A Year as an "Architect," looking back.

As of June 23rd last year, I was "promoted" to the title of Architect within my organization, reporting directly to a Third line manager.  I was taken off of regular, day-to-day delivery activities and basically given freedom to involve myself wherever I thought best, or wherever my boss needed me.

At the time, I was given the following commentary and advice:

  • "Welcome to being the bitch."
  • "So, are they going to let you code anymore?"
  • "You're going to have to get used to being very broad, and very shallow.  You have to know alot and have a high-level understanding of almost everything, but not get mired in the day-to-day."
  • "You're more of an advisor than an architect.  Your job is to advise those making decisions and help do technical mediation for those teams."
Those quotes came from the first week.  At some time or another in the past year, they've all been true.

Some awesome things about my job in the past year:
  • I get exposed to what really goes on in middle management.
  • I got to participate in our strategy discussions last year.
  • I participated in the vetting process of at least one acquisition.
  • I got to run an internal Software Architecture Board.
  • I got to push several initiatives on my own:  Continuous Integration consolidation under JenkinsCI, Artifact publication and consumption, technical skills improvements, and "skunkworks" projects.
  • I've learned the importance of politics and sponsorship to initiatives.  Good ideas without proper support won't go anywhere.
  • Opportunity to travel a bit and interact with other developers.
Some not-so-awesome things:
  • I'm not a manager.  I'm also not an individual contributor on a team.  In my organization, that's a good way to get steamrolled whether agressively or passive-aggressively
  • I've seen behavior an average middle school teacher would expect, yet would not tolerate.
  • I've failed.  Many times.  I've started things that fizzled for lack of my attention.  I've started things that fizzled despite lots of effort on my own part.  I've known frustration at levels I thought impossible when I was dealing with purely technical problems.
  • I can't make things happen anymore.  At least, not on my own.  I was warned adequately about this by my colleague Mark, who said, "You have to understand you can't come in and take some incompetent prima-donna's code and 'fix it' for him anymore.  You have to trust and be trusted among those who are moving the thousand pieces of things on a big project."
Actually, the not-so-awesome things outweigh the awesome things most of the time.  Provisionally, my current theory is this:
The best person to be a Software Architect is someone who doesn't want to be one, yet who sees the need and will serve the role.
There seem to be three ultimate destinations where my current job goes:  (1) You're a narcissistic egotist who believes you know better than everyone else and, by God, they'd better listen to you because YOU ARE RIGHT.  (2) You can't broaden your mind beyond a certain domain, so you're basically limited to 'architecting' a single thing, which is what good Developers do, anyway. (3) You turn into a Business Analyst, and you do a little technical and a lot of "slideware," selling and communicating to others.

In summary, I don't feel like my current position will continue in its current fashion.  Our development community has outright rejected (1) behavior above, as they should.  Those fulfilling a (2) position above are getting burned-out at an incredible rate.  And (3) isn't a role we value, for good or for bad.  At the moment, I'm headed for #2, being consumed by a multi-division "cluster" project.

These are all my sober opinions, on a hot Saturday afternoon, a year into being an "Architect."

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