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Software architects: 12 hard and soft skills needed to become a leader

Software architects are part engineers, part business leaders. How much of each do you need to land the job? Here's what we found.
Computer programmer laptop on a desk with code on the screen

Image by Robert Gourley from Pixabay

If you went to a job site right now and searched for a software architect, you’d find more than 18,500 job openings. These professionals are difficult to find and highly in demand. They’ll likely ask for a degree in computer science, engineering, or equivalent experience and list job responsibilities, such as:

  • Provide experienced leadership and technical direction
  • Accountable for platform features, from prioritization to design to release
  • Own the full software development lifecycle - problem definition, design, development

That’s a pretty broad description. Many also include language such as this: 50% technical leadership and 50% hands-on development. Depending on the project, they may list specific programming languages they require you to be proficient in. If you’re looking to fill one of these jobs, it can be a tough search. However, developing the right skills to become a software architect means there are many high-paying jobs available.

What is a software architect?

A software architect makes high-level design choices and frames technical standards. This might include tools, software coding standards, or platforms to be used. To be effective, a software architect needs broad (and deep) technical knowledge to make good decisions. However, technical knowledge isn’t enough. They also have to have the soft skills to manage projects and people. Let’s review the soft skills and the hard skills needed.

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Software architect:  hard skills needed

There’s no one-size-fits-all definition because different projects may require different technical knowledge, but there are some skills that all projects will require.

  • Unified Modeling Language (UML) is often listed as an essential requirement. What is certainty essential is familiarity with diagramming complex architectures.
  • Searching for candidates with a deep knowledge of one or more programming languages essential to the business to support their long-term goals strategically. This could be anything: Java, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, Rust, Go, C, or even COBOL.
  • Manage software development practices in a collaborative and agile fashion. That often means a deep familiarity with DevOps practices. This takes hard skills, such as creating an efficient DevOps environment, and soft skills, to keep development and operations teams aligned.

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Software architect:  soft skills needed

However, just as important as the technology-related skills are the "soft" skills that can drive performance and bring team members together for successful projects. 

  • Leadership - Overseeing the development of a project and coordinating teams of developers to meet design standards requires significant leadership. Software architects must be able to juggle the needs and demands of projects and teams.
  • Problem-solving & conflict resolution - Managing and coordinating all of the elements that go into a successful application project requires strong problem-solving skills – both technical and human.
  • Communication - Communication is a key ingredient in any leadership position. To get the best of teams, software architects must clearly explain the mission, deadlines, and expectations.
  • Coaching & inspiration - If expectations aren’t being met, leaders have to coach and inspire team members to achieve.
  • Organization - Since software architects set the roadmap for development, being organized is key. Often large-scale and intricate UML diagrams are necessary, which requires a systematic and organized way of thinking.
  • Prioritizing - Software architects need to quickly prioritize tasks and juggle team members' assignments throughout a product’s development.
  • Detailed thinking - In any development project, there are a significant number of details that must be managed correctly. This requires extreme attention to detail to make sure the project code meets objectives. 
  • Creative thinking - The software architect has to move teams forward to accomplish a build regardless of the obstacles. This takes the ability to think creatively to find alternate solutions or creative ways to solve problems.

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Another essential skill — but often undervalued — is negotiating. As projects evolve, software architects are negotiating all the time. It might be negotiating timelines with developers that think they can’t complete tasks on deadlines or getting stakeholders to understand the trade-off between feature sets, cost, and timing. A great software architect is a great negotiator.

How to become a software architect

If you’re looking to transition from your current role into a software architect position, there are a couple of key things you should be doing right now.

  • Expand your technical skills - A software architect is a full-stack developer. You’ll need broad experience across multiple programming languages. If you’ve been creating work primarily in one area, you’ll need to learn others.
  • Manage projects and people. Find opportunities within your current job where you can take on extra responsibility.
  • Look for a mentor - Find someone you respect that has the job you want and ask for coaching. The right mentor can help you achieve your goals and can be a lifelong resource.
  • Continuing education - Consider getting outside training to shore up the skills you need and look for certifications that will bolster your case when you’re applying for jobs.

The best opportunity to move into a software architect role is likely within your current organization. Don’t overlook the power of letting managers know your desire and work with them to find opportunities to prove yourself.

Topics:   Career  
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Matt Shealy

Matt Shealy is the President of More about me

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