If you’re interested in becoming a solutions architect, keep in mind that it’s one of the best-paid and most interesting roles in technology—but establishing yourself can prove a challenge.
For starters, the role is often loosely defined, explained Jerry Callistein, career ownership coach and former solutions architect. If you don’t understand the job’s requirements, it’s difficult to break in.
Generally speaking, a solutions architect is responsible for designing, communicating and managing technical solutions to specific business problems. Much like an architect designing a blueprint for a building, they create the overall strategic technical vision and provide strategic direction throughout the development process.
It’s a role you evolve into, Callistein noted. And because solutions architecture is a highly creative field that requires political savviness as well as technical skills, it’s a job with a lot of complexity. Fortunately, it often pays well: according to Glassdoor, solutions architects command total average pay of $201,862.
Although there is no single path to becoming a solutions architect, here are some ways to guide your professional evolution.
Become a Jack-of-All-Trades
The technology professionals best suited for solutions architect roles are jacks-of-all-trades with wide-ranging skillsets, Callistein noted. Many successful solutions architects develop a set of core technical skills as well as communication, risk identification and management, problem analysis, and project and resource management skills by rotating through a number of jobs.
The best way to begin your jack-of-all-trades journey is to earn a degree that covers a broad spectrum of topics, including Computer Information Systems (CIS).
When it comes to prior experience, the role is open to people with diverse backgrounds. For instance, Sonakshi Pandey has worked with solutions architects who started out as cloud engineers, cloud consultants, network engineers, support engineers, program managers, software engineers and systems engineers from a wide range of industries.
Even professionals without a technical background can find their way into field through dedication, curiosity and willingness to learn. These professionals all had one thing in common, noted Pandey, data analytics leader at Google Cloud and creator of the “Tech Talk with Sonakshi” blog.
At some point, they gained deep expertise in one or more tech areas and acquired domain knowledge as a generalist or a specialist, she added. Solutions architecture also requires a broader understanding of the big picture.
To develop a solution to a complex problem, you need to account for the integration of different enterprise solutions, processes and applications. Acquiring firsthand experience with networks, network security, storage, containers, analytics and databases (even through side projects) can help you choose the right technology, manage architectural concerns and ensure an effective solution.
Also, connecting with other solutions architects across different domains and industries to understand how they are using tech to solve problems can help broaden your perspective and build a strong support network.
Finally, expand your knowledge of business, customer needs and the impact of technical solutions on business outcomes by actively participating in your team’s quarterly business reviews.
Although succeeding as a solutions architect requires technical breadth and depth, it also demands sales acumen.
Sales? Yes. Whether you call it political savviness or sales, solutions architects need the ability to communicate their vision to technical and non-technical audiences, demonstrate how it meets business goals, and climb up (and down) the corporate ladder with ease.
You need to get everyone behind you, even members of the C-Suite. At some point, you’ll need to improve your speaking and presentation skills. Try to gain some experience in a customer-facing role as you rotate through various positions on your way to becoming a solutions architect.
Move From the Inside Out
The good news: you don’t have to know everything to land a position as a junior or associate solutions architect. Cut your teeth on some small projects first, preferably inside your own company. Because solution architecture is a role you grow into, its better to start inside and work your way out.
Don’t chose a specialty up front unless you have five or more years of specific domain experience, Pandey said. Instead, strive to acquire deep, broad knowledge in a variety of areas.
Getting hands-on cloud experience and beginner certifications such as Google Cloud Associate, AWS Certified Solutions Architect or Microsoft Azure Fundamentals is a great way to validate your skills and land interviews.
For people with non-technical backgrounds, there are several programs that can help you learn cloud computing and build a career as a solutions architect, including Google’s Cloud Technical Residency (CTR), Amazon’s Technical Apprenticeships, AWS Restart and Microsoft Leap.
More Tips for a Quick Evolution
Here’s another tip—learn to write code. Coding comes in handy when building demos or proof of concept (POC) demos for customers. That’s in addition to honing your communication skills, building your brand and establishing yourself as a thought leader. You can make thought-leadership inroads by creating blogs, tutorials or videos that not only help your customers but also the solutions architecture community.
Finally, stay curious. To continue to grow and evolve as a solutions architect, carve out time to sharpen your toolset, learn new things, get your hands dirty with code, and get better at your domain each and every day.
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