People often confuse who a Software Architect is — “Isn’t it just a fancy job title given to senior software developers in the name of promotion?”
The truth is, a good software developer can be exceptional at coding and yet not be good enough to become a software architect.
Software Architects do a whole lot more than developing software programs and applications. They spend the majority of their time thinking about “how” to solve problems. Moreover, they are responsible for the overall quality and behaviour of a software app. They define and structure software solutions to ensure optimum performance, functionality, and safety and make vital decisions that drive business growth.
The software architecture role is a leadership role, a design role, a customer-facing role, and requires a broad skill set of both technical and interpersonal skills.
If you intend to become a software architect, you need first to understand some of the rudiments of software architecture. As a result, the team at Zone Tech Park has written this encompassing article to help you know what becoming a software architect entails, and help you take a step closer to realizing your goal of becoming a software architect.
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What is Software Architecture?
Software Architecture serves as a blueprint for a system. It provides an abstraction to manage the system complexity and establish a communication and coordination mechanism among individual software components. Think about it as similar to the Architecture plan used in building houses.
Why does it matter?
The architecture of a system is the primary carrier of the system’s quality attributes such as modifiability, performance, and security, none of which can be accomplished without a unifying architectural vision.
In other words, the software architecture of a system provides a strong foundation on which a proper software application can be built.
Poor software architecture is a significant contributor to the growth of cruft – elements of the software that impede the ability of engineers to understand the software.
Software that contains a lot of cruft is much challenging to modify, leading to features that arrive more slowly and with more defects.
By building effective software architecture, you can identify design risks and mitigate against them early in the development process.
For effective development, it is imperative to methodically think through software architecture before you start writing your first line of code. Failure to consider common problems and long-term consequences can put your system at risk.
Who is a Software Architect?
Software Architects are responsible for providing the framework or blueprint of software systems and applications. This requires not only a deep and comprehensive technical competency but also an excellent understanding of the problem that the software is attempting to solve.
A person holding this position is in charge of all critical decisions about the organization of the software system.
The Software Architect defines the:
- high-level structure of the software system (architecture), its individual components and their interfaces;
- collaborations of these components with each other and with external systems; and
- general architectural vision that guides the organization and serves as a basis for mutual understanding between all parties involved in product development.
The Software Architect ensures that the best software architecture is used when developing a software application.
As such, Software Architects take care of such significant aspects as functionality, performance, resilience, reuse, comprehensibility, scalability, security, technology constraints, and tradeoffs of software applications.
The Role of Software Architects
Initiation stage: Identifying the Core Requirements of the Intended Solution and Offering a Practical Solution Design
A software architect is a fundamental part of the development team that identifies what a customer wants to build and determines what resources it will take.
At the initiation stage of any software development, the software architect’s first task is to determine if there is a need to develop custom software or if any existing software solution can be reconfigured to address the client’s needs.
Suppose there is a solution that can be modified. In that case, the software architect’s expertise may not be required any longer, i.e. the engineering team can go ahead and make the necessary modifications.
However, suppose there is a need to develop a new solution. In that case, the architect begins to evaluate the high-level functional and non-functional requirements of the solution related to security, scalability, reliability, performance, and other quality aspects.
The software architect also ensures that he considers constraints placed by compliance requirements.
Evaluating the functional and non-functional requirements of the software to be built helps determine if the software can be built within a reasonable timeframe and on a reasonable budget.
Suppose the intended solution can’t be developed within a reasonable budget or timeline. In that case, the software architect’s task is to manage the stakeholder’s expectation and offer alternative methods to help the client achieve his business goals/objectives.
If the solution is deemed feasible after evaluation of the requirements, the architect designs a high-level system diagram that describes the most basic concepts and interactions.
The software architect also determines the technical stack(s) to be used, deployment strategies roughly estimates the required staff-hours and organizes a development team. All these decisions are then packaged into a final proposal.
In summary, the key responsibilities of the software architect at the initiation stage of any software product are:
- estimating the viability of the product
- gathering early non-functional requirements
- evaluating functional requirements
- selecting technology stack(s) and deployment methods
- estimating the required staff and development time
- designing a high-level architectural solution
Elaboration Stage: Specifying System Requirements and Planning the Architecture in More Detail
The elaboration stage is probably the most vital stage for a software architect. It is the stage where crucial choices that determine the effectiveness and future success of the product are made.
Also, In the elaboration stage, the software architect moves on to specify the system’s requirements and develop a more detailed architectural blueprint that will best address the needs of the product owners. In other words, it is at this stage that the software architect decides precisely how to build the solution.
In designing the system’s structure, the software architect maps out ways to implement the original idea from a technical perspective. He also pinpoints areas of potential constraint and risks related to reliability, usability, supportability, performance, scalability, security, and other non-functional requirements; offering methods to mitigate against them.
At the end of the elaboration stage, the software architect provides the software’s design blueprints with major components, their interactions, and the most critical low-level components inside them.
In summary, the key responsibilities of the software architect at the elaboration stage of any software product are:
- addressing possible risks and constraints
- delivering comprehensive architectural blueprints
Prototype Stage: Proving the Viability of the Solution
The prototype stage helps verify that the existing development team can develop the software using a particular technology stack and that the intended solution will be capable of achieving the objectives it is being developed for.
To this end, the software architect works with the engineering team to develop a working skeletal or architectural prototype, which addresses the most significant problems and addresses the system’s major architectural risks.
If the prototype can effectively address the stakeholders’ needs, it proves that the system architecture is stable and that developing the product is feasible from a business and technical point of view. The project then proceeds to the next stage.
Execution Stage: Leading the Team Through the Development Process
The execution stage is the stage when software engineers start designing the software product to match the blueprint created by the software architect. At this stage, a software architect continues to design the less significant features of the software and supervise and lead the engineering team.
The software architect promotes his/her vision of the product, provides code snippets to facilitate the development process, sets quality standards to guarantee consistency across teams, and reviews the code for compliance with predefined rules.
In case of modification in requirements which warrants a change in the original design, the software architect has to ensure that these changes do not hurt expected characteristics of the system— like performance, speed, security etc.
In summary, the key responsibilities of the software architect at the execution stage of any software product are:
- managing modifications
- further specification of architecture considering changing requirements
- ensuring adherence to quality standards
- mentoring tech leads and developers
- writing code examples
Transition Stage: Participating in Testing and Deployment
After the software has been developed, the Software Architect participates in selecting quality assurance (QA) tools, and he/she is responsible for the continuous integration and deployment of the software solution.
The software architect collaborates with the engineering and testing team to determine how releases will be done. Among other things, the software architect decides on code freezes (periods when alterations to the code are prohibited), deployment methods and environments and infrastructures to roll out new features.
Based on the performance testing results, the software architect initiates changes in the software infrastructure or project structure. However, if the software product was well designed at the initial stages, these changes won’t be time-consuming or costly.
In summary, the key responsibilities of the software architect at the transition stage of any software product are:
- supervising testing and deployment
- managing releases
Skills Required to Become a Software Architect
To successfully perform your duties as a software architect, you need certain skills. Here are some of them:
Extensive Technical Background
As a rule, a software architect should have an extensive technical background, a vast portfolio of various projects, a broad knowledge of different technologies, and preferably a degree in computer science.
Software architects frequently interact with stakeholders and engineering teams, and as a result, a good software architect must be a great communicator.
He/she must be able to communicate the reasons for selecting specific methods and technologies, to enable him to get stakeholders buy-in.
The software architect must also be able to adequately explain the software blueprint to the engineering team to ensure that they don’t deviate from the software architecture.
A software architect mentors and coordinates the activities of the technical teams, promoting his/her vision of the right solution and quality standards. These require exceptional leadership and organizational skills.
As a Software Architect, you would often be required to estimate the resources that would be needed to execute your ideas: How much, how long, how many people, which skills, etc.? This creates a need to be educated about the field of project management.
Successful software architects must also have excellent problem-solving skills and a great understanding of the different modelling methods, coding standards, design patterns and methodologies.
Becoming a software architect is a journey, one that requires a thorough understanding of the field. It’s a journey that could prove difficult without the right advice, mentoring and guidance.
At Zone Tech Park, we have a team of experienced software architects who mentors software engineers interested in taking the next step in their career and transitioning into becoming software architects.
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