Solutions Architect - sounds good, doesn't it? Most people either have no idea what that means, or they have some idea, but a different definition than yours. When searching Google for job titles that have the word "architect" in it, you'll find a variety of titles related to IT: Software, Data, Technical, Java, AWS Solutions or Google Cloud. So, when someone calls themselves a Solutions Architect, what do they actually mean?
A Solutions Architect combines experience, knowledge, vision and communication. They understand the impact of data governance and how it can derail a project. They know that if data isn't treated like an asset and the application isn't secured appropriately, failure is inevitable. They keep up with the latest trends and initiates conversations that make people think about the future. A Solutions Architect sees the entire application from beginning to end.
A good Solutions Architect has a reputation that precedes them so they don't have to build credibility from day one. They need that first level of trust to be effective.
Solutions Architects are Agile. They understand how a properly constructed DevOps pipeline can drastically improve the quality and speed of delivery.
Solutions Architects are Data Architects. They understand how the data looks on the back end, how it is ingested and how it is stored. At this point, "Big Data" is just data. They architect solutions that make sense; they don't just use every bit of data because it's there.
Soft Skills vs Hard Skills
Solutions Architects have a high IQ and EI, Emotional Intelligence. They are smart enough to carry on technical conversations, using real-world experience and knowledge as their foundation. They also have a high EI, something that is often overlooked or ignored. Imagine the uncomfortable scenario of a client's CTO suggesting that your design needs to change, essentially telling you how to do your job. EI will not only keep your emotions in check, but will help you filter the CTO's emotions, and guide you to a soft landing, instead of a crash.
Solutions Architects have hard and soft skills. They are effective communicators to technical and business people and they have the technical expertise to back up their talk.
Leaders Gotta Lead
If this blog is feeling a little like a leadership talk, it should. Solutions Architects are leaders. However, beware of someone that walks into your office calling themselves a Thought Leader. If that was true, you would have already heard of them. Solutions Architects, like Thought Leaders, put themselves out there by writing blogs and posting podcasts.
We've all had to employ the "fake it 'til you make it" plan at some point. But once you make it, the faking is over. The struggle is real and there is pressure associated with making decisions that could negatively impact multi-million dollar projects. As a leader, make the decision and then make it the right decision.
Solutions Architects are mentors and mentees. Their skills and philosophies are reinforced as they teach and vetted as they get counsel from their mentor. If you ever stop learning or seeking counsel, you may be on your way out (or on to a different role).
In the Game
When a Solutions Architect is on the ground with a delivery team, they understand that building good rapport with each team member is crucial. They share the vision and then watch it come to life.
Solutions Architects are often called upon to provide input into proposals, blogs, white papers, podcasts, modernization efforts, and migration projects. (Cloud migrations are extremely important right now.) Solutions Architects are treated as experts, and must use that expertise to help their organization.
Finesse and Constraint
Good Solutions Architects wait until that new hot feature or service has been tested before introducing it to their client. They have intellectual curiosity. They resist the temptation to throw every "cool" thing at a design. Simple design, with elegant accessories, is a constrained, thoughtful approach to architecture.
Solutions Architects use caution when pulling out the "Best Practices" hammer. Guidelines and fundamentals will always be needed - you can't jam a best practice square peg into a best fit round hole. Each situation deserves consideration, not just what the industry says is right.
What a Potential Solutions Architect Looks Like
Software engineers typically have a good foundation for solution architecture. They have knowledge of the databases, the data in them, and how to perform CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) operations. They have most likely built some sort of user interface and wired data to it through code. Solutions Architects have experience in every phase of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). That has obviously changed quite a bit due to the emergence of DevOps.
Data Engineers and Customer Experience engineers can also move into Solutions Architect roles. The new model leads CX to know more about data, so that designs are driven by what will be coming to the user. CX understands why and how the user is interacting with the application (and data), which is extremely valuable when thinking about the solution holistically. Data Engineers are bolstering their programming skills, as Spark and Kafka require it for modern data architectures. Most DE's are Data Architects in training, which is a prerequisite for becoming a true Solutions Architect.
That's right… I'm a Solutions Architect.
Stay tuned for blogs in a series called "Architecting in the Cloud."