A Day in the Life of a Software Architect

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Technology constantly evolves, forcing tech pros into a constant race to keep up. While some find that stressful, others are invigorated by that steady churn.

Mallika Iyer, who’s in her early 30s, is one of the latter. A principal software architect on the cloud engineering team at Pivotal Software’s New York City office, she helps produce services that run on the company’s Cloud Foundry platform. “It’s never the same,” she said. “Three weeks from now, I might be working with someone’s legacy platform, where today I’m working on Pivotal’s.”

What does a software architect’s day-to-day life actually look like? How do they handle constant change? Iyer’s day varies depending on the project she’s working on, who she’s working with, and the challenges that come with designing, writing and debugging code.

Morning

After arriving at Pivotal’s Manhattan office around 8 A.M., Iyer checks email and gets organized before joining her colleagues for a company-provided breakfast at 8:30. While they’re eating, the team catches up with each other and prepares for the office-wide stand-up that begins at 9 A.M.

Designed to be quick, stand-ups provide everyone with the chance to get updated on company developments, share product updates, introduce newcomers and visitors, and surface bugs that are aggravating team members.

Once the meeting breaks up, Iyer spends her morning on a combination of solo programming, pair programming, meetings and phone calls. Pivotal emphasizes pair programming, which she sees as an extremely efficient way to solve problems. “When you code alone, you’ll work through problems but it can take longer,” she said. “When two people work on one problem, it’s very fluid and increases productivity.”

But not all of her interactions are colleague-centric; Iyer frequently works with customers in the course of helping them define needs and implement solutions.

Lunch

Pivotal has a designated lunchtime: 12:30 P.M. At least once a week, the company provides the meal, accompanied by a tech talk. On other days, Iyer either runs out to bring lunch back and talk shop with co-workers, or takes advantage of the Flatiron District’s eating spots. Despite the stereotype of modern engineers eating at their desks all the time, Iyer tries to avoid that unless she’s “not at a good stopping point.” Besides, 1:30 P.M. comes soon enough.

Afternoon

After lunch, it’s back to programming, calls and meetings. Because of the time differences between New York and Pivotal’s other offices in North America, afternoons are usually the best time to connect with remote colleagues. To facilitate pairing up when people aren’t in the same space, Pivotal uses Screenhero, a collaboration package what allows remote teams to work in shared environments.

Unless she’s under a tight deadline or engrossed in debugging, Iyer’s day usually continues until about 6 P.M., when she heads for the gym, then home.

What She Likes Best

It would be a mistake to look at Iyer’s day and think it’s all about routine. “We work with cutting-edge technology,” she pointed out. “I’m building things that are out there in the industry.”

Calling her work “very exploratory,” she often finds herself in technical situations few people—if any—have ever faced before, such as developing ways to gather data from drones. “Not many people get to work on that kind of thing,” she said. “I’m never bored. I’m always learning new technology. It’s the exploratory aspect that makes it so much fun.”

What She Likes Least

Ironically, Iyer thinks the very thing that makes technology so exciting can also lead to her greatest frustration: the speed of change. “It’s tied to how fast the cloud-platform space keeps changing,” she said. “Tech evolves so rapidly that what worked two months ago may not work anymore. So you always have to keep up, because you always want your software to work.”

At the same time, Iyer added, speedy change is simply the state of the technology industry right now. “The notion of what an engineer does every day has changed so much in the last ten years,” she said. “If you go in with preconceived notions, you might be surprised, excited or disappointed because technology moves at such a rapid pace. Folks in slow-moving companies may be shocked. New grads may be excited.”

Image Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

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