Enterprisey Architects

July 20, 2008

No, it’s not a typo. I have been daring to write this for ages, but somehow I always refrained myself from doing it. But here it is, this post is about the propeller heads, the skyrocket scientists designing systems in the enterprise world (mostly in the financial services and telco world). Because guys, it’s time to call it a day and move on. Time to stop building the Winchester House.

As background, I have recently been recruiting to backfil Remy, Yahoo!'s Chief Architect for Europe [and no, I am not looking any further]. It has proved to be a hell of a task. My mailbox and voicemail have been flooded with messages from agents and candidates. A pile of resumes to go through.

Most resumes are immediate rejects. Absolutely zero experience in online technologies. Do you apply for Yahoo! if you don't have a clue about even building a site? WTF!??? And, err, where is your blog, buddy? This is not just any job.

Anyway, moving on to interviews. I called in a few guys with very solid resumes. Outstanding resumes actually. Tons of experience. Lots of technology expertise, masses of troops, managing huge budgets. Right, bring them in, I say.

On the interviews (so that you know) I don't look at the resumes, ever. I could not care less, because you are allegedly supposed to be able to synthesize and I can read. So, expect to work hard at the interview. Rather, I'd love to see you design flickr, or Answers, or tell me how the frontpage could/would/should work, or, for fun, how you would liberalize the water supply system in the UK. I bring engineers on the room to discuss. They need your help, guidance, steering for making choices. Help them!

All I want to learn is that you can think beyond a Powerpoint and a bunch of theoretical ivory-tower diagrams. And you know, most often, candidates can't. The large majority of candidates when going through the exercises just put a few boxes up and don't actually get into what are the hard bits. And when challenged to think through them, they fail. I admit you might not know how to build our frontpage, but at least you should be able to appreciate the complexities during an interview.

The interesting thing is that all these candidates that fail have a common trait. They are the enterprisey architects (a few exceptions exist, like my good ol' friend Jeremy who is truly an enterprise architect). Enterprisey architects come with certifications, waving their TOGAF and Zachman willies. They operate so high-level that they ain't got a fucking clue.

Enterprisey architects make the argument that architects don't need to actually know the details (I don't code, they say). First, there is a hell of a difference between coding and designing systems and you seem not to be able to design systems. Secondly I honestly think there is something seriously wrong with anybody who wants to be a technology geek and does not like programming languages per se. It's like being a butcher and not liking meat. I'll tell you what: if you are not obsessed by [technology|volumes], you are not a [technology|civil] architect.

An enterprise architect is the architect that looks at solving problems across the enterprise, not the department, or the business units, to leverage the synergies and lead towards the future-state architecture. [Don't look this up, I just made this up].

An enterprisey architect is the architect that wants to be an enterprise architect but fails to engage with his customers, because he's not capable of being detailed enough (business strategy detail, functional domain detail, applications and technology detail, and infrastructure detail).

And as I keep telling my guys, (enterprise) architecture is not about technology, it's about people. You are expected to know the technology, mind you, but there are usually much more specialized engineers who need your steering for making choices (if they aren't such experts in your organization, you should start by building your team), so that you can find the detail that is relevant. You are supposed to understand the bigger picture, and lead folks into doing the right choices, so that you are not only doing things right, but also doing the right things. Enterprise architects use their social networks to make technology changes happen.

Again, it's not about technology, it's about people. But you know your technologies, right?

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