Taylor Tobin
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While we as a society popularly associate “architecture” with the business of designing and constructing buildings and bridges, the tech industry made a bold choice within the last several years to repurpose that term, applying it instead to software programs, hardware installation, and digital networks. These code-based landscapes provide the foundation for many of today’s leading industries, and professionals who are well-versed in these skills become more and more in-demand as time goes on. 

At their essence, IT (a common abbreviation for “information technology”) architects are educated and experienced professionals who design, construct, test, and maintain computer systems. Because they come up with a plan for the system- how it operates, which code is involved, and what resources must be invested to keep it up and running - these advanced developers receive “architect” designation. Considered a mid-level or senior position at most tech organizations, IT architects receive generous compensation and the ability to spearhead various crucial development projects for their companies while also ensuring that new systems and programs fit seamlessly into the company's goal pursuits.

What do IT architects do?

While brick-and-mortar architects rarely head to work sites with tools in hand to get involved in the practical business of building construction, instead handling the mathematical pen-and-paper schematics behind the project, IT architects generally take responsibility for the actual build of the systems and networks they devise. They use computer software to plan out their proposed projects, and then must pitch and defend their desired budgets before moving onto the work of devising code and setting up process structures and plans for the future flow of the operation. IT architects also participate in risk assessment, evaluating and implementing necessary security measures to keep the systems and networks safe and impenetrable. During the building process, they run necessary tests and make improvements up until completion. 

What are the duties of an IT architect?

IT architects accept responsibility for all tasks leading up to the build of their programs, but even when the IT architect’s system is up and running, many IT architects will accept a management role dedicated to overseeing the system, troubleshooting as needed, and hiring a team of technicians to handle additional maintenance. 

Also, because IT architects are primarily responsible for creating solutions to potential or pre-existing problems in a company’s tech infrastructure, anyone in this role must possess an advanced ability to communicate with stakeholders and other department heads, to advocate for the adoption or rejection of a proposed solution, and to encourage the company to embrace change when necessary. As a result, strong interpersonal skills for IT architects are not only desirable, but are actively sought after.

IT architects vs. systems architects

In many companies, IT architects and systems architects perform the same job. “Solutions architects” and “enterprise architects” also fall under this work category. However, in some cases, these (typically senior-level) staffers inhabit unique roles. Systems architects tend to focus on specific projects, taking on supervisory responsibilities within a larger task umbrella and directing the vision of the build. IT architects (frequently under their alternate moniker of  “enterprise architects”) have a more overarching scope, directing their attention not only to the individual projects and systems, but also to how they interact with each other and how they work to serve the company’s bottom line. Essentially, IT architects take a holistic approach to program builds, while systems architects hone in on individual assignments.

How do you become an IT architect, and what skills do you need?

IT architects must earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited undergraduate academic program, preferably in information systems, computer science, or a relevant field. Programs requiring students to helm their own research projects, complete with design specifications and risk-assessment trials, are highly favored in this hiring climate, and early-career applicants should detail these projects on their resumes.

While graduate degrees aren’t necessary for entry-level positions, candidates who pursue master’s degrees in business administration (MBAs) often receive preferential treatment in the hiring process, as their education offers a deeper understanding of business practices and how technology fits into those equations. A knowledge of computer programming, specifically C++ and Java, is also a desirable trait for IT architect applicants.

Entry-level positions in IT architecture don’t really exist, as the “architect” title is usually reserved for mid-level or senior staffers. However, many IT architects begin their careers as developers. Software developers study the needs of their users and the companies that employ them, then use that information to create, build, and maintain the systems that fulfill and enable those requirements. Eventually, developers can move into positions as systems architects before receiving promotions to IT architect roles, which involve more oversight and more direct responsibility. 

What types of places require IT architects?

IT architects can apply for positions at a wide variety of companies and businesses; basically, any company using computer systems (which, at this point, encompasses the vast majority of organizations) requires individuals to design and maintain their programs and systems. IT architects can handle this suite of responsibilities, while also devising new methods for improving the overall efficiency of the company’s software systems.

Small companies and massive companies alike hire IT architects, and a few notable (and currently-hiring) examples of the latter include IBM, AT&T, Amazon, Hasbro, General Motors, Hewlett Packard, Santander Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Lenovo, Walgreens, and 7-Eleven. 

What salary can an IT architect expect?

IT architect salaries vary depending on the size of their the company that employs them and the depth of their experience and knowledge, but six-figure annual pay rates are the norm in this field. According to Glassdoor, IT architects can anticipate average annual salaries of $133,356. As is the norm in many fields, larger companies typically have the resources to offer higher annual salaries. Currently, Cisco Systems generally pays its mid-level IT architects  $132,287 per year, State Farm offers $136,588, Symantec’s average is $138,067, and Stanford University pays between $151,000 and $163,000. 

Senior IT architects can expect a pay bump; Microsoft pays principal IT architects up to $180,000 per year, IBM offers senior architects up to $192,000 annually, and McKinsey & Company gives senior IT architects up to $195,586 every year, Glassdoor and Payscale report.

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