Web Software Architecture and Engineering – Life on the Bleeding Edge

CIO Magazine (another so-so publication) recently released an article on the job title “Applications Architect”. While I agree that the term Architect is over-used, I feel I must also disagree with some of what was said.
The article states:

“A true applications architect has a broad view and understanding of their organization’s software landscape. They make sure that individual software projects adhere to the organization’s application development methodology and parameters…. An applications architect steers a project from beginning to end and makes sure it fits with the organization’s technology infrastructure and business strategy. Typically, applications architects are needed by large organizations with a broad and diverse set of applications that need to be integrated and with a lot of new application development projects, experts say.”

I disagree (somewhat) on the latter statement, which says that Applications Architects are needed typically by large organizations. The company I work for is developing a full product portfolio in ColdFusion, and without an Architect there I must say there would be chaos. And we’re much smaller than other software companies. What is not generally understood, is that while companies are always in the look out for ColdFusion developers, its extremely rare to find a job listing for a ColdFusion Architect. Smaller companies simply don’t know they need an Architect.
Not only does the Architect perform his integration and big picture duties, but he must also have the ability to simplify large and complex software processes and translate them for business stakeholders. The Architect, in my experience, ends up being the go-between the developers, business analysts, and business executives. They not only have to envision what stakeholders are asking for (and lead the technical side), but must be able to translate backwards without getting overly technical, and that frankly, is an art, not a science.
The article states:

“A good candidate should be able to explain in detail a specific application development project they led from start to finish, with concrete details of the entire project lifecycle, including design, analysis, testing and implementation, Estes says. ‘If they can’t walk you through all that, they may be a programmer but not a true architect,’ he says.”

I see too many Architects relegated to the technical side, but a true Architect in my opinion must not only have technical chops (all around as stated above), but the ability to talk “business speak” as well. So not only is the Architect seeing the big picture and communicating to his team of senior developers, but also be able to speak with business folks about the technical implementation in language they can understand. And this is not an uncommon role, as this is what CIOs do day in and day out. One could almost say, that the Architect plays out the tactical role of business speaking technical gurus.
While the CIO Magazine article is kinda out of touch (like many of their articles), I’ll continue to write more on the role of different people inside a proper software development team as it relates to teams using ColdFusion and other cutting edge web tools. There is much to be said there.


Comments on: "Are you an Applications Architect?" (2)

  1. “So not only is the Architect seeing the big picture and communicating to his team of senior developers, but also be able to speak with business folks about the technical implementation in language they can understand.”

    I tend to agree with this statement — architects also work closely with other architects even with ones with competing interests and/or working for different companies where, as you say, its less about the science, and more about the art of negotiation and how not turn into the project into a religious war.


  2. I was recently “promoted” to Systems Architect as part of a systems replacement programme we are undertaking. I wokr for a medium sized hospitals business.

    I read a lot about architecture and design. But we are buying off the shelf packages and stapling them together with several middleware tools, Biztalk, Sharepoint and Coldfusion. SO not really an architect at all them, more a jobbing builder.

    I decided the role really meant technical brain support for the non technical pieces of the business. Talking to them in a manner they understand and talking to the developers in a manner they understand, oh and nagging them about version control, change control, release management and writing neat code.

    It also means I write bugger all code any more 😦 as I don’t have any time.

    Having said that I still do day to day support of our existing apps and wokr with the developers every day, otherwise your knowledge becomes abstract and therefore less useful. I don’t understand how you can be a good architect and know a lot of the details of your day to day operations/systems.

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