Getting Schooled

Education, training, and experience are stepping stones to a career as a software architect.

By Bob Rhubart

September/October 2011

There is more to being a successful software architect than learning the secret handshake and showing up at the meetings. You need education. You need training and experience. The specifics of the education, training, and experience depend on which branch of the profession you plan to enter. And given the variety of roles under the software architecture umbrella, it should come as no surprise that there is more than one path to an architecture career. In order to gain some insight into the possible paths, let’s take a look at the experience of three very different architects.

Our first architect, Helen Sun, has a PhD in educational technology and information systems from the University of Toledo. She started out as an educator, but a fascination with technology pulled her in a different direction, a shift that ultimately led to her current role as an Oracle enterprise architect. “Although an advanced degree is not a prerequisite to being an architect,” Dr. Sun says, “the critical thinking I acquired in my PhD study and the habit of turning over every stone are definitely beneficial to what I do.”

And she’s done a lot—database and Web programming, database administration, data warehousing, and business intelligence—as she moved through various leadership positions. That diverse background is a real boon in her role as an enterprise architect. But experience alone will only get you so far.

Sun bolstered her technical experience with training and certification in the Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF). She also completed Oracle’s internal enterprise architecture master class and earned Oracle enterprise architect certification.

Our second architect, Karine Ishkhanova, who holds a PhD from Moscow State University, says she grew into her role as a system architect with Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based TFA Wise Applications. “My original university education was in economics. When I immigrated to Canada in 1996, I faced the task of integrating my skills into the Canadian professional market. I opted to complete an intensive programming course at the Institute for Computer Studies.”

Ishkhanova’s experience includes working on the Y2K conversion for a global accounting firm, developing an automated processing interface for credit card charge-backs, and creating a custom invoice-processing module. “That project was the first step that pushed me to concentrate my professional growth toward becoming a fully qualified technical lead and system architect,” she says.

Already a Sun Certified Java Programmer and a Sun Certified Java Developer, she is now studying to earn the Oracle Certified Master, Java EE Enterprise Architect certification. “IT is a very fast-paced industry, so one always has to look forward and anticipate what skills to master to stay in demand,” Ishkhanova adds.

Our third architect, solution architect and Oracle ACE Director Ronald van Luttikhuizen, focuses on SOA and middleware in his role as managing partner at Vennster. His path to that role included earning a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, where he specialized in algorithmic design. He also earned Java certification and has had training in TOGAF, Oracle technologies, and object-oriented programming.

“What works for me is the analytics basics I got through my computer science degree, and doing lots of hands-on projects for lots of customers,” says van Luttikhuizen. He credits his success over the last 10 years to a combination of “a solid education and on-the-job experience.”

The experience of three architects in three different roles certainly doesn’t represent the entire profession. But the common thread in each of their stories offers guidance to those interested in building a career as an architect in the IT realm. It turns out that the real secret handshake necessary to gain entrance into the club is a willingness to hit the books, to do the work, and to never stop learning.

Next Steps

 ArchBeat podcasts

EXPLORE education and training resources
 The Open Group
 Oracle University courses for architects

 Bob Rhubart's Blog
 Bob Rhubart on Facebook
 Bob Rhubart on Twitter
 Bob Rhubart on LinkedIn