Software Architects

In recent years, there have been an increasing number of vacancies advertised for the post of Software Architect.

The first thing to point out in this regard is that the job title is, in the UK at least, illegal. If you call yourself a software architect, you are committing a criminal offence. Don't believe me? Read Regulation of Title -- ARB's Prosecution Policy to find out the Architects Registration Board's stance.

Before any soi-disant "software architects" protest that they're unaware of this, I should point out that ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it, and before they protest that there is no intention of their passing themselves off as real architects, I should point out that this is beside the point -- the reason, a perfectly good one, for the law, is this. Architects spend a minimum of seven years study and training before they can call themseves architects. Yet here is a group of people, often with no formal training or qualifications whatsoever, calling themselves "architects". Members of the public who are aware of this might draw the conclusion that real architects don't need any formal education, training, qualifications or accreditation, and as a result the professional reputation of architects would be reduced.

Now, you might reasonably point out that non-architects can, and do (at least on a small scale) practise architecture, and that many buildings designed by architects are ugly as sin, and I agree with that. So does Christopher Alexander, the architect who wrote The Timeless Way of Building, A Pattern Language and various other texts. He thinks that modern architecture is bankrupt. In particular, he is highly critical of the modern practice of constructing buildings out of factory produced, modular components, on the drawing board, away from the site.

Yet this is precisely what many if not most "software architects" do -- design code to be built out of modular components (componentware). Worse yet, the very existence of the job title implies a division of labour as inappropriate in real architecture as it is in software development. The architects of "inner city" housing schemes are more likely to live in converted oast houses in Kent than in the accommodation they design, while the people who do live there have no say over the layout of their surroundings. Yet it is the tenants who are condemned to live in these places. So it is often with "software architects". They impose high level designs on the hapless, and almost always inexperienced, programmers (the ones who inhabit the code), who often have to work around the design to get their software to work, while the "software architects" avoid getting their hands dirty hacking code (see Architects Dont Code).

There's a further problem with the title, over and above its illegality and implication of division of labour. It is this: The Software Construction Analogy is Broken.

If you call yourself an architect, but you do hack code, then the only problem is the title. Chief Programmer, as suggested by Harlan Mills, is better. But if you prefer something more grandiose, you could call yourself Chief Technical Officer.


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and was last updated on May 18 at 15:34.

© Copyright Donald Fisk 2003