What CIOs Should Look for in the Way of Soft and Hard Skills in Today’s Enterprise Architects?

Hiring for enterprise architects in today’s IT world is as complicated as ever. With changing technologies, remote/offshore working environments, and decentralized architecture as well as cloud-focused, software-defined life cycles, how should chief information officers and chief technology officers look for good enterprise architects?  What are some of the key hard and soft skills that you may need in your architects? 

First, let’s focus on some key technologies and architectures that are here to stay.  Today’s microservices-based architecture is a classic decentralized architecture and usually a smaller piece of the puzzle in a larger technology eco-system. Secondly, you cannot escape from cloud technologies where you are using infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) or software as a service (SaaS). Lastly, structure of data is more important than ever. Businesses are seeing the value of combining internally generated data with external data to create various metrics that drives decisions. Data comes in the form of unstructured (Excel and Word files), semi-structured (XML and JSON) and of course structured (SQL Server and Oracle).  

So, what should you be looking for when hiring enterprise architects? What kind of questions should you ask? Many organizations give a practicum or case study to the candidates to test a real-world scenario.   What kind of practicum (or case study) would you want to give potential architects to assess their knowledge? How would you want to structure the interview and the case study? In my opinion, CIOs, CTOs and hiring managers should focus on the following five elements when hiring their architects: 

  1. Problem Solving Skills: Most organizations are adopting microservices-based architectures when migrating existing applications or developing new ones. This new paradigm is analogous to solving a puzzle as overall solutions are broken down into smaller puzzle pieces in the form of microservices. The puzzle pieces can be as granular as you want. For example, a single microservice can be broken down into types of data it consumes or even the environment (or even container) it runs on. The key point here is to ensure the candidates have problem solving capabilities by keeping the big picture in mind along with the small, granular one. Hiring managers should design real life case studies and give them to the candidates as a hiring criterion. 
  2. Data-Focused: Ensuring data translates into meaningful information is what matters at the end of the day, as ultimately information is what is used to make decisions by the businesses. To make things further interesting, businesses prefer flexibility and options in the way information is generated and used. While data forms the heart and soul of all businesses, hiring managers often lose sight of how important it is for candidates to have a robust understanding (and/or background) of the importance of data. Data comes in many forms as mentioned. Hiring managers should ensure that architects can deal with conversion, integration, security, and manipulation of data from one form to another. Again, this ability can be tested by giving candidates a real-life case study. 
  3. Ability to collaborate and be independent: Testing for interpersonal skills is one of the hardest things for hiring managers. The best way to test for this ability is to design the case study in a way that allows the candidate architect to use independent problem-solving skills and the ability to explain/sell the solution of the case study to the team the architects will be working with. This is one the most effective ways to test interpersonal, collaborative and critical thinking. You will be able to test the following: How the candidates explain themselves; do they use pictures and diagrams to make their solution compelling; and how efficient are their solutions.  Lastly, enterprise architects must be able to work across geographic boundaries to effectively communicate their ideas and solutions 
  4. Ability and willing to work with the old and the new: This is probably one of the most underrated area when it comes to evaluating an architect. We all want to work on greenfield solutions where you start from scratch. However, that is hardly the case. In fact, most organizations have a set of old solutions and technologies already in place. It is very important to make sure candidates are willing and able to work on and work with other people’s solutions, ideas and even existing legacy systems. This area is also one of the hardest areas in which to test. Some ways the hiring managers can address this gap is by being transparent and honest about the role and have a dialogue on the topic. 
  5. Ability to get hands dirty:  It is very important that your enterprise architect can get their hands dirty by developing working prototypes of their solutions when communicating with rest of their teams.  Often, enterprise architects are viewed as those living in an ivory tower.  The solution doesn’t have to be a full-fledged production application/solution but enough to demonstrate the ideas and gain consensus and earn respect/trust of the other team members. 

Every organization has human resources that deal with the verification processes as it relates to prior education, background, and employment. Further, IT organizations may be looking for specific technical skills. The five elements I have outlined above are in addition to standard and basic checks, and specific technical skills needed. I believe that if CIOs and CTOs focus on these four elements, they will be able to retain quality architects for years to come.  Lastly, these elements can be applied to multiple roles, such as developers, testers, business analysts and project managers. 


Dr. Alok Mehta is the Chief Information Officer at Kemperone of the nation’s leading insurance companies.