How Do I Become an Architect?



iStock_000015285580MediumI’ve been asked a number of times in my career by developers:

What do I have to do to become an architect?

It’s a good question. It shows the person’s interest in advancing along their career path.

It’s also one of the most difficult questions I have been asked. How did I become an architect? Is the path I trod the same one you should take?

The questioner is often looking for a flowchart of steps to take—classes, certifications, projects, titles. Definite, discrete actions to take in order to gain the goal.

And I can’t provide that. I have no step-by-step program to recommend. All I really have to offer is a metaphor that might help them understand the path ahead, and suggest they have to find their own way.

Becoming an architect is like becoming a high-ranking military officer, one who is good at working from the Command Center to plan and manage battlefield encounters.

S/he is not in it to win the skirmish just that day—they’re in it to win the war.

They didn’t get to where they are simply by going to the Academy and completing War College courses. Certainly they need the solid basic knowledge of weapons systems, battlefield tactics, the history and art of warfare, etc. Without such a grounding they would be virtually useless.

But that’s not enough. To become an officer of that calibre requires several other traits:

  • A keen intellect
  • An unquenchable curiosity
  • An ability to think abstractly
  • The insight to predict the opponent’s moves and plan at least three steps ahead
  • A desire to effect the outcome of more than just one battle or one war
  • A drive to do what’s needed to attain the role

Battlefield commanders are good at planning engagements and winning them, but are not focused on the overall objective of winning the war. Good battlefield commanders are rare, and important—you don’t win the war if you don’t win the battles.

But to become a General, you must have a love for strategy. A desire to change not only the course of this battle, or this war, but to change the world.

And an understanding that, sometimes, the ability to make a decision from behind the lines, in the heat of battle, and to deliver it to the troops with authority and trust, is more important than always being right.

Many military men and women believe that they, too, can become that General—if only they can take the right courses, take part in the right battles, shine on the field.

It’s not enough.

I didn’t become an architect as a result of the college courses I took, or the certifications and classes I have taken. It happened organically, as the result of first realizing that I wanted to be someone who could make such decisions. And, after that, by taking part in many projects and watching others make architectural decisions. Modeling the good outcomes and avoiding the bad. Absorbing the gestalt of what I saw, and not obsessing over the details. Always reflecting what I saw back to my foundational knowledge, and importing that new knowledge in a meaningful way.

More than just the technical skills, it was also about the people skills—you’re useless as a General telling your battlefield commanders what to do if they think you don’t heed their counsel—they’ll just do their own thing.

That’s pretty much it—no secret, and no easy way to get there. Classes, training, certificates—all somewhat useful, but not really what one needs to become an architect.

Good luck!

Richard Fall


I am currently the National Solution Architect, Digital Platforms and IoT for Sogeti, working from the Des Moines, Iowa office. My interests lie in the areas of micro-services, SaaS, and IoT systems.

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