In late 2018, The Wall Street Journal told us something many of us already knew at that point: Every company is a tech company. Technology no longer just supported the business; it drove the business. Two years and a pandemic later, that's more true than ever. That's why the Enterprise Architect's role is increasing in importance to the business. It is also showing greater desirability as a career path.
Indeed, when it comes to critical organizational roles, Enterprise Architect ranks very high. Enterprise Architects—who earn an average total compensation of $156,000 per year—do nothing less than ensure that technology and business goals align. So, how can you join the illustrious ranks of the EA?
Meet high expectations
It's not easy, as evidenced by a recent Enterprise Architect job description from a bank in Alaska on Glassdoor:
"The Enterprise Architecture department is the highest tier of technical expertise within the organization, and covers multiple technical disciplines, such as: systems & networking infrastructure, DevOps, security, business applications, and data architecture. This role designs, plans, documents, tests, executes, trains, and provides escalated support for multiple technology platforms. This position identifies and oversees the mitigation of technical and operational threats; analyzes the security, supportability, and feasibility of new technology; and ensures conformance with regulatory guidelines and industry best practices. This position requires an extremely high level of analytical problem-solving skills to diagnose and resolve complex technology issues in addition to superlative process management and communication skills."
This Alaskan bank clearly has high expectations for the Enterprise Architect it hires, and rightly so. Enterprise Architects must ensure that their organizations can not only withstand constant change but also rise above and leverage it as a catalyst for future success. In other words, it's a big job that doesn't lend itself to a specific checklist of requirements. Furthermore, the role of Enterprise Architect at one organization will be different than the role of Enterprise Architect at another organization—especially as the role manifests at companies of various sizes and across different industries.
However, there are skills, certifications, and experiences that will prepare you to apply for most Enterprise Architect positions. Here are five steps to becoming an Enterprise Architect:
1. Get schooled
Most Enterprise Architects have degrees in computer science or IT management. A master's degree is not required, but there are graduate-level programs available that are focused specifically on the Enterprise Architect role. Penn State World Campus, for example, offers both master's degree and certificate programs for Enterprise Architecture and business transformation. Likewise, a business degree isn't a prerequisite for becoming an Enterprise Architect. Still, it certainly couldn't hurt, given the extent to which the role crosses over to the business side of the organization.
2. Get certified
Several certifications can help pave the way to a career as an Enterprise Architect. In fact, you could spend pretty much all of your waking hours working on adding an alphabet soup of certifications to your resume. Instead, focus on the ones that will have the biggest impact on the industry, company size, and area of focus you are interested in. For example, The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) certification is a more general program that trains Enterprise Architects on the TOGAF standard, a development framework designed to reduce errors, maintain timelines, and align IT and business concerns. You can also consider more distinct programs, including cloud-specific certifications at any of the top cloud providers, security-specific certifications such as CISSP, service management framework certifications such as ITIL, and solutions-specific certifications such as RedHat OpenShift Administration certification.
3. Get familiar
There is a lot of cross-pollination in the enterprise these days (think DevSecOps and other growing monikers). While the terms might get lengthy, the model makes sense because each stakeholder matters. Stakeholders can and should be consulted so their skills can be leveraged when cross-collaboration and communication will make a difference for a successful architecture decision. There's a lesson here for future Enterprise Architects: The more you know about all areas of the business, and the more you collaborate with people across the company, the better equipped you will be to analyze situations, solve problems, and design new systems that will serve the whole organization. "Getting familiar" could involve asking to sit in on meetings in departments across the organization and increasing participation on internal and external social networks and collaboration platforms. In general, get as familiar as you can with as many parts of the business (and as many key people) as possible, and develop your standing as a go-to thought leader.
4. Get smart
How up are you on the most critical technology trends? Can you talk Kubernetes with the development and operations teams? Linux with sysadmins and security architects? Hadoop with the data science team and marketing operations? Edge computing with the networking team? Phishing and ransomware with the cybersecurity team? If so, can you connect the dots across all of those disciplines (not to mention web design, systems administration, infrastructure operations, and more)? Being able to talk the talk with these domain experts means being able to walk the walk. Spend as much time as possible learning about and using the technology that moves businesses forward (and protects them and their customers in the process).
5. Get in front of others
Enterprise Architects often report directly to the CIO and are leaders in the company, even as individual contributors. Find ways to build and demonstrate your leadership skills, including taking on new projects, identifying knowledge gaps, developing relevant training, and contributing content to industry journals and internal information portals. It's also essential to develop your communications, problem-solving, analytical, interpersonal, financial management, and other skills. Even if you opted for a relevant degree, hands-on experience is the key to success.
There's no all-encompassing, neat checklist of requirements for a job as complex as an Enterprise Architect. However, by focusing on education, certifications, on-the-job training, and skill-building on the cross-section between technology and business, you'll be well prepared to take on—and succeed at—any Enterprise Architect position.