By Anaïs Jul 17, 2023
In collaboration with Sébastien and Sylvain

The Differences Between the Roles of Software Architect and Solutions Architect

When you hear the term “architect”, you automatically think of the person who draws up the plans, designs and supervises the work on a building. There are also many architects in the IT sector. These are key professions in the design of innovative technological solutions.

Among the architecture experts at Uzinakod, there are two very distinct roles: solutions architect and software architect. Would you like to discover all the facets of these two functions and demystify their fundamental differences? Our passionate experts Sylvain Lebleu and Sébastien Richer will answer all your questions and talk openly about their responsibilities, the challenges they face on projects and the skills needed to perform!

Understanding software architecture, the foundation of your IT projects

Architecture is an essential phase in software design and development. It is the foundation on which all a company’s technological initiatives are built, whether for the creation of software applications, the design of complex systems or the implementation of solid infrastructures. It consists of diagramming the various elements that characterise an IT system and their interactions, in order to represent the way in which the software should be designed to meet a company’s needs and all its specific characteristics.

It’s the same principle as building a house: you absolutely need a precise plan before starting the work. If you don’t know where to start or what stages to follow, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to complete your project. In IT, it’s the same thing. You have to think of it as a set of specifications. Architecture allows you to structure a project and complete it much more quickly, because it gives you the right direction to take and all the technological grey areas are dealt with. At Uzinakod, we have two major roles that enable us to align technologies with our customers’ business needs and ensure the relevance and added value of the solutions we create.

At Uzinakod, we have two major roles that enable us to align technologies with our customers’ business needs and ensure the relevance and added value of the solutions we create.

The solutions architect VS the software architect, halfway between strategic vision and technical expertise

The job of solutions architect involves creating and devising technical software solutions tailored to a company’s needs. The aim? To support companies in their digital transformation by adapting IT solutions to specific technical issues and business needs.

The presence of the solutions architect in an IT company is crucial, and always starts with a conversation with someone who has a project, an initiative or a need. Sébastien Richer, our seasoned solutions architect, explains.

“When someone tells you about their needs, the technological wheels start turning and links start to be made (this need corresponds to this technology or this element in the Azure Cloud). The first exchanges with a customer or prospect will give you some pointers. After that, it’s up to you to analyse and find the corresponding technologies. The person you’re talking to – a prospect, a customer or even a colleague – will come to me for advice on a particular situation or context. I’m going to give them the first direction in which we’re going to head.”
– Sébastien Richer

Basically, when a customer paints a picture of a context, the solutions architect, often accompanied by analysts, will demystify the need and try to see how best to meet it. It’s important to realise that the solutions architect wears many hats within the company, from organisational to technical and technological, with a very strong strategic side. For Sébastien, a typical day can be summed up in two words: context switching. You’ll never see him working full-time on a project. His schedule is more like a series of small meetings during which he follows up and gives a helping hand to the team, particularly for start-up projects. Naturally, he has been on the front line with the customer, so he makes sure that the team takes account of everything that has been agreed.

One of the rich aspects of a solutions architect’s day-to-day work is that he takes part in numerous exploratory meetings with customers, which enables him to discover a very varied range of business areas (maritime, insurance, health, energy, etc.). Following these meetings, he will work with analysts and account managers to put together a proposal in which he will make choices to create the architectural vision of a platform in its ecosystem. Then comes the crucial moment of presenting the plan directly to the customer.

The software architect is present at the start-up of new projects. They are generally involved in three to five projects and will follow up with the teams concerned to set up the architecture, manage technological doubts and ensure that the customer’s needs are met during the first few weeks. The software architect divides his time between the developers and the sales team. During a sales pitch, they will also be required to work alongside the solutions architect to define the best way of implementing the solution, the best technologies and, above all, the most appropriate ones. While the solutions architect places the pieces, the software architect defines the technologies (if the customer doesn’t impose them!).

He also has a small SWAT Team role when emergencies arise. At our company, Sylvain Lebleu wears this hat and, given his extensive technical expertise, he is also responsible for setting the technological direction for the company’s future. We recently made the switch to MAUI Blazor thanks to him.

Skills and prerequisites for architectural roles

The role of solutions architect requires a fair amount of experience in projects in a variety of fields, giving you an excellent knowledge of the technological ecosystem. Of course, you’ll also need to keep up to date with the latest trends, attend training courses and certifications on an ongoing basis, and always collaborate with the teams. By making yourself available to developers and encouraging interaction between teams, monitoring quickly becomes mutual and the magic of knowledge-sharing works.

The solutions architect must also be comfortable presenting and selling the plan, which has been prepared at length, with conviction. This part cannot be performed without a great deal of curiosity, which will enable you to challenge, ask questions and understand things that are sometimes complex. We’ve already been faced with complex solutions that were coded 20 years ago. You need to have the patience and concentration to dig deep to analyse them and find the answers. The team relies on the solutions architect to find these answers, because he is responsible for giving them the necessary direction.

Software architect have to change projects several times a day. Ideally, they should be able to context-switch easily and continuously. In the morning, they may well be working on an X application, spending the afternoon on a BI (Business Intelligence) project, and at the end of the day on a union platform project; so you have to be ready to juggle constantly between different contexts and types of technology. Flexibility is a must, as we work with customers in a wide variety of fields. In the team, we don’t follow precise processes, because we don’t specialise in just one area. Our reality means that we have to be flexible in order to think and build the best solutions for all our customers. An excellent solution for one of our healthcare customers may be completely different from one for a customer in the same field, because their issues are not the same. We make it a point of honour to always maximise our customers’ ROI (return on investment) by thinking up the best solutions for them.

Another essential prerequisite for this role is the ability to mentor within the team. The idea is to show developers new things, not impose them. Software architects have an advisory role and want to pass on their knowledge.

Daily tools

Sébastien, our solutions architect, mainly uses Word and PowerPoint, because for him it’s important to be able to communicate what he wants to put forward. His day-to-day work involves a lot of presentation, so it’s no surprise that he also uses presentation tools.

Sylvain, our software architect, uses the same tools as the developers (Visual Studio, VS Code…) and will tend to try out new ones and recommend them to the team if he feels they are suitable.

Sébastien and Sylvain’s favourite shared tool? It’s undoubtedly Miro, the collaborative online platform that brings teams together anytime, anywhere. It’s a central tool that allows everyone to work together on the same project, often including the customer.

Challenges

One of the challenges of the solutions architect‘s day-to-day work is to keep up to date with the latest technology and always find the right solution for every need. Finding the right solution is a tricky business, but don’t panic, Sébastien explains.

“One of the reflexes might be to think that it’s my sole responsibility and that I have to do it on my own, but that’s wrong. You’re always better when there’s more than one of you.”
– Sébastien Richer

The software architect identifies two challenges: firstly, understanding the customer’s needs and, secondly, communicating the information properly. If the software architect fails to communicate the vision or architecture properly, the team risks losing many days and running into problems later on in the development of the project. And the biggest technical challenges? The main challenges that come up are clearly systems that have to be available 24 hours a day to respond to a very large number of people, for example our vaccine proof project.

A word of advice for future recruits

If he had one piece of advice to share with developers looking for the job of solutions architect, Sébastien is firm.

“They have to be interested in it, you can’t do this job just because it’s a career progression. You have to be comfortable letting go of the technical side, because you’re going to be coding less and you have to be aware of that. Try out the role before you take the job, otherwise you won’t know if you like doing it.”
– Sébastien Richer

Sylvain wanted to share with us a tip from his own experience that is sure to help many people in their professional future!

‘’My advice would always be to make sure you understand the client’s realities before making any architectural choices. Each business sector has its own specific characteristics. So it’s vital to know how to adapt the different design patterns to their reality, rather than the other way round.’’
– Sylvain Lebleu

Conclusion

So what’s the big difference between these two roles at Uzinakod? Technical depth! The solutions architect will be familiar with fairly broad concepts, and will have a more global and comprehensive view, whereas the software architect will be more familiar with the finer points, because he or she has already had to deal with quite a few technical implementation details. In simple terms, the solutions architect will create the broad outlines of a project so that the customer understands what is being proposed and the associated cost, whereas the software architect will then create the solution, get it up and running and manage the more mundane issues.

Still, it’s essential that they get on the same page. A software architect will only be able to make the right decisions if he can rely on someone with a more global vision, such as a solutions architect.

What if this was the right time to change your surroundings and join us? We’re looking for a software architect.

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