What Do You Do?
An Unconventional & Compassionate Profession
You Don't Build A House Without An Architect / You can't explore the world without a navigator
When someone asks me "what do you do for a living?", the question is always hard to answer. Earlier in my career as a developer and engineer, the 'architect' was a mythical figure; a renowned prince or princess that decreed on high the standards on which I worked with, or created the frameworks with what I adhered to. Eventually however, some of those benedictions didn't seem like the best solution. And like a quiet revolutionary, I began my quest to understand who these people are and what they do; and more pressing, how can I change it?
I've heard architecture described metaphorically as building a house or navigator of a ship for the business, these are good logical analogies. These comparable professions require a holistic knowledge of multiple disciplines, and more importantly they require a firm belief in pragmatism, creativity, logic, objectivity, and stewardship; and most importantly empathy & compassion. These two words are something not usually ascribed to engineering, but most good architects I've met are trying to make their world a better place.
My path took me into multiple domains of architecture to better understand the challenges and perspectives of the enterprise; this requires a bit of empathy. Early in my development days I was more concerned about the task assigned, given the tools or leeway to deliver the solution. Eventually as architecture started to encompass larger and larger scopes of work, perspectives of stakeholders took a more focal role; and holistic knowledge of all domains was at play: business, data, application, infrastructure, and security.
As a fan of history, I always like to learn the story of how certain things came to be; this can be ascribed to practicing architects as well. These systems didn't just sprout up one day, there were many circumstances that led to their fruition, understanding that path takes some empathy as well. Any good historian loves to imagine themselves in the shoes of who they are studying. (I'm also a big fan of Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcasts)
So, how do I usually answer? I usually just answer these inquiries asking about 'what do you do' with the cliche' "I work in IT." And if they press, I usually respond flippantly that "I draw pretty pictures".