What is an Architect?

Arrgh, yet again I have been drawn into the "what is an architect" discussion! I knew it was a mistake to give a definition of architecture.


Anyway I have been thinking about how to make this clearer because it seems to be such an area of confusion. There are multiple levels of architects who think about different problem spaces in different ways, the thing that they all have in common is the ability to think in terms of models (or structural designs) rather than real things.


So writing down a taxonomy of architects I came up with the following:


Architectural Level Title Primary Focus Primary Knowledge
6 Strategic Architect Organizational and Business Direction Leadership
5 Enterprise Architect Cross Organizational Delivery Strategic
4 Architect Business Delivery Organizational dynamics
3 Software Architect Project Delivery Project Management
2 Lead Non Functional Design Systems Technology
1 Designer Functional Design UML / Use Cases
0 Programmer Programs Programming Languages

Clearly there is not a clear demarcation between these levels but a shading from one level to the next. Also you need to have a good understanding of the level or two below where you are working in order to be able to do your job, so for example designers need to be pretty good at programming and architects need to be good at project management.

Interestingly the knowledge areas map onto the MCA Criteria quite well, the area that is missing is communication which is needed at all levels but grows in scope as you go up the levels. Also interestingly the MCA is really targeting level 4 although they do look for some of the higher level aspects.

So what level do you think you are?

Comments (9)

  1. YaleLi says:

    There are more roles: Technology Architect, Technical Architect, Security Architect, Solution Architect, Infrastructure Architect …

  2. Michael Platt says:

    Yes, and these are all at level 3. I guess I should have said x architect as the job description. And of course levels 0,1 and 2 change as well.

    I did this for devs as they seem to be the largest catagory, certainly the most vociferous


  3. Peter Bakker says:

    Don’t know about the point of this exercise.

    I’m a infrastructure architect and if I am at level 3 as you say I would mainly deal with project management stuff. Or that should be my primarly knowledge. In my working reality project management is hardly a factor. My knowledge about project management is almost zero. A project manager deals with resources such as time and costs. An architect deals with quality and requirements. Together they form a perfect match to bring a project to a succesfull end…

  4. Michael Platt says:

    A level 3 will be focussed on project delivery to spec, time, budget etc. A project Manager will report into him. Quality is about NFR’s and Requirements are functional requirements. So that would be a level 2.

    This is about trying to get a common taxonomy for roles.

  5. Peter Bakker says:

    Can you explain more deeply what you mean when you say that you want to get a common taxonomy for roles. As I see it somebody with a certain function can fulfill multiple roles. Certain tasks are coupled to a certain roles. Is that also you’re view about roles?

    What does the second column ‘Title’ mean in your table? Is that a role or a function title?

    I think it will be very hard to get a common taxonomy for architect roles because different kind of architects are working in different kind of domains (business, application, technology, government etc..) with domain specific languages and domain specific views and viewpoints.

    But for the inter-domain communication between architects it would be nice to use a common taxonomy and a common architecture language. By the way, in the Netherlands there is a forum working on a generic architecture language called ArchiMate.  For more info you can look on http://www.telin.nl/projecthome.cfm?language=en&id=48

  6. Michael Platt says:

    Yes, Job is associated with multiple roles and then tasks are associated with role. Title is role title, thanks for pointing that out.

    Thats why I have primary focus and knowledge rather than a list or a domain specific list.

    I dont think that being in a specific domain will make a difference to your focus, it might make a difference to how you express that focus.

    I didnt do a very good job by using a domain specific example for the lower level roles (software). Mea Culpa

    I’ll blog about this in more detail.

  7. Joyjit Mukherjee says:

    I strongly think both level 5 and 6 are focussed on one aspect viz., Organizational development and business priorities. It’s just the semantics that extrapolate them. An Enterprise Architect looks on the goals (organizational), necessary business process establishment to achieve those goals, and the proper use of technology to implement them.




  8. James Dunlavey says:


    It is against the law to use the word "architect" without a license TO DESIGN BUILDINGS.  I am totally fed up with you IT people hijacking the name of my profession.  Your abuse of the term has screwed up web searches of all types rtlated to the BUILDING TRADES.



  9. Michael Platt says:

    Alas James I have to disagree with you. Webster defines architect as:

    1 : a person who designs buildings and advises in their construction

    2 : a person who designs and guides a plan or undertaking

    Clearly someone who designs an IT undertaking is an architect by part 2 of this definition.

    In addition the usage is global so the AIA or even a government is in a very difficult position trying to regulate this global usage.

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