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There's no official definition of what the IT architect role actually involves. IT infrastructure architect could mean a lot of different things. It's important to read the job description and, if interviewing, ask questions to ensure the position matches your expectations of the work.
Tasks under the IT infrastructure architecture umbrella include research, infrastructure design, implementation and oversight of IT systems, as well as delivering the best fit based on customer needs. This choice could be for software, hardware, networking, storage or any combination thereof for a more holistic environment.
The expectations placed on an IT architect are high: They should be especially knowledgeable on the subject at hand, as well as understand the bigger picture. IT architects often have additional staff that perform actual tasks to implement a project but usually take part in at least a portion of the process. Consequently, they need a wide range of skills to do well.
Some IT infrastructure architects have managerial roles and set guidelines for engineers that work under them. The ability to manage others effectively is key. The success of a rollout -- or its failure -- often falls onto the architect's shoulders, even if the mistake isn't his.
Core job requirements for an IT infrastructure architect
Excellent communication skills
Communication skills are important in almost any role, but IT architects must excel in this area. They must be able to speak to different departments in a business to scope a solution to a given problem; ensure that requests actually match their requirements; communicate and work through issues as they arise; and create and provide documentation that others can understand without the same level of knowledge and experience.
This falls under the umbrella of the big picture visualization. Effectively, an IT infrastructure architect must map out how a given product will integrate with a customer's existing environment. They must develop an understanding of the end-to-end result, have the ability to detect potential issues at the planning stage -- rather than during implementation -- and work with other engineers for sanity checks. These qualities are critical to success in this sort of role.
IT architects spend a lot of time in labs and learn the ins and outs of a proposed solution before it rolls out to a customer. They should create the environment repeatedly based on slightly different customer requirements. This might sound tedious, but it's much better to discover issues prior to delivery than in a customer's live environment. Infrastructure architects are also expected to familiarize themselves with anything new about the products implemented and often to have accreditation from certain vendors.
Many sys admins consider a career shift to IT infrastructure architecture, as they often perform many of the tasks already but are required to focus more on day-to-day operations rather than projects. Communication skills and rapid, flexible learning are often core parts of a sys admin's role as well, with less stress on the design aspect.
However, sys admins will do architecture work on a smaller scale. They might implement a new tool or upgrade an existing one, which requires the same skills as IT infrastructure architects, but often, time restraints due to other demands from their existing role limit experience with these more advanced tasks.
They should seek opportunities to learn these skills. Knowing a change is coming on a subject in which you're well-versed is a great time to let management know you'd like to be more involved.
It is almost always cheaper to run a project internally than to get external support -- provided the resources are available. Concurrently, ask IT infrastructure architects how they learn the things they know; the answer will often be practical experience.