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Architectural angst

I met something of a software guru at an industry event last night. His name was Mr Xiao-Yun Wang.
Written by Adrian Bridgwater, Contributor on

I met something of a software guru at an industry event last night. His name was Mr Xiao-Yun Wang. Originally Chinese and now living in France with a French wife working for a US company, this guy had a fair spread of global industry knowledge.

He was in fact a software architect, but he made sure he let me know that he also ‘worked on development too’. Now, most of us know the basic difference between architecture and development, but I always like to play dumb and see if I can get a fresh take on the two disciplines.

So here’s what he said:

Development for Xiao is (unsurprisingly) concerned with the minutiae of a project. It is within the walls of the job in hand and its practitioners often fail to look outside at the real world – even if they are involved with requirements management.

Architecture on the other hand is bigger picture. OK, we knew that. But Xiao did have a nice way of putting it, “We look at the outside world. We look at the competition and this is not something that developers often do. We look at technology trends right across the market place to try and understand what customers will demand before they even ask for it,” he said.

For me, I think that when people consider software architecture they don’t always think about these kind of external commercial considerations as part of the big picture. So in fact, the bigger picture might be even bigger than you thought.

So, while we’re on this subject. A while back now I spoke with Matt Deacon, the chief architectural advisor for Microsoft UK’s developer and platform group. He pointed out that the UK’s Royal Institute for Building Architects (RIBA) is aware of the use of the term ‘architect’ in job titles within the technology industry.

Here’s what RIBA has to say on the subject:

“The board is aware of widespread use within the computer and IT industry of the word ‘architect’ being incorporated into certain job descriptions, for example ‘Systems Architect’ or ‘Software Architect’. While such use may be a technical breach of the Act, the reason for and intention of continued regulation of the title is principally to ensure that consumers of architects’ services are guaranteed a certain standard and quality of work.”

Microsoft’s Deacon made an interesting point, as long as you’re not the IT architect responsible for the software program that was used by a building architect to design a building that then immediately fell down because of a design flaw in your software design then I guess you’re safe from being sued, well, by the Royal Institute of British Architect (RIBA) at least. After all, who’s ever heard of someone dying as a direct result of a poor design decision made by an IT architect?

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