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What we really think of IT architects

Slippery enough to crawl under a snake's belly wearing a top hat?

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Workshop The feedback from last week’s article, What the heck is an IT Architect anyway?, has been a genuine pleasure to sift through (even the remark that suggested I should work in IT for a dozen years or so - thanks, Jake, I’ll keep that in mind).

Zooming in on the software guys (but thanks, network guys, for your feedback), the general perception seems to be that there are good architects and there are bad architects. Bear with me here – so far so obvious, but there are some distinguishing characteristics. Good architects are indeed typified as ‘chief builders’ – those who have risen to the top of the stack through graft, and who now know how to apply their knowledge.

One of the things that goes to make up a good architect, IMHO, is experience. It's all about taking what you've done before and applying it to new and different situations.

At heart I'm just a techy coder that has been doing it for 20+ years and I need a proper title to make me feel important. So I guess the 'chief builder' moniker fits. To continue the metaphor I've been there, done that and taken the pain.

Nowt wrong with a good title if its deserved… But meanwhile, we have the less-good architects. The criticisms were legion, but generally, the harshest words were saved for those who lacked hands-on experience. Architecture is filled with people not good enough to actually design an application.


Most of the "Architects" that I've come across have been charlatans, hiding their total lack of technical knowledge behind a smokescreen of bullshit and Powerpoint slides.

I do work with architects who are 'not technical' and I wonder how they survive. Chief builders who have never laid a brick...

An IT Architect is someone who designs a system but doesn't understand how it works or what functionality...

At worst, they're the twits that can't do a real job and are paid to read whitepapers because it's too hard to fire them.

Get it off your chests, folks! Speaking of titles – there seems to be plenty of evidence that these are not always as deserved as need be. Could it be that the title of ‘architect’ is sometimes awarded for organisational and status reasons rather than on technical merit? These respondents certainly thought so:

It's just a term used by some ponces to try and get themselves bigger pay packets.

Usually names like ‘architect’ are given to people instead of pay-rises, in the mistaken belief that they will give an individual prestige and respect. The problems only arise when the recipients of these bogus titles start to take themselves and their honorifics, seriously.

It's all about people with low self esteem trying to give themselves a perceived (by them anyway) boost in status, an air of professionalism.

Ouch. While such remarks are not the majority, these comments nonetheless give an indication of how bad things can get. What can be done to prevent such scenarios? The key is to integrate architecture with development, and keep in touch with reality, think our illustrious Reg readers.

The whole ivory tower architecture thing just leaves us cold. If you develop and you're any good you architect anyway.

If their vision, architecture, or advice doesn't work or flow end-to-end, its up to them to stay in the game and help resolve it. Walking away saying "it’s an implementation detail" is really weak.

The minute you ignore what the techies actually have to achieve to pull your designs together is the moment when you turn into a useless PowerPoint jockey with your head in the clouds.

Truly exceptional architects are too valuable to waste them watching technology PowerPoints and reading the web, as they are needed to actually make things that work today and tomorrow.

The key concept, it would appear, is one of closeness between architecture and development. The wider the gap, the harder things get – plans become less relevant, communications become more strained and so on.

As a final point however, let’s note that few were actually disputing the importance of architecture. This could well be one of those occasions however where the role defines the person – for good or for ill. Might a perfectly good senior developer, when ‘promoted’ to architect, feel they should distance themselves from the day to day of it all, to get that strategic view? It certainly seems possible.

Thanks for all your great feedback. ®

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