When I grow up, I want to be an (Architecture) Astronaut
I’ve discussed career development with many Software Developers over the years. The desire to become an Architect seems to be a common goal of many of them and is considered to be the pinnacle of achievement in the career of a Software Developer. And why wouldn’t it? It sounds cool and important, almost certainly comes with a salary increase, and grants the owner instant powers over mortal Developers. Presumably only great people get to be endowed with the title, right?
I’ve always been suspicious of anybody who adopts the Architect moniker. Or at least anybody who introduces themselves as an Architect - am I expected to bow or address them differently? I find myself reserving judgment until they wow me with their awesome powers, well-honed over years of practice and rigorous training. It’s not that there are no great Architects. More likely I have yet to meet one.
So why do so many developers want to become an Architect? There’s the desire to embellish one’s title that seems all too common in this business. You can place many adjectives in front of the word Architect and it sounds even cooler: Chief Architect, Product Architect, or Distinguished Architect. Impressive stuff...
Perhaps Architect is the logical endpoint in the career of a Software Developer. After all, if you are over a certain age and still have the title Software Developer you’ll probably get funny looks or sympathetic glances. People assume that you’ve been held back for some reason. So it’s either Architect or management, and many developers just wouldn’t cut it in management (they’re too nice).
But with the Architect title comes some baggage. Software Architects are often the subject of scorn from certain parts of the community. Consider the phrase "Architecture Astronaut", usually used with derision. In software the word Architect and the phrase "Ivory Tower" are frequently heard in the same sentence.
Perhaps this is just the view of a small minority of cynics like me. Maybe it simply reflects the fact that some Architects are not deserving of the title, but you could say the same about any title. Then again, not every title has received the reputation that Architect has, so there must be some justification for the cynicism.
Let’s focus on the positive. Regardless of how you get to be an Architect, there are some things you can do to make sure you earn the respect the title demands. If you arrive in a new environment as an Architect, then it’s fundamental that you make an effort to quickly gain the trust and respect of those you will be working with.
Here are three things you can do:
1. Be visible.
Make sure you sit with your colleagues. Become a part of the day-to-day teamwork. Avoid the Ivory Tower, no matter how nice the view.
2. Make yourself useful.
Help out with tasks that may not typically fall under the remit of the Architect. This is important. Architecture, especially of the BUFD kind, might mean you’re expected to show up for the first few weeks, if at all, and then your work is done. There is no faster way to loose respect than to do your bit and disappear up the Ivory Tower. Does this cheapen the role of Architect? Not at all - being useful comes first.
3. Be humble.
Be ready to change your ideas. Sitting with the team implementing your designs will give you first-hand insight into how the design is holding up and allow you to anticipate problems. This not only requires being present with the team but also the strength to accept mistakes and change direction.
In the post-Agile world, the idea of the Software Architect as a separate entity seems somewhat ludicrous. Design and modeling ability are essential skills and critical to the success of most software projects, but most Team Leaders or Senior Software Developers already perform this role in some capacity. However, it seems to be a natural progression for many Software Developers, especially with others eager to take on more responsibility behind them. And really, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with wanting to focus on the complex design decisions that are essential for many large projects. Just make sure to stay visible, useful, and humble.
If you want to be known as an Architect, make sure you have the "Right Stuff". Be prepared to live up to the expectations that come with your cool title.
Originally published June 11, 2012blog comments powered by Disqus