A software architect is a critical position in any organization. They are responsible for envisioning solutions, modeling designs, and delivering robust products. Due to their skills and competence, they are highly sought after and often generously paid for their contribution.
Most software developers aspire to become an architect because of the high visibility position, exciting work assignments, and lofty remuneration. However, very few software engineers genuinely understand what it takes to be a successful software architect.
Often developers assume being excellent in programming is all it takes to progress in their career and become an architect. This assumption cannot be further from the truth. Technical excellence is a must for becoming an architect. However, that's not going to make you successful in the role.
I have been an architect for nearly eight years now. During this period, I have successfully delivered several critical and high-value projects. I was also part of the architect team that designed the system integration between Dell and EMC post the historic merger.
From my extensive experience, I can guarantee that while it is undoubtedly essential to have technical skills, they are not enough to carry out an architect's job responsibilities.
So, what does it take to become a successful software architect? Let's find out. This blog post will discuss the skills and traits that every software architect must possess to succeed.
1. Have a Solid Technical Background
Strong technical background is a non-negotiable skill for becoming an architect. If you are not good at a programming language, don't understand the fundamentals, and find design patterns hard to comprehend, you need to make learning these skills your priority to become an architect.
Having a good grasp of technical knowledge can help an architect evaluate multiple design options. They can discuss the pros and cons of each decision before finalizing one. All this can help their team develop the most optimal solution based on available tools and technology.
Before we move on to the next point, from my experience, most companies seldom use data structure and algorithms in daily activities. Hence, I consider them good-to-have knowledge. You don't need to be an expert in them to become a successful architect. But if you are good at it, it can undoubtedly aid in your aspiration to become an outstanding software architect.
2. Understand Your Company’s Domain
Architects play a crucial role in the development of any software application. They are responsible for making high-level design choices and decisions that will shape the structure and functionality of the final product.
To be successful, software architects must know their company's domain deeply. They must understand the needs of their business and how they function to help their customers. This knowledge allows the architects to identify opportunities for improvement and make informed decisions about which technology solutions to use.
Without a firm grasp of the problem domain, architects run the risk of making poor decisions that can adversely impact the overall quality of the software. If your designs are outstanding from a technical perspective but do not solve your business problems, it is no use to your company. Hence, to become a successful architect, you need to be good at both technical and functional knowledge.
3. Communicate Effectively With All the Stakeholders
As a software architect, you need to effectively communicate with various stakeholders, including project managers, development teams, interlocks, and clients. You also have to explain complex technical concepts to non-technical audiences clearly. Unless you can convey your message accurately, you can't become a successful software architect.
Software architects are responsible for ensuring their designs are approved by their leaders and the business point of contact. Simultaneously, they need to make the development team accept the design and turn them into implementation. Unless the architect can explain their ideas and justify their designs comprehensively, it is not feasible for the team to take their proposals from concept to execution.
Hence, excellent communication skills are vital for software architects to build consensus and achieve buy-in for their solutions.
While we are on the topic of communication, let me debunk a myth.
Fluently speaking in English can be an added advantage, but it is not essential. I work with people from all around the globe. Not everyone can speak or understand fluent English. Hence, it is absolutely fine for an architect not to be good at English. The crucial part to remember is to pace yourself to your audience's speed, whether your team or your stakeholders, to ensure you pass your message effectively.
4. Stay Up-To-Date on New Technologies and Trends
In software development, it is essential to be proactive and think ahead. As an architect, you need to anticipate the future needs of your company and design solutions to accommodate them. You also need to be aware of the latest trends in technology to make the most optimal tools and platform recommendations for your projects' use.
By keeping abreast of new developments, you can also ensure that your skills remain relevant. Up-to-date skills can help you deliberate on multiple options and provide continuous improvement suggestions for your applications. In today's ever-evolving world, it can be challenging for your products to compete in the market unless your company can keep pace with the latest technology.
Furthermore, staying up-to-date can help you identify potential problems early on and address them before they cause any significant noise.
You can achieve all this through continuous learning. It might sound like a lot of effort to keep learning while giving your 100% to the job, but it is the only way to have a competitive edge over your peers and be successful as an architect.
5. Lead by Example and Be a Role Model
Being trustworthy and leading by example are two essential qualities that every software architect should possess. After all, software architects are responsible for designing and overseeing the development of complex systems. As such, they need to be able to instill confidence in their team members and clients.
Unless the team trusts their architect, they will not be willing to follow their designs. If the team does not believe their architect is competent enough, they will constantly second guess the proposed solutions.
As the team is responsible for implementing and supporting the application in production, they will not be ready to accommodate a design prepared by an architect they don't trust.
Hence, to be a successful software architect, you need to lead by example, demonstrating your commitment to quality and excellence. You need to stand by your team and support them in every step of the development process. You also need to ensure you troubleshoot reported issues and provide solutions to fix them quickly to gain the confidence of your stakeholders.
Only by possessing these qualities can a software architect build the trust necessary for success.
6. Be Patient and Never Give up When Things Get Tough
Software architects must be both steadfast and patient to be successful. They need to be steadfast in their commitment to their vision and patient in waiting for the right time to execute that vision.
It can often take years for a software project to come to fruition. During that period, technology can evolve, customers' needs can change, budget challenges will appear, and leaders at the helm can transition. However, an architect should remain unfazed by continuous change and focus on evolving their solutions based on the project's latest reality.
Additionally, software architects need to be patient when dealing with team members and clients. They need to understand that it takes tremendous effort for others to see and align with their vision. It is not uncommon for architects to face resistance from their stakeholders due to conflicting ideas on what is right for the system.
Hence, to become a successful software architect, you should never give up on trying to get people to see the value in your proposals. No matter how difficult it becomes to push through your ideas, the only way to build a solid product is to collaborate with all the stakeholders effectively.
7. Learn to Acquire Leaders’ Buy-in for Your Decisions
Many software engineers have the misconception that once they become architects, they can decide what needs to be done for the application without any constraint. Well, that is not true. The architect's position comes only with perceived power. The formal decision-making power still lies with the leaders.
Hence, as a software architect, you must acquire leaders' buy-in for your decisions. After all, your choices can significantly impact the project's overall direction. Leaders need to trust that the architects know what they are doing and have the system's best interests at heart. They also need to feel confident that their architects can handle any challenges that come up along the way.
Unless your leader has the confidence in your ability as an architect, they may not support your designs wholeheartedly. And without the leader's support, an architect can never be successful.
The best way to build trust is to be open and honest with your leaders about your decisions. Explain why you made the design choices, and be prepared to answer any questions they may have. By taking the time to earn your leader's confidence, you will be more likely to get their buy-in when it matters most.
Becoming a successful software architect takes years of hard work and hands-on experience. Along with the need for solid technical competence, it requires the ability to lead by example, be patient when things get tough, build trust and acquire stakeholders' buy-in for the decisions.
If you can be good at all these traits, you can reach new heights as an architect and deliver outcomes that exceed expectations. Start building your skills today and see where your career takes you as you progress. I hope this blog post can help you in your journey to becoming a successful software architect.
Special thanks to Viktor Mitrevski, an Engineering Manager, for reviewing this article.