I am a Systems Architect and I have more than 8 years of experience in the field of Information Technology in various capacities. I started my career as freelance software developer while pursuing full time education (Computer Science Major). During this wonderful journey I took many responsibilities and roles and all this experience helped my directly or indirectly to reach my current status. I am currently Systems Architect but I undertake role of Project Manager in almost all of my projects. So you can say I am a hybrid of Systems Architect and Project Manager. It would be more reasonable if I say System Architect is my technical role and Project Manager is my managerial role in any project.
I almost cringe sometimes when strangers outside of the IT industry ask me “What do you do?” Typically one of two reactions occur – eyes glazing over with an “oh” or “what type of buildings do you design?” I’ve come up with some interesting different answers to the question ranging from “helping to design computer systems/networks” to “working with internet research” (which is much more glamorous/sexy and easy to say but not really the whole truth). I’d be interested in any good ways you’ve found to respond.
I also get asked the question from those within the IT industry and even other Systems Architects themselves which often leads to a more interesting and dynamic discussion of where a Systems Architect starts, where it overlaps, and where it ends.
The Webster definition for an architect is a person who designs and guides a plan or undertaking.
A good list of detailed responsibilities for a Systems Architect is also found at Wikipedia which is more focused on a person who has control of the big picture and overall requirements for a complex system ensuring a robust, cost effective, reliable, and strategic solution.
“The systems architect is the high-level designer of a system to be implemented. The systems architect establishes the basic structure of the system, defining the essential core design features and elements that provide the framework for all that follows, and are the hardest to change later. The systems architect provides the engineering view of the users’ vision for what the system needs to be and do, and the paths along which it must be able to evolve, and strives to maintain the integrity of that vision as it evolves during detailed design and implementation.”
A Systems Architect usually has the following responsibilities:
- Overall design – the blueprints which provide the map
- High level planning for the development – overall steps for creation of the solution from the blueprints
- Integration constraints – rules and constraints for all components going into the solution
- Adherence to standards whenever possible – to maximize the future investment value and minimizing costs
- Customization for individual customer needs – understanding and recommending the best customization based upon the customer’s needs (which include anticipation of their needs and explaining it in layman terms).
This illustration will summarize the role of a Systems Architect.
My own definition is also dependent on the scope of the Architect – enterprise, for a particular business or vertical market focus, or within a specific project. The Architect will have more granular responsibilities as the scope gets tighter and the designs therefore more detailed.
Probably I should add on to my title that I design computer based systems the same way an architect builds a house – my “computer house” needs to be built with standard switches and electrical outlets for future expansion, custom features to be desirable and marketable, and cost effective to meet their budget.