Why did I become an Enterprise Architect?

You meet someone new. They ask you what you do… I say, “I’m an Enterprise Architect”, and this usually gets the conversation off to a difficult start, because the next question about what is an enterprise architect can be a tricky one. But on this occasion the response was: why did you become an Enterprise Architect?

Well I certainly didn’t set out to become one! My passion has always been making sense of things. It led me to study history at university, but I didn’t find that satisfying because university didn’t offer the opportunity to really explore the subjects that really excited and attracted me. Studying the rise of ancient Greece was interesting to an extent, but it didn’t hold the same fascination as grappling with a problem that no-one, or very few people, had ever tackled before!

When my temporary teaching post became redundant, I was offered the chance to train as a computer programmer. I remember being asked: “have you ever thought of a career with computers?”, and to get the job I stretched the truth by saying that it was a subject that I found fascinating. This was partly true – this was in the late 1970s, at a time when computers were in their infancy, and I was fascinated to understand the role they might play in our lives. But as for a career in programming? That was certainly not in my wildest plans.

But it turned out to be more fascinating that I could have imagined. I learned about programming PL1 and structured design methods, and I entered a whole new world (for me) of formal languages and virtual structures. It was the beginning of a fascination with the emerging field of enterprise architecture.

I was lucky that my first job as a programmer was on a project to computerize the UK Land Registry. Unlike most projects today, it was a green field – the previous system was entirely manual. This mean that the team had to think about the development holistically – we had to consider the whole as much as the parts.

As well as learning tried-and-tested programming techniques, I also realized that there were many things that were difficult to do, because the techniques hadn’t been developed. The main problem was being able to grasp the complete architecture as a whole, and being able to subdivide it in effective ways – for gathering requirements, for analysis, for design, and for realization. I started to explore the idea of a framework or blueprint that could show this big picture. A few years later I discovered that other people – like Richard Saul Wurman, Richard L. Nolan and John Zachman – had been grappling with the same problem, and also used the analogies with architectures, blueprints, and frameworks.

After four years at the Land Registry I applied for a new job, and rather jokingly put my job title down in my CV as Analyst Programmer and Information Architect (in the early days of enterprise architecture, it was known as information architecture, or information systems architecture). Although my official title in my new job was only Analyst Programmer, I still thought of myself primarily as an architect. The architectural role steadily took over from programming. Following the Land Registry I rarely wrote or amended any program code. From 1984 my role was enterprise architect.

So why did I become an enterprise architect? I am passionate about making sense of things. The more complex and difficult the better. What could be more interesting than the many, many diverse human endeavors that we, as a species, undertake? And in particular, how do we build and support human enterprise with an amazing repertoire of often intangible, digital and conceptual components, techniques, and tools? And finally, how do all these elements fit together systemically within a cohesive architecture framework?

That’s why – accidentally – I became an Enterprise Architect.

See also:

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