Architecture Essays

How to Become an Enterprise Architect in 4 Stages

Enterprise Architect

An 8m podcast on the recommended route.

Podcast

Do you want to become an Enterprise Architect? This episode is about how you can, wherever you may be in your Information Technology career today.

This talk is not about the Enterprise Architecture method. Neither is it a detailed definition of the EA practitioner. But for context, we can keep this definition in mind –

Enterprise Architects ensure that an organisation identifies, specifies and deploys IT-based business solutions in a coordinated and standardised manner, aligned to the enterprise’s business strategies.

There are 4 essential stages in the journey. Two for acquiring technical depth and two for evolving the width. Let me take you through them.

Stage 1 — Acquire the depth — Code and Design

For at least 5 years you need to do the programming of either application software or infrastructure operations, be exposed to testing and spend time on designing. The split could be — 3 years of coding and 2 years of software design.

(In case you are wondering, please look into on the difference between coding, design and architecture. Or drop me a line and I’ll explain it.)

It will lay the foundation for you as a future architect who knows the world of software development. You’ll be able to represent the needs of the development teams to their external stakeholders. On the other hand, no coding team or project manager will be able to pull the wool over your eyes on the effort, skills or time something will take.

I coded and designed for 7 years, from 1991 to 1998. Can’t imagine being an EA today without that.

Stage 2 — Increase your depth — Deliver one of these 5 types of Architecture.

For the next 5 years, you should deliver architectural solutions. Please don’t think that architecture is a loosely defined skill. You need to train formally and get certificates to practise architecture, just like you would do for coding.

There are six disciplines of architecture — Business, Application, Information, Integration, Infrastructure (including Security) and Enterprise.

In this second depth phase, you need to learn and practise any one or two of these, other than Integration or Enterprise Architectures.

Why? Because once again, as a future Integration and Enterprise Architect, this is the only way you’ll learn think about the internal parts of systems that come together to support the enterprise. Without this in-depth exposure, you’ll not be able to represent the larger delivery team to its external stakeholders. And for the stakeholders, you can moderate the impact analysis done by discipline architects on the changes to applications, information stores, infrastructure or business processes.

After these two phases, you’ll have acquired the required depth. How can you remember the dimensions of the two depth stages? I came up with the following mnemonic to help you — DEPTH. Here is what it maps to:

D — Design

E — Engineering

P — Programming

T — Technology

H — Hours (of concentration)

I trained, certified and practised as an Application Architect for 4 years, from 1998 to 2002. In hindsight, I needed it for the next stage.

Stage 3 — Acquire the Breadth — Practise Integration Architecture

Now you need to start looking at the big picture. Get trained as an Integration Architect and practice this discipline for at least 5 years.

Integration Architecture is not just about integrating IT systems. It is just as much about:

  1. Representing the critical users of the end-to-end transaction
  2. Aligning the client’s needs with its solution suppliers
  3. Creating synergy between the solution partners

This phase will get you looking at the big picture, big time. You’ll start thinking about everyone and everything involved in an enterprise-level solution. The interfaces between systems, transaction flows, sizes of servers, storage, network capacity, teams and time — you’ll deal with it all.

Your communication, negotiation, translation and patience will develop as you spend at least 3–5 years doing integration architecture.

I was an Integration Architect from 2002 to 2006. I learnt a ton, technically and in soft skills and got certified. It turned me around firmly to face outwards.

Stage 4 — Extend the Breadth — Practise Enterprise Architecture

Now, finally, you are ready to train to be an Enterprise Architect. Here is my definition of an EA.

An Enterprise Architect is a polymath, with exceptional depth in one or two areas of technology.

EA is not just a self-declared role. You need to train for it too. Unfortunately, I’ve observed that the avenues for formal training reduce as you go from coding to design to architecture to integration and enterprise architecture. If you get proper training in the EA discipline, you’ll be fortunate. But after 15 to 20 years building up to it, you ought to have the drive and the awareness to pick the right areas for self-education.

What are these areas? An enterprise and its concerns can be vast. To create success from the people, situation, economics and systems, the EA needs to think in many dimensions and possess multiple soft skills.

The 3 core attributes of an EA are — 

  1. Sees and shows the big picture of what the enterprise needs
  2. Aligns diverse minds
  3. Governs the journey

This needs many different talents, so I came up with the mnemonic POLYMATH to help you list and recall them. It expands like this:

  • P — Psychology, Philosophy, Presentation
  • O — Observation, Ownership
  • L — Language, Leadership
  • Y — Yield, Yardsticks
  • M — Mediator, Minder, Motivator
  • A — Advisor, Awareness, Assured
  • T — Trusted, Thinker
  • H — Heart, Humour

I got trained as an EA in 2006, applied it for 5 years before certifying in 2010 and have continued practising it.

Endnote

I know several excellent Enterprise Architects. Have we all have gone through these four stages? Maybe. Maybe not. So is this the only path to becoming an Enterprise Architect? Yes, it is! Please don’t fight me on this. Just follow it.

Basically, you’ll divide your career in becoming an expert EA between acquiring depth and acquiring breadth.

Will it really take so long, you ask? Yes, the minimum age to be an EA is 40. Or at least to be a decent one. The ideal age could be 45. So, be patient. Keep your eyes on the goal. You’ll get there. And oh yes, find a mentor, or take my help.

I love architecture, especially Enterprise Architecture. I’d love for you to love it too, if you don’t already. Get to it and excel in it.

All the best, my friend.

Submitted by Shashidhar Sastry

quality-thinking.com

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