Role Models

Great minds and big ideas shape architectural decisions.

By Bob Rhubart

May/June 2012

The decisions that IT architects make are informed by a variety of factors and influences, including an up-to-date knowledge of available technologies, a thorough understanding of how best to apply those technologies to solve the problem at hand, and the input of project stakeholders. These factors are common to every IT architect—or at least they should be. But what other, perhaps less tangible factors come into play? For instance, does the benevolent specter of a role model ever hover just over the shoulders of IT architects as they work toward a solution? How does that role model shape the individual architect? I asked several architects to tell me about their role models.

Randy Stafford, a member of Oracle’s Server Technologies A-Team (that’s A for Architecture), divides his role models into two groups. “The first are seers and teachers, architecturally literary people with a rare gift for perceiving the essence of a relevant topic and having the dedication and skill to clearly convey it in published works for the benefit of the profession,” he says. For Stafford, that list of luminaries includes object-oriented programming expert Martin Fowler, engineering and space pioneer Eberhardt Rechtin, author and object-oriented programming consultant Rebecca Wirfs-Brock, and several others. “Their contributions to the literature of the software profession have given me, and many other software architects, a body of insight on which to base our daily practice and to develop and communicate new learnings in a hopefully perpetual process,” Stafford says.

Stafford describes his second group of role models as “those who have served as guardians of the conceptual integrity of a software system over a long span of time.” One such role model from early in Stafford’s career is a man who wrote and installed his own assembly language for a CDC Cyber mainframe. “He developed a software stack that was critical to the operations of an aerospace company for several decades,” Stafford says. Gene Gleyzer, the chief architect of Oracle Coherence, is another of Stafford’s role models. “Gene exercised responsibility for the algorithms involved in Oracle Coherence’s data management capabilities, among other things, since well before Oracle Coherence 1.0 was released,” Stafford says. “These kinds of people exemplify what it means to be a software architect.”

Eric Stephens, a director of enterprise architecture at Oracle, mentions enterprise architecture pioneer John Zachman as one of his role models. “Zachman really expanded my thinking of architecture and emphasized the need to engineer the enterprise, like one might engineer an aircraft or ship,” Stephens says. Stephens also cites Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs as role models. “Both of these gentlemen leveraged their artistic and creative energy to conceptualize—and in Job’s case, implement—great works of artful engineering,” Stephens says.

There is also an Apple Inc. connection in Oracle Enterprise Architect Pat Shepherd’s choice for role model: venture capitalist and former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki. “He has a unique way of breaking a problem down into simple terms,” says Shepherd. Shepherd points out that although the term architect doesn’t appear in Kawasaki’s bio, “he has always been at that intersection of business value, vision, and technology.” Shepherd believes that Kawasaki’s book Rules for Revolutionaries (HarperBusiness, 2000) belongs on every enterprise architect’s bookshelf, “right next to the TOGAF [the Open Group Architecture Framework] manual.”

Dr. Karina Ishkhanova, technical lead for payment systems architecture and design at School-Day Solutions, credits science fiction writer Isaac Asimov as having a profound influence on her career. “When I was 10 years old, I read his short story “Profession,” and it stuck with me for the years to come,” Ishkhanova says. “He inspired me to be different—first to dream and then to build upon that dream.” Ishkhanova finds similarities between system architecture and Asimov’s futuristic fiction. “On a daily basis, system architects, armed with logic and vision, build a new reality,” she says, adding that she looks to Asimov’s work for inspiration. “When I start a new project, I try to find an edge that will make it unique and innovative, something that will allow others to grow further and extend.”

When you start a project, what benevolent specter is hovering over your shoulder? Whose thoughts influence your decisions? How are those thoughts shaping you as an architect?

Next Steps

 LISTEN to ArchBeat podcasts

 GET more architect information

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