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 :)