How to become a solutions architect (plus key skills)
Updated 26 April 2023
Solutions architects are important members of an organisation's IT team. They assess the needs of a business and suggest changes or upgrades for their existing IT infrastructure than can help better meet these needs. You may wish to learn more about this role if you intend to pursue a career in IT and want to understand what skills and education would be valuable to cultivate in preparation for this work. In this article, we explain what a solutions architect is, how to become a solutions architect and explore some of their main responsibilities and key skills.
What is a solutions architect?
A solutions architect is an IT professional who uses their knowledge and expertise to meet the technical needs of an organisation. Also known as system architects, these specialists design and implement systems and programmes to meet these needs, ensuring also that they integrate properly with the existing IT environment. These professionals can work in a variety of types of organisations across numerous industries, as many organisations rely on computer networks and systems to carry out their functions. Solutions architects often work in higher education institutions, government bodies, large corporations, specialised IT firms or data management firms, among others.
Architects typically work as part of a wider solutions team. This team assesses an organisation's needs and devises and implements solutions to meet these needs. Within this group, the solutions architect creates the overall blueprint for technological solutions and plans for implementation. The solutions can involve elements of both hardware and software. After creating the blueprint, solutions architects then pass these plans to developers who build and install the solutions. Solutions architects are mid- or upper-level employees, overseeing solutions projects from conception to completion.
How to become a solutions architect
Here are six steps you may consider following on how to become a solutions architect:
1. Obtain a degree
The role of a solutions architect requires a relatively high level of technical understanding and ability. The simplest way to gain a solid technical understanding that you can easily evidence to potential employers is to obtain a bachelor's degree. To gain the proper technical skills for the role, consider a degree in computer science, information technology, software engineering or a related discipline.
Study in these fields allows you to develop the essential technical competencies for your career. Principally among these competencies is a solid understanding of software architecture design and how to effectively implement software. This involves an understanding of IT infrastructure, architecture and software development for modern environments such as cloud environments. Other key skills for the role are things like project management and business analysis. Completing the appropriate course of undergraduate study allows you to learn and develop these skills in an environment where you have access to industry experts.
2. Consider postgraduate study
The role of a solutions architect can be highly technical, particularly in organisations that focus on technology. To ensure they employ someone who can properly meet their needs, organisations may look for applicants with postgraduate qualifications. Postgraduate study allows you to further hone your understanding and develop more comprehensive technical skills. Master's courses in systems architecture can help develop IT-based competencies essential to the role, such as systems design, software engineering and advanced theoretical understanding of computer architecture.
There are also business administration aspects to solutions architecture. A master's in business administration or similar discipline can help you develop the project management skills that employers look for in solutions architects. Even if organisations don't state postgraduate qualifications as essential, there may often be a lot of competition for solutions architect positions. Having a master's degree may help give you a competitive edge over other applicants, helping to improve your chances of securing employment.
3. Gain industry experience
Many employers recruit applicants who have prior working experience in more junior positions. Starting your career in a junior position gives you the chance to learn and understand how solutions teams work. This understanding is important for anyone looking to lead such a team. It's not uncommon for employers to ask for at least five years of working experience in roles like software developer or network administrator.
It is important to have both sufficient training and work experience when pursuing more senior opportunities. Taking junior roles can also be a good way to gain further professional qualifications, as some employers may provide access to industry-recognised training certifications. Certifications like this can again help make your CV competitive when applying for roles.
4. Develop soft skills
Technical competence is only one aspect of being successful as a solutions architect. As with many roles, particularly those with managerial responsibilities, employers look for applicants with strong soft skills. There are many soft skills that are valuable to the role of a solutions architect. For example, to properly evaluate and assess an organisation's needs and determine the best solutions for these needs, strong analytical skills are vital.
Overseeing implementation projects can be an involved process. It's important to set delivery targets, budget properly, resource well and have an accurate idea of how the project is progressing compared to the project plan. To effectively execute a project, solutions architects have excellent organisational skills. Strong communication skills are also vital. The needs they analyse and the solutions they propose can often be very technical and complex. Key stakeholders, though, may not have a strong technical understanding. It's important for solutions architects to be able to communicate complex ideas effectively, as it's often these stakeholders who ultimately approve projects.
5. Search for vacancies
Job sites are an excellent resource for finding solutions architect opportunities. Many organisations use them to recruit talented individuals. You may also wish to consider giving your details to specialised recruitment agencies that focus on filling IT vacancies. Also, look at the websites of any specific organisations you may wish to work with for job advertisements and consider possibly making a speculative application to them.
You can also find work by networking. Professional networking websites and social media can be a good way to make connections, as can formal networking events. Friends, family and colleagues can also help you find out about work opportunities. They may be able to advise the best people within an organisation to contact about work opportunities. They may even know about upcoming vacancies or unadvertised opportunities.
6. Apply for positions
In most instances, applying for roles involves sending a CV and accompanying cover letter to someone in the organisation's recruitment team. Sometimes, there may be an online portal where you enter the information from your CV. When applying for roles, tailor your application materials for each specific company. Look at the job advert and job description and be sure your application documents clearly demonstrate the skills they most value. Consider using similar language in your application to the language used by the organisation.
Take the time to research the company, its values and its mission. This can help with the tone of your application but can be especially useful when preparing for a potential interview. By doing this, you can think of questions you wish to ask the interviewer when given the chance. When preparing answers to interview questions, think about key points you wish to make and examples you can use to demonstrate your expertise and experience.
Solutions architect responsibilities
In broad terms, solutions architects review the computer-based infrastructure of an organisation. They look for solutions and interventions to improve processes and improve the organisation's overall efficiency and effectiveness. Some common responsibilities include:
reviewing systems architecture to identify possible points for improvement
assessing infrastructure vulnerabilities
making recommendations on systems upgrades
developing new processes and systems, working with developers
overseeing the implementation of new systems
ensuring proper integration of new technologies with existing systems
defining the scope, timelines and budgets of IT projects
presenting findings and recommendations to stakeholders
testing the functionality of systems and preparing performance reports
Key skills to be a successful solutions architect
There are some key skills and competencies individuals tend to possess to be successful in this popular and competitive career. Technical knowledge of software architecture and design and practical experience in using business intelligence tools are key to the role. Competency and experience with project management are also key. Implementing effective solutions involves coordinating a lot of often complex tasks, ensuring their completion within a strict timeframe.
Part of a solutions architect's role is to identify an organisation's needs and propose solutions to better meet these needs. To do this, a thorough understanding of business processes and business analytics is important. To properly convey business performance concepts alongside technical IT information to audiences of different backgrounds and technical abilities, excellent communication skills are vital. They ensure all key stakeholders properly understand solutions projects and their objectives.
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