Software is not a building

Throughout my career, I’ve often been asked what I do for a living – a common question often resorted to when meeting new people in a social setting. Most of my social network outside my immediate work environment don’t utilise software for much other than emails, web browsing and word processing, so the answer “software architect” typically leaves a puzzled look on their faces. Know the face expression? 🙂

The elaboration “It’s kind of like a normal (e.g., building) architect, but for software” typically helps, as it brings my profession back into the roam of the safe and known.

However, the answer doesn’t work that well for people with computers as their hobby.

“So what programming language do you use?”, they’d ask.

But my response “Visio” (a technical drawing tool) is a bit of conversation killer. Not the expected answer….

The difficulties of explaining software architecture itself, what one does as a software architect and why it is important are fairly harmless in a social setting – another beer can usually fix any awkwardness or killed conversation – but in a commercial setting it carries much more significance.

The foreword for the book, “Information Systems Outsourcing“, the editors note the two overall motivating factors for choosing outsourcing IT are: 1) a focus on core competencies, and 2) a lack of understanding of IT value.


The first one is fairly clear, but the second one kind of disturbed me a bit…. The book contains a series of good research papers, so the people who wrote that isn’t just some self proclaimed consultant (heh).

The elaboration of point two is that many see IT as a necessary ‘evil’ required to support their business, but IT is not generally viewed as an area creating innovative business initiatives. And therefore, anything that can reduce (immediate) IT cost must be a good thing.

I beg to differ, as I have seen a fair few innovative initiatives from IT departments – not necessarily about how to sell more products, but about making the business itself better at innovating. The problem seem to be more about IT people unable to explain IT let alone ‘sell’ the value of it.

It makes me wonder if company executives who’ve decided in favour of IT outsourcing might have had a few too many conversations similar to the one above without the added beer afterwards? 🙂

3 Replies to “Software is not a building”

  1. I’ve given up trying to explain what I do to most people. I’ve worn many different IT hats with many different titles over the years and my best answer to what I do starts off with, “I work with computers.” After that, those in the industry can figure out what I really do in about 2-3 sentences – and those who are not in the industry usually have a preconception of what I do based on the IT monkeys they have to deal with at work.

    Most people would rather sit in front of a TV for hours watching people prepare meals on Food Network TV than listen to the IT guy talk about computers in a social setting. Talk about boring! LOL

    Just say you design software. That’s simple enough.

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