According to the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, an architect is someone who is qualified to design and provide advice on building objects in public and private landscapes. The organization likens architects to conductors who orchestrate and help reconcile the goals for a building or other structure.
When it comes to building software, IT architects fulfill a similar, critical role. Regardless of their title—software architect, IT architect, data architect, cloud architect, solution architect, application architect, and so on—these valuable professionals use their creative vision to design solutions and apply their practical and technical knowledge to solve problems.
How we view the role of architect
At New Relic, we expect our architects to be technical leaders. They paint the vision of where we’re going, understand what trade-offs need to be considered, and make sure that everyone has what they need to get there. We believe that architects’ principal output is leadership and their primary mechanism is influence.
Architects at New Relic are individual contributors reporting to a group lead and work on a variety of projects across the company. Instead of being a permanent part of a particular team, architects work across all engineering groups to ensure the best trade-offs for New Relic are being pursued. Architects also look at broader systems and help our engineers see how their work fits into those systems.
The role comes with certain expectations
We hire awesome engineers. An architect’s job is to help these engineers see into the future. Architects guide engineers to make decisions that support each other, give advice on how to avoid mistakes that will be expensive to fix later, and apply creativity to help solve problems and deliver outstanding results.
If this sounds like a tall order, it is. Our expectations for architects include:
- Think of New Relic before their group or team: Architects have a broader perspective and are in a position to influence decisions and raise concerns to higher levels of management to ensure that the organization as a whole is accepting that choice consciously. Architects make sure that teams do not work at cross-purposes of larger New Relic goals, helping them understand the rationale for the work and stay on the company-wide path.
- Be accountable for the technical decisions of their teams: Architects are expected to work with their teams to make good technical decisions. We don’t hold architects accountable when someone with more authority makes a decision, but we do hold them accountable when they don’t overrule a team making a bad decision.
- Raise the technical competence of their teams: Architects help teams gain the competencies they need to do their jobs. Sometimes that’s encouraging the team that they can do something; other times, it’s providing direct technical content to the team; yet other times, it’s escalating the need through management to bring in resources to make the team successful.
- Advocate for their teams across the organization: Architects often act as technical champions for the teams they work with, bringing their concerns to the larger organization.
- Have good communication skills: The majority of an architect’s work involves sharing their (or their teams’) ideas with the rest of the organization. This often includes convincing others of the wisdom of these ideas.
- Define technical standards for New Relic: The architecture team maintains technical standards that provide guardrails for our software teams. Solid guidance enables our engineers to move quickly without needing their architect to act as a gatekeeper and without putting the greater system at risk.
- Do some technical work: Making decisions about how to do something is best informed by trying to do it. We don’t want architects in the critical path of developing things, but we do want them building prototypes and experimenting.
Being successful as an architect
In many ways, we ask our architects to be servant leaders in their projects, putting the organization first, then the team, then themselves. (For those of you not familiar with the philosophy and practices of Servant Leadership, a servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.)
By applying the Servant Leadership philosophy, measuring an architect’s success is based on how effectively that person makes their group lead and their team successful. Here are some characteristics that reflect a successful New Relic architect:
- Spends time with their teams: The best way to build trust with the team is to serve them, working with the team and helping them solve problems and reach their goals.
- Guides teams in problem-solving: Instead of dictating an answer, the successful architect facilitates teams through problem-solving exercises, helping them find the best path forward.
- Supports all the answers: Architects don’t have all the answers. They work with their teams to jointly come to a solution.
- Is (and helps others to be) comfortable with ambiguity: When the choices are clear, it’s easy for teams to make good choices. A significant portion of an architect’s job is to clarify a possible future, enough so that everyone can see the choices, move forward, and learn.
Are you interested in becoming an architect at New Relic? Explore our careers.
The views expressed on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of New Relic. Any solutions offered by the author are environment-specific and not part of the commercial solutions or support offered by New Relic. Please join us exclusively at the Explorers Hub (discuss.newrelic.com) for questions and support related to this blog post. This blog may contain links to content on third-party sites. By providing such links, New Relic does not adopt, guarantee, approve or endorse the information, views or products available on such sites.