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How to Become an Enterprise IT Architect

how to be enterprise architect
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For those aspiring to become enterprise IT architects, you should know that your road to accomplishing the goal will be demanding. Here's some practical advice on how to get in the field and succeed.

A young and determined IT professional in the early stages of working life wonders how to get from point A to being taken seriously as a candidate for a job as an enterprise architect. There's a lot of work and study to do, but it can be done. We explore some potential steps down that career path. 

Below is Ray's first inquiry with us:

Dear Ed:

I am not sure if I should contact you directly or go to forums. I don’t know which forums to go to anyway. Basically, I would like to become a system/infrastructure/business architect. I would like to know how and where to start. What jobs should I pursue next, because I have been working for 4 years already? All of my prior positions have involved various support roles in IT, so I don’t know how to move from here. I desperately need some guidance and help. Please do reply!

Thanks and best regards,

Ray

A short reply followed, asking my interlocutor to fill out the Help Me Help You questionnaire, followed by this well-thought-out and nicely detailed reply. My answer and advice follow. Below is Ray's second response with answers to our questionnaire

Thank you for your prompt reply. As requested I have filled up the questionnaire and I have also attached my resume for additional information.

My Goal: When I am 35 years old, 10 years from now, I would like to be an enterprise architect.

Answers to the questionnaire:

1. What is your educational background? High school diploma? Associate’s degree? Bachelor’s degree? Graduate degree(s)? Please also briefly describe any incomplete progress toward any of these items (for example “two years of computer science grad courses, 2/3 of MS completed”).

I graduated with a diploma in Business Information Technology (from a technical university in 2009). Currently, I wish to do a degree; probably in Business Information Systems ( this is a top-up kinda of degree that I can get by completing three modules). LINK: informaticsglobalcampus.com

I feel that I need a degree quick and easy, as in the working environment they just want to know if you have one and since I don't it comes off as a great disadvantage.

2. What is your prior work experience? How many years of work, and what kind of work have you done? Any volunteer work? Part-time work in school or elsewhere? (You’d be surprised how much value employers give to those who show evidence of being able to hold a job, and how much credit they give to people willing to work as volunteers or part-time in order to get experience in their chosen fields.

I have worked for four years and going. I have mostly done various IT support roles. You may wish to refer to my resume attached for more details. Basically, I just do support.

3. Where do you live? What is the job market like there? How much opportunity for entry-level people? Mid-career people? Senior people? Are you flexible about relocation, or do you have to stay in your general geographic area? (Feel free to answer only those questions that relate to your personal situation: if you’re just starting out, please skip the mid- and senior-career stuff.)

I am a citizen of one Asian-Pacific country actually, but I am currently located in another country. That’s because the job market at home is tough for entry-level IT personnel: it’s easy to fill support roles but there’s nothing really solid for people of my age and level of experience. They prefer a degree at least and relevant work experience. I am flexible about relocation if required.

4. Are you interested in working in management, or would you prefer to stay on a technical track? Have you ever done any project management (and again, school, part-time, and volunteer experience all help)?

I would love to leave the technical track and get on with management. I have been a leader for almost all projects in school and college. I believe I have what it takes to lead a team, however, such an opportunity did not arrive at work. Thus from a work perspective, I have not led any teams or projects.

5. What kinds of certifications interest you? Please describe any certification held, is it current or has it lapsed, and when earned. How does this fit your overall technical interests? Is there anything outside of certification that particularly catches your imagination, or that you’d really like to work on or around?

I am currently going to sit for an exam in Open Group Archimate2.0 this week (company's paying). I am also studying Windows server 2012 server track MCSE and I am very much intent on completing an ITIL foundation as well. Not to forget a degree soonest possible. I am interested in getting certs, but I don't really know which certs to get that can help me become an architect.

6. Do your long-term career goals include staying in your current position (or in the same field as the next position you’re seeking, if applicable)?

My long-term career goal is what brings me here. I do not see myself progressing anywhere if I continue doing support roles, it’s as if I am floating around. Since I am able to fit into any job scope I am able to do anything actually. This gets tiring after a while; I really wanna become an architect or something similar at the very least. Thus, looking for an appropriate job is my next step.

7. What kind of job are you doing now? What kind of job would you like to be doing? How important is salary to you? How important is job satisfaction? If you could have any job at all, what would that be?

I am currently in the position of a system administrator for a small government organization. However I do almost anything my boss asks me to: this includes modeling of business processes, writing and performing User Acceptance Test, setting up Touch Interface Devices and programs or whatever else he asks of me.

I would like to be doing something that requires me to exercise critical thinking and problem-solving. It was something that I realized when I was helping out an enterprise architect to model his business process which I was involved in a tiny bit. I really enjoyed modeling the business processes using Archimate2.0 and thinking of ways to streamline and make it better.

I think I can translate business requirements into technical and technical to business. This I believe is what I might be actually good at. Salary is surely important, but right now I feel setting myself on the right career track is more important than salary.

I am however not good at programming, although I know java and I am learning PHP as a hobby; I would almost certainly avoid such jobs.

Summary: I do not have any portfolio or a great technical skill. I am much like what you call a "jack of all trades, master of none." I no longer wish to be like that anymore. I do know that I am good at being somewhere in the middle of Business and Information Technology. I have been doing this for years since I started working, and have been thinking of which career path I should take. I think this is it. But, of course, I could use your help :)

Thank you so much.

Regards,
Ray

Dear Ray:

Let me commence my reply by echoing back my understanding of your long-term goals, then review some of the details in your questionnaire reply, en route to making some hopefully helpful observations and recommendations to help you achieve them. If my replies provoke additional questions, do feel free to respond to me directly so we can work them out.

To begin with, I think your goal is eminently sound and completely worth pursuing. But it will be a stretch to get out of IT support and into a more substantial IT role, particularly given the kinds of circumstances you describe in your home country. I would suggest that you try to focus everything in your future work and personal development efforts to work your way into systems deployment and, ultimately, systems design and architecture. I’d suggest taking a survey of IT architect programs and certifications available, and for you to start thinking about how you might begin to pursue one or another of them sometime in the next 3-4 years. The delay between decision and pursuit is necessary for two reasons:

  1. To give you time to complete additional studies and to work on useful pre-requisite credentials to prepare for IT architecture certification.
     
  2. To give you time to pursue additional job openings or opportunities where you can work with IT system design and development so at to position yourself more favorably to play the “architect role” in an IT or consulting organization.

If you can make some progress on both fronts, and find yourself in a more substantial IT position in the next 3-4 years, I believe you have an excellent chance of meeting your goal to find yourself working as an IT architect by 2024 or thereabouts.

With that general advice in mind, however, I see that the “top up degree” to which you point presents the following overall objectives “This programme aims to meet the needs of learners who intend to enter the job market as Systems Analysts, IT Specialists, Database Administrators, Network Engineers and IT Managers.” Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the best choice in the UofP’s overall offerings to move your skills most strongly toward your professed area of interest (IT architect), and would suggest that you look instead at the “Bachelor of Science Technology Management and Computing (TOP UP).” Or, perhaps even better, you might want to contact the program recruiters for the TOP UP offerings, describe your current diploma, then ask them this: “I would ultimately like to work as an IT architect in a decade or so. Given my diploma in Business IT from a technical university, which of your TOP UP degree plans would you recommend to help me pursue this goal?” They may not only have better ideas and advice to offer to you, they might also have other programs that would help you converge on your objectives more quickly and directly. And in fact, you might also want to consider (and ask them and other institutions of interest to you) if there might not be some kind of Master’s Degree program in Computer Science, Informatics, or Information Technology, that might not take IT Architecture as its focus instead. Surely, this would be a more direct way for you to start working toward your long-term goals!

Given your interests in management and the window into operations that working in support always provides intelligent observers, you should also consider adding a Master’s of Business Administration to your educational objectives, with some focus and emphasis on business processes along with IT governance, compliance regimes and so forth (with some considerable attention to ITIL and its certifications as part and parcel of this “career thread”). It’s also very much the case that given your interests and long-term objectives, pursuit of the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP) certification could work to your considerable career advantage. That’s why it’s heartening to see you already thinking in those directions as I read over your questionnaire reply. My response: Keep thinking along those lines, and work in those directions at every possible opportunity.

In the near term (over the next 12 months), I believe pursuit of ITIL Foundation (and a look at what lies beyond) and aggressive pursuit of the PMP should be your top priorities. At the same time, you can formulate your next steps in higher education, and decide whether the TOP UP is necessary, or if you should pursue a Master’s instead (with an emphasis on IT architecture, if such a degree plan is available to you). Next, you’ll jump on the degree of your choosing. Once you finish these things, you’ll want to hit the job market again, to see if you can get closer to home base, or if you’ll need to maintain contract work in the general geographic vicinity, as is the case with your current job.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to market yourself more effectively as an IT generalist, project manager, and systems designer in your next avatar. If not, you could do worse than to continue in the systems administration area, particularly if your boss keeps letting you tackle projects where can hone skills that will groom you for more responsible and capable positions in the future. Be sure to keep good records of your projects, accomplishments, and work activities. Try to get your boss (or other senior IT professionals) to write testimonials to your efforts along the way (an excellent way to do this is to join LinkedIn, keep your professional activities and profile up-to-date at all times, and get strong recommendations from bosses, colleagues, professors, and so forth) as you work your way toward your long-term goals.

Over the next year or two, your options should become much clearer. You should also be able to formulate (and then afterward, to constantly refine) your plans for personal and professional development toward the IT architect role you wish to fill. Again, I am confident you can reach your goal, particularly because you already seem to understand that a considerable span of time, substantial effort, and real expense will be involved to make things work. I’d like to close this e-mail to you with a wonderful epigram I saw on LinkedIn yesterday that seems incredibly apt for your situation:

        If you are not willing to learn,
        No one can help you.
        If you are determined to learn,
        No one can stop you.

Ultimately it is your determination, your effort, and the learning and experience you will acquire that will see you through to achieve your goals. I believe you’re already off to an excellent start.

Best wishes,

Ed

Ed Tittel

Ed is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who has worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written for numerous publications, including Tom's IT Pro, and is the author of more than 140 computing books on information security, web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.