My current role with HSBC Technology in Sheffield in England is a cross between a Project Manager and an Architect. As an Architecture Practice Lead, I not only work with the business as an Architecture Subject Matter Expert (SME), but also manage governance, setting standards and ways of working, driving through change and leading Architects.
I studied Computer Science at university. My first job was a three-year IT leadership programme with a leading UK retailer, rotating roles every six to 12 months within Business Analysis, Project Management, Supplier Relationship Management and Architecture. I homed in on what I was good at but also what I enjoyed, which was Architecture.
Embracing the unconventional
My naïve view at the time was that to succeed as an Architect you had to be a senior, white, middle-aged man with a very technical grounding since that was the profile of the majority of the people in the team.
I was unconventional – a 24-year-old female without a deep technical background who joined the team via a rotation.
My first real role, Architecture Analyst, wasn’t part of the leadership programme and was created specifically for me. It had the same objectives as a Solution Architect but was more of a supporting role than a leading one. Architecture is regarded as a senior job category and even at the Solution Architect level it is still too senior for many to break into.
Breaking the mould
I experienced highs and lows; many of my meetings with my manager consisted of me doubting my aptitude and wondering why I was in the team; luckily they were very supportive.
After seeing colleagues with varying skills, personalities and calibres come and go over the years the penny dropped. I realised that all architects aren’t the same; they don’t have the same skills, qualifications or backgrounds!
The truth is there isn’t one standard mould that good architects emerge from; things weren’t as clear-cut as my initial perceptions led me to believe. It took me six years and numerous role changes before I fully understood that I belonged.
What I brought to the party
Despite my degree, I wasn’t ‘technical’ in the classical sense of the word. I didn’t have deep subject matter knowledge in a particular area and I didn’t have a whole repertoire of Architecture techniques in my bag of tricks picked up from working for other companies.
Fortunately, I held people-oriented roles prior to joining the Architecture team. This experience helped me bridge the gaps between technical and business teams. Plus, having a broad knowledge of how other parts of the company worked and a keen desire to learn new things quickly really helped me bring new and different qualities to complement the team.
So what makes a good architect?
There are three key skills that support successful architects and distinguish the practice from other project roles:
- Leadership and stakeholder engagement
- Architectural analysis
- Subject Matter Expertise
Architecture skills are often compared to a ‘T’ model – the breadth of SME knowledge is demonstrated by the horizontal line and the depth of SME knowledge in one area by the vertical. And even these don’t necessarily require an individual to have complete in-depth technical knowledge. For example, SME skills could be based around process, industry or domain experience.
Typically, Solution Architects have a number of horizontal lines areas plus one vertical. However, they can adapt and learn fast and turn their hands to many areas. Enterprise Architects tend to have a much broader but shallower mix of SME knowledge.
Successful teams have a good mix of both breadth and depth and that is why no two Architects are ever the same.
Architecture: A rewarding job with real impact
My advice for aspiring architects who don’t have lots of experience in the field:
- Continuously learn
- Help others to achieve their goals
- Make life easier and simpler for your organisation, its customers and employees
- Stay ahead of the game
- Stay relevant and push boundaries
- Create an equal and unbiased workforce
- Make a difference
Finally, Architects come in all shapes and sizes and through a variety of routes. As long as you possess the three core skills and are willing to learn, then the rest can be picked up along the way.
So if you are considering moving into Architecture - don’t fear change and, most importantly, enjoy yourself!