What is it like to be a Solution Architect at Agile Architects? What do they do, what do they need to be good at, and which challenges do they face? To find out, we sat down with Patrik Schrey. As one of the most experienced members of our team, he is not only one of our Solution Architects, but also the Team Coach for our group of architects.
What does a Solution Architect do?
When you get down to it, a Solution Architect is someone who builds bridges. Not the physical ones, but the connections between people with an IT-related wish or dream and IT specialists that can turn that dream into reality. This means trying to understand what a client’s dream entails and clarifying those requirements. We then translate those requirements into an initial architecture. The initial part is especially important here: it can always change. We don’t call ourselves Agile Architects for nothing!
Do you need a lot of experience to start as a Solution Architect?
It depends on the niche you work in, but I would say that is generally highly recommended. I ended up as a Solution Architect after a long career in embedded development, front-end development and technical presales, and I’ve noticed that this experience certainly comes in handy.
I can imagine that in some fringe cases, like working exclusively with a brand-new technology, you would need less experience. However, most of your assignments as a Solution Architect will be modernisation projects where you have to change or replace existing technologies. This requires a significant amount of technical knowledge and experience. Besides, technology is not the only aspect for a Solution Architect!
Luckily, we can always depend on our colleagues to help us learn in various ways. Every month, we gather for half a day in our offices in Ghent, part of which is dedicated to ad-hoc knowledge sharing. Recently, we’ve also started reserving half an hour every Wednesday where we discuss our ongoing projects. We use that time to share any difficulties or challenges, and either ask for a solution or share our own, so people can use it for their own projects. We’re also busy setting up some training plans for our architects depending on their seniority, for which I’m currently researching some e-learning tools and platforms.
Which skills do you need as Solution Architect?
As a Solution Architect, you will spend a lot of time negotiating with stakeholders. A large part of your average day will be spent in meetings, so you definitely require some people skills. You have to distil enough information from those talks to analyse the requirements and turn them into proposals, and this is certainly something that requires experience and an analytical mindset.
You also need to be agile. Being an Agile Architect means that you’re not afraid to make changes along the way. In fact, it’s how we prefer to do things: working with an initial architecture that can evolve together with our clients’ needs and environment. Constantly fine-tuning is the only way to make sure that the result will perfectly match our clients’ needs. If you’re curious about the competences that a varied job like this requires, I suggest you take a look at our dedicated article.
What do you like the most about being a Solution Architect?
That’s simple: the fact that I am constantly learning new things. I’ve been working in IT for a while now, and it’s interesting to see how the technological landscape keeps evolving and innovating. It’s not just the technology, though. As you work with more people, you keep growing as a person from the collaborations. And as you work with more companies, you pick up a wealth of knowledge from their core businesses.
What are some challenges you can face as a Solution Architect?
As a beginning Solution Architect, the biggest challenge you’ll face is having to (partly) let go of your expertise. As an architect, you do not need to be specialist in a certain domain anymore. Instead, you need a bird eye’s view. For many people, myself included, making that switch is easier said than done. Otherwise, you risk losing the overview by micromanaging the details.
At this stage in my career, I’ve found that the hardest thing is to work with someone that can be difficult to cooperate with in a project. However, I’ve learned that this can be related to a personal reason. It’s important to realise that there may be other things going on at home and act with understanding.
If you come from the business side of things, having to start from zero when it comes to the technical knowledge is even more difficult. I would recommend those people to look for a career as an Enterprise Architect instead.