An infrastructure architect defines and designs the flow of technology within the business or for specific projects. They’ll have a top down view across the infrastructure taking in security and data considerations as well as the servers, wires and desktop devices. Being a superb technologist is a given and this person also articulates in plain language how technology can help reduce costs, improve service and increase profits.
Clearly, it’s a big job, and the enterprise architect is at the top of a techie pecking order that spans support, network and data teams. This branch of the IT profession also has its own league table, with architects coming in many technology flavours including web, network and storage. Enterprise architect is synonymous with the top job in most organisations.
While the enterprise architect knows his servers, networks, data centres and PCs inside out, he won’t be getting their hands dirty in this role. Shifting boxes is not the day-to-day remit of the enterprise architect who is more preoccupied with exploring solutions or evangelising a new technology model to business colleagues. If you can’t make geekspeak intelligible to a wider audience, this job is not for you.
What type of person should you be?
Three attributes epitomise an enterprise architect: you love technology with a passion, are highly analytical and are a leader. The third is non-negotiable as technology decisions rest with you and for this reason alone there won’t be many infrastructure architects in one company.
All these credentials point to a confident person with robust opinions, who is not afraid to push for innovative solutions that will support the business. A good infrastructure architect is highly analytical and prepared to think about a problem from many different angles before opting for a solution. They’ll be highly networked, with a good knowledge of technologies and connections with technology suppliers to help their cause.
There's a fourth personal quality that is essential in this job and if you haven’t got it, you’ll need to learn it fast: patience. You need to be able to explain the whys and wherefores of an infrastructure to different audiences using the appropriate language, and you’ll need to do it over and over again.
Panellist’s view: This person enjoys guru status in his own technical team, pushes for innovative solutions and evangelises the benefits of technology.
What’s the best first job?
There are a number of paths that lead to the infrastructure architect’s desk. A system administrator’s role, programming, networking or security jobs all make good starting points. Ideally an aspiring infrastructure architect should have a working knowledge of all of these areas. Many people typically move on to work in supervisory or junior management. It’s important to be vendor-neutral and not have a strong bias towards any particular technology platform.
The biggest jobs are in the corporate world where the infrastructure architect works closely with business stakeholders and third party service providers. If you’ve only worked on small scale projects, it’s worth getting involved with steering committees and other technology interest groups to get experience of larger projects within larger environments.
Whatever job you’re in, formal or informal mentoring from your peers and networking will help achieve some of the outcomes that organisations are looking for in an architect: foreseeing future technology trends, implementing scalable solutions and making sure that business processes and technology solutions fit together to meet organisational requirements.
What are the recommended professional qualifications to gain and institutes to join?
The popular vendor certifications from Cisco, Microsoft, VMware and Oracle in the respective areas such as networking, operating systems, virtualisation, middleware and databases are important credentials. In addition, many organisations look for some knowledge or certification in recognised vendor-neutral architecture frameworks. These include TOGAF and the Zachman Framework.
The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) is a tool for assisting the acceptance, production use, and maintenance of enterprise architectures. Certification leads to the Open Group’s IT Architect Certification (ITAC). The ITAC programme is based on peer review and there are currently more than 14,000 TOGAF certified people across the globe.
The Association of Open Group Enterprise Architects (AOGEA) is a community with more than 15,000 individual members around the world that provides support and networking from fellow professionals.
Panellist’s view: It’s good to be able to communicate with peers and third party organisations about infrastructure using the same terminology and vendor-neutral based standards.
Additional skills to acquire:
You need to raise the bar and perform above the expected technical competencies in order to be a good infrastructure architect. Project management skills and soft skills such as listening and persuading come into their own when communicating how technology addresses business problems.
Useful extra certifications in related disciplines that comprise soft skills include ITIL, PRINCE2 and PMP. Recruiters may also seek skills and experience of writing materials such as bids, request for proposals (RFPs) and presentations. E-skills UK has created the e-skills Professional Programme, to enable experienced IT professionals including infrastructure architects to develop the correct blend of skills and capabilities.
However, certificates are no substitute for experience, and the enterprise architect shouldn’t lose sight of their techie roots. They need to stay on top of technical developments in order to retain the respect of their team.
Panellist’s view: People who cannot deal with the real world will be found out in this job.
What’s the job market like?
Infrastructure architects are in demand. Every large company has one or two and the normal trajectory is to then work for management consultancies on multiple and massive projects. Some FTSE companies have architecture divisions with different technology architect specialists, and an overall enterprise architect sitting in high command, which provides a ready made career ladder.
There are many infrastructure architect roles advertised on job boards across the world. Some are for specific technologies such as Data Centre, Windows/Linux and HP/VMware and others are more general. There are roles within corporate organisations, and also in the system integrator and consultancy communities. Typical salaries vary from £50K a year to well in excess of £100K. However, there is strong competition for each job that is advertised as more and more individuals from around the world aspire to become IT architects.
Panellist’s view: There are relatively few jobs available and competition is fierce. To succeed, at heart you have to remain a ‘proper nerdy-geek’.
What is the career progression?
Infrastructure architects automatically become more focused on business strategy as they progress through their career. This could lead them down the route of becoming a solution architect, and eventually an enterprise architect. Even at the pinnacle of this particular career, there is an opportunity for endless amount of learning, and architects tend to stay in organisations and grow with infrastructures as they grow, evolve and go global.
Accomplished and experienced infrastructure architects are in demand with the big system integrators who snap up their skills to use on many projects in tandem.
Panellist’s view: This role is truly vocational. I’m still surprised by the high level of skills available in this role in big and small organisations.
Thanks to our infrastructure architect panel:
Steve Philp, marketing director of The Open Group’s certification programmes
David Bloxham, managing director GCS recruitment
Kevin Whelan, CTO ITC Global Security, former IA at PricewaterhouseCoopers
Karen Price, CEO e-skills UK