What I learned about different types of Architects from a sommelier in Greece.
I recently had a colleague ask me about how to describe the difference between a great software architect and a mediocre one, or how to deal with “ivory tower” architects. I personally eschew the title of software / solution architect because I don’t like to be lumped into that category, but I was struggling to sum up the differences well.
Then I took a trip to Greece, met a sommelier named Angelo, and had one of the best experiences I’ve ever had tasting wine.
I’ll paraphrase here a bit but will do my best. “I hate sommeliers,” declared Angelo — who’d studied wine for over 10 years, obtained a 5 year master’s degree, and been a winemaker — during our tasting. “They use their knowledge to feel better than people, to make them feel bad about themselves. This experience is meant to be shared. It’s informed by your own preferences. I have tools and knowledge but this experience is meant to be built by you.
I mean, is that a set up for an extended metaphor or what?!
The title and qualifications vary widely, as tends to be the case with our industry, but in general I would say a software/solution architect needs to have certain technical qualifications.
have opinions on the right / correct way to build software.
I’m deliberately keeping this pretty general as a baseline. My point is, there are flukes but in general software/solution architects tend to fit the “smart, opinionated, gets things done” model. They’ve usually accomplished things to get where they are, and the position oftentimes carries some distinction.
But how is the position approached by those folks?
This is the ivory tower architect. They’ve studied their books, built some major pieces of software, and you should just listen to them. Those suggesting new ways of thinking / doing things are met with disdain and defensiveness. They find themselves buried under articles about best practices that may or may not be current. This architect is the decider. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be earning their paycheck! The weight of the project is on their shoulders! Study this Visio diagram they’ve painstakingly compiled over the last 3 months to see how complex things really are…
This person has the potential to change the trajectory of an entire organization — to create an entire group of architects who can shape the application of technology for a project. They can raise the discourse.
Both sets of sommeliers in my strange little metaphor have earned the right to be called that. Both have the requisite knowledge and experience. The difference is in how that experience is applied.
The difference isn’t about software at all. Technical skills, it turns out, are really not the point here. It’s about what an organization’s politics and structure allows for, and it’s about whether an individual embraces the idea of leadership and collaboration as foundational/core skills. (I avoid calling them “soft skills” for exactly these sorts of reasons).
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