Is there a hierarchy in a software development team? If so, who sits on the top to create a general architecture of the future product? Software architects are the ones, as appears from their position’s title.
Software architects are critical for both the success and feasibility of any software project. Their duties combine the skills and responsibilities of programmers and project managers. At the same time, software architects occupy a specific position that brings an undisputed value to the development workflow. The value is reflected by the above-average salaries provided by the market in comparison with senior programmers and chief designers.
What does a software architect do to be evaluated relatively high? Projects differ, and software architect roles and responsibilities vary accordingly. Nonetheless, their duties and competencies can be generalized. And the present post is aimed at identifying how software architects facilitate development projects.
What is a Software Architect?
Some may consider software architects as chief designers of software development projects. But the “designers” term can be confused with the specialists engaged in the creation of user interfaces and various visual elements of the software. So, what is the role of software architect? Actually, the software architect role covers a more excessive scope of work and tasks.
Software architects participate in designing apps to some extent, of course, but they rather create conditions for all team members to succeed with the project. In such an aspect, they act as project managers. Project managers, however, have to follow the already-available agenda of a particular development lifecycle while software architects create the agenda on their own. Moreover, specific skills and competencies enable software architects to change and amend the project at any stage of SDLC.
In other words, software architects convert critical software properties such as security, scalability, feasibility, and the like into a well-structured solution that meets customer expectations. To achieve the goal, software architects must combine technical leadership with practical programming.
They should be aware of the most advanced developing practices, tools, and platforms to create a high-level design of a software product. Besides, they should be able to convince programmers to work in the frame and follow the vision that software architects have delivered while creating the high-level project design.
Hence, the following hierarchy seems to be legitimate to grasp which position a software architect occupies in a typical development team:
- Junior developer;
- Development engineer;
- Senior developer;
- Lead developer;
- Chief engineer;
- Software architect.
Software Architect Skills and Competencies
To be able to get all the team to do what software architects have designed, they should possess relevant hard and soft skills. The skills help understand what the role of software architects is.
1. The omnipresence of mobile phones
Diagramming and modeling. Building sophisticated software architectures requires architects to be familiar with UML (unified modeling language) and visual diagramming of functions and features of the designed software. One diagram can tell about the future product more than hundreds of words;
Prioritizing. The ability to keep a holistic picture of the entire project while redistributing tasks and roles between team members (when necessary) is crucial for software architects. This is about the proper organization of the project accomplishment when software architects can highlight one or another element of a sophisticated UML diagram to explain its priority to team members;
Communicability. The project mission, SDLC deadlines, and customer expectations need to be clearly explained to all team members by software architects who should establish fluent communication throughout the team. Communicability is one of the essential elements of true leadership inherent in software architects;
Stress resistance. Software projects have tight development schedules more often than not. Working without unnecessary tension while holding attention to details under burning deadlines is what software architects should demonstrate to other team members. Some sort of inspiration and coaching should always be present in every routine of software architects;
Coordination and management. Problem-solving in terms of technical difficulties as well as conflict resolution in the context of group working belongs to the management skills that software architects must obtain. Integration of all elements of the project architecture is hardly possible without coordination of all links of the development chain.
Primary Responsibilities of Software Architects
The most critical responsibility of software architects is to arrange the general technical support of the project at each stage of SDLC. It covers various accomplishments relevant to the development process from A to Z.
1. Discovery stage
Software architects should figure out whether the idea and requirements of a customer are viable in terms of developing a software solution and, if so, what budget and timeframe are required to complete the task. A general vision of a possible architecture of the solution should appear as a result of the software architects’ efforts. In particular, the following responsibilities are inherent in software architects at the discovery stage:
Collecting both functional and non-functional requirements of the customer to find out possible constraints in the solution development;
Making a principal decision on whether it is worth creating a custom solution from scratch or using an already available one to configure and adapt it to the customer’s requirements;
Evaluating the feasibility of the customer’s expectations in terms of the development period and budget needed. Offering more reasonable alternatives to the customer to achieve the expected business effect faster and at lower costs;
Selecting a relevant technology stack to meet the customer’s requirements most efficiently;
Designing a high-level architecture of the future solution to explain the business goals of the customer to the development team.
2. Elaboration stage
At this stage, software architects have to come to a clear vision of how the solution is to be built. It implies creating a more detailed model of the solution along with a preliminary SDLC through which the future workflow is to run.
Evaluating possible risks that may arise during the development process along with the measures to mitigate those risks is essential for software architects as well. They should finalize the high-level architecture of the solution with the design blueprints, including all necessary low-level modules and the algorithms via which the modules should interact within the solution.
3. Prototyping stage
Software architects should prove that the available development team can complete the solution with the selected technology stack. A prototype (or an MVP in some particular cases) can help figure it out. An architectural prototype shows whether the solution is executable and feasible in the context of the desired business goals of the customer. Prototyping gives the green light to all subsequent stages of SDLC.
4. Development stage
Software architects are leading the entire development team on the way through the whole SDLC. They act as supervisors and mentors who provide consistency between all team members across the development process. The following accomplishments are expected from software architects at the development stage:
Setting consistent workflows and quality standards;
Specifying nuances of the general architecture;
Making necessary changes and amendments in the architecture to minimize redundant workloads and expenses;
Checking elements of code in terms of their coherence to the general architecture;
Managing changes across the entire SDLC.
5. QA and deployment stage
Selecting appropriate testing tools is one of the QA tasks that software architects should participate in. Progressive development techniques such as continuous testing, continuous integration, and continuous deployment constitute the compulsory skill set for software architects at this stage.
Another critical capability of software architects is release management. They are in charge of the environments and infrastructures that may require changes to proceed with the solution’s deployment with the least resource-consuming methods.
Types of Software Architects
The “software architect” definition is quite broad to have some narrower variants in terms of specific types of software development. Besides, software architects vary in terms of the scale with which every software project is reviewed. The skills and responsibilities required at the enterprise level are not the same required at the application level. Hence, the following types of software architects can be indicated concerning the scope of their duties and responsibilities:
Enterprise architects. Their duties cover the widest possible array of strategic tasks when it comes to software development. They should cultivate highly abstract thinking to arrange system integrations across the entire company. Enterprise architects communicate with all departments throughout the organization. Their managerial capabilities outperform the designing skills that should be sufficient to create a high-level architecture only;
Solution architects. As it comes from their title, they work at the level of a particular project. They focus on interactions between the systems that are directly involved in the creation of a specific solution. Solution architects provide communication between individual teams of developers, testers, and DevOps engineers within a single range of tasks. Solution architects should be capable of designing software architectures in detail;
Application architects. The lowest-level type does not require strategic thinking beyond a particular product. They should be capable of providing a very detailed algorithm of interaction between systems within a certain SDLC. They arrange application-centric communication between members of a dedicated team. The most vital designing skills are required from application architects.
Does Every Company Need its Software Architect?
Practice shows that software architects are not available in mass, as it happens with developers, designers, QA engineers, and other IT specialists. Moreover, the “software architect” appears to be a specific level of qualification that talented developers can reach under certain conditions. In other words, software architects appear to be nurtured within a particular company when a compelling need for such a specialist occurs.
To figure out whether your company needs your software architect or a third-party one is enough to complete some particular project, it is worth answering the following questions:
Which business domain does your company belong to? The majority of sectors (banking, healthcare, communication, technology, etc) are developed enough to deliver projects when only specific performers are needed;
What is the scale of your business? Startup teams can hardly afford standalone software architects. It makes sense to have a software architect for small and middle-sized companies if their primary activity is to create quite multifaceted software products;
What is the range of tasks of your IT department? Even if your company is large enough to afford your software architect, your in-house development team may have to accomplish insufficiently complex projects in which a software architect seems to be redundant;
What are the typical products of your development team? Building an ordinary website never requires software architects. The same relates to the majority of software applications. The complexity of architecture determines whether an architect is necessary to participate in the development process.
Software architects are essential for complicated software projects that have relatively wide timeframes and significant budgets. The more thoroughly developed the primary architecture of a software solution, the more successfully the development process runs. And software architects play a critical role in achieving the desired business effects provided by the performance, scalability, usability, and other characteristics of a finished product.