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A day in the life of a Web Services Architect

To give you a taste of what life is like on the front lines for a Web services architect, we're taking a two-part look at a typical day on the job.

The Web Services Advisor
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Life's tough when you're a Web services architect. You're not just wrestling with technology, because that's often the easy part. You're tying technology to business, coordinating with your sales staff, working with business partners…and that's just the first part of your day.

To give you a taste of what life is like on the front lines for a Web services architect, we're taking a two-part look at a day in the life of one. In this first part, we'll look at a typical day, and in the next part we'll more closely examine the technology and challenges in the project he's taken on.

A Look at the Life

Paul Farrell, at 35, has found himself in a position others most likely envy. He's a senior product marketing manager for Epicor, a global provider of integrated enterprise software solutions for mid-market companies, and he works in the manufacturing solutions group, which develops solutions for manufacturers, companies that range from emerging companies and startups, up to those with about $500 million in annual sales.

Farrell finds himself in a similar situation to many other IT architects at enterprises and software companies. Epicor's core product for manufacturing solutions is client/server-based. But the world is moving to Web services, and Epicor has decided to move that way as well. So Farrell is charged with re-architecting the entire existing solution to a 100 percent Web-oriented product. Target release date: Early 2004. Six months away and the clock is ticking.

You wouldn't know the clock was ticking on a project of such massive scale when you talk with Farrell, however. He's thoughtful, considers questions carefully before answering them, and appears unflappable—qualities necessary for someone overseeing a project of this magnitude. But then again, he's had practice getting here. He has a degree in computer science, operational research and business math. His first job out of college was in the IT department of a manufacturer, so he knows from the inside how the software he's overseeing will ultimately be used. He's worked at project management for a variety of companies, worked in pre-sales and sales support, and has overseen product marketing for the Middle East and Africa out of the United Kingdom.

Farrell works in Minneapolis, and has two product managers reporting to him in Minneapolis, two product managers in the United Kingdom, as well as a team in San Diego. In total, he has six or seven senior managers of various types reporting to him, and a total of 60 employees under him, "mainly on the development side of things," he says. He in turn reports to the senior vice president of the manufacturing software side of Epicor.

The Day Begins

On a typical day, he gets in at 8 am and "spend the first hour and a half answering emails," he says. "By the time I get in, half the world has already been working, because we have offices in Singapore, Sidney and the UK, and we have partners worldwide." So he hunkers down, answering and filing email first thing in the morning, "because in my type of job, you can get killed by email" if you don't get to them right away.

But he's not one to email for the mere sake of it.

"I hate email chains," he says. "I'd rather speak to someone directly than get involved in one. Email is often just a way for people to abdicate their responsibility."

As with other knowledge workers, Farrell's daily routine has nothing dramatic about it—the work is primarily done in his head and in communicating with members of his staff. No car chases, no court scenes, no airplanes dropping out of the sky. Cyborgs tend to congregate elsewhere.

Instead, there is the nitty-gritty of three meetings a day, frequently complete with Web conferencing, videoconferencing and phone conferencing. There are meetings with his own staff, the sales staff, analysts, business partners, his superiors and occasionally members of the press. An hour a day is spent reading about new technologies and industry developments. There's travel, of course, and wherever he goes, there is a six-to-eight-inch-thick folder stuffed with reading material he needs to catch up on.

By 6 pm, he's ready to go home, but the day is far from over. At around 8 pm, there's another hour of work. But to a certain degree, Farrell says, he never stops working, because even while going through the normal motions of living, he is constantly thinking about better ways to do things. Currently, his group is working on a sub-project on how to put data manufacturing information on ruggedized PDAs (ruggedization is a necessity on the factory floor). They have to duplicate the client/server code into a Web services architecture. And there's more to think about as well: how to integrate components with other companies' components, for example. Farrell's job is to define and articulate the overall product strategy, and then execute that strategy, all while working with analysts, press, and the rest of the company.

So when driving, for example, his mind tends to wander to his work, "which can annoy my wife," he admits ruefully. But he's not the type to wake up in the middle of the night worrying about his decisions, "Because I'm not a second-guesser. I don't usually think too much about whether we've made the right or wrong decision. When you go down a particular path, make sure you do it the best way. I don't like to let things fester—get them done properly, and if there's a problem, resolve it."

It's a good thing that Farrell is so imperturbable. Because as we'll see in the next column, he's up against a big task. We'll take a look at the overall architecture he's creating, what problems he's faced along the way, and the strategy he's chosen to tackle it.

Continues in Part Two

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About the Author

Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. As a well-known technology guru, he appears frequently on TV and radio shows and networks, including CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News Now, the CBS Early Show, PBS's All Things Considered and others. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including from the Computer Press Association for the Best Feature in a Computer Publication. He can be reached at preston@gralla.com.

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