Thursday, March 20, 2008

Keeping your feet on the ground & head above the clouds

A colleague at work whom I greatly respect recently showed me a nice cartoon describing the best type of architect. "One who's feet are on the ground and who's head is above the clouds."  I'm unable to find the image to share, but it looked like a Gary Lawson (Far Side). - I'm sure you can imagine it.  I then got an e-mail today from the head of architecture and noticed a banner image of what appeared to be a courthouse with pillars and it reminded me of the constant battle to avoid the perception of "an ivory tower".

For the past 3 years I've functioned as an "IT Architect".  What exactly does that mean ? - To me, the difference between an architect and a technical engineer is that the engineer's expertise lies with answering the question, "How do yo do THAT ?".  No problem is too complicated, no project has too many moving pieces.  The architect on the other hand might not know HOW to do something, but rather they are who you'd ask, "What would happen if we did THAT?"

Why is it then that "architect" is a such coveted title ?  I realized  over the past couple days that I had an extraordinary sense of inadequacy of knowing how to fix a deep technical issue.  I was very interested in learning about the cause/effect & problem/resolution scenarios, but after returning to my day job today - doing "architecture" felt much more natural.

To all those that consider themselves "Engineers" -- and to me, what you consider yourself is what counts, not what your formal title is, I have this to say : If you enjoy your work, if you get pride, satisfaction or or an adrenaline rush solving difficult problems, creating innovative solutions or recognizing that "complexity is just compounded simplicity" (C.Wiggins, 2000) - Don't stop doing what you're great at doing.

I don't want to discourage the architects either.  I love being one (again, because I consider my duties to be consistent with what one does- not because of a title).  I love thinking about the future and how technology will converge, and disaggregate - advance, and decline - face mass adoption and rapid attrition.  The pace of technology change is exhilarating, the impact on our lives astonishing and the benefits to people and their ability to communicate across vast distances awe-inspiring.  Again - the primary emphasis being on "what will happen" vs. "how we will achieve".

Lastly, please don't ever let it be said or implied that architects are 'better' than engineers.  They are just different.  At my company, it has been accepted formally in the HR system that project managers, program managers, engineers, analysts, architects and people managers can all be equivalent in terms of rank/pay/bonus/etc.   I hope everyone is fortunate enough to work in an environment where this parity is equally respected.  Until next time, keep your feet on the ground and your head above the clouds.

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