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What's the first thing to do when designing an enterprise architecture?

Five enterprise architects share their favorite problem-solving strategies and tools.
Photo of two women working together on a laptop computer

Photo by WOCinTech Chat on Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Women, from Ada Lovelace to Grace Hopper to the ENIAC women, have been at the forefront since the early days of technology. There have been countless female scientists and mathematicians whose stories are finally being told in books and movies like Hidden Figures.

We're publishing this article in honor of Women's History Month, March in the United States. Women have been making an impact on every aspect of life for centuries, and their historical contributions will continue to be written for many decades to come.

Today, these contributions include the impactful women leading software architecture at companies such as Fidelity Investments, IBM, Red Hat, and Salesforce.

ISO/IEC 42010: 2011 defines an enterprise architecture as the "fundamental organization of a system embodied in its components, their relationships to each other, and to the environment, and the principles guiding its design and evolution." The role of the architect requires affection for both the big picture and the minute details. Effective communication, storytelling, thought leadership, and being a team player are keys to helping companies solve complex technology problems with systems architecture.

To that end, we asked five women architects about their problem-solving processes and their tried-and-true tools of the trade. Let's look at how these five enterprise architects are leading the way in their technical organizations.

When faced with a technical architectural problem or new design, what is the first thing you do?

Anu Peri, Senior Data and Reporting Architect, Red Hat: For any new business use case or problem, I first try to understand if it can be addressed by providing actionable data insights or enabled by technology. I make sure we develop a target state architecture blueprint with the business goal in mind. We also build transitional state architecture blueprints to add period value to the business and build towards the target state. With my key focus in architecting data and analytical solutions, I always advocate for simple, flexible, and scalable designs that are maintainable with privacy and security baked into the design.

Avery Wong Hagleitner, Software Architect, IBM: The role of a software architect isn't only to help solve technical problems at the overall component, product, or platform level; it's also to effectively communicate and convey solutions to a diverse set of technical leaders, business stakeholders, and engineers. By first taking stock of the bigger picture and understanding the "today" picture, the more likely any potential solutions for the "tomorrow" picture will address the root problem and satisfy stakeholders.

Jeanine Walters, Software Architect, Salesforce: New problems and designs always come with contexts, so the first task on my list is to learn more about that context. That may include learning about the business needs, the people involved, the work already done, and more. It's also important to understand where more change is expected; that is, where are the areas of volatility?

Maria Lucena, Director of Architecture, Fidelity Investments: I enjoy the problem-solving phase so much, I like to get down and draw it out. I try to first state the problem, find the entities that are part of it, and then envision all possible connections. Once I identify the happy path, I focus on unexpected turns. The better you plan, the better you code.

Rimma Iontel, Chief Architect, Red Hat: I check if anybody has faced this problem or done a similar design already. Once I've done my research, I make a decision whether I can reuse a solution wholesale, if I can build one out of existing components, or if the problem is unique and needs to be built from the ground up.

[ Download An architect's guide to multicloud infrastructure. ]

What is a must-have tool for a software architect?

Anu Peri: While I use various tools to get my job done, the ones that always come in handy (regardless of my role) are presentation tools like Google Slides, Lucidcharts, or Visio diagrams, and querying tools to analyze data. As a visual person, the presentation tools allow me to paint a picture and tell a story to various business and technical stakeholders about how I propose solving a problem or a medium to share and collaborate on an idea or solution. The query tools allow me to analyze the data and add data facts that can help with the proposal I'm presenting.

Avery Wong Hagleitner: I use visual diagramming tools such as (formerly, Visio, PowerPoint, or even Microsoft Paint to create easy-to-understand architecture diagrams and flowcharts. These visual tools are essential for explaining solutions, providing a common context for technical discussions, and guiding a reference target for implementation.

Jeanine Walters: Slack! Especially now that so many of us are working remotely, having asynchronous conversations and videos have changed the way I work and the number of people I can connect with. Plus, I have to admit that I love all the emojis.

Maria Lucena: When coding, VS Code. When designing and thinking, I move from my colored markers to

Rimma Iontel: A laptop. But other than that, a suite of tools that allows collaboration, from email to various chats to shared Google docs. The ability to efficiently communicate with customers, partners, and teammates is essential for success.

Learn more

These are only a few of the women taking software, systems, data, and cloud architecture by storm. To learn about other data, software, cloud, and systems architects, take at look at 20 inspiring women architects in tech.

Thank you to these technical women leaders who are inspiring the next generation of girl geeks and women leading tech companies.

Topics:   Career   Leadership   Strategy  
Author’s photo

Angie Chang

Angie Chang is a serial entrepreneur, founding Girl Geek X and Women 2.0. Most recently, she worked as VP of Strategic Partnerships at Hackbright Academy, a women's engineering school. More about me

Navigate the shifting technology landscape. Read An architect's guide to multicloud infrastructure.


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