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Should Software Architects Write Code?

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Source code
One of the age-old debates in the software world is whether software architects need to write code.  We suspect that as an industry we’ll never reach consensus on this topic. Here are our thoughts on the subject.

Short Answer:

Hell yes!

Detailed Answer:

In the following table we list the advantages, disadvantages, and considerations (when does the strategy makes sense) to compare whether a software architect should write code or not.  You may recognize this approach from our book Disciplined Agile Delivery.

Strategy Advantages Disadvantages Considerations
Software architects also develop
  • Helps to keep the architects grounded
  • Developers are more likely to respect the architects and follow their advice
  • Architects are able to create working examples of their strategies, increasing the usefulness to developers
  • More people with architecture skills are needed to support your development teams (arguably a good thing)
  • Apply when you have an ample supply of people with architecture skills, or at least are willing to invest in developing sufficient people
  • Apply when it is critical that developers build well-architected solutions
Software architects don’t develop
  • Architects can focus on architecture
  • Architects can support multiple delivery teams
  • Developers are far less likely to follow the advice of such architects, effectively forgoing any benefit the architects could have brought to your organization
  • The architects are forced to create less-effective artifacts such as white papers and models, as compared with working reference architectures, due to lack of coding skills
  • When you have very few people in your organization with architecture skills
  • The software architects should pair with others so as to transfer their architecture skills to them, thereby growing the pool of software architects and thus making it more viable to allow the software architects to code

In the Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit we’ve made it very clear that we expect Architecture Owners to be actively involved with the development of the solution.  On Disciplined Agile teams the Architecture Owner is effectively a team member with additional responsibilities around leading the team through architecture decisions, in coaching them on architecture skills, and in working closely with your Enterprise Architecture team (if any) to ensure their development team understands and is working towards your organization’s technical roadmap.

We’re often told that it isn’t realistic to expect architects to write code.  Invariably this is coming from people who are currently working in traditional IT organizations that have very well-defined roles, IT organizations that more often than not are struggling to be effective.  Our response is always the same – Really?  Are development teams following your architectural strategy?  Are they eager to work with you, or are they forced to work with you?  This generally leads to a discussion that reveals that things aren’t going so well for these architects in practice, and sometimes leads to a positive discussion as to how we can move towards a more effective approach for them.  They kind of approach described in the Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit.

 

Additional Reading:

 

Posted by Scott Ambler on: February 08, 2016 11:00 AM | Permalink

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