Do software architects matter?

“In order to be effective, the role of the software architect should be closely tied to the act of coding.”

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One of the most problematic versions of this role is when someone without a technical background starts making pronouncements about architecture and is labelled as an architect…

The role of the software architect in software development is an important one, but it is often misunderstood and can be problematic if not approached correctly. The term “software architect” often conjures up images of a senior engineer who has mastered their craft and no longer needs to engage in the mundane task of coding. They sit in their ivory tower, making grand pronouncements about how software should be built and then bemoaning the inability of others to execute their vision.

However, this approach is misguided and can lead to a number of problems. For one, it creates a disconnect between the design and the implementation, which can result in unrealistic expectations and poor decision-making. Additionally, it can foster a lack of ownership and responsibility among the development team, leading to subpar results.

In order to be effective, the role of the software architect should be closely tied to the act of coding. This means that there should be no distinction between architecture and coding – it should be a shared concern of the autonomous team building a system collaboratively. This approach allows for a more well-rounded understanding of the design, as well as fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility among the entire team.

Of course, it’s helpful to be able to articulate architecture and the impacts of technical decisions in a way that non-technical people can understand. But this is a skill that every technologist should strive to perfect, not just those who carry the title of “architect.” Clear communication is essential for ensuring that all stakeholders have a shared understanding of the design and its implications.

One of the most problematic versions of this role is when someone without a technical background starts making pronouncements about architecture and is labelled as an architect. They are likely to be completely unaware of the subtleties of technology frameworks and the practicalities of building coherent software systems. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and poor decision-making. Yet, these individuals are common in corporate environments.

So, what is architecture, if anything at all? Martin Fowler’s view is that if there is such a thing as architecture, it is about creating a shared understanding within your team and investigating and answering the things in your project that will be hard to change in the future. The rest can be left to your capable and trusted development team. By focusing on collaboration and clear communication, the role of the software architect can be valuable in ensuring the success of a software project, provided is rooted in authentic knowledge.

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