6 Steps to Become a Software Architect

Are you interested in becoming a software architect? It might seem like it’s a long way off, but we’ve listed out the steps in this article.

What Is A Software Architect?

First of all, let’s start with the definition of a software architect. In other posts that I’ve written which are similar to this, I’ve found it useful to start off with the definition.

According to Wikipedia:

A software architect is a computer programmer or expert who makes high-level design choices and dictates technical standards, including software coding standards, tools, and platforms.

So, as part of this role, you need to make design choices. You also need to be pretty knowledgeable about computer programming. Let’s have a look at some of the steps you need to take to become a software architect.

Start With A Computer Science Degree

The first step on how to become a software architect is to get a degree in Computer Science. Yeah, it’s a big step. It might be enough to put some people off this career choice. However, as it’s a programming-related role, and a high level, it usually requires a degree.

Many programming roles require or prefer a degree in computer science (or a related field) before you can start work. A software architect is no different.

If you have a computer science degree already, that’s a good start. You can follow the rest of the steps in this article to learn how to become a software architect.

If you don’t have a computer science degree, then I suggest you look into getting one. If you’re interested in a programming career, including software architecture, it’s recommended. Have a look at some nearby colleges or universities to see what is available. I won’t go into the details of getting a computer science degree in this article, other than to say it’s good to have one.

Get Some Experience with Programming

Software architects need to know how to program. They need to be able to understand syntax in different languages, and be able to write code. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they code while they are at work every day. They just need to understand how code works. The best way to learn this is to have some experience as a programmer.

The good thing is that once you have a computer science degree, the next step in most cases is to get a job as a programmer or software developer. If you’ve just gotten a computer science degree, then this would be your next step. Have a look around for some jobs as a developer. Look on your favourite job websites (such as Dice, Monster, Seek), have a look on LinkedIn and speak to some people you may know in the industry.

It doesn’t really matter what language you have experience in when you get to a software architect role. It could be Java, .Net, C, or many other languages. The main point of the experience is to get to know how programming is done in the real world and how it integrates with other systems. Working on a university project and working on code for a company are two different things.

Learn to Work in a Development Team

The next step on how to become a software architect is to get some experience working in a team. This can be done as part of the previous point of “getting experience with programming”, but I’ve decided to list it separately as it teaches you different things.

A software architect needs to consider many things when doing their job, more than just the programming part of it. To be a good software architect, it helps to have the kind of experience you get working in a development team.

Working on a development team, or a team of developers, will teach you many things:

  • How to work on projects with multiple developers
  • How to work towards deadlines for projects or releases
  • How to interact with people in different roles of the SDLC, such as testers and business analysts
  • How your decisions and work on one project will impact your work on future projects

This kind of experience will help you do your job better as a software architect. It will help you consider the design of the system and how it impacts future development, as you have experience actually doing the development. It also helps to get agreement from the developers and teams working on it, as you have the experience to back up your decisions.

Expand Your Knowledge of Other Roles

Becoming a software architect means you need to consider the long term vision of the system and the company. You also need to know how it impacts other roles and other teams doing the work. I mentioned this in an earlier paragraph, but I’d like to expand on it here.

The other roles in the SDLC need to be considered when doing your role. Testing, implementation, requirements gathering, design, and maintenance are all areas that you need to know about to become a software architect.

The best way to learn more about these areas is to get some experience. However, this can be challenge. Assuming you’re a software developer now, working in a software team, it can be hard to move around into all these different roles to get some experience. This would depend on the way that your teams and company are set up. It could take years to get a good level of experience in each of these roles, if they have dedicated teams.

Another way of improving your knowledge is to work with these particular roles. For example, let’s say you want to get some more experience in testing. Rather than move into the testing team permanently, you could work with them to find out more about what they do. Learn how they write test cases, how they run tests, how they report defects, how they prepare and analyse the test data and work out what is needed. This might be easier and take less time than moving into a dedicated role.

Getting similar experience for the other related roles can help you become a software architect.

Learn About Software Design Patterns and Architecture

The main component of a software architect’s role is to apply architectural styles, or patterns, to software. A pattern is a way of designing software or an interface in a certain way to ensure it is efficient, future-proof and correct. To become a software architect, you need to learn about these architectural styles and how you can apply them to your job.

There are many ways to learn these:

  • Books. You can read some books on the topic. There are many books out there which teach you the basics of software architecture.
  • Online courses. A great way to learn about software architecture is to take an online course. There are many of them available on a range of topics. I personally really like online courses!
  • Other software architects. Arguably the best way to learn about software architecture is from others who have done it before, or who are doing it now. They can teach you all kinds of information, including patterns, as well as other tips on moving into this kind of role.

Once you have learn’t about software architecture and what it involves, think about how you can apply it to your own job. Read some documents and designs that other architects have prepared, and see why they have made certain decisions and what their alternatives are. Learn how it all fits in to the long-term view of the application.

Apply for a Software Architect Job

Alright, now most of the work is done. You have your degree, your experience as a software developer, knowledge about architecture and other roles in the industry. The next step? Finding a software architecture job!

You can do this in two ways. You can either look inside your own company for a job, or apply for a job outside your company. Personally, I think looking inside your own company is easier.

Looking for an architecture job inside your own company can be easier, because the company already knows you. They know how you work, they know the quality of what you do, and you already know the systems and people in the company.

If you’d like to do it this way, then find some current software architects and speak to them. Find out how you can get into this role, and what the process is for moving into the team from within the company. The downside of taking this approach is there may not be a need for an architect. As in, they may have enough already.

If you’d like to look outside your company, this may be harder as you need to go through the interview process with a company that doesn’t know you. The advantage is that they are in need of this role, as they are advertising for it, so they will be hiring someone. Why can’t that someone be you?

Have a look on some job sites for software architect positions, speak to some other architects or other people you know in the industry, and see what is available. Refresh and improve your resume – this is an important step as it needs to be the best it can be.

How To Become a Software Architect – Summary

So, to summarise becoming a software architect:

  1. Start with a Computer Science degree
  2. Get some experience with programming
  3. Learn to work in a development team
  4. Expand your knowledge of other roles
  5. Learn about software design patterns and architecture
  6. Apply for a software architect job

I hope this has helped you understand what is involved in how to become a software architect. There is a lot involved, and it can take some time, but it’s a high paying job and can be very rewarding. What other questions do you have about software architecture? Share them in the comments section below.

Career Action Tip: Determine what steps above you have completed. Look at the next step in the process above and work out the next single action you need to take to make progress on it.