In a great article, Lou Adler argues that there are really only four job types in the world. He describes them like this:
Everything starts with an idea. This is the first of the four jobs – the Thinkers. Builders convert these ideas into reality. This the second job. Improvers make this reality better. This is the third job. Producers do the work over and over again, delivering quality goods and services to the company’s customers in a repeatable manner. This is the fourth job. And then the process begins again with new ideas and new ways of doing business being developed as the old ones become stale.
If we apply this taxonomy to the Architect Role, we can very quickly see how the “thinker” role seems to apply. However, he also states that most jobs are some combination of these with one or two of them being predominant. In our case, it seems pretty clear that the Architect role is a combination of Thinkers and Builders. In fact, while interviewing architects for this book, I realized that the variation of architects and how they view their role is largely a display of these two factors playing out. By having more of one than the other, you get the various types of architects that we tend to see in our lives:
· The hand waver (100% thinker, 0% builder). We all know architects who are really good on the whiteboard, but can’t actually make anything. My bias is that this type of architect is not useful because no value gets produced by them directly. This is perhaps unfair because extremely complex systems need people who are 100% thinkers to get the abstractions and concepts right.
· The Visionary (75% thinker, 25% builder). This person is really bright and sees the future clearly. However, their light builder bias means that although they’re aware of reality, they’re not really bound by it. Think Steve Jobs. While this model is worshiped in Silicon Valley, it turns out that these folks have limited utility. You only need one visionary in your org, right?
· The Far Seer (50% thinker, 50% builder). This person usually has an operational or dev background. They have vision but it’s firmly grounded in reality. It’s tougher for these types of architects to invent new paradigms but they’re really good at figuring out N+1 or N+2.
· The “Gets Shit Done” (25% thinker, 75% builder). This is the guy who simply gets it done. Give them a sort spec sheet and you see them go to the white board right away. A few hours later, you’re getting functional diagrams and then code shortly thereafter. They’re probably building their own prototypes. This type of architect works really well in a small shop and in agile style dev organizations.
· The Principal Engineer (0% thinker, 100% builder). This guy is an architect in name only. Perhaps they rose up from the eng organization or is the most senior guy on the team. Just because you can code rings around everyone else on the planet, does not make you an architect. Sorry.
You may want to apply these metrics to yourself. What percentage of your intellect do you apply to the thinker or builder side of the equation? When you work with other architects, how do they align to this continuum?
Personally, I find myself somewhere between the Far Seer and the Visionary. I’m no Steve Jobs, but I’m usually comfortable thinking about complex abstract problems. However, I also like getting my hands dirty. So, I fall somewhere in-between.