Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Architect or something new?

Every year I go on a couple of interviews in order to stay on top of the industry. I want to know what people are getting ready to do in real life. This year, my recruiter buddy set me up for one interview with an Architect pre-screen. 2 other architect interviews were done via the normal face-to-face to whiteboard process.
I was so taking aback by the WIDE range in differences to the definition of an architect across the industry. In fact I contacted many folks around the country and found the same thing. Are we in the middle of the creation of a new position or do we need to redefine existing positions?
So on my pre-screen, the question stream attempted to head in a theoretical direction. Concepts and theories are what he wanted to discuss. In fact I was even asked how I could possibly mentor not knowing the details of what the GOF did for patterns and practices. Yeah, I know what they did, I know that the 4 patterns they defined are the basis for all others. I'll spare you the details but at the end of it, my ability to do, well my current job was questioned. So, I don't think that was the intent of the interview and as a leader and problem solver I started thinking, what just happened? But I'll get back to that ...
My other two architect interviews were face-to-face. They were very typical, I was asked to whiteboard some hypothetical designs/design problems. I was asked some harder technical questions but most of the interview was how to bring together all the systems necessary to create a hypothetical software package. My decision process for buy or build, mentoring developers/clients and customers on the package, and a host of other questions that make up a full SDLC. Pretty typical right?
I went on a couple of other interviews which included a couple of management positions, and Lead/Sr. Developer opportunities and did not find such a range or difference in the job definition.
So as I mentioned early, I wanted to confirm that pre-screen was just a one up. I go on one every few years where the individual interviewing has a chip on their shoulder. When I asked around I found the same wide range in interviews. In fact they were all so similar to mine it got me thinking.
As a leader I learned long ago that in this industry it's important to have a couple of different types of team members. You want that guy that is the head down programmer, shows up every day at 9, leaves at 5 but for 8 hours he is buried in his computer putting out lots of high quality code. You also want your next manager, somebody who could play any other part to the team but he is focused on being your replacement. You want a mentor, somebody who is knowledgeable, has a lot of patience and lives to share his knowledge, the last person you want is that person that questions everything. Yeah you need more than that and you frequently don't find exactly that, but those individuals in some form make a strong team that can, if mentored correctly, foster a highly productive, smooth running team.
That last guy, the guy that argues with everything is what I saw in my pre-screen. The one that is extremely book smart, they may or may not be functionally savvy, but there are incredibly smart on what is going on in the industry. They could tell you every detail of what the GOF wrote and a whole host of things you didn't even know existed. What are they incredibly good on a software team? They keep you honest. In the military, these guys rarely made it through basic training, frequently only stayed 2 years or became officers. In private industry they force you to evaluate everything you know, question your thoughts to ensure you don't get complacent and help you produce solid software designs that follow well established and current practices. I don't always believe you have to do the new cutting edge thing but this ensures you at least consider it.
I think this individual has always existed and in part is the reason our industry has grown so fast. I don't however believe architect defines what this individual should be doing. If you look at the commonly known version of an architect, the home builder, they know all the regional building codes, can put all the pieces together to make up an incredible home that is safe and meets the customer's needs. This individual is customer focused and can put together the solid foundation for that customer so that they can make their house a home. They work with builders and other contractors to put all the pieces together. The individual that I talked to knew industry trends and local standards as well, but this individual has focused his career on the theoretical, spending his time studying blogs and tweets to read between the lines. Creating in his mind possible ways to potentially steer our industry moving forward. I think what I experienced and what all these guys that "question everything" want to do, is be the theorist of our industry. Where as an architect asks what can I do with these "pieces" to make a whole, this theorist ask what can I do with these "pieces" to make something new.
I don't know but sounds like a new career path to me. Thoughts?

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