Solutions Architect vs. Software Engineer

Two Sides of the Same Coin

As you probably well know, the software development life cycle (SDLC) is highly complex and involves many different roles and responsibilities. There are the software developers and engineers, of course, but there are several additional positions, such as project managers, user experience (UX) designers, QA engineers, and business analysts.

Among them, a lesser-known but critical role in the SDLC is that of the solutions architect. Often a senior professional with deep knowledge of software engineering, a solutions architect is fundamental in bringing software to fruition and ensuring it meets user requirements. So, what, exactly, does a solutions architect do? And how does it compare to a software engineer? 

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What Is a Software Engineer?

One of the fastest-growing, most in-demand, and highly lucrative jobs out there, software engineering is the backbone of much of the technology we take for granted in our everyday lives — the apps we use regularly, the programs that run on our computers, and the tools we rely on to do our work and responsibilities. 

Software engineers may specialize in certain areas, such as front-end development, back-end development, systems, applications, mobile development, and others. But, at their core, they must have certain knowledge and skills. They need to be able to read and write multiple programming languages, but coding is only part of what they do. 

Software engineers must also be able to understand and interpret the product requirements to build apps, systems, and more than satisfy the end user’s needs – as well as the client’s if they’re working for another business. They need to be able to research and resolve problems with their code and products in general, addressing bugs and other issues that arise during the development process. 

They must be able to prioritize, all while working on multiple projects simultaneously. In order to meet the expectations of their employers, especially if they work on a larger team, they must have knowledge of methodologies and principles like Agile and DevOps. They should also have strong research skills and be able to collaborate with other team members to perfect products.

Software engineers are often considered the backbone of the software development process, but, while they do play an integral role in creating software, the SDLC requires input and insight from the other roles on the team to build user-friendly, high-performance, function software. 

What Is a Solutions Architect?

Another role that is critical in producing software is that of a solutions architect. Part software engineer, part project manager, part researcher, part designer, and part business manager, this all-encompassing job enters the software development process early on. Like it sounds, a solutions architect is responsible for devising the architecture for a project. In other words, they map out the structure of the project — a path for the engineers to follow.

What does this entail? From the beginning, they consider how best to solve a problem with software. They choose the right tools to build a given product, from the languages and frameworks to platforms the engineers will use. They also create a plan for building the product most efficiently and identify potential risks, while still having the business’ mission and objectives in mind.

But the solutions architect’s role doesn’t end at the initial planning stage. They will provide guidance and instructions on how to translate their ideas into products throughout the SDLC. They also account for factors like scalability and adjustments and updates that might need to be made in the future. 

Solutions architects need to coordinate and communicate with other members of the team to ensure that the moving pieces fit together according to the overall product vision. Ultimately, they oversee the successful construction and delivery of the software.

How Do the Roles Compare?

There are certainly many overlapping skills, qualities, and characteristics needed for both software engineers and solutions architects. For example, they must have strong technical skills and expertise, as well as problem-solving skills, attention to detail, and the ability to communicate and collaborate with other team members.

In fact, many solutions architects start out as software engineers and advance to the more senior and experienced role of solutions architect — although some prefer to serve in other senior capacities, such as chief technology officer (CTO) or senior software engineer.

And while both roles are critical in developing quality software, they ultimately serve different purposes. The solutions architect is responsible for formulating a vision for the product and devising a detailed plan for reaching those goals, keeping in mind the overall business priorities. 

Meanwhile, software engineers carry out that vision, building the product according to the solutions architect’s specifications. The software engineer works in the projects with which they are tasked, while the solutions architect is more of a big-picture thinker and strategic planner.

In addition to the overlapping skills discussed above, a solutions architect should have:

  • Business acumen
  • A sense of what’s feasible
  • Creativity 
  • Leadership skills
  • Project-management skills
  • Research skills

Additionally, the solutions architects serve as a mentor of sorts, helping more junior team members, including junior developers and engineers, understand requirements and how to best meet them. They also “teach” the team about the integral parts of the product. 

Both roles understand that software is never really finished — the SDLC is an ongoing process that requires updates, refinements, and improvements as the team works to meet the objectives of the users. Whether they’re contributors or managers, they are involved in delivering software that addresses and resolves core user problems.

At BairesDev, our dedicated experts — the top 1% of talent in their respective technology fields — work together to create quality software that will meet your needs and requirements, whether you’re the leader of a huge enterprise or a small but growing startup. Looking to build custom software to meet your organization’s needs and business objectives? Contact us today to get started.

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