing the details makes one knowledgeable in that subject area. Here are some important characteristics of an architect:
  • Communication
  • Abstraction
  • Negotiation
  • Influence
The knowledge part though not explicitly stated is hidden in each of these characteristics. Communication means educating others about a particular subject or it could be just non-technical communication. Abstraction comes with experience; there are different levels of abstraction. In software the solution to most problems can be a level of abstraction. Negotiation means the right level of balance between often contradicting parameters E.g. time and space or even perceptions. Finally influence: the ability to convince other stake holders. All these characteristics positions an architect in the leadership quadrant. Given the diverse nature of these parameters; choosing an architect for a project could be a daunting task for a hiring manager.

Imagine a matrix (two dimensional table) where columns represent subject areas, characteristics (like the ones mentioned in the bullets) and rows represent the level of expertise in each. By now you might have guessed that I'm leaning towards a score card. The score card might look like the picture shown here, it looks like a bar chart. Is it easy? No. Is it worth doing? Yes. There are enterprise architects, solution architects and architects. It doesn't matter what capacity is expected from an architect, the only thing that matters is more bars in more places :)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Information Age

We have heard and read about ice age and stone age. Here we are in the information age surrounded by youtube, myspace, iphones, wikis, blogs, rss, the internet and wireless gadgets. But seriously where are we and more importantly where are we headed?. We have seen the commercial by Cisco systems calling the human network; Oracle positioning them selves as the information company; Sun calling the network is the computer; Apple silently dropping the word computer from its name and Google trying to be the one company that everyone loves. All these companies are technology companies and we hear some responding "I'm in information technology". But what is information? I ask myself.

It seems the contents in a human mind can be categorized as data, information, knowledge and wisdom; data being the least and wisdom being the most matured forms. It is my humble belief that computers are transitioning through a similar trajectory. Data is granular and it may or may not make sense. Information is basically sensible data; For instance we can get answers for questions like who are my top ten customers? or what is my best selling product?. Knowledge is a phase where new information could be synthesized based on the existing information; For instance: we think you might be interested in this product and naturally the customer's reaction is well how do you know?. Thats exactly the point the website or service "knows" more about you or is in the process of learning more about you. We are seeing this aspect more and more in our day to day aspects; For example try to Google for the netflix movie recommendation system called cinematch. I have to admit that computers have not mastered these areas as well as humans but they are getting there.

Now how would the world look like when computers mature to the next level: wisdom; wait a minute haven't we all seen this in Hollywood movies. One other difference between humans and computers is emotions. I recently came across this small robot called pleo and they say that there are some emotions to this robot: really? I would have to check.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Jack fruit

I have been in the information technology industry for quite sometime now. Working in the industry meeting some of the best minds is always a pleasure. Sometimes it is not about the technical capability of humans its about attitude, personality and character. If you are wondering weather I'm a psychologist or someone in the human resources, I'm not; I'm a pure technician, someone who analyzes problems and comes up with a solution; as a side effect I do create problems as well. Now if you are itching to know about why the title of this post is jack fruit, please read on.

A friend of mine asked me if I knew about data cubes in the context of data mining and business intelligence, honestly I wasn't aware of such a term; later I researched about it and I'm still compensating my ignorance on that topic. I then thought about dimensions, how can one explain the concept of dimensions to non-technical people. In other words how can one imagine more than three dimensions. Although most real world objects have dimensions; a Rubiks cube is a popular example for a three dimensional object. A list such as a grocery list is a good example for one dimension. An example for two dimensional entity could be as simple as a point with x and y coordinates and go as far as a kolam or a painting by Pablo Picasso. Now we already know examples for three dimensional objects, a fourth dimension could be imagined to be like a list of cubes, a fifth dimension is a two dimensional graph in which each point is a cube and the sixth dimension is a cube in which each corner is a cube; mathematically one could refer to it as something like x[i, j, k, p, q, r] where x is an entity of six dimensions, are you with me so far?.

Now some of us might be thinking how a jack fruit is related to the concepts we discussed so far and what is the connection with human psychology or behavior in general. Humans have different levels of indirections. In our day to day interactions we have come across people who are hard to understand and some who are able to complete our sentences. I personally prefer less than three dimensions, and we all do hang out with people who have a good understanding about us. We all have come across people about whom we have had certain initial impressions but had to change later. A jack fruit is one such character, on the outside they might look rough and after cracking open there is a huge mess and finally you get the sweet tasting fruit. In this case the first impressions are not always the best. It takes a while for everyone to open up to some one and we know that trust is an important factor here. Technology workplace is a zoo of heterogeneous characters; so watch out for jack fruits in your workplace, they are really sweet.