Foreword by David Knott – The Software Architect Elevator

Foreword by David Knott

I remember the first time I was asked to form an architecture team within an IT function. I didn’t know what it meant, but thought it sounded cool, and was confident that I could figure it out. That confidence lasted about five minutes, until a team member asked whether we were going to be technology architects or enterprise architects, and I realized that I didn’t know the difference!

Twenty years later, I am privileged to be chief architect of a global organization, and although I still haven’t found a perfect job description for architects, I have learned that being comfortable with ambiguity is one of the most important attributes of a good architect—asking awkward questions, as my team member illustrated, being another!

This book will help you understand what being an architect is like by painting a vivid picture of an architect’s life and mission in the current phase of the information technology revolution. Riding the architecture elevator is how my team and I spend our time: racing from one part of our organization to another, connecting, explaining, questioning, and trying to make good decisions about complex systems with imperfect information. The elevator takes us from code to business strategy and back again, all within the same day.

Architecture has been intermittently in and out of fashion within enterprise technology, and architects are sometimes accused of “not making anything.” I believe that architects make two things that are of vital importance and in short supply: they make sense and they make decisions. Whenever architects help their organizations understand a world that is increasingly difficult to grasp, figure out what decisions need to be taken, and help take those decisions in a rational way at the right time, then they have had a good day at the office. And, as this book explains, if you’re not taking meaningful decisions (see Chapter 6), making them explicit, and helping people understand them, you’re not doing architecture.

However, these are difficult skills to master. Humans have been shown to be notoriously bad at understanding complexity and at making good decisions with limited information. Architects can help themselves and their companies by adopting techniques and ways of thinking which have been won through years of experience. They can create understanding by making sure that they turn learning curves into ramps rather than cliffs and can make better decisions by adopting the language of the market (see Chapter 18), as well as by selling options to the business (see Chapter 9).

One of the reasons that architecture has been in and out of fashion is that what organizations need from architects has changed. At many points in my career, the organizations I worked for believed that they wanted me to define their current state and future state, and to figure out the path between them. This was an understandable belief: it seems reasonable to want to know where we are, where we want to go, and how we are going to get there. But it was also based on a static view of the world, in which all change was deviation from a steady state.

In today’s world, the technology running any organization must be dynamic, and the organization must be able to change that technology to adapt to economies of speed (see Chapter 35). The job of architects now is to create the conditions for speed and dynamism within their organizations: to satisfy the design goals of change velocity and service quality at the same time (and to help people understand that these goals are not in conflict; see Chapter 40). If you still believe that the job is to define future state architectures delivered through a multiyear plan, you would do well to read Part V of this book.

The image of the architecture elevator is apt because it is one of continuous motion running through the center of an organization. Elevators are also a transformational technology: they are one of the inventions which made skyscrapers possible, and changed our skylines forever. If you want to be an architect then you are signing up for a life of movement and transformation. If you are curious and have a need to explain, a desire to connect, and the drive to make decisions, then it might be the job for you. You still won’t get a job description that describes everything you need to do, but this book will help you figure it out.