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8 Characteristics of an Architect

Years ago, in another life, I went through a course that was part of the University of BC’s MBA program and part of what they included was the process of hiring employees. I had to do some research for a paper that I was writing and learned that there are typically 3 things that should be understood when looking to fill a role within your company.

The first is the Job Description itself. You want to document what the person will be doing and what they will be responsible for. The second is the skill sets that you are looking for in the person that is going to fill role will have. These two things are what we typically see in Job advertisements. But there’s a third thing that we seldom see but is as important, if not more important. And that is the Job Personality. What is the personality that the individual has to have in order to do a job. An example might be the Armed Forces is looking for someone that will follow orders implicitly. Or Xerox’s PARC (Skunkworks) could be looking for free thinkers. These are characteristics of the individuals and not a skill. 

So, with that said, I’d like to propose the characteristics that I view are common in Architects across the board. And, remember, these are parts of a person’s character and not skills. 

  1. Problem Solver – To be an Architect is to be a solver of problems. You love taking a situation, determining what the root cause is, and finding a solution to that situation. Maybe it’s a “hero” complex that drives you, because you like the pat on the back when you solve an problem. Maybe you like to point to something and say “I did that”. But, when push comes to shove, Architects love to solve problems.
  2. Detail Oriented – I have yet to see a successful Architect that is not detail oriented. They have the ability to break down a solution into it’s component parts and present those parts as a whole. They then have to be able to understand how those individual details work together and communicate them to the builders. The attention to detail is probably why most Architects are good at math.
  3. Patience – If you are an Enterprise Architect, you are used to looking at the big picture over a 3 – 5 year (or longer) period of time. You can’t be rushing things and you won’t enjoy the job if you expect change to happen overnight. Patience is a key word in this person’s personality.
  4. Balanced Ego – An Architect is someone that will have their work picked apart, questioned, and changed without notification. If you take all of those actions of others personally, you will explode. Or go on a drinking binge. Or both. You have to understand that, on the whole, you aren’t the one that is being picked on, it’s your work that is. And you are not your work (though it sometimes feels like you are poring your heart and soul into what you do).
  5. Curious – Most Architects that I’ve met have had to learn how to do things on their own. They may have had some training from school specific to certain technologies (maybe through a Comp Sci degree) but technologies change quickly and you have to continuously learn. This desire to learn is also very applicable to talking to your Stakeholders. You probably learn more about the business side of things the more you talk to your Stakeholders. This is actually the top thing that I love about being an Architect – I get to learn new things all the time. 
  6. Big Picture Thinker – It’s an interesting aspect of an Architect. Not only do you have to pay attention to the details of what you are designing, but you have to keep in mind how all those details fit together in a bigger picture. And the different roles will have different scopes or definitions of what “Big” means. A Solution Architect will have to understand all the details associated with a bigger solution. An Enterprise Architect has to think on an Enterprise scale.
  7. Adaptable – Every environment is different. So an Architect needs to be able to take an idea from one environment and adjust or adapt it to a new environment. Take “Cloud” services, for example. Just because there’s a Cloud solution doesn’t mean that the way to get to that solution is the same for each organization. 
  8. Intelligent – They say that the more intelligent you are, the easier you are able to see patterns. With an Architect, you tend to see patterns in behaviour, whether that’s how people use User Interfaces, how data is consolidated and used, or how various systems interact with each other. It’s the reason why you see changes to technology constantly happening – you can see new ways to use technology to move ahead. 

BTW, I realized something while I was writing this list. I realized that there may be a reason why Architects tend to change Architect roles and move into areas. If you look at the curiosity characteristic, you end up learning more and more about specific areas. The areas that you are really interested in are where you tend to migrate to.

So, for example, if the business side of things is of interest, you may migrate to a Business Architect or an Enterprise Architect and eventually become a Manager, Director, or CIO. If there’s a specific technology that interests you, you probably migrate towards being a Technical Architect for that one technology and maybe move into Operations Management. You enjoy working on different solutions all the time because of the variety of solutioning? You’re probably going to migrate towards being a Solution Architect. And enjoy being a Contractor.

So now I turn to you. What do you think are the characteristics of an Architect. And make sure you distinguish between a learned skill and an inherent personality trait. Skills, such as negotiation, can be taught. But you can’t teach intelligence. I may have mixed skills with characteristics but, by and large, I think these are common characteristics.

What do you think?

Neil