Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Folly of Job Titles

It's funny how titles come about, and "Systems Architect" is no exception.

The sad thing, it seems, is that most titles in the smaller, dotcom 2.0-type companies seem to be made up merely to inflate the ego of the holder. Sysarchs are similar, like the word "software engineer," as if this makes you something else than a developer at best. It's not like you can join the IEEE just because you have "engineer" in your title.

Then there is titular discrimination. Awesome stuff. Like confusing a programmer with a developer, or a CxO with a VP (more on that later). How tender pampered egos get.

So what's a systems architect do?

Well, systems architects tend to organize collections of computers and their running software into (often) large networks that do "stuff" - hopefully that makes money for their employer or client. As such, they're part network engineer (oh, no, that word again), part developer, part systems administrator, and have to have the wherewithal to actually think about how this stuff fits together. That's about the minimum.

The higher on that totem pole you go, the more the person in question has actually done (usually wrong the first time, and a painful thing to fix), so at the top tiers you have people who would make great developers, network engineers, systems administrators, and possibly even finance or marketing people. Why? Because what systems architects do touches the heart of online business. Their mistakes are immediately seen - when a systems architect screws up, the business goes with it. When a systems administrator screws up, one system goes with it.

Too bad that they're miscategorised as IT people, and in effect become a cost center rather than a profit center.


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