Why An Architect Profession? Are You Kidding?


By Paul Preiss

Today is my 40th birthday which is somewhat humbling because I started Iasa almost 12 years ago. It is the longest I have ever spent with any employer and certainly I have learned more from this work than any other job I have ever had. I wanted to take the time to thank all of you for this amazing opportunity and the amazing life I get to lead working with each of you. It is truly an honor to do so. Working with architects all over the world is both my passion and the thing for which I am most grateful.

The question I get asked most after a conference or over dinner is why did you decide to do this? The pay isn't as good as what I earned as an architect. The hours are even longer. I don't 'own' Iasa so when I leave I get no residual revenue or net worth. There is a chance we could fail. So why do this for so long?

I continue with Iasa for the same reasons I started it. I believe in architects and I delight in speaking with them and working towards solutions to our common problems as a profession and a discipline. Architects speak a different language. And I don't mean how they talk about 'the business' or how deeply they understand 'the technology strategy'. Architects adore hard problems. Architects are creative, artistic, expressive and passionate. They are addicted in my experience to finding the hardest problem in their professional context and bringing a solution to market, be it a new business model or a technology platform.

In all the thousands of companies I have spoken to through the years I hear the same problems:

  1. Architects do not have credibility or the business does not know our value.
  2. Some of our architects are not skilled enough.
  3. "I do not know how to increase my knowledge or advance my career as an architect."
  4. "Our architects are too technical, they cannot work with the business."
  5. "We do not have common solutions to our problems and must create something new every time."
  6. "I do not have a network of people that understand my language."
  7. "Why should we use a certification, I don't have one and look at me." And yet the same person is complaining about not being able to hire a good architect in the next sentence.
  8. Anyone can become an architect.

Throughout history there has been only one solution to these problems. This post from the American Institute of Architects is what convinced me 12 years ago to start Iasa: http://www.aia.org/about/history/AIAB028819. What I learned is that a profession starts with the single value proposition. It doesn't matter if you consider yourself a business, application, software, enterprise, integration, or infrastructure architect. If you are not an architect professional first, then the rest doesn't matter.

This profession most needs its practitioners to learn how to think like professionals. No other profession allows employers to define capability requirements. No other profession lacks enforcement of ethics. No other profession is as silent on issues of policy in their country. Other professions takes responsibility in creating the next generation of professionals. Other professions work together to solve world problems and give back to humanity. Other professions involve themselves in their profession first and then their employer because they know they are still professionals even without an employer.

Most importantly by working together we can change the world. We can and should:

  • Define the skills, experience, certification and employment requirements as a profession away from other professions, employers and vendors.
  • Have a say in the impact of technology on public policy and human rights.
  • Require excellence in practice and in ethical behavior out of peers and other professionals.
  • Have an active role in defining junior and senior high-school and university curriculum.
  • Actively contribute time, money and resources to helping humanity (http://architectureforhumanity.org/http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/)
  • Actively promote the profession inside and outside of their current employer.
  • Actively give back their knowledge to the profession in the form of articles, blogs, presentations, papers, and mentoring.
  • Be involved with the professional community locally.
  • Be involved in research, innovation, startups, non-profits and other useful projects.
  • Help create a marketplace for new research, tools, services and capabilities that serve the profession.

I estimate that a successful architect profession would contain around 3.2 million professionals in today's market (around 10% of total IT practitioners). Where do these jobs come from you might ask? First there are a LOT of architects who do not have the title though they do the job. Second, there are a LOT of companies that need architectural expertise but do not know about or have access to architects. What if every small to medium enterprise consulted an architect in the same way they consult a financial planner? By working together, by beginning to require an experience and skill based certification, we are not picking a side or creating arbitrary standards, we are creating a world where architects control their own destiny and laying a foundation for changing the world.

So all that being said, you can expect to see me doing this until the day all of that happens or they put me in an urn. Note: I chose this featured image because it most represented to me the special aspects of the profession of teaching and the ideas I am describing above.

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