Moving from software engineer to technical architect
April 22, 2006 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I've been doing web app development for about 7 years now. Ideally I would love to get away from being a coder and go more down the technical architect route. Any tips or personal stories about making that change, or is it simply a matter of increasing your knowledge and applying for the opportunities?
posted by xmutex to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm of the learn-by-doing school, so I'd say if you want to do technical architect type work, come up with a project (if you need ideas for apps to build, ask me, I have dozens I'd love to see) and try your chops at technical architect type stuff.

If you've got some spare time and server space, try building a multiuser app that requires a significant amount of planning. Build the project and check how well your planning matched up with actual user needs, and tweak from there. Then apply for tech architect jobs with the knowledge you've gained from it.

Every job interview I've had since 1999 features some aspect of building and running mefi, since I learned how to do everything and came away from it with a ton of improved knowledge I could apply to other projects.
posted by mathowie at 2:20 PM on April 22, 2006

Second. Book knowledge is worthless as an architect, and you can't fake having done it. Find a project, and execute it.
posted by Caviar at 2:43 PM on April 22, 2006

People skills become more important on the level you want to move to. You won't be in a position to execute on every technical deliverable yourself anymore, so it will become much more important to be able to communicate, prioritize, make a case for someone else to prioritize. There are of course pure technical challenges as well, but my only point is that architects are much less solo-operators. When I think "coder" I think someone who you can point and shoot at a narrow problem, who will keep their head down until it is solved. Architects by definition handle broad problems that touch a lot of people.
posted by scarabic at 3:53 PM on April 22, 2006

I'd definately second what scarabic said. At the firm I work for, there are a few developers that are extremely good at coding, but will likely remain coders forever because: 1. they like coding; 2. they don't have the people-skills. The one individual whom I think will probably take over as lead systems architect (our current one is retiring soon) is not only a good coder (a must if you're to catch the favor of those in charge), but also took an active interest in learning about all aspects of the company, to the extent that now just about everyone (in any department) can go to him with their problems.

I don't think it would be very easy to just step into a position like that without first proving yourself, but it's not just about your skillset or your accomplishments--though you'll need plenty of both. A good architect acts as a bridge between the people in charge and the people in production; you have to speak both languages.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:24 PM on April 22, 2006

Seconding scarabic. Architect is what I do. And my route was basically coder (right out of college) -> Consultant (helping actual customers solve their problems/building solutions for them) -> Product Manager (More people skills plus understanding requirements)

Then I went to go do something else entirely (starting a company). But when I came back into the industry I slid into an internal architecture position, designing future products. The key was having a technical background (a must to have credibility) plus a broad overview of how software is actually deployed and used (from my consultant days) and people skills to interact with people across all the organizations (from my PM days).
posted by vacapinta at 4:41 PM on April 22, 2006

Hi, I have done exactly what you're looking to do. I start May 1 as a Senior Software Architect for the Austrian arm of a small German software house. I have been primarily a Software Engineer (web apps) for the past 8 years or so.

Here are some of the things I did:

1. I rewrote my resume to highlight architectural and project management duties I have had in the past. I talked about customer contact, analysing customer business cases, and the consulting roles I have played in the past. I talked about working with management to come up with requirements and I talked about project management, consulting, training and mentoring roles I have played in the past.

2. I changed my appearance - I lost about 40 pounds, worked out like crazy and bought a new wardrobe (more professional clothing) - as a software architect, I figure I will have more customer contact responsibilities, so I can't look like a cave-dweller, greasy programmer anymore (and I don't want to, anyway).

3. I submitted my resume on all of the software architecture and project management positions I could find. I was surprised at the positive response I got to my resume. Some of the interviewers wanted to shoehorn me into a Software Engineering role, but I found that the more interviews I went on, the better prepared I became to sell myself as an architect.

4. I read up on Software Architecture (UML, Rational Rose, Visio, CASE, etc.) so I could talk about them - but most of my interviewers were more interested in my communication abilities and my past technical experience.
posted by syzygy at 2:52 AM on April 23, 2006

Some more thoughts. As a coder, you're largely responsible for the "how". As an architect, you must be responsible for both the "how" and the "why".

It is not enough to understand that you're doing something, you must also understand the underlying business case for it. To put it another way, it is not enough to build something well, but you must also build the right thing well.

This is an important lesson - if you haven't already, you'll need to start thinking in terms of what needs your code fills instead of just "does it work?".
posted by Caviar at 6:28 AM on April 23, 2006

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