“SO, WHAT YOU DO” asked the elderly person sitting next to me in bank waiting lounge. Apparently his curiosity was piqued by the books I was carrying.
“I AM A SOFTWARE & SYSTEMS ARCHITECT”!! It was a quick reply with the assumption that “software” would explain it clearly and is sort of jargon free. But then the next innocent questioned stumped me — WHAT DOES AN ARCHITECT DO?
How do you explain your job to someone who is not from your field?
“City planners” is a popular metaphor for system architects but it exudes more negative vibes given the sorry state of cities and majority rarely get to meet city planners. Also, the city planning is generally assumed to be role with a fixed expiry date.
The other metaphor is to think of “tour guides” who seems to have good understanding of “WHAT” and the past. But there role is pretty limited. They only know “WHAT HAPPENED” and have no influence on “WHAT SHOULD BE”.
The problem of explainability is further compounded by the general impression of ARCHITECTS — They knows EVERYTHING or knows NOTHING (based on your experience working with an architect).
So, what are the good grounded metaphors for architect?
Out of many, GARDENER and GARDEN seems to explain the value of ARCHITECT, SYSTEM & ARCHITECTURE well. Here are few parallels between the two
👉🏽 If Architect are like gardeners then garden landscape is equivalent to architecture and the actual garden represents the system.
👉🏽 Diversity is characteristic of a garden. It needs to be accepted and not resisted. Diversity enables sustainability in gardens and systems.
👉🏽 System constraints like garden constraints (Weather, season and visitors) needs to be respected, accepted and worked with. You don’t need google scale if you are developing super premium products.
👉🏽 Architect like a gardener need to know their garden (system) well. Plants that require shade should be planted near large trees or bushes. Similarly automated testing and continuous integration (CI)/continuous development (CD) should be done in proximity of rapidly changing systems.
👉🏽 Architect like a gardener need be hands-ON but also should know the right experts to deploy to manage and maintain efficiently and effectively.
👉🏽 Architect like a gardener would need to know where to focus their attention and what to prioritise. There will always be competing needs.
👉🏽 The Architecture and the system, like a garden will never be complete. It will always be evolving. Architect like a gardner would need to know — What to keep, what to fix and what to replace. This need to be done continuously and consistently.
👉🏽 Like garden plants, every part of the architecture will have a different lifespan and growth cycle. Single strategy and approach would not work.
👉🏽 Like garden plants, different part of the architecture will be in different stages of their life. some parts would require lot of care and nurture in the beginning while few will be allowed and forced to self sustain.
👉🏽 The thing that will grow fastest will always be weeds. System weeds (Challenges/ problems) must not be ignored and removed ruthlessly.
👉🏽 Not all parts of the garden will be visited frequently. likewise, system usages would range from heavy to sporadic use and hence the maintainance strategy would need to be adjusted accordingly.
👉🏽 Safety and security is important for plants and visitors. Gardeners keep close eyes on stray animals from eating out the plants, kids and adults (few destructive minds) from plucking away the beautiful flowers. System security ensures system safety at the same time enabling users use it effectively.
👉🏽 Howsoever hard the gardeners tries, there will always be complains. No system will be able to offer 100% satisfaction to every user. The objective of the gardener and the architect is ensure harmony and balance in the sytem.
In my personal experience, having clarity of architect role gives you a sense of purpose and direction, leading to personal and professional growth. The misplaced and impossible expectations of knowing everything overwhelms the senior engineering leaders and architects leading due to burnouts and frustration.
Once you know the direction and the goal, all you need is to walk