Building a career on IT architecture

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Gregory Brill, president of Infusion Development and editor of CodeNotes for .NET, a manual for developers, says, "With .NET a dummy can say 'Yeah, I can do Web services,' but that doesn't mean they understand the infrastructure or are designing it securely."

Architecture is becoming more important, agrees Bob Deissig, a partner in The Ayers Group in New York. "Companies tend to use a lot of different types of technology, and if you don't do a good job of architecting it beforehand, sometimes the pieces don't fit together," he says. Building heterogeneous systems or migrating to new technology can be tricky.

Deissig says he doesn't know of formal training programs in system architecture. Architects often come from work as network engineers, or as UNIX or Windows NT administrators.

"Some people become interested in infrastructure architecture and putting the pieces together," says Deissig. Smart people who have more of a strategic view of the business and the technology are moving into architecture roles. On the job training is pretty common.

And that's a good way to move up the pay ladder as well, he adds.

"Good architects tend to do well. It depends on how long they have been doing it, but a typical range for an architect is a base of $125,000 to $175,000," he says. Because architects range across systems, the work is more interesting too.

Deissig says IT architects work with different vendors and with different parts of the organization on the technical side. "You have to be more than a technician," he says. "You have to be good at building relationships and getting people to buy into the strategy and architecture."

Dino Grigorakakis, regional vice president for consulting services at Robert Half International in New York, doesn't see a big demand for architects right now, however.

"System architect was a hot category before the recession, although I would expect to see more demand as we come out of this downturn," he explains. The industry is hiring people who know Microsoft systems, he says. "Right now we are seeing more of the nuts and bolts - server optimization, Active Server work, Exchange Server jobs - things that happen when companies migrate from one operating system to another."

Who's putting it all together? Grigorakakis isn't sure. "I can only assume the CIO or some high level person in the company is acting as the system architect."

Companies moving from UNIX to Windows can use architects. "You need a senior mentor architect during your transition period, someone who knows the environment you are coming from and understands .NET," says Brill at Infusion Development. "The architect should be able to guide your people to the new paradigm. You don't want to end up with a new technology imitating an old paradigm badly."

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