Skip to main content

What is a Systems Architect?

I have been re-growing some software development related skills, with an eye toward going from "Java Team Lead" to "Java Architect". What does "architect" mean, though?

Sun offers a certification for a Java platform "Enterprise Architect". Based on the objectives for the exam, they define it based on experience with system design that takes into account flexibility, security and other factors.

This topic has been discussed in a number of other places, including this Javaworld article, which makes the points that most positions billed as "Architect" slots are really "Senior Developer" positions. The author's take is that an architect has breadth rather than depth of knowledge.

This I agree with. To me, a true "architect" is someone who:
  • Knows what technologies are available to solve a given design problem.
  • Has a handle on "systems thinking" - a way of approaching problems and designing solutions that looks at the whole rather than decomposing the problem and then attacking the smaller issues that come from this decomposition.
  • Also has a software development skillset.
The first bullet point is something that you can train yourself to do. It entails keeping abreast of what technologies are available, what they're good for, and a realistic assessment of the maturity of each of them.

The "also" in the last bullet point reflects my perspective that an architect is a "developer and..." rather than someone who is really good at software development. I think that you can be a great architect even if you are just a "good" software developer if you have a handle on other skills. For instance, a strong communicator can help move people toward the best technologies by explaining the benefits. Someone who is a really quick study (and hence can understand new technologies easily) will have more options to choose from when designing a solution.

The "systems thinking" point above is the most difficult one to train. If the only problem-solving approach you have is to deconstruct, you probably won't be a great architect (don't lose hope, though - kick-ass software developers are just as valuable, and just as hard to find). Systems thinking is also one of the most difficult things to define for people who don't do it regularly. It is more a way of experiencing the world than it is a discipline. Though there are plenty of descriptions and examples to be found, very few purport to show you how to do it.

So what does this mean for the aspiring architect? Stay in touch with available technologies! Subscribe to blogs and software-related news feeds, join user groups, go to conferences, and read, read, read. If you aren't reading at least one (and preferably two or three) technology book per month, you're falling behind.
1 comment

Popular posts from this blog

Agile Performance Management: Why Performance Reviews Suck

Many thanks to Mary Poppendieck, who wrote about this topic in 2004, and proposed a comprehensive solution.  She is the inspiration for much of my thinking on this subject.  She is also a better writer than I am a cartoonist.

Performance reviews suck.  I don't know of anyone who goes into their appraisal without some trepidation.  Your boss is guaranteed spring some surprise criticism on you that is ill-informed or misses the point as you see it.  It's a real challenge not to get defensive about that.

The only thing that makes your own performance review suck less is having to give them.  As a manager, I have dished out quite a few, and some of them went pretty badly.  (To the people at my first management job: Thanks for helping me learn how to get better at them.  Your sacrifice was not in vain.)  Since then, receiving one isn't nearly as gut-wrenching, if only because I try to make it easier for the guy on the other side of the desk.  I've been there, and I know how …

Windows 10 Driver Issue with Falcon / Z-77 Keyboard

Windows 10 has an issue with this mechanical keyboard (which works great, BTW).  It's a Chinese-made keyboard (aren't they all?), but it doesn't have much English-language support.

I captured a few screen shots of how to fix it in case someone else has the same problem.  (I got the instructions off of Tom's Hardware, but it doesn't have screen shots & isn't clear on some of the details.)

First, open up Device Manager and select the controller under USB controllers (not under keyboards).

Next, choose "update driver" from the Drivers tab.
Then choose the "browse" option (search doesn't find anything).
Then select "Let me pick from available drivers on my computer."
Finally, switch it from the ND device (which is the wrong one) to the generic USB compatible one (which works fine on my machine).

You might want to clip these instructions into your favorite notes software because:

You need to do this for each USB port you plug in…

Do. Not. Optimize.

You've probably heard this quote before:
Premature optimization is the root of all evil.
 - Tony Hoare
Speculative optimization is always wasted time.  In the absence of an actual performance problem, you're just burning time that could be better spent on refactoring your code to make it clearer.  This is exacerbated because performance-optimized code is usually harder to read than code which hasn't received such treatment.

Here is what you're doing when you optimize:
Adding code that now must be maintained.Obfuscating the existing code.Spending time writing code that doesn't add value. But what's that you say?  You have the experience and know-how to decide when optimization is needed?  Maybe, but probably not.   The people at Sun and Oracle may or may not be smarter than  you or me, but they certainly know more about optimizing Java bytecode than we do.

For example, some people think that having a large number of classes is slower than the alternative.  This …