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Solutions Architect: What to Expect in Your Role

Solutions Architect: What to Expect in Your Role
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Published on September 29, 2022

At its core, it’s what the job title implies: you will be the architect of solutions. Companies employ you to fix their problems, make existing systems better, or to help their infrastructure evolve, adapt and grow with their enterprise needs. If you are fortunate, not many projects are ever the same. That’s a good thing because it means you will be constantly challenged, learning new ways to achieve the desired results.

Let’s explore some of the duties you can be expected to handle as a solutions architect.

1. Planning

Perhaps the most important duty relates to planning. While many projects may get themselves a project manager, they are not always worried about the planning you need to focus on. Project planning can cover deadlines, deliverables, and all things related to items like service level agreements and contracts.

You will sit with the end customer (could be an actual customer if you work for a VAR, or a business unit within your big company) and gather requirements. Understand what they need to deliver or solve, and how soon they would like it. It is imperative for them to explain the need. 

I say this because at times you may encounter someone simply saying “give me this.” And most times, if you don’t ask what they are trying to accomplish, what they asked for may not work, or won’t work well. Understanding what they need and how they need it to function is critical for this next part.

2. Designing

As a solutions architect, you are listening to and evaluating the customer requests and translating them into an actionable project. Maybe you are in a software-centric world, and your customer asked you for a new code revision to have a certain look or feel. Perhaps you work in data networking and the request is to cover a brand-new building with the best wireless tech, without being seen.

Sometimes you will have a few projects that are very similar, and maybe you can liberally borrow from past successes to make for a quicker turnaround. However, just as often, while a project might look very similar, the “how” will be wildly different. Two customers can ask for the same results, but each has different underlying systems or other factors.

Your job is to take those factors into account and work within those constraints to deliver. If what they want can’t be done without adding systems or infrastructure, that is something you have to explain to them.

But, in the end, as you prepare to deliver the goods, your role here is to take anything you were provided during that discovery phase and turn it into a finished project.

3. Executing

And here is where all that hard work becomes realized — released into production. 

If you are deploying a brand-new system either to work in conjunction with or replace something else, you have to manage that cutover. Do you phase it in? Do you just rip off the band-aid? It depends. Some of this should be hashed out with the project team and the customer, but you need to have a plan here too. 

As the solutions architect, you will know what you are deploying and how it should work as it moves into production. That means you should have a pretty good idea of any interruptions or downtime, and thus can communicate effectively. 

This is as much in the execution as it is in the planning. Really, that’s where this all starts. If you planned well, if you gathered all requirements and have a good idea of what the customer needs and when you can pull it off, there is no reason you can’t deliver a pretty bulletproof execution plan to them, and then execute on it to a T.

What Experience Do You Need to Be a Solutions Architect?

Here’s one where, quite simply, your mileage may vary. I have seen people who were strong project managers and a little technical, move into a solutions architect role. I’ve also seen extremely technically talented people with limited planning experience make the leap. Experience certainly helps, but it is not the only quality needed. So…what experience would help?

Technical competency is important. No, it is not an absolute, as people can and have served as solutions architects without extensive hands-on experience. However, there is no substitute for time spent working on and supporting things. If you want to become a cloud solutions architect, while you could just go take courses and land a gig, you will be far better off if you’ve actually worked as a cloud engineer first. As a solutions architect, any prior engineering experience will serve you well. It allows you to put yourself in the shoes of the customer.

Lastly, any sort of troubleshooting or customer service experience would help. Functioning in those roles often helps you develop good skills for note-taking and being more analytical. Understanding problems and being able to work toward solutions is a vital task for a solutions architect, and a good run on a company help desk goes a long way.

Now, what if you feel like you need a bit of a boost in order to land that dream solutions architect role? Plenty of people are going out, changing careers and using certifications and the associated classes to get there. In some cases, companies strongly prefer-if not outright require-some level of certifications in order to land the top jobs.

If you wanted to go into cloud computing, there are a few notable courses and certifications you could focus on:

If you want to spend more time in the network space? Just about every vendor offers their own courses and associated certifications. There are also more neutral courses and certifications. On the WiFi side, for example, you could pursue the CWNP courses and certifications, culminating in someone applying for, and being granted, CWNE status as a wireless network expert.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are a lot of different areas of experience that can influence and shape your path to becoming a solutions architect. Perhaps my best piece of advice is, if you have an interest in becoming one, go for it. 

Different backgrounds and experiences lend themselves to being a good solutions architect. There is no one hard and fast rule, nor one strict curriculum to become one. Two people can work in the same team, both as solutions architects, and both can be exceptional at that role — all while coming from two completely different backgrounds.


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