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Infrastructure career progression.

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 My manager asked me a question late last night (he's very sad [:)] ) about infrastructure architects which I came up with my answer for but would like to get feedback on so I thought I would blog about it.

He asked:

 

My takeaway from interacting solutions architects at customers is that many are really straddling developer and 'Architect' roles go to architecture meetings but ask to see code.

 

Is there a similar phenomena on the Infrastructure side? i.e. is there a contingent of infrastructure impelemtors that believe they are 'Architects'?

 

I know what he means about the solution architects, you just have to go to /. To see people saying "I'll write that CRM architecture in java right now"! I haven't ever come across the same thing in the infrastructure space e.g. "I'll code up that consolidation initiative in script tonight".

 

So why is that? Are there "architects" like this in the infrastructure space and I haven't come across them? My answer was:

 

There seem to be two tracks in the infrastructure space, technical and management. The progression in the technical track is:

Helpdesk->ops->deployment->design-.>scripting

Although clearly you can enter and leave at any point. People leave the technical track to go into either the developer profession or IT management which has the following progression:

 

Ops Manager->engineering manger-> it Manager-> Infra architect

 

Whilst people move from the tech track to the management track all the way through, probably the majority go from design to IT manager. The "top" level of the technical track, scripting guys, do not aspire to be architects or think of themselves as architects unlike the developers in the application space.

 

Additionally most people doing Infrastructure architecture actually have IT manager titles so associate more with the management side of things than with technology.

 

So am I way off base on this?

Comments
  • Mostly accurate

    Only variations are those that jump between your two standard tracks. I started helpdesk; moved to senior admin guy; am now IT Manager but miss the technical side; and am thinking about moving into architecture.

  • I must say I am surprised by the suggestion there are only two tracks. Admittedly I am not from the US, and the terms maybe different
    My experience is that people I work with; work through the following track in their career.
    Front line Helpdesk / Desktop engineer -> 2nd line Desktop support (while training to be system engineer e.g. MSCE) -> System Engineer (servers and applications) -> Senior Engineer / Consulting (more interaction with the business) -> Architect / Strategic Consultant.
    Working through this track provides the individual with a core understanding of the client, server, business, eventually leading to strategic and architectural understanding and view. At any stage I see people just stop as they have reached their comfort level. The interesting thing I find is the number of people that call themselves architects who have amazing technical skills and no business / people skills. Which personally I think are both critical to being an architect.

  • Not quite sure what you are saying here Warren, there is one track or multiple tracks? If so how many? The progression you show is the technical track i give (I think). Are yoi saying there is no managment track?
    Agree about the non technical skills and the MS Arch Cert has 7 elements of which only 2 ae technical..
    Mike

  • I think this plays into defining infrastructure architecture. It is still so nebulous in the industry. Two things that need to be defined here are what infrastructure architecture is, and who are the players.

    I had a very interesting conversation with some past colleagues on the definition of an architect. The overwhelming opinion was that the term "architect" is so over-used, and has 100's of meanings depending on who you talk to.

    Are designers really architects? What about implementers? What if you play both roles? What if you play a hybrid of the two, and where you also straddle the line between exposing the business value of your infrastructure design to the business sponsors, and the actual technical/operational/strategic design of a solution?

    How is an IT manager defined? Is that person just the glue that holds the IT department together (Dev, infrastructure, ops)? What does that person do? Who do they interact with? How is that different than what an architect does?

    I disagree to some extent with the assertion that there are only two ways you can go in a career progression with infrastructure (techie or boss). The tracks listed certainly exist and occur.

    But there is one important factor that is left out in both cases: who is responsible for marrying the business strategy and infrastructure strategy? The endpoint for an architect is not necessarily to be IT manager.

    In my opinion, an infra architect sits at the same level as an IT manager, and they work in conjunction with each other to accomplish both of those strategy tasks.

    The infra architect picks up where the IT manager leaves off, and vice versa. In my experience, the IT manager is the interface with the business sponsors as well as with all of the other groups in an IT organization. The infra architect must also understand the business (it is vital), but is the integral driver of the strategy of infrastructure.

    Another words, I think it is a yin and yang: the IT manager drives the business strategy to the architect who drives the infrastructure strategy and vice-versa, a continuous circle.

  • So I have had a number of other comments about this, summarised as:

    If we define infrastructure architect then we not only need to put emphasis on who does what, but equally important: how do these roles connect to each other

    Infrastructure Architecture is much more connected to the ongoing business than any other architecture. IA is very strategic; many people think wrongly, that it is only about networking, servers and some process. IA is supposed to support the ongoing business operations of any given company and doesn't end when you installed and couple of servers and trained 2.5 people on how to operate them.

    Mike

  • Some thoughts here.
    First i was not trying to define infrastructure or infrastructure architect here.. a mistake.
    My definition of an Infrastructure architect is one who defines and manages the Infrastructure Architecture of an organisation. This I have defined.. see
    http://blogs.technet.com/michael_platt/archive/2005/08/16/409278.aspx

    Secondly I did not mean to imply that you would work through the above two paths in a logical and progressive manner but may jump between them backward and forwards... in fact you probably will do so.

    Thirdly these may not be the correct or all the titles in these paths.

    Fourthly I was not trying to define an IT manager is, and I dont intend to :)

    Fifthly I agree with the points about relationships with Business, IT Managers etc and the importance of the role

    Thanks!
    Mike