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What are the usual career paths from a Systems Architecture role?

Do people ever move from architecture roles into management and work towards CIO/CTO or do they generally just head towards Enterprise Architecture?

What would you suggest to learn/do to aid in positioning to move into management and eventually CIO/CTO roles?


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closed as off-topic by MichaelT, Dan Pichelman, Yusubov, ozz, GlenH7 Aug 16 '13 at 11:23

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Sure, if they have enough experience and knowledge, they can move to CTO or CIO position. Although it depends on what you understand by CTO or CIO duties - for me CIO is a system administration top management, and "upgrading" from System Architect to CTO is possible in software development companies.

But overall it's transition from purely technical position to more business-oriented one. So often the way of thinking must be changed.

As you properly noticed, "in positioning to move into management" you need to learn management. This applies to both people management and knowledge of business processes in your [desired] area.

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Coupled with your technical ability you will want to get an MBA before you are accepted by upper management; your technical abilities alone won't cut it here.

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At the enterprise level you have varying options. At my current employer the path looks like this...

  • Programmer
  • Sr. Programmer
  • Lead Programmer
  • Lead Technical Architect
  • Director (Technical)
  • VP

There are Directors at both the Technical side and Business side. One manages technology and the other manages people. The VP tier is essentially where they converge.

In addition we have a .NET Architecture Team and a Java Architecture Team responsible for their given technology across the enterprise. Heading into one of those teams will allow you to narrow your focus and become more of an expert in a given area. You could argue that this could be defined as Enterprise Architecture as mentioned in your question.

Once you reach Director (Technical) you essentially move horizontally across business units; unless you want to begin having a larger focus on managing both people and technology along with providing value to the business then you begin to move up the corporate ladder starting at the VP position.

CIO/CTO is a different beast in and of itself within an enterprise all together.

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Why do you think there's a path at all? My SO is a real engineer (as in, took a test to earn the legal right to use that name), and she's surrounded by people that are quite happy, and well respected, just being engineers, or being "team leads". I'm not sure why the focus in software development has turned into an "up or out" mentality where you're seen as odd if you're 40 and still programming.

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I agree with tour sentiment. I have seen this throughout my career. Part of the issue is that companies generally don't have a path for people to stay in engineering for their career. – Jeff Jan 16 '11 at 0:09
Don't confuse my ambitions with the general industry trend you perceive. Even if that trend didn't exist, someone would have to want to eventually move into that position, else they would never be filled. Don't get me wrong, I love writing code. I do it outside of work, along with my other more physically active hobbies. I also highly respect those who want to do it until they retire (or beyond!). I, however, have a strong desire to set effective strategies for organisations; having a broader focus/impact then is possible from my current role. – Dan McGrath Jan 16 '11 at 10:11
Like I posted on someone else's question, it really depends on what you want to do. It depends on whether you're targeting Fortune 500 vs. Inc 5000. I've seen a lot of small companies promote their computer support person to being an IT Director to eventual CTO, as they grew with the company... Technical knowledge takes a definite backseat to Business Domain knowledge. OTOH, being a CTO at a Fortune 500 is probably going to require an MBA... and being the CTO at a startup is going to greatly depend on your ability to deliver product, and think outside of "roles". – red-dirt Jan 16 '11 at 14:29

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