| 7 min read

Upskilling in the Skills Short World of Architecture

As you can imagine, by nature of being a talent sourcing company, we speak with a lot of people in the architecture community about skills; whether it’s to a business about skills they want to bring in, or candidates about the skills they possess, our discussions tend to be focused around this topic.

As the concern of a ‘skills gap’ in the architecture space continues to dominate conversation in the ecosystem, we wanted to use our unique perspective on the market to delve deeper into exactly where this skills gap is when it comes to the hiring process.

Where do architects tend to fall down during the interview processes and, as a result, what skills should individuals in the community look to brush up on their hunt for their next job?

The contract vs. perm debate

Firstly, whilst we looked to segment our discussion by contract and permanent skills, when speaking to hiring managers on both sides of the fence it became clear that there does not seem to be a huge divide when it comes to this topic.

Realistically, the fundamental skills needed to be an effective architect remain the same, so we were not particularly surprised when businesses began citing the same skills-gaps in regard to both permanent and contract candidates. However, one key difference did come to light when we discussed the idea of being adaptable.

Indeed, being a contractor often means you are being parachuted in to a project when there is very little time to get things completed, or when a project is failing and needs some more support. There are, of course exceptions to this rule, however it is generally perceived by hiring managers that contractors need to be able to be significantly more adaptable to their environment than their permanent counterparts.

Therefore, displaying a track record of delivering projects on a contract basis can be pretty essential to scoring a role. However, not many architects tend to look to contract at the early stages of their career, and so businesses do struggle to find individuals who have a strong track record of delivery in a relatively short space of time.

To help stand out in these instances, as contractors you should ensure that you have examples of adaptability that you can easily explain when attending interviews. Even if you haven’t worked on a multitude of contract delivery projects, if you can show examples of being adaptable to your environment, you’ll be able to stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Being adaptable as a contractor is key, and without being able to demonstrate that you can take control of a variety of situations and quickly, it will be very hard to excel in interview.

From then on, the skills gaps merge whether you are a contractor or a permanent employee, an enterprise or a solutions architect. To summarise it for anyone who might not be planning to read on: speaking to CTO’s and senior people within the architecture space, an area that many architects need to improve on is the softer side of the job.

Communication

As you will already be aware, being an architect is a fundamentally business facing role, with a huge emphasis placed on stakeholder engagement. As a result, building strong and long-lasting business relationships with stakeholders is absolutely paramount to the success of the mission that is set out for an architecture team.

It is strange then, with this being such a key facet of the role, that the softer side of the job was one of the main points identified by clients that candidates often fall down on during the interview process.

So, to anticipate this, professionals should make a concerted effort to weave in examples of engaging stakeholders across the board and demonstrating your ability to speak with all levels of seniority from C-level to IT support and have solid examples of when you have had to engage people across the business.

Influence

Alongside the softer skills comes the ability to influence; which is yet another skill that has been cited by clients as one that can sometimes be lacking when it comes to interview. Influence is underpinned by adaptability and empathy – meaning the key to improving your ability to influence will often lie in your ability to recognise the way people like to be spoken to and to be dealt with.

The quicker you can get someone on board, the quicker you will be able to influence key stakeholders in to making the right decisions – and whilst we don’t want this to go in the way of emotional manipulation, it is important that you’re able to control any situation and get your opinion across in a commanding manner.

"Someone who can see the bigger picture, who can oversee and who can build relationships internally and externally, and who has a good understanding of what people are doing, is more valuable now." - Ali-Reza Moschtaghi, Group Chief Enterprise Architect @ Nandos 

When it comes to interviewing, it is a case of demonstrating your ability to not only influence others, but to understand and take in competing opinions from across the board, deduce the correct direction, and get everyone on the same page.

Simply saying that you got people to follow you might indicate that you’re short sighted, and many of our clients maintained that it was this ability to influence and educate that many professionals missed the boat on in interviews.

"Also remember that the soft skills of how to deal with people, to sell ideas, to give presentations; all of those skills are just as important as your technical skills, so don’t forget to develop those as well. If you can’t convince someone to put their hand in their pocket for your ideas, you won’t ever get the chance to make them real" - Charlie Wilkinson, Head of Architecture @ River Island

The desire to learn more

Ali-Reza Moschtaghi put it best, when he maintained that architects "Need to be able to focus on what is going on in the industry and in your market – I myself have spent a lot of time at conferences this year doing just that. These skills are now much more important than knowing how to code something, because the discipline has so much breadth now that it’s impossible to have one person who understands everything from a technical perspective."

Technology is always evolving and, by nature of the fact that architecture is inherently linked to technology, so too is the ecosystem in which we work. And, whilst many who interview have exemplary technical skills, many of our clients and hiring managers maintained that often professionals can’t – or don’t – demonstrate their desire to continue learning and pushing boundaries.

It seems that, from a businesses’ perspective, they want to hire someone who is a forward-thinking and who will look past the job spec to think about how they can continue to advance and evolve their organisation in order to gain and maintain that competitive edge.

Think past the directive

In line with the above, it isn’t entirely surprising that many of our clients also maintain that being open-minded and thinking outside of the box was a huge skill that many individuals that walked through their doors didn’t seem to demonstrate effectively.

As Jazz Badeshia, Enterprise Architecture Practice Director at Oracle said: "Challenge everything; don’t take solutions at face value, always questions if the solution is addressing the business problem or just putting a plaster over an issue that will later be ten times worse. Be open minded; embrace all cultures of life and ensure you put yourself into uncomfortable situations to stretch yourself”

But, how do you demonstrate these skills? Surely ‘thinking outside of the box’ and ‘being open-minded’ are pretty out there in terms of being tangible, demonstrable things? From the clients we spoke to, it seemed to be less of a case of demonstrating these skills, and more a case of engaging with the interviewer in an open-minded manner.

Showing that you’re willing to have conversations, to be tested, and to push boundaries when it comes to your answers will come of much better than repeating buzzwords a number of times. In short; don’t be afraid to question what is being said, and don’t play it safe.

Keep playing

Architects tend to have had exposure to a huge amount of technologies over the span of their careers. And, whilst the vast majority of the enterprise and solution architect positions we see are usually technology agnostic, this isn’t the case for all of them. Indeed, some require an element of hands on work, and occasionally solution architect roles will even require an individual who can still code. 

Alongside this, there are certain technologies and approaches that a lot of companies are looking at where having a technical understanding would be very beneficial for an architect. Microservices architecture, open APIs, AI, Big Data and cloud technologies are all trending topics and approaches that a lot of companies are adopting, and so it’s no surprise that we have seen the need for this experience increase quite dramatically over the last few years - and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Therefore, a good way of future proofing yourself is to try and gain exposure to as much of this as possible. You are not going to be an expert in everything, but to have a high-level understanding is only going to help.

So, with this in mind, heed Charlie Wilkinson’s advice and "Don’t ever stop playing with the tools themselves. Remember to put down the whiteboard pen and actually cut some code and put it live once in a while."

 

Based on our numerous discussions, it seems to be the case that the skills gap in the architecture market lies on the softer side of the job. The ability to speak with various stakeholders, build relationships across an organisation including third party vendors and to influence all ranked highly on clients’ list of skills to nail in an interview.

Looking past the soft skills, it also seems like demonstrating technical knowledge is a must have an – in line with that – exposure to microservices, APIs, big data, AI and cloud is going to be highly beneficial moving forward.