My experience is that most people think architecture is the same as design. This is true when talking about construction, but not in IT. What is similar between construction and IT, however, is that an architect neither builds or operates.
Building Architecture = The art or practice of designing and constructing buildings
IT Architecture = The art or science of designing and delivering valuable technology strategies
In IT, architecture is about strategy. An architect ensures that technology strategies support business needs, meaning that architects primarily need an analytic mind, a holistic view, business skills and a broad experience base. The design work that an architect does is conceptual or at least very high level, more like urban planning than building architecture. Where building architects focus on designing the actual buildings, urban planners determine where buildings will go and how land will be used to meet community needs by considering things like transportation, sustainability, pollution, crime, land values, economic development, social equality, etc.
In most cases it will be beneficial for architects to have actual hands-on experience from building and operating solutions and services. However, when moving to an architecture position that is something you don’t do anymore. And that’s one of the biggest reasons why architect positions are not a direct growth path for senior developers and engineers: it’s a different profession that requires other skills especially in the business area. In order to learn these other skills, you will have to give up your specialist skills since you will not be able to maintain them for very long without working hands-on or having the time to stay up-to-date with the latest technical development on the required level of detail.
For a specialist, this is like trading your superhero cloak for an average scarf, and that is painful since you will feel like you are losing your identity. You will no longer be the expert that your peers turn to for help and advice, instead you will for a long time be the generalist with low or average skills in many vital areas of an architect.
That’s why solution design should be done by the specialists, assisted by an architect in order to fit the solution into the bigger picture. Going back to construction, the urban planner (architect) decides on where the building should be and other high-level characteristics so that it fits into the community but not the low-level design of the actual building (system/solution).
So, when you are hiring senior developers, look for relevant development skills, architecture is not likely one of them, but solution design might be.
When promoting your best developer or engineer, make them a lead, principal or similar and not an architect if you expect them to continue to do what they do best.
VP, Group Architecture