A solutions architect is someone who has 3-D vision. They see business, IT and the space where they both fit together.
When IT companies sell products of services to other businesses, they’re often facing customers who don’t have technical backgrounds, yet still want an explanation of how a given technology will benefit them. A developer or engineer could describe what’s under the hood in great detail, but she might not know how it translates into money. Meanwhile, the account executive knows how to negotiate a deal, but he can’t really talk bits and bytes.
That’s where a solutions architect steps in. Standing at the intersection of business and IT, he or she knows how an IT product or service changes your infrastructure, and your bottom line.
Solutions engineers are an integral part of the pre-sales process, and are highly prized by tech companies, mostly the larger ones who can afford them.
Solutions architects are rare, in demand and worth a lot
If you’re a solutions architect, you don’t come cheap. The personality and aptitude required is not something that’s easy to find. First of all, you need to have a combination of technical knowledge and a logical mind combined with excellent business and communication skills. In other words, a nice gloss of soft skills on top of a geeky interior.
If you’re sitting in a room surrounded by another company’s business and IT people, you’ll have to answer everyone’s questions.There aren’t many people who can stand up to that kind of pressure from all sides. It’s one thing to have lots of different interests–fine art, skiing and ping-pong–but quite another to learn two different professions, especially when you’re dealing with complex technology, lots of money and long time frames.
Solutions architects work on the big picture
It can take half a lifetime to become a good software developer or hardware engineer. Solutions architects obviously can’t match the skills of someone who focuses all their energy on one IT domain. And they’re also likely to move from company to company over their career. So how do they do it?
It’s simple, as they say, but not easy. You need more than a superficial knowledge of certain aspects of IT, but you don’t have to master them. What a good solutions architect sees is the big picture, from both a technological and business perspective. How will a new server fit into a data centre? What will it improve, and how does it create that improvement? Most importantly, how will a business make more money because of that server?
Solutions architects are master planners. They understand how software, hardware and all kinds of services fit together on a large scale. And they’re able to lay it out in a way that a potential buyer can understand.
A long career climb
A career as a solutions architect is rewarding not only because of excellent salaries (starting between $80,000 and $120,000) but also because there’s plenty of room for advancement. With enough years under your belt and the right experience, you can become a subject matter expert, earning $200,000 or even more. And it doesn’t stop there. The best solutions architects are prime candidates for CIO or CTO positions.
So, where do you start? There’s really no specific education you need to become a solutions architect, and people from diverse backgrounds enter the field. Generally speaking, you’ll see technical people learn about the business side of things, though the reverse does happen.
The best thing to do is expose yourself to lots of different IT environments, what they accomplish, and at what cost/benefit ratio. When you can that, you become a valuable commodity in the job market.