Architecting your future into IT

Starting a career in IT can be quite overwhelming as there are so many different roles available.  An apprenticeship in IT is a great way of understanding the roles that there are, and which of them might suit you.

One role that might not spring to mind is an IT Architect.  The Architecture teams in IT ensure that the right systems are deployed in the right way to get the best possible value for the users and owners of those systems.

What is IT Architecture?

IT Architecture is about understanding the business context for any given system and then designing the best solution within that context.  Designing IT solutions isn’t just about putting in the first thing that fits a set of user requirements – that’s where Architecture comes in.

As an example, consider the differences between a small start-up business and a large company.  The start-up might get away with tracking orders and interactions on a shared spreadsheet, while the multi-national will need a full order tracking system, accessible by hundreds of employees.

The reason for this might seem obvious, but it’s more than just a question of how many people will use the system.  For example, there is much more risk involved for the large company, and a start-up might not have funding to invest in core IT solutions.

Architects take many factors into account such as existing systems and processes, budgetary constraints, workforce knowledge, company and department strategy, external influences, security, guaranteed up-time, quality, delivery deadlines.  The list goes on!

The IT Architect helps to bring all these perspectives together and pick the right solution for the context that they’re working within.  This is done by understanding and then balancing the risks across all the different factors I mentioned earlier and making sure that the people we work with understand that balance.

Doesn’t that need a lot of experience?

This might all seem a bit overwhelming to someone approaching an IT apprenticeship, but great designs come from diverse thinking.  Architecture of an IT system can benefit from thinking of novel ways to address the constraints, and that’s why I think  Architecture should feature on any apprentice’s journey into IT.

Of course, experience is important too, but you will gaining experience the first time you ask a question, the first time you dig into a requirement or the first time you have to research possible solutions.  You have to start somewhere!

Designing IT solutions can take time, and in an agile world architects have to understand and balance risks.  They need to be able to think about all the different aspects of a solution and focus on the highest risk areas first.  Architects also need good communication and influencing skills – we are at the heart of the design and have to help coordinate the different teams and stakeholders we deal with.

Architecture as a viewpoint into IT

Which brings me to my final point: Architects tend to deal with most roles in any IT organisation.  They work with the users of IT to validate requirements and strategic alignment, with Project Managers on planning, with Business Analysis on requirement definition, with Developers on technology choices, even the finance teams to balance the costs of the overall solution.  Those interactions make Architecture a great place to be to see the way that IT operates and to help connect the dots from the business strategy right into the heart of the IT that is required.

In AstraZeneca, we have a rotation system in place for our apprentices, and I would encourage apprentices to come into the Architecture team and see what it is all about.  It’s not the easiest place to start, but it’s a fascinating insight into IT and will really help you to understand the process of designing the best solutions, and all the component parts that have to be in place to make an IT solution work.

Find out more here.

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