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3 predictable application architect interview questions

Software architecture roles are awfully industry specific, but there are still baseline skills employers want to see. These are some of the questions they ask to find those skills.

There is more to being an application architect than what meets the eye. Beyond software development and infrastructure management responsibilities, architects must also be capable problem solvers who can stay on top of software industry trends and understand what strategies will accomplish the business's overall goals. Due to the education, experience and skill required of application architects, this role is often a senior management position that touches the business side. Yet, if you have the knowledge and technological expertise, becoming an application architect is often a great career move for many IT pros.

But how does a curious candidate prepare for this type of interview? This is tricky, because the role of an application architect can vary dramatically in scope from company to company. It's always a smart move for an architect to maximize their knowledge of the company they apply to, including the specifics of the industry vertical, key competitors, specialized business policies and the nature of its customer engagement.

However, interviewers will still investigate a prospective architect's basic skills using some general questions related to the profession. Let's review three application architect interview questions candidates typically encounter and explore their underlying meaning.

What was your most challenging development project?

Architects should be capable problem solvers, and this question exposes the extent of a candidate's ability to apply their architectural knowledge to complex, real-world issues. Architects must be able to identify critical issues, evaluate the available alternatives and pursue the option that satisfies both the technical needs of the application and the business as a whole. In addition, a successful candidate doesn't just explain their current process, but highlights ways they improved existing processes they've inherited.

While this question does test basic problem-solving skills, it's also important to demonstrate an advanced understanding of the specific technologies used to solve that problem. For instance, a candidate that successfully wrangled a complex infrastructure and specifically remedied intermittent API performance failures is more desirable than a candidate that has only fixed relatively simple software bugs. In addition, the answer should typically elucidate experience with specific programming languages and platforms.

What metrics do you typically focus on gathering and analyzing?

Part of an architect's job is to gather and review metrics that guide software infrastructure management and flag the need for updates or fixes. This question helps the interviewer examine a candidate's proficiency with information-gathering processes and data analysis tools. The employer also wants to know how a candidate gathers the information needed to understand a project's lifecycle and determine the benchmarks they'll use to measure application performance.

Typically, the answer should start with an explanation of the types of data an architect has gathered and worked with. However, it's also important to highlight the specific connection between application metrics and business metrics, including the data that measures the actual value of an application to a company, such as user satisfaction and revenue. Ultimately, an interviewer wants to know if the architect can attain the insight needed to help the organization use software to excel in their industry.

How do you deal with difficult developers or other peers?

Architects must be excellent communicators and collaborators. Since application architects are high-level employees, the answer provides a gauge of how they interact with groups of people that might range from end users to company executives. Candidates need to demonstrate they can readily transcend the walls of their development shops and act as tech-centric ambassadors across the business.

Architects must be able to speak their mind, build confidence in others, gain trust and collaborate within business relationships that may sometimes be contentious. This is a good time for a candidate to share brief anecdotes about overcoming relationship challenges that led to positive business outcomes. They should also not be afraid to respectfully question or point out any concerns they might have during the interview, as this demonstrates the engagement and attention to detail needed to fill this role.

Editor's note: To learn more about the application architect role, including specific job and education requirements, see Stephen Bigelow's companion piece to this tip: "An application architect's chief roles and responsibilities."

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