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An application architect's chief roles and responsibilities

Today's application architect isn't just a high-caliber developer, but an experienced leader with both the technical and business chops to propel an organization's software strategy.

With the emergence of complex enterprise software, the definition of "architect" is now often applied to highly experienced IT professionals who offer the same types of skills in software environments. More specifically, application architects play a vital role in the design, implementation and analysis of all software projects.

Architects often take on even broader responsibility to plan, design and manage groups of applications, as well as interactions between users and business units. They must be capable communicators and mediators that can work with people ranging from software project managers to end users. Typically, this also includes coordinating staff training, developing best practices for application development, and managing documentation.

For most industries, architects represent one of the most senior roles in software development. However, the education requirements, skills and experience can vary dramatically, depending on a few factors. Whether you're a budding architect seeking advancement or a veteran architect looking for a challenge, it's vital to consider potential roles carefully and understand the specific position's requirements before interviewing for the role.

Let's take a look at the baseline application architect roles and responsibilities, and examine some of the specific skills those looking for an IT leader should focus on.

What does an application architect do?

Like most IT pros, architects need a keen understanding of the latest software technologies, development practices and management tools. Their influence reaches beyond IT, however, as they can also act as ambassadors between tech departments and business-side units. Because of this, architects must also understand their organization's overarching needs and develop a software strategy that meets critical business goals.

Generally, the application architect's roles and responsibilities fall into four primary categories:

  • Software development. Application architects participate in all aspects of the software development process, such as determining business goals, prototype modeling, risk evaluation and customization for specific clients or users.
  • Ongoing support. Architects monitor applications to identify necessary configuration changes, maintain data integrity, improve the user experience and stay abreast of security issues.
  • Thought leadership. As tech leaders, architects often attend conferences and conduct industry research with business partners to establish thought leadership and bring new knowledge to the organization.
  • Documentation. Application architects create and maintain documentation surrounding the software architecture, application design processes, component integration, testing guidelines and other key elements.
  • Training. Architects are often responsible for training developers and refining the technical expertise of both junior and senior team members.

Application architect experience and education requirements

The application architect's roles and responsibilities are complex and demanding. They require proven technical competence along with strong planning and communication, among other soft skills. A typical job description for an enterprise-level architect will often touch on both the technical and managerial aspects of the role.

Most organizations look for a minimum of five years of application development experience, but leadership and management requirements often lead organizations to pursue candidates that have spent 10 or more years in the software industry. While specific job descriptions vary by employer, job listings will generally outline the scope and types of knowledge. This often includes experience with:

  • programming languages such as .NET, C#, Java and PHP;
  • hybrid cloud platforms like Azure, AWS and Google Cloud;
  • web development frameworks and tools, such as AngularJS, Bootstrap and Gulp;
  • object-oriented design principles and coding practices, such as encapsulation and inheritance;
  • microservices architecture and RESTful (API) services;
  • secure coding practices and protocols such as the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP); and
  • SQL and NoSQL database management.

In terms of education, most architect candidates should have at least a bachelor's degree in computer science, information technology or a related field. Some employers will seek candidates with an advanced degree, but such formal education is usually associated with business studies such as MBAs. Furthermore, professional certifications such as AWS Certified Solutions Architect, ITIL Master and TOGAF 9 are massively helpful.

Editor's note: See Stephen Bigelow's companion piece to this tip -- "3 predictable application architect interview questions" -- to learn how an aspiring architect can prove that they're a quality candidate.

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