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How architects can save the world from a zombie apocalypse

The skills you need to design a resilient enterprise architecture are not so different from the ones you need to battle a zombie incursion.
Image of a scary figure leaning against a frosted class window

Photo by Nathan Wright on Unsplash

What do you imagine is the worst thing about a zombie apocalypse? Most of us have recently experienced staying locked inside for an extended period, so that's not a problem. Many of us have also come to terms with the temporary loss of modern conveniences.

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In a way, a zombie apocalypse doesn't seem so threatening anymore, until you realize that zombies are woefully disorganized. They don't obey traffic laws, their hygiene is nonexistent, and they cause disruption of all but the most robust systems.

Wait. Robust systems? That's what being an architect is all about! Could it be that a zombie apocalypse is a metaphor for IT architecture?

Gathering data

There are a lot of different kinds of zombies. Slow ones, diseased ones, fast ones, the ones that are disembodied but have apparently sentient hands, and all the rest. If you intend to make it through the (literal) unwashed crowds of undead, you have to understand what you're up against. You need to gather data, recognize what's useful and what's extraneous, classify it, and catalog it.

You don't need to know the life story of every zombie you encounter to be able to classify, tag it, and release it back into the wild. And you don't need to know every detail about your organization to help improve its processes and infrastructure. It's important to recognize and classify the categories of all the different components you have to account for. But even that is a lot to take in, so you must work toward a broad overview, at least initially. Define the metadata, and use it as you work through your design.

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Assign roles

Zombie movies are often a little like heist movies. All the archetypes are present (although, to be fair, I've yet to see IT architects fairly represented), and they each have a clearly defined job. The job roles are unique to the challenge at hand, but with proper communication and structure, the roles complement one another and work toward the goal of getting away from the zombies.

In real life, roles within an organization literally define an organization. Sadly, there are far too many high-functioning dysfunctional organizations out there, but few live up to their full potential. Whether you're helping to build or rebuild an organization or a system within an organization, you're engaging in teamwork. Before you can build out an organization's infrastructure or improve its product lifecycle, you have to build strong teams.

Plan around uncertainty

You can't really plan for uncertainty because uncertainty is ever-present in work as much as it is in life. You can, however, plan around uncertainty. You can form a perimeter around the horde of fear, uncertainty, and doubt and draw a line in the sand to acknowledge that it's a threat. But beyond the perimeter, there's hope.

It's vital to declare your proposed alternatives. If you think you have solutions that can help your clients, then broadcast your message. But don't just shout it from the last bastion of civilization; use all the technology at your disposal to make your message clear and accessible.

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Use the architect mindset

Whether you see work challenges as metaphorical zombie incursions, games of whack-a-mole, or just business as usual, there's something special about the architect mindset.

The industry uses the word "solution" as both a product and an action. Solutions are the currency of the IT architect, and yet an IT architect isn't only as good as the obvious solutions available. For the true professional, there aren't any shortcuts, and systems are built for mindless zombies. A true architect creates solutions by assessing the problem, connecting with the people who will be part of the solution, and designing an intelligent and thoughtful process for real human beings.

Topics:   Architect culture   Career  
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Seth Kenlon

Seth Kenlon is a Unix geek and free software enthusiast. More about me

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