Nurturing Women Architects-What does it take ?

Note : This blog is originally contributed to AEA Delhi Chapter Newsletter

On 26th Sep 2020, Association of Enterprise Architecture (AEA) Delhi India Chapter organized an insightful webinar on the topic “Nurturing Women Architects — What Does it Take”.
It was an inspiring session for all of us to learn from Ms Sripriya Venkatesan

About the Speaker :

Sripriya is a Senior Architect with focus on Artificial Intelligence, Java and related technologies, solutioning and innovation for new age digital enterprises, End to end architecture for complex application landscapes, Cloud AI and other technologies.

She has more than 18 years of experience in the IT industry, worked for key clients — some Fortune 20 as well, globally for mission critical complex application platforms. She has driven delivery architectures for large enterprises in varied sectors, both onsite and offshore. She also focuses on Pre-sales and Innovation.

She has authored technical articles online, very hands-on with technologies. She has participated in hackathons with great success. She also participates regularly in forums like Women Who Code.

At present she is the lead AI champion for her group from India and part of the Capgemini Women in Delivery initiative. She is TOGAF certified and is also a part of the team working on Open Group DTRA Series Guide.

She strongly believes that as Architects we must keep learning to keep up with today’s fast paced technology.

Let’s discuss topics covered in the webinar :

Journey as an Architect :

Talking about how Sripriya started her journey as an architect , she mentions it wasn’t very easy. She started her career with Infosys. After spending a more than a decade with Wipro she moved to a product company called Intellect design that focuses on banking products. Since past two years she has been with Capgemini. (as on Sep 2020)
Although she had been advised to pursue a career in management, it was her conscious decision to choose technical architect career path.

Challenges in Architect career path:

  1. Finding the right projects wasn’t always easy. Number of openings for architects is just few. So if you have a hundred member team, also they’ll just be one or two architects.

2. If you’re looking at the delivery side of it. And the architects usually do not continue for the entire tenure of the projects. You would get in, you will do the architecture of the design. And once the design is validated your involvement in the project is not always hundred percent.

3. Even if you look at solutioning or presales, the number of people doing presales, even, you know, male architects isn’t as many. So, that was always a challenge for her.

Success Mantras :

  1. Passion

Passion for learning new technologies requires significant amount of effort. But as an architect one must have the passion she says.

2. Certification matters !

She kept on doing all relevant certifications to stay current on latest technologies like AI , Blockchain, SAFE Agile, DevOps, TOGAF, etc to name a few

3. Role of Mentors :
She had been lucky that she had great mentors in formative years of her career . She always found good mentors including male seniors/engagement managers most of the teams that she worked in .

4. Overcoming self doubts:

When she had doubts on her capabilities, whether she would be able to manage work life balance, if she would be able to take on the additional responsibility as an architect, she had the right mentorship and support.

5. Family support:

She had a supporting environment at home too. All of this is must if one has to excel as a working woman or not just as an architect. But for an architect it goes a little bit culturally anywhere you go, you hear about Women and STEM.

Women in STEM :

The gender disparity in STEM fields has been widely recognized, but few initiatives have been established at a younger age when girls decide what they want to pursue. It’s a myth that women aren’t very good at STEM . Things have changed and the perceptions have changed . “If you can do it, if you can match up to the other male colleagues, then being good architect is completely up to you.” she mentions.

Gender doesn’t matter :

Gender has no role to plays. If you have the interest to be a good architect, to become a good technologist. As long as you’re able to put your focus, put your energies into it. You can get their gender really has no role to play.

Indian context:

However we have to be conscious and part of the fact that there are a few variables, particularly that applies for women, particularly in India, because women are the primary care giver at home. So, women have the responsibility of the house with kids and other family members along with job. Family (especially husband/father) should come forward to support her to pursue long term career in STEM .

Types of Architects and where does one can fit ?

When we look at folks at the entry level, we see that there’s a very healthy mix of women and men software engineer at the entry level. A lot of women join companies and over the years the numbers kind of tapered out. When you become a lead, she always advises to her women colleagues to either become a technical manager or a technical architect, and then slowly move on to a specialization. One would start with something like a technical manager once you reach a matured, technical expert expertise of I would say around ten years, eight to ten years is when you would try to get into this. And then slowly, depending on what your interest, what kind of work you are doing, you would want to specialize either as a software architect or others.

Integration Architect :

You could look at integration, which is typically, you know, the, they’re using the course of the world where you’re looking at integration. These days, software integration is a usual process in most organizations because of the abundance modular software components and several small computer devices. Most organizations use variety of software tools for certain business procedures, and system integration is used to develop a cohesive technological view for the organization. The integration architect leads in the designing sector and builds this cohesive strategy and model.

Solution Architect :

And a lot of other concepts that fit in here, then you could also look at moving into a solution architect role, which is typically presale solutioning. A solution architect is responsible for the design of one or more applications or services within an organization, and is typically part of a solution development team. He or she must have a balanced mix of technical and business skills, and will often work with an enterprise architect for strategic direction. The main focus is on the technical decisions being made regarding the solution and how they impact the business outcomes. The rest of the development team will then use the information to implement the solution.

Innovation Architect :

Both solutioning and enterprise architects that rolls into the business enterprise architecture stream, but on the delivery side, you also have other flavors like, innovation architects that are architects today will focus only on innovations, for example, understanding block chain a few other topics that are that are upcoming.

Partner Architect :

Partner architects so, for example, if you want to see how you could partner with, let’s say, AWS or Microsoft azure, IBM and other partners, and so on and so forth you also have infrastructure architects. You also have a product architect, and then there’s also the technical flavor these days that, you know, you have digital architects, you have architects, you have DevOps architects

On the delivery side, you typically have all of these roles doing an end to end architecture or end to end solution for a specific delivery focus. And on the business enterprise architecture, you would typically have solution architects and enterprise architects rolling up there to look at the business architecture strategy and the enterprise side of things.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but just to give an idea of some of the facets of architects.

We have the point to note here, is that when we talked to women who are aspiring to be architects, we always tell them to look at suits them. And what is it that is of interest to them. So, for example, some may be interested in solutioning, because they may not want a big end to end engagement. You go you look at an RFP, you do a solution, and you would also need to have a lot of presentation and communization skills, because you would have defined your solution. So, if that is something that works for you by all means, look at it.

And then, you know, there are people who are a little more hands on. In which case you would probably want to look at either a technical architect or a software architect, or an application architect .There are folks who focus on infrastructure.

How to enable aspiring women architects ?

PC : Ms. Sripriya Venkatesan

Even though organizations have a well defined framework and conducive workplace, we do not know too many Women Architects unlike other job roles as HR, managers, etc.
Women architects are very few in corporate and it’s very hard find the reason.

Let’s understand from Sripriya , few things that she does in her current organization, that a lot of women are aspiring women architects associates architects have come back and said it helped them.

1. Networking :

First thing that really helps is networking, and this helped her when she had doubts and dilemma on her capabilities .Networking does not mean only network with women. You can network with likeminded colleagues and many male colleagues also helped her when she had a doubt on what she could do when she was looking at validation for her part in the process.

Networking doesn’t have to be just within the position. It would be other teams. It would be forums like AEA Delhi . It could be groups that are focused on STEM the men who for that is women in there is women in Stan, a lot of groups that are encouraging women. And a lot of them are virtual. So, I’m a part of few of them and these groups are not just open to women on the lot of male members.

2. Focused Mentoring
Now, if you look at the period, typically, I would say, eight to twelve, thirteen years is when people decide whether they want to continue in the technical part, or they want to move into the management side of things, or you want to get into the business side of the product side, and that is where, if you are able to guide a person who wants to continue on the technical part, having a one on one mentor, or having a, you know, close group with folks can participate really helps. And that is something that has held me, and it is, it is a feedback that we’ve received, even in the current mentoring program that we have in my organization that has helped a lot of aspiring women architects.

3. Cultural Aspects:

It has been noticed there’s also a little bit of cultural aspect, I think times have changed. So today, I think women and girls, they are a lot more confident than, let’s say, you know, two decades ago. So, a lot of females in the entry level, or the seven, eight years of experience, they’re a little shy.

And many of them are hesitant to take on architecture roles, because they feel they would have to speak, or they would have to take decisions. So there’s also that cultural bit of shyness and inhibition that comes in, and that we can overcome with mentoring. It is absolutely possible and we’ve seen positive results with it.

4. Celebrate more and often :

A few other things that really helped to celebrate. So what we doing my current organization, and we also had this in my previous organization is that we would celebrate successes. Of course, that is gender neutral you celebrate liberty, hard focus celebration and a focused way.

5. Promote :

She always promotes successes of all women in team. So, what happens with that is, but if there’s another lady who’s just entered in architecture career, she is not sure seeing another lady role model.

So, what we found is if you have an integration architect talking to and inspiring integration architect, they’re able to connect better if you have a solution architect, talking to another aspiring solution architect that able to connect better.

6. Role models, success stories :

Similarly, having women role models having women, achievers, or having celebrations of women, in the area of work, or similar work really helps because people are able to connect. They’re able to see if she can do it, maybe I can do it too. And that’s absolutely what she always say, if I can do it, you can do it too. That is another thing that’s really hit it.

7. Formal framework :

Formal framework, doesn’t mean a policy, which is usually an HR policy. It means a framework, which has work happening on the ground. Town halls, mentors programs, people on the ground talk about one-on-one meetings, trying to understand what people’s challenges are, trying to resolve them and having that structure like a pyramid that works really help. By this they know who to reach out to, and they take that time. So in initial sessions people may not open up and then slowly, when there’s work happening on the ground, people open up gradually.

8. No one size fits all :

There’s no one size fits all solution. So, for example, when we talk about aspiring architects, if we go and tell all of them, they will go and become a solution architect.

All of you have to pick a solution architect that is not going to fly because everyone has a different aspiration and everyone has a different background. Some people like a more background work, they want to sit in only code. So, they may probably be more suited as a technologist. Some people like to design some people like to talk. Some people like to present some people. So there’s no one size fits all as a solution. That is possible.

How to support more women architects ?

1. Focus on 7–14 yrs experience bracket

We need to focus on seven to fourteen years experience bracket. Because that is where we see that a lot of folks drop out. She mentions , she came across a lady who said that she wanted to be an architect but she didn’t know about the architecture framework and she became a manager and then later on, she came to know that she could have actually continued in the architecture stream. And she came back. But what happened was that she lost out five years that she could not continue in the architecture stream.

2. Cultural aspects:

Make women and girls a lot more confident in terms of presenting their ideas.

3. Create a framework and promote it :

Build a framework, promote it via various channels in the organization.

4. Support women colleagues by showing them role models :

Let them get inspired by success stories and role models inside and outside the organizations

5. Allow flexibility :

Flexibility is another thing that she spoke about. She gave an example of the open series guide from open group that she was working on. Rescheduling late calls to meet everyone’s schedule in those meetings was a perfect example of flexibility. So showing that level of flexibility goes a long way. By flexibility, it doesn’t mean that you allow people to not to do work. There are priorities you allow folks to have a little bit of flexibility when it comes to attending meetings or in terms of deciding when to log in that really helps and goes a long way for women architects.

6. Have regular touchpoints — townhalls, 1–1 meetings, high tea :

Having regular touch points like town halls where different sets of people who wind up in all of these. So some people open up in town halls confident to speak in public. Some don’t even open up. And where we had groups of ten, fifteen people will join and talk and some only opened up in one on one meetings.

7. Blogs, Videos, Podcasts, Social media are a big help :

We observed that people with five to seven years of experience are more tuned to seeing blogs, videos. They don’t want to sometimes just have people mentoring them directly. They start with blogs, videos, podcasts and all of that is a big help to get them going understand what an architect typically does.

8. Encourage and celebrate milestones :

Acknowledge the contributions of women across the organizations world especially on their special occasions or milestone events like work anniversaries.

9. There is no one size that fits all solution :

We have to go by what the person at the other end wants to do. So, sometimes folks may want to continue on the management side, which is absolutely fine. The only a place where we come in and they should come in and all of us as senior architects should come in is when somebody is hesitant to continue because of preconceived notions and doubt where we can help resolve those.

Questions & Answers :

1. How should one go for Open Certified Architect Profession (Open CA)? Why, how should one decide which level to attempt for?

Ans : The open group (CA) program has three levels of certification , depending on the length and characteristics of the Architect’s experience.

Level 1: Certified Architect — able to perform as a contributing Architect with assistance/supervision, with a wide range of appropriate skills
Level 2: Master Certified Architect — able to perform independently as lead Architect, and take responsibility for delivery of solutions
Level 3: Distinguished Architect — delivering leadership, scope, depth and breadth of impact

Tarun Gupta : I did the level two in 2011 and level three in 2014. So, for you,if you have enough experience so you can go over to, in my view, any anyone who has ten plus years experience, and has done three projects, end to end in terms of defining the architecture and also implementing it whether it has gone live or not it doesn’t matter. It is important you have done the architecture work, and also to make it implemented in a client environment, and you were the lead architect, or you’re leading a module end to end for that particular module or portfolio.Level two is actually very good for 10+ years experience and it also so, as a previous saying, I have seen, I was working a lot of woman architects.

Tarun mentions, he had the privilege to work under a woman architect, and also had experience women architects working under him. As per him , he came across a few women architects who are really superb for their dedication and the quality of work..

Q2. What is the proportion of time you spend for learning ?

Ans : It’s a valid question because as architects you have to keep learning. So, like, I mentioned, last two years I’ve been focusing on so these days we talk about the, T-shaped learning, right? You’re supposed to have expertise in one technology has a depth and also know a lot of other technologies not just technologies, but also ways of working. So in last two years I’ve been focusing on AI . I just recently got my SAFE Agile certification as well. So, I would say, at least one one hour per day minimum that I focus on doing some goals, personal goals that I want to myself, and also you have to read up a lot on blogs, social media.

Q3. How do you manage consistency in long run for learning ?

Ans : Again, it goes back to what you like to do and what you’re passionate about. So, if you’re passionate about learning new, let’s say architectural frameworks, learning about, let’s say you find time, just to maybe find time to watch a movie. You’ll find time to read up and learn. We just have to find a little bit of discipline and be able to do that. It’s absolutely doable. When I was commuting to work, I had a longer commute so I would read on the go. I had someone driving me back then and then now I’m saving on that commute time. So we can find time to do it.

Q4. What are the different sources you refer?

Ans : There are a lot of blogs that I follow on LinkedIn, particularly there are a lot of good groups that you can join. A lot of like I said, a lot of women in stem groups for women, not women centric always, but also groups for, you know, your areas of interest. For example, if you’re interested in block chain , a lot of groups and blogs that you can follow on social media. So that can be one starting point. And then there are specific sites and folks that I follow and read regularly. Of course, there’s also books. I do courses, I also continuously keep getting certifications because what happens with certifications is, you have to end up fine once you’ve booked a slot for the certification you end up finding time to do it. Sometimes that also helps. We also have many learning resources in my current organization. We also have Podcasts, I sometimes listen to them .There are many varied sources. You can choose and pick what works for you.

Q5. Can you please tell more about the current profile ?
When you say focusing on AI, are you also sort of working on aspects like IoT as well as block chain ? Or is it more about building the familiarity with a certain fields, a lot of them quite a few of them and then trying to go in depth on a certain specific ones?

Ans : In my current role, I’m a solution architect where, and I typically what I would say about forty to fifty percent of the time, and sometimes more on the big deals, RFP out of these customer requirements and I focus on Europe sector and then outside of that, I also have the responsibility to to bring in AI to my current group. So, in the current group, we have plans with automotive customers , medical customers, from the pharma industry and most customers have come back to us and said that, you know, we have this data for the last seven years. What can you do in terms of AI ? So, I’m working, I’ve been spearheading the CoE from here to build that capability.I am trying to understand what we can do in terms of a reference architecture. We built then, the points of views (PoVs), POCs that we demo to customers and also bring in the architects view the issue. What we should not and how to do. So when we talk about AI, IoT becomes the data, which is the input for most machine learning models. So I absolutely focus on IoT. Block chain is handled by another architect.
So, I work on a specific group and we are focusing on Newgen technology. So, this is a group of about fifteen to twenty and I am the junior most. And so most architects are twenty five, plus years of experience and we all have our areas of expertise. Somebody focusing on cloud somebody focusing on DevOps few folks focusing on blockchain .

PC : Sripriya Venkatesan

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