This is a post I wrote a few weeks ago for the Little Miss Geek blog, as previously mentioned. Unfortunately, during their migration to a new website platform, a lot of the content (including my article) failed to migrate. It’s being worked on so hopefully my post should be back soon. But decided I would blog it here on my very own blog too.
“When I graduated I got a job on a IT graduate scheme in retail, with only a Maths degree and a bit of HTML scripting behind me. I was promptly taught to code but I had no idea where I sat in the grand scheme of things as a ‘Trainee Programmer’. Now a Solutions Architect, my role continues to show how IT roles confuse people. A graduate recruit I was assessing recently asked me if I was involved in the maintenance of our physical office building. Initially it made me smile, but then I thought, ‘Why would he know what a Solutions Architect does?’. It made me think about how to explain the roles that exist within IT to people new to the field. So here goes…
Where do you need to be?
Building up a set of systems to support a company is not dissimilar to building a brand new town. There are always ‘basics’ you need, the equivalent of the supermarket, the petrol station, a school and houses. In retailing, for example, these would include ways to manage customer information, capture orders and create a product catalogue of items the company sells. As you would for a town, you bring in an architect to work out what is needed and in what order; In the case of IT, this is an Enterprise Architect. They work out what systems the company needs and in what order they need to be created.
How do you get there?
The work is broken down in to manageable chunks to form projects; Going back to the town analogy, it would be like splitting out the town centre as one project, the school as another, the residential areas another…you get the idea! Exactly as in any other industry, these different phases of work need a Project Manager to oversee everything. They will then bring in a group of people to work out what the users of the various systems need them to do. This role is typically known as Business Analyst and they are doing the IT equivalent of understanding what different facilities the town centre needs to have, such as a shopping centre with cash points, a food court… (‘requirements’).
What do you actually want?
Working alongside the Business Analysts is where my role sits; Solutions Architects take the ‘requirements’ of the users and try and tie them up with the long-term view from the Enterprise Architects. They tackle more ‘technical issues’ such as making sure we build using the right materials, that none of the buildings will hinder work we want to do later and that there is the correct capacity for growth. Once this is done, it’s time to bring in the team to start building.
Making the ‘solution’ real
The ‘build’ team consists of some of the more well known members of the IT community: Coders. They make the various ‘buildings’ come to life, often from a design specifications produced by Designers (using the information from the Solutions Architects and Business Analysts). Both Designers and Coders are often (especially for anything public such as a website) supported by UX (User Experience) Designers who are the ‘Stylists’ of the IT world.
Ensuring everything works & people know how to use it
Once the building work is done, you’d expect everything is ready to go. But there are two more stages before we can let the ‘residents’ move in. One is to check everything is working as expected: that you can successfully get in to the car park, pay at the shops, get the right number of people in the lifts etc. The team that do this are the Testers – any ‘defects’ they find are sent back to the build team to fix and the Testers test again. The other role that appears here is that of the Trainers; They know how to use all of the equipment within the town and they skill-up the people who are going to use it in the future.
Keeping it running
As with a town though, a system isn’t done and dusted once it has passed testing and is in use. IT continually evolves: either enhancements need making to support a new way of life (a simple example of this is having to add all of the social media buttons on to websites) or problems are discovered and need fixing – the IT version of a boiler that needs replacing. In every IT division in any company, there is a team to keep everything ticking over all-day-every-day: Operations. For anything ‘big’, the same process used to build the town originally (using the Architects through to the Testers) kick-starts again and, since IT is every changing and evolving, everyone is always kept busy.
This is just a simple attempt to show the diverse roles within IT. But what I hope it shows is that IT is so much more than just coding. The skills used within IT are broad and vary from being very focussed on working with a wide group of people through to very technical and logical roles. Some even combine the whole lot. So, if you’re sitting there wondering if IT is for you, I hope this will encourage you to give it a try!”