Monday, May 16, 2011

Everyone is a Software Architect

When I first starting working in the field of software I don’t remember the job title “Software Architect”. We did have managers, who were very technical – still writing code, and leaders, who we vetted design with. These people also set technical direction but they weren’t called architects. I worked in a large open lab area, in 1985, and looking back we were practicing XP. We worked in pairs and I have no idea how the work was organized. My manager would give me a project /problem and off I would go either with my office mate or someone else.

In that job, we were building a very large CAD/CAM system that never saw the light of day unfortunately. It was a project that could have benefitted from a software architect. In this case, the product was dealing with some fierce market forces that should have been understood and managed by a business team and an architect.

Another project I worked for was with a brand new manager who was eager to make his mark. He picked a new technology and went with it boldly. I remember thinking how fearless he was. It did not pay off. The project failed disastrously with this new technology not delivering the performance to be competitive. And then I thought, too late, shouldn’t we have challenged the manager? If we did, we may have saved his job, the project, and the company a boatload of money.

When I became an architect myself, I realized that many people wanted me to tell them what to do. That doesn’t work well for me. First of all, I do not know all the answers. Second, I rely on other people to give me data so that we can make an informed decision.

In Just Enough Software Architecture, George Fairbanks talks about distributed architecture skills. If developers don’t have architectural skills, they give the architect poor data for their models. This is true for me in my daily work. I rely on developers to give me information about the system they implement on. But beyond this, I also believe that architects should be experiencing development. I don’t think they can be doing as much development as a pure developer/software engineer/programmer, but I do think it’s important for me to experience the environment we have to deliver to. Although architecture is a big picture activity, it can be greatly influenced and also affect the minutia of the system.

I believe having someone responsible for architecture is an effective organizational model. But that person must make sure the entire team has a mind for architecture because otherwise the architect may not have influence. Architectural principles are not easy tested and if broken by implementers, the result is not found until it is causing problems.

So why wasn’t I an architect in those early projects? I truly was not; I was just trying to do the day to day work assigned to me. But I was starting to develop an architect’s mind and if I had spoken up in either of those early projects, the results of those disastrous projects may have ended differently. I only hope the developers I work with will do the same for me.

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