Monday Jan 27, 2014

The Architect as Salesperson

In an interview with InfoQ's Amr Elssamadisy, education consultant and Culture Engine founder Steve Peha offers this comment about the failure of a large software development project he headed:

We were so focused on tools and practice and process and methods, that we forgot about the people, we forgot about the culture.

Peha goes on to explain that the project's stakeholders were quick to assume that nothing could be done to overcome the cultural issues that threatened the project's success. Those attitudes were the catalyst that drove Peha to shift his professional focus from software development to organizational culture and the multiple agreements between project stakeholders that are the foundation of the success of any project, software or otherwise.

And in that there's an obvious lesson for software architects. The success of software architecture at any level relies on cooperation and collaboration across a broad spectrum of stakeholders. The architect's ability to nurture agreement between stakeholders is essential. Like it or not that means that effective architects share characteristics one finds in successful salespeople.

Does that comparison make you feel just a bit uncomfortable? That's something you'll have to confront. A wealth of technical skill will only get you so far as an architect if you lack the powers of communication and persuasion necessary to get stakeholders to see things from the proper perspective and work together toward shared goals.

You'll find the complete InfoQ interview with Steve Peha here: Steve Peha on Agreements-Based Culture.

Wednesday Mar 28, 2012

Dissing Architects, or "What's wrong with the coffee?"

Questionable Coffee

In my conversations with people in architect roles, tales of animosity, disrespect, and outright hostility aren't uncommon. And it's clear that in more than a few organizations architects regularly face a tough uphill climb. For architects with the requisite combination of technical, organizational, and people skills, that rough treatment is grossly undeserved.

But tales of unqualified people in positions up and down the IT food chain are also easy to come by. So what's the other side of the architect story? Are some architects tarnishing the role and making life miserable for their more qualified colleagues?

The various quotes included below were culled from a variety of sources. The criticism is harsh, and the people behind these quotes clearly have issues with architects. Still, whether based on mere opinion or actual experience, the comments shed some light on behaviors that should raise red flags for anyone pursuing a career as an architect.

If you're an architect, and you've ever noticed that your coffee tastes like window cleaner, or your car is repeatedly keyed, or no one ever holds the elevator for you, maybe you need to do a little soul searching...

  • Those Who Can, Code; Those Who Can't, Architect | Joe Winchester [May 18, 2007]
    "At the moment there seems to be an extremely unhealthy obsession in software with the concept of architecture. A colleague of mine, a recent graduate, told me he wished to become a software architect. He was drawn to the glamour of being able to come up with grandiose ideas - sweeping generalized designs, creating presentations to audiences of acronym addicts, writing esoteric academic papers, speaking at conferences attended by headless engineers on company expense accounts hungrily seeking out this year's grail, and creating e-mails with huge cc lists from people whose signature footer is more interesting than the content. I tried to re-orient him into actually doing some coding, to join a team that has a good product and keen users both of whom are pushing requirements forward, to no avail. Somehow the lure of being an architecture astronaut was too strong and I lost him to the dark side."
  • Don't Let Architecture Astronauts Scare You | Joel Spolsky [April 21, 2001]
    "It's very hard to get them to write code or design programs, because they won't stop thinking about Architecture. They're astronauts because they are above the oxygen level, I don't know how they're breathing. They tend to work for really big companies that can afford to have lots of unproductive people with really advanced degrees that don't contribute to the bottom line. Remember that the architecture people are solving problems that they think they can solve, not problems which are useful to solve."
  • Non Coding Architects Suck | Richard Henderson [May 24, 2010]
    "If a guy with a badge saying 'system architect' looks blank on low-level issues then he is not an architect, he is a business-analyst who went on a course. He will probably wax lyrical on all things high-level and 'important.' He will produce lovely object hierarchies without a clue to implementation. He will have a moustache and play golf."
  • Architects Play Golf | Sunir Shah [August 15, 2012]
    "Often arrogant architects are difficult to get a hold of during the implementation phase because they no longer feel the need to stick around. Especially around midnight when most of the poor sob [sic] developers are still banging away. After all, they've already solved the problem--the rest is just an implementation exercise."
  • Engineer vs Architect
    (Part of a discussion on the IT Architect Network Group on LinkedIn)
    "[An] architect spends his time producing white papers full of acronyms he does not understand but that impress his boss [while the] engineer keeps his head down and does the actual job."
  • Architects Don't Code | [Author Unknown]
    "Faulty belief: System Architects don't need to code anymore. They know what they are talking about by virtue of the fact that they are System Architects."
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