Whatever their title, an IT architect needs to be well versed in open source technologies and different types of platforms so they can make decisions about the best design for the environment they are providing solutions for.
It’s a job very few walk into straight after graduation.
“You only get that knowledge by being in the trenches in a hands-on role. [Straight out of university] you wouldn’t have enough context to make those decisions,” says Crowther, who now leads a team of technology specialists in his current managerial role at Pivotal.
Crowther’s own career started in software development, where he worked across a wide range of technologies. That led to a leadership role: the hands-on experience mentoring a small team of developers gave him valuable skills in the architect roles that lay ahead.
While IT architects have been around for a while, digital transformation has seen the job step into the spotlight somewhat, as companies recognise market advantages in building their own software (either for internal use or by their customers).
“It’s a key role because you are interfacing with the business and then translating business requirements to the developers in a language they understand. That’s a rare skill for technical people,” Crowther says.
A parallel path for ICT professionals who’d like to transfer to a less hands-on environment, yet stay in the industry, is the increasingly valued role of a product manager.
“Previously, we had project managers that didn’t understand the business or the technology they were building. They were more of a project co-ordinator. That role has disappeared; now it’s a product manager who takes feedback from users and the business and translates all of that into something developers understand,” Crowther says.
With either career track, facilitation skills will take candidates a long way.
“[To prepare] you will want to spend time with the business team to really understand the business and their plans for growing it,” Crowther says.
Do all of that and Crowther believes an exciting career path can lie ahead.
“Architects are on the hook for putting together the overall design of the [technical] solution. If it works when you deploy it, it’s something to be very proud of,” he says.
Study: Start with a computer science degree or a qualification in the ICT field. It’s not out of the question to do maths or physics as well. “A lot of physics students take computer science courses. There’s some overlap,” says Crowther.
Skills: By matching strong (IT) engineering skills in a variety of technologies with “soft” skills such as collaboration and communication skills and this in-demand role opens up to ICT professionals.
Tips: “Dealing with the business is not straightforward, as everyone has their own ideas of what goes into a product. The architect needs to have a little bit of patience and some empathy for all parts of the business. They also need to be able to listen,” says Crowther.