The Essential Approach to Master Enterprise Architecture

April 22, 2024

In the realm of IT architecture, understanding what sets a distinguished architect apart from their peers involves more than a mere glance at their job description. This exploration into the professional journey of an IT architect reveals that, much like a three-legged stool, a stable career in architecture rests on three fundamental elements: skill, impact, and leadership.

2024 04 22

The Foundation: Skill

Skill is the bedrock of any architect's career. It encompasses not just the acquisition of knowledge but the adept application of this knowledge to solve real-world problems. Just as a craftsman possesses a chest full of tools, an architect's skills involve selecting the right tool at the right time. Whether it's deciding on service granularity in a complex microservices architecture or choosing the appropriate technologies like Docker, the key lies in the application. Professional certifications often verify this knowledge, but true skill is demonstrated through practical application.

Building Upon Impact

Once skills are honed, the focus shifts to impact—specifically, how these skills benefit the business. This could mean driving additional revenue or reducing costs, achieving faster market times, or integrating new requirements into product cycles effectively. Architects must avoid the trap of retreating into theoretical planning, often dubbed "PowerPoint-land," and instead engage in rational and disciplined decision-making that translates skills into tangible business outcomes.

Elevating Through Leadership

The pinnacle of an architect's journey is leadership. This doesn't merely involve leading projects but also mentoring the next generation, advancing the field, and sharing knowledge through various channels such as academic publications, conference talks, and blogs. Leadership is about expanding influence beyond individual projects to shape the broader architectural practice.

Interestingly, the act of mentoring itself serves a dual purpose: it not only accelerates the development of junior architects but also deepens the mentor’s own understanding and adaptability to new challenges and technologies. Senior architects, like IBM distinguished engineers and fellows, are expected to give back to both the community and the industry, further solidifying their leadership role.

The Interconnected Cycle

These three facets—skill, impact, and leadership—do not operate in isolation. They form a virtuous cycle, continuously feeding into and reinforcing each other. As architects apply their skills to create impact, they identify which skills are most valuable and where to focus their learning efforts. Leadership activities then amplify these impacts, enabling architects to scale their influence horizontally by sharing their knowledge and experience with others.

This cycle is not a one-time journey but a continuous loop that evolves with changing technologies and architectural styles. For instance, a seasoned architect in relational databases might need to delve into NoSQL databases to stay relevant, often learning these new skills much faster due to their foundational knowledge.

Conclusion: The Lasting Role of an Architect

Contrary to some career paths where progression might mean moving away from the original discipline, in architecture, the apex of professional growth often means remaining deeply engaged in the field. This is akin to other high-skill professions like medicine or law, where senior professionals continue to practice their craft at advanced levels, enriching their expertise and contributing to their fields.

In closing, the role of an architect is not just about building structures or systems but about fostering a rich, impactful, and continuously evolving career that benefits both the individual and the wider industry. As architects, the call to keep architecting is not just a professional obligation but a perpetual opportunity for growth and influence.

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Victor Leung, who blog about business, technology and personal development. Happy to connect on LinkedIn