From Admin to Architect – Some Thoughts

As some of you may know, I took a new job at the start of 2021. I accepted a role as a Senior Solution Architect for a Microsoft Partner organization. Prior to that my positions were at ‘customers’ where my role was to administer CRM and recommend / implement various aspects of technology (primarily Microsoft’s business applications and productivity tools). As an architect, my role would now be to work with customers to support them through their journey. I’ve worked with consultants a great deal over the past 11 years in previous roles and felt I had what it took to be one myself. I am and will forever be grateful that C5 Insight agrees.

This felt like a massive change, but one that I was ready and excited for. I believed I’d be challenged in new ways and I like the idea of working with people to support them as they strive to realize organizational efficiencies through the use of technology in their companies.

So far, I’m loving it. It’s been a welcome change of focus and I feel like many of my past experiences have been helpful in the journey thus far. I started thinking about writing a blog about the shift from “Admin to Architect” about six weeks ago but I couldn’t find the right way to frame it. Every time I tried I’d get stuck trying to identify the key aspects worthy of such a post. Perhaps that’s because a handful of months is still pretty early, so I let the idea of this blog drift from my mind all together.

A while back a friend of mine (the talented, all-around great human and co-Canadian Katherine Taylor) reached out and asked me how I was enjoying the new role and how I felt the transition had been. I ended up typing out a novel of a response considering it was a LinkedIn chat (me, write long winded pieces?! Shocking!). As I re-read my response I realized I’d just written this blog post – I touched on all the things I had in my head but couldn’t seem to get down in this format!

I’m going to share that response with you now, but first I owe a massive THANK YOU to Katie for reaching out with the question in the first place. It was just what I needed to get things “on paper” and out of my brain (if you recall from my very first post, that was one of my goals!).

Here is what I sent Katie, with some minor edits…

[ How has my role shifted – it’s funny you ask that. I’ve been toying with a blog post around becoming an architect, but my imposter syndrome is putting up MASSIVE walls every time I sit down to write or even think about it. I think because I’m still learning what’s all involved in being a “solution architect”.

But you nailed it when you noted the shift from uni-org thinking to multi-org. For example, I could have various projects on the go at any given time and at some times they could be similar in nature. For example, I could have two “on-prem to online” upgrades, but they could take VERY different paths forward.

Perhaps one would opt to move what they have straight up – lift it out of on-prem and putting it in the cloud and fixing any issues that come up. Then they could reassess what new features and functions they’ll have at their finger tips in the cloud and map a path for system enhancement from there. It’s a logical approach that makes great sense for some.

The other, however, could decide to doing a full overhaul of their system. Perhaps they see value in bringing along some of the aspects of their current state system that work well for them. But even then they could have interest in exploring new approaches since there are features and functions of the newest versions that they don’t have access to today. They could quite literally put everything on the table for re-approach/design, and want to be challenged to think differently as they go through the process.

To me, those examples demonstrate that the key shift in my role from the administrator role to that of a solution architect. Really digging to get at what the client wants to do. Additionally, pushing back to challenge where necessary. I think back to when I was on the customer side – I craved partners who would hear me out and validate we were on the right path when we were, but also pushed back when they felt necessary. The ones that did that – who really tried to work with us, were true partners, in my opinion.

There is also a huge element of knowing what’s possible. I spend more time learning and paying closer attention to what’s available. Watching demos, videos, reading – in some cases as part of my day but also just in general. I find I’m reading way more blogs and Microsoft Learn and Microsoft Docs articles/posts than I ever did before. I’ve always wanted to do that but at the customer level I was putting out fires daily, running from one thing to another and trying to keep strategy at the forefront but never truly feeling like I could get there because there was always something else going on that needed attention. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of work to be done, but it’s imperative that we are in the know with respect to the what these tools can and cannot do, and how we might recommend filling gaps.

But it’s impossible to know everything. That’s true of most things in life, but tech in particular because it changes constantly. A new feature or two has probably rolled out since I started writing this! When I interviewed for my new role I talked a LOT about this – to the point that I feared I might actually be talking myself out of the job. I just wanted to make sure that if they were looking for someone who knows everything about every application, I wasn’t their guy. I spent more time talking about my methodology for solving problems and finding answers than I did about what I actually do know (which I know is a lot, but that imposter thing I talked about is a constant dark cloud on my shoulder whispering “…but you probably DON’T know” and “…how on earth do they think you belong in this role?!”). I know others go through this a lot too. It’s normal and I try hard to embrace it, but I can imagine it scares some people from even trying to get into a new role. Of course you have to find the right employer who embraces it as well, and I’m so grateful to say I’ve been very fortunate in that regard. ]

So, there you have it – those are at least some of the thoughts on the subject. I feel as though there is a lot more one could break down in terms of the differences between the admin and architect roles, but these are the things that have resonated with me the most over the past few months. Who knows, maybe I’ll put additional thoughts after a few more months!

Have you made the transition from admin to architect (or, perhaps you’ve gone the other way!)? Do you agree with my comments above? What other factors or considerations would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Photo by Ales Nesetril on Unsplash

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