There's an old XKCD cartoon that describes a conversation between a manager and a software developer. Their conversation goes something like this:
MANAGER: When a user uploads a photo, can the app check their location?
DEVELOPER: Sure, I'll need GIS lookup and a few hours.
MANAGER: And can it check if there's a bird in the picture?
DEVELOPER: I'll need a research team and five years.
This kind of conversation happens all the time. Business leaders know their strategic goals. IT people know what the tech can do. But aligning goals with technology is an ongoing challenge.
This is where solution architects come in. They act as a bridge between the business and technical side, and they figure out how to get things done.
The Solution architect has become one of the hottest jobs in IT right now, with high salaries and plenty of vacancies. Here's what you need to know if you want to make this your next career move.
Table of Contents
- What is a Solution Architect?
- Where Does the Solution Architect Sit Within an Organization?
- What Skills Does a Solution Architect Need?
- What are the Career Prospects for a Solution Architect?
- How Do I Become a Solution Architect?
- Solution Architects and Integrate.io
What is a Solution Architect?
Solution architecture is the practice of creating IT solutions for business problems.
A business problem is any scenario in which the current infrastructure can't deliver strategic goals. For example, a company might need to broaden their analytics scope or help one of the teams become more efficient.
Often, business stakeholders can't express this problem in tech terms. They'll outline their objectives, but they can't tell you how to build a solution.
As a solution architect, your job is to figure out how to build it. You'll have a surprising amount of freedom to pursue the most elegant approach to the business problem. You might look at existing in-house solutions, consider using third-party services, start developing custom software, or use a mix of all three approaches.
You'll have support from a solution architecture team, which may include analysts, engineers, and developers, as well as specialists in security and databases. Your responsibilities are:
- Scope out the business problem and define the parameters for a successful solution.
- Identify the best possible solution from all available options.
- Work with project stakeholders to define the implementation of your solution.
- Prototype and assess potential solutions.
- Develop a project management plan to control the solution development process.
- Measure the project and ensure that you've solved the business problem.
As you can see, the role entails a mix of technical work and project management skills. To succeed, you'll need a substantial, well-rounded resume.
Where Does the Solution Architect Sit Within the Organization?
In a large organization, solution architecture sits between two other architecture layers. The typical structure goes:
- Enterprise Architecture: This layer makes high-level decisions about IT infrastructure. In new organizations, they design an infrastructure from scratch. In mature organizations, they may oversee maintenance or direct large-scale digital transformation projects.
- Solution Architecture: The solution architect works within the infrastructure that the enterprise architecture has designed. Solution architects may tackle integration problems or use the existing infrastructure as a platform for building entirely new applications.
- Technical/Infrastructure Architecture: This layer deals with issues that arise out of the existing architecture and find engineering solutions to ensure service delivery. They may also deal with changes and upgrades to the physical architecture.
The various architects will usually work together to deliver solutions. Enterprise architects can offer guidance on strategy, while technical and infrastructure architects can assist with implementation.
Solution architects also work directly with non-technical project stakeholders. As an architect, you'll sometimes find yourself dealing directly with department heads and C-Suite members who will outline their vision to you. Your role here is to act as a translator, helping IT communicate with everyone else.
What Skills Does a Solution Architect Need?
A solution architect is two jobs in one: project manager and systems architect. As such, you'll need two discrete sets of skills to succeed in the role.
Technical Skills for Solution Architects
Most jobs require you to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, such as computer science. You'll also need substantial experience – at least five to eight years in an engineering or data architecture role.
Certain roles may ask for specific technical skills, such as:
- Software development
- Database design
- Application integration
- Cloud architecture
- Business Intelligence and analytics
Ideally, solution architects should have a broad range of expertise. You'll need to think outside the box, which means you'll need to be familiar with all possible solutions for any given problem.
Project Management Skills for Solution Architects
This role involves a substantial amount of project co-ordination, so you'll need the appropriate soft skills.
The solution architect is a conduit between management and IT. You'll need strong communication skills so that you can work through management requirements and translate them into IT specifications. You'll also need to communicate the status of your project back to management.
This role means working with people from all over the business. You'll have project stakeholders, which might mean interacting directly with people in the C-Suite. You'll have your own team, who will help you deliver your solution. And you'll work with other architects, including the lead enterprise architect, who will include your solutions in his or her strategy.
Analysis is a large part of the role. You need to study business objectives, understand internal processes and know the IT infrastructure inside-out. In the planning stages of the process, you'll need to break down and document these elements. This will allow you to start designing an appropriate solution.
Solution architects start with one big problem and end up with thousands of little ones. You'll need to think on your feet and find creative solutions to the many issues that will arise during design and implementation. When the solution architecture team can't solve a problem, they'll turn to you for guidance.
As a solution architect, you'll need to understand the business impact of your solutions. This includes things like pricing, scalability, compliance implications, and contractual obligations. You'll also need to understand how you're contributing to the company's strategic goals and why these goals matter. Essentially, you need to speak the language of the C-Suite.
Leadership and Mentoring
This is a leadership position, so you'll be guiding developers, analysts and specialists throughout the project. You'll need to keep them focused and help them to prioritize the most urgent tasks. Leaders are also responsible for professional development, so you'll have to help your team develop their skillset.
What Are the Career Prospects for a Solution Architect?
Talented solution architects are in huge demand all over the country. The typical starting salary in this role is around $118,000. This figure varies depending on the region, so you may command a higher salary if you're in a big city like New York or San Francisco.
Solution architects have several career paths open to them. Some may progress on to a more senior architect role, such as an enterprise architect. Those with strong management skills might progress to an IT director role.
This role is also a great launchpad if your goal is to go into consultancy. You'll develop a broad knowledge of IT solutions, plus you'll have a track record of delivering diverse projects. Both of these are essential talents for freelance consultants.
How Do I Become a Solution Architect?
To become an architect, you need substantial experience and a broad resume.
Experience takes time. You need to be patient and focus on your current specialism, such as software development or engineering. A few years of experience will act as the central pillar in your resume.
During this time, you need to keep seeking opportunities to expand your skillset. Remember that you need both technical skills and project management skills, so look for opportunities to develop the weaker half of your resume. For example, if you don't have management experience, volunteer to take the lead on some projects.
Relevant certifications are always a big plus. If you're focusing on a particular stack, you could pursue something like Microsoft's Solution Architect certifications or AWS Certified Solutions Architect. You could also bolster your resume with an architecture certificate from IASA.
Solution Architects and Integrate.io
The worst part of a solution architect's job is getting stuck in the quagmire of the existing tech stack. You may have a brilliant, elegant idea, but it's not going to happen unless you can get the data moved to where you need it.
Fortunately, many solution architects have a secret sauce that helps them cut down delivery times: Integrate.io. Integrate.io is a cloud-based, no-code ETL that comes with hundreds of pre-configured integrations. A few clicks and you've got a reliable source of clean data that can power applications, analytics, or anything else you need.
Related Reading: How Can Integrate.io Assist You as a Solution Architect?
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