Solutions Architect Interview Questions: Soft Skills and Vendor Options

As the name implies, solutions architects must figure out how to structure a particular project or system. It’s a job that demands quite a bit of abstract thought, and (at least in a technology-industry context) touches on a number of different hardware and software platforms—everything from storage and the cloud to machine learning and A.I.

The role is largely dependent on the unique technical and business needs of an organization; there is no “one size fits all” in this context.

However, there is an essential skill set. Solutions architects are responsible not only for providing hardware and software selections, and determining which choices have the best impact on a business outcome; they also have a solid understanding of business, and an ability to communicate effectively with internal teams and customers.

When asking solutions architect interview questions, Steve Dietrich, director of customer solutions at Arundo Analytics, a Texas-based provider of cloud-based and edge-enabled software, looks for a combination of cloud and machine-learning savvy, as well as an ability to communicate with customers.

John Peluso, the CTO of New Jersey-based AvePoint Public Sector, a software vendor and manufacturer, often sees software developers eager to leap to a solutions architect role; he’s observed that soft skills are an essential part of this process. Peluso prefers candidates who have excellent communication skills, and understand the nature, impact and people behind a project.

Keeping in mind that each role in this field has its differences, here are a few solutions architect interview questions to consider:

“What steps would you take to communicate a solution to a customer who doesn’t agree with, or who may not understand, your assessment?”

Again, this all boils down to the candidate’s soft skills: can you listen effectively? A number of solutions architect interview questions will inevitably come around to this.

What most people say:

Peluso and Dietrich have often encountered candidates who suffer from an “I’m smarter than you” attitude; instead of listening to what’s being said, they wait for their turn to talk. These candidates can usually formulate solutions, but don’t consider the dynamic of the customer relationship.

What you should say:

A huge part of a solutions architect role is helping people understand why you’re making a particular recommendation. Before heading into the interview, rehearse a few customer scenarios; with these examples ready, you can convey that you hear and understand customer concerns, and can articulate why you feel a particular course of action is best.

Why you should say it:

“Customers don’t always know what’s important and might not be able to verbalize their deal breakers, so this is great opportunity to gauge this,” Peluso said. “People often don’t know what won’t work until you present them with a vision that will.”

“What are some arguments for and against PaaS-oriented development?”

In other words, should a customer build or buy a solution? This is a common challenge for solutions architects, and it requires know-how of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) solutions, including deployment and management.

What most people say:

“PaaS has time-to-value cost savings, and the need for network, database and OS administrator solutions is eliminated.”

What you should say:

“The components of PaaS technology are often difficult to debug and even deduce best practices usage. And while the technology is good for prototyping, it often poses issues for taking the application (or even machine learning mode) to a production level of runtime performance.”

You should acknowledge the open-source packages and public cloud services that are enterprise-grade; emphasize that, first and foremost, your job is to leverage best-of-breed technology throughout the solution stack.

Why you should say it:

When building a new product, PaaS/IaaS components save time bringing the product to market. That being said, architects are often tasked with weaning organizations off external dependencies. There should be an emphasis on enterprise-grade components that are often straightforward (relatively) to integrate and maintain.

“What are the differences between RDBMS and NoSQL, and why would you choose one over the other?”

When architecting solutions, you’ll spend time evaluating data storage and management, making choices about the best fit for an organization’s needs. As a result, a number of solutions architect interview questions focus on memory.

What most people say:

“RDBMS is a relational database and a structured way of storing data in tables; if the client’s data isn’t complex, this is a fit. NoSQL is a non-relational database and is an unstructured way of storing data; it’s a flexible solution that’s better for more complex needs.”

What you should say:

“RDBMS (SQL) encompasses relational databases that are a good fit for structured data, while NoSQL encompasses flexible, non-relational databases that work well for complex, large-scale data. But choosing one kind of database over another is entirely dependent on context and needs.

“RDBMS databases can be used for a wide variety of applications, as long as the database model and its structure remain consistent. For example, reporting and transactional use cases are more suited to SQL databases.

“NoSQL databases, such as MongoDB and CouchDB, don’t require consistent data structure, and work well if a database layout changes often. They’re flexible and known for scalability. For example, online catalogues, user profiles, and storing and fetching JSON strings are all well-suited to NoSQL databases.”

Why you should say it:

Your answer illustrates you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each database, how to choose the correct one for an application, and why it’s the best choice given the context of the business need. When it comes to solutions architect interview questions in general, expressing that you understand the holistic nature of systems and projects will help see you through.