What The Heck Is A Solutions Architect?
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What The Heck Is A Solutions Architect?

What The Heck Is A Solutions Architect?

Solutions ArchitectI have one of those job titles that could be nearly anything: Solutions Architect (SA). It’s a cool title, but it’s as cryptic and obtuse as printer instructions or Greek poetry.

I struggle to describe to my friends what I do for a living. I stumble sometimes in front of clients. And I never know what to write on those forms that say “occupation.” Now, Account Manager, Project Manager, and Business Development Director — these terms are clear. SA is not.

Let’s break down the mystery.

A “solution” is a correct answer to a puzzle, a problem, or a difficult situation. So, yes, that fits. I listen to clients, figure out their goals, and find the answer. (Or at least an answer; sometimes there are several).

Some client problems in my industry include:

  • How to launch a product in, say, the Ukraine
  • How to save money in translation costs so more stuff can be translated
  • How to decide what to translate in the first place
  • What process to use for translation
  • How to manage all that multilingual content

The term “architect” brings buildings to mind, brick and mortar. It is the “art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.” Now, take out buildings and I think we are onto something. I design and build every day. I figure out what to do, why to do it, and then when and how. What I build isn’t made of concrete materials, but rather ideas and proposals. You can’t see what I build, but it’s there!

So if you put it together I build and design answers. (Any less enigmatic? I don’t think so).

But even that doesn’t fully explain it. I am a jack-of-all-trades in the localization industry. On top of the idea generation thing, I do some client relationship management, some ops management, some project management, and a lot of writing (blogs, proposals). All of what I do assumes deep industry knowledge and experience.

Maybe a typical SA job description reveals something. I am supposed to:

  • Collaborate with the sales team at early stages of the sales cycle (check)
  • Discuss localization and internationalization best practices with prospects and clients (check)
  • Help to diagnose prospect’s needs and run discoveries from an operational standpoint (check)
  • Analyze files for quotation (check)
  • Write proposals and create presentations (check)
  • Focus on winning business (check)
  • Communicate and negotiate across departments to build a solution and execute a job (check)
  • Participate on conference calls and meetings (constantly, check)

But this still doesn’t accurately represent all I do. I listen, craft, collaborate, write, think, research, and talk some more. Basically, I do whatever my colleagues and clients require of me in order to solve business problems.

Let’s try a concrete example. 

A client comes to us having already done some localization work. They are starting to do more and more work and realizing pretty quickly that they need to organize the work that has been done and drive consistency. They understand a little about TMs and glossaries (they know that they exist), but not much more. A salesperson would not have the industry-wide technical and in-depth process knowledge to ask the right questions. A PM may know a few specific tools — those that they have worked with for a few specific clients.

This is where an SA comes in: as an industry generalist with specific workflow knowledge, he/she would be able to talk about the tools and process of asset management. An SA knows general industry tools and can ask the right questions. An SA will also have the cross-client, cross-solution experience to know how the problem could be solved and to know what solution might be right for this client (after listening).

An SA could also be brought in to describe internationalization best practices, dialectology, market suitability, CMS systems, and language strategy — all things that are outside the normal areas of expertise for other functions in our industry.

Does that help?

One of my colleagues says he is a Swiss Army knife; a collection of tools to be used in a wide variety of ways to fix or advance nearly anything. I would say, then, that we are improvement engineers. We are the McGyvers of our industry.

“Angus Macgyver is a secret agent with a difference. He is quiet, mild mannered, deeply principled and refuses to carry a gun on his missions. Drawing on a vast practical knowledge of science, Macgyver is able to make use of the materials around him to create unorthodox solutions to any problem he faces.”

Substitute she for he in my case and, yes, yes, that’s exactly it. But you tell me: what is a solutions architect? I won’t be offended by anything you put in the comments below. In fact, it might help me do my job even better.