Lifelong learning is the norm for Systems Architects
John Hayes posted on May 28, 2013 |
You’ll stagnate if you don’t love this stuff.

Quick Facts:

Name:                   Scott Brookhart

School:                 Cockrell School at the University of Texas

Degrees:              Economics 1983, MBA 1989
                                Masters of Engineering in Software Engineering 2007

Job Title:              System Architect

Employer:           Employees Retirement System of Texas

Industry:             Government

Location:              Texas

Compensation:  $80,000 - $120,000

Scott took a roundabout route to System Architecture. He started with an economics degree and then took an MBA. From there his path led to the insurance industry, but he found the administrative work pretty boring.

To make the best of opportunities with his employer, Scott sought out programming projects and discovered that work way more interesting. He rounded out his skills with computer science classes at a local community college before making the commitment to get a Master’s degree in Software Engineering.


What does a Systems Architect do all day?

Early in his coding career, Scott found that knitting systems together can speed the development lifecycle while still respecting systems security. This led him to investigate systems architecture as a career. In that role, his main jobs are to:

  • Develop system integration diagrams to determine interactions and data flows
  • Design data architecture
  • Design system level hardware, including virtual servers
  • Work with network, database and business intelligence teams to ensure they collectively develop a unified solution

Scott says that System Architecture requires a lot of interaction with others, and that it could easily pull you into a project management career path. Scott has a PM designation, but he prefers to stick to the technical aspects of system design rather than run the projects.


What sort of skills does a System Architect need?

Scott says, “You better be naturally curious about the direction of future software development and technology, because staying on top of it all is absolutely critical.” Scott spends a lot of time interviewing vendors and otherwise researching potential applications so that he has a good sense of what to buy versus what to build.

On top of that, Scott says that a strong engineering process background is a good fit. Pairing his knowledge of software development fundamentals with core engineering skills like requirements gathering, specifying, development and testing is a powerful combination.

Scott also has certifications as a Scrum Master, Information Security, Toastmasters, and in various technologies. He participates in the community forums such as user group meetings and presentations and tries to give back to the same communities.


What advice would you give an engineer who is considering a career like yours?

Scott reiterates, “Only pursue this career if you like learning and never want to stop. Keeping up with new technologies and new methodologies demands that you extend your learning time after hours. Additionally, look to incorporate information security as part of the learning.”

Also, he points out that Systems Architect is not an entry level position. You have to work your way into it, typically by starting as a software engineer.


How did your education help to prepare you for the career you’ve chosen?

Scott says, “I had some great professors who taught us how to solve problems in a structured manner that is repeatable, documented and testable.”

Scott is happy that he took the Masters degree to further his career. He thinks it made him more marketable, which is proven by the fact that he is still regularly contacted for opportunities.


Compensation for Systems Architects

Certain technologies can be hot or not, so if you are an experienced System Architect in certain network technologies you can find yourself at the top of the range. In Scott’s experience, it’s worth getting the vendor credentials when you get a chance. And the larger the apps you architect, the more you get paid.

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