Kiwis clarify software architect status

Two Kiwis are on an international working group alongside industry figures Grady Booch and Tom Mowbray in an attempt to hammer out an international certification scheme for the somewhat fuzzy term of "software architect".

Two Kiwis are on an international working group alongside industry figures Grady Booch and Tom Mowbray in an attempt to hammer out an international certification scheme for the somewhat fuzzy term of “software architect”.

Once the scheme is in place, predicted to be in about a year, organisations who retain a qualified software architect will be closer to knowing that they are getting appropriate skills and practice standards for their money.

Two New Zealanders, Murray Booth of IBM and Ben Ponne of EDS, are “contributory members” of the certification working group of the Worldwide Institute of Software Architects, alongside members such as Rational founder Booch, and Mowbray, author of several respected books on the subject.

The body of architects is finding itself with the choice faced by any members of a profession, Booth says — to regulate themselves or be regulated externally, probably by government. “Until we’ve established our own standards, we’ll flounder around.”

The key role of a software architect is to manage the design risk of systems, says Booth, who addressed a meeting of the New Zealand WWISA chapter last week on the subject. This has become a more critical and difficult task as system topologies have become more complex.

“Architect” is an abused term within IT, Booth says. Someone developing a system in a particular language — probably after someone else has done the top-level design work — might be described misleadingly as a Java architect. (The New Zealand Institute of Architects, with a certification system of its own, has recently been decrying the misuse of the word “architect” by unqualified practitioners, though accepts that software architects are entitled to give themselves that title as it states clearly what they design.)

A software architect, Booth says, should have leadership qualities and formal management skills in addition to technical experience, usually within a specific domain, and the skill to communicate with other architects or with the CEO or CFO. In defining the basic shape of a system, the architect often finds him/herself in the role of a “consensus builder”, implying facilitation skills.

Architects also have a job to do to get business to recognise the wisdom of having a system properly designed, so it not only functions correctly but provides a secure base for future change, he says. ”We won’t succeed until business recognises that lack of an architecture is an opportunity cost”.

IBM employs a strict method of certification for an architect involving a qualified sponsor or mentor for the trainee architect, written rules for assessing his or her competence, reports by the candidate on projects he/she has performed and a formal procedure of reference and re-reference to a certification review board, that interviews the candidate. IT architects at IBM must be re-certified every three years, to ensure their knowledge and skills are current.

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