The word "Architecture" is typically associated with the building and construction industry. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of architecture states the following:
architecture (noun): the art or science of building, specifically: the art or practice of designing and building structures and especially habitable ones
However, if you scroll a bit down the architecture definition page, you'll also find the following definition:
architecture (noun): the manner in which the components of a computer or computer system are organized and integrated
Most people outside of the information and communication technology (ICT) industry are only aware of the first definition. When I tell my friends and family that I'm doing "architect" work, they are usually confused, because they thought I was doing something with computers and not designing buildings.
However, there are a lot of similarities between the design and construction of building structures and the design and construction of information and communication systems.
Imagine you were constructing a building and you got the best electrician, plumber, builder & painter for the job and you told them to just get it done. Even though they are masters in their respective crafts, they would not be able to work independently of each other. There is always some collaboration required between them.
You can argue that for a small house, these experts would be able to lay the foundations, do the wiring and plumbing, paint it, and get it done through on-site teamwork. You would probably be correct, but there is one thing that this group would not be able to do by themselves, and that is: scale. They would not be able to scale this operation and build an entire development of apartments or a ten-story building with only an on-site joint effort.
Scalability is also experienced in the ICT industry. You can watch a couple of youtube videos and probably get to build your own desktop computer from ordered components at home or program something in Python. You can probably scale to doing that for a couple of friends and family. However, once you start to scale to larger business sizes, you need an architect or even a couple of architects depending on the size of the organization.
Architects provide ICT solutions to business problems in the same way an architect designs a building. They are individuals with the right education and experience to make design decisions for the stuff that is hard to change down the line. Usually, these designs take several months to years to get implemented by the organization (Much like the timeframes experienced by the construction industry).
There are a few different types of architects. Each of them plays a vital role in the information and communication chain. Some examples include:
One of the major differences between the traditional (building) architect profession and an ICT architect, is that you cannot simply study for a bachelor's degree to become one. The road to becoming an ICT Architect is a long one (approximately 5-20 years of professional working experience).
The road usually starts with a bachelor's degree in computer science or engineering. This is followed by gaining experience in different areas of IT and software development, which is required to learn the competencies required for the specific architect role.
The next step is recognition. Once your organization appoints you with an official title as an architect, you are recognized within the organization as an architect. You can also apply for recognition outside your organization through an Open Certified Architect (Open CA) certification. The Open Group describes the Open CA program as follows:
The program requires applicants to demonstrate skills and experience against a set of conformance requirements through written applications and peer interviews. There are no training courses to attend and no written exams to complete.
The Open CA program is not the only way to obtain recognition in your industry. You can also attend and participate in conferences, publish articles, and speak at user group events, in order to collaborate across various organizational boundaries.
In short, the title of architect is something you need to earn through peer-reviewed, verifiable experience and skills.
Architects in the ICT industry focus on the art of designing and implementing software and computer systems that can scale with various interconnections, components, and business requirements. Architects think "big picture" and they provide long-term solutions to business problems that are costly to change once implemented.
One does not simply become an ICT architect through studying for a bachelor's degree, but one must be able to demonstrate your education, skills, and experience to your peers. The role of an architect is thus based on recognition by the organization and the broader industry.
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Husband, Lifelong-Learner, Team-Player & Systems Engineer