Architects Craft Their Future

International Association for Software Architects aims to establish a support network for architects nationwide.

Do architects get the respect they deserve? That was the question pondered by software and IT architects attending last month's International Association for Software Architects (IASA) conference in New York. Microsoft hosted the event, attended by 115 architects, at its midtown office.

IASA, a non-profit organization based in Austin, Texas, has launched regional conferences as part of its outreach to provide a common understanding of the role architects play in both IT and business. The group is also reaching out to aspiring architects.

Uncharted Path
The problem is that there's no common definition of a software or IT architect, said Paul Preiss, IASA's founder and president. "How many got a degree in IT architecture?" he asked attendees in his opening remarks. "We all come from weird backgrounds."

Architects find their roles can vary from employer to employer, which makes it difficult to chart a career path. "We focus on the professional first," Preiss said. "What that really means is we're not here to design a new framework, we're not here to design a new process, what we're really here to accomplish is to support you in your role."

But architects and developers can also be their own worst enemies, said Roger Dahlman, an enterprise architect at New York-based Bloomberg Financial, who gave a talk on translating architecture to technologies.

"A lot of people still decide to go off, do things their own way and don't learn from the community," Dahlman said, in reference to his recommendation that architects use consistent design patterns and frameworks. "A design pattern will provide a description of a way to solve a specific problem that's been learned through time; it's part of the community."

Yet despite what the lack of architecture can do to a software and IT group, architects are sometimes seen as unwelcome agents of change in shops because their role is to bring consistency, reusability and connectivity, while aligning technology with the business.

Ramesh Srinivah, VP of application architecture at Bedminster, N.J.-based Gain Capital Group, was brought in to help the foreign exchange company prepare for growth.

"The CIO has seen how things happen in their own isolated environments, so he feels that in order for us to be able to handle our fast growth, we need a platform that can quickly get applications out," he explained. In this case, it's Visual Studio Team System.

"Nobody likes change," admitted Srinivah, "but the fact of the matter is, I've been in other corporations where change is never easy, but in the long run people do understand the value of making that change, putting a process in place."

Training Program
The IASA advises enterprises to recognize architects via its Connected Architecture. It also has embarked on a training program that will ultimately provide technology and vendor-agnostic certification for architects. Microsoft, Tectura Corp. and Cogentes Inc. were the first to commit to offering curriculum.

Max Poliashenko, VP of strategic architecture at a major U.S. financial services institution, and a participant in Microsoft's Certified Architect (MCA) program, said rolling out a full program will take time.

"It's a chicken and egg problem," Poliashenko said. "On the one hand it's hard to sell something that doesn't have a lot of content. When enterprises want to buy something they want to buy something that would be immediately useful. At the same time, it's hard to develop anything significant without a great amount of funds."

William ZackWilliam Zack, Microsoft's architect evangelist and founder of IASA's New York chapter, acknowledged rolling out a broad training program could take two or more years. "It's what we have to work for," he said. "I think this is really important for architects."

For its part, Microsoft was first to promise premier -- or what it calls Platinum-level-support for the program. As a result, MCAs can access IASA's curriculum and related materials, IASA said in February. In addition to Microsoft, the New York event was sponsored by Oracle Corp. and a handful of smaller companies.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.