We spoke to Chief Architect Paul Fjelrad, Software Architect Jacob Polden, and Mobile Architect Mo Ramezanpoor to find out more about their roles and responsibilities, as well as their suggestions for anyone who’s considering a career as an Architect in the digital space.
Paul Fjelrad Jacob Polden Mo Ramezanpoor
Chief Architect Software Architect Mobile Architect
“One of the easiest ways to fail is to only do what the customer says they want, without really thinking about what they need. What we actually have to do is solve the right problem, in the right way. And that might not be the same things as what they asked for in the first place.”
That’s how Paul Fjelrad, Chief Architect at Zühlke, describes how Architects approach their work. It’s not always an easy specialisation to pin down, but these individuals play a vital role in the Zühlke world.
What is an Architect in the digital world?
When you ask an Architect to describe their job, they tend to go straight to the metaphor of a building. And it makes sense. In construction, each aspect needs to be considered so that, when complete, the end result is successful. From the floor plan, to the materials, to where the services go, and even how it relates to the buildings around it, all of these need to be taken into account by the Architect. Under the hood of any technology solution, it is no different. There are a whole range of elements working together to create an experience for the user – and it’s the role of the Architect to make sure this happens correctly.
The description “Architect” encompasses a few different roles. Solution Architects, for example, are more strategic, while Software Architects are more technical. You also get Cloud Architects who are operations-oriented, and Data Architects who view things through yet another specific lens. These are just a few of the potential focus areas within the role, but the common thread that unites them all is the job of coming up with the conceptual, and then technical framework that connects all of the aspects of a solution together to produce something seamless at the end of the day.
What do Architects do?
The role of an Architect starts with a lot of figuring things out – what systems are in place, how they talk to each other, and how they can be evolved to meet the needs of the business. From here, the Architect puts together a conceptual structure for the project, and where all the different pieces come in. This most often takes the form of a diagram, but this is just the end result of much consultation and collaboration with the rest of their team. Ultimately the role is about reducing complexity. “I don’t think of delivering technology, I think of delivering solutions, and actually if I can deliver them with less technology, that’s great,” says Mobile Architect Mo.
Architectural Overview of the NHS Covid-19 App
Much of what an Architect does is around helping everyone on the project understand what is actually going to be built. “The primary skill of an Architect is someone who knows how to distil and communicate an idea in a way that works for the person you’re talking to,” says Paul. This is something Software Architect Jacob echoes, when he says, “It’s all well and good designing a snazzy diagram, but if the Engineering team can’t use it, it’s not worth much.” That’s why he also sees Architecture as a leadership role, and importantly one that takes a measure of empathy. “You need to discern what other people know, or need to know, and then help align everyone to the same vision,” he explains.
Why is Architecture important?
Whenever you’re building something, decisions are going to get made. When an Architect is driving the process, they provide the strategic guidance to make sure these all best serve the needs of the project. “It’ll be happening in the background regardless,” says Jacob. “Having an Architect in that role helps to steer the ship more effectively.” The way Architects come out of a project is just as important as the way they join it too. That transition is key. “We don’t want to just solve one problem and leave the customer with another because they aren’t able to look after and maintain our solution,” says Paul.
Having an Architect on board doesn’t just influence the way the technical components interlink – they bring the relevant people together on the team too. The Architects at Zühlke help to work out who will be needed on a certain project to make sure all of the right skills are in place. They also Architect the offering of the business itself. By understanding how the range of capabilities within Zühlke can be focused, they can help define the different services that are offered to clients.
How do you become an Architect?
Architects often come to the role through a STEM degree, and then experience a desire to work on the bigger picture rather than one specific part. There is, however, no specific academic route to becoming an Architect. Jacob, for example, started his career through an apprenticeship before going on to complete his studies. “Although I now have a degree from the OU, what kick-started my career in architecture was asking the right questions,” he says.
The range of access points means there’s not really a single technical profile for an Architect. “I’ve got a jigsaw puzzle of the different Architecture capabilities we need, and I’m looking for all sorts of differently shaped pieces to complete it,” says Paul. If your skills lie in Engineering and you don’t feel like you’re ready to make the leap to Architect just yet, you can join Zühlke in that capacity and grow. There’s an Architect accelerator program in place within the business, master classes and skills shares that allow aspiring Architects gain the abilities they need to step into the role with confidence.
If you want to become an Architect, you can get going by simply asking the right questions. “Say you’re working on one part of a project – go and find the person who can give you the big picture and talk to them about what’s going on,” suggests Paul.
Why become an Architect?
One thing that seems to unite Architects is that they are all up to tackle big challenges. “The excitement comes from being able to play a role in big, significant projects and work with amazing people,” says Paul. It’s also a role where you will continue to learn and grow. As technology changes, so must your knowledge base. That’s why there’s a constantly-developing Architecture framework at Zühlke. After each project, the team assesses the results for learnings and then adds to the collective resources. “We can see where we’ve overcome a project in a great way, or maybe learned what didn’t work, taking all this and distilling it into ideas we can use again to help us improve,” says Paul.
Ultimately, as an Architect, you spend your days problem-solving – so if you’re wired that way it could be the career for you. At Zühlke, you don’t do it alone either. You’re part of a community within the organisation, working alongside peers to deliver excellent solutions for clients. If this sounds like the kind of challenge you’re up for, find out more about the open Architecture roles, or get in touch with us to talk about how you could get on track to a career in this space.
So, Architecture in brief
Architects are responsible for creating the technical vision for developing a solution to a specific business problem.
The role requires excellent communication. The key responsibility of an Architect is to distil complex ideas and communicate them simply to everyone involved.
Being an Architect requires a wide range of skills and knowledge, but one of the most important is the ability to step back and see the bigger picture. They also need the experience to navigate the numerous problems encountered when developing any solution.