Thursday, October 27, 2005

Are you Pi-shaped?

I once heard a very senior I/T Architect in IBM talk about how the best I/T Architects are Pi-shaped. I wish I could remember his name but let me try to explain his remark.

Imagine if you will, that all possible skill categories make up the horizontal axis across the top of a big skill rectangle.

  • Java
  • J2EE
  • Database
  • Middleware
  • Object-oriented analysis and design
  • Legacy system integration
  • Networking, Firewalls, Load balancing
  • Security
  • Manufacturing industry
  • Banking industry
  • Insurance industry
  • Facilitation skills
  • Project Management
  • etc.

Now imagine that the vertical axis of this big skill rectangle from top to bottom represents the level of skill

  • The 30,000 foot view, the business executive summary view
  • The 10,000 foot view, the I/T executive view
  • The 1,000 foot view, the first level I/T manager who remembers programming view
  • The 500 foot view, the programmer or DBA view
  • The 100 foot view, the view of the guy who reads all the manuals for fun
  • The 10 foot view, the view of the guy who wrote the low-level device driver code

You can image that each person has some combination of horizontal breadth of knowledge as in "I know a little bit about a lot of things." and vertical slices of expertise as in "I know how every layer of this technology works from concept to low-level coding and performance tuning."

This wise I/T Architect's opinion was that the very best I/T Architects are Pi-shaped as in the Greek letter Pi. He said all good architects have a broad spectrum of knowledge across the top layers of the skill rectangle. Yes, I know nobody knows everything, but through their experience they have seen almost every type of technology applied to a variety of business situations. He said they also have at least a couple of vertical slices where they have the ability to take a "deep dive" into extreme levels of detail. Hence, a "Pi-shaped" I/T Architect. Even better if you can be a three-legged or four-legged table.

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.


Anonymous said...

found it interesting and informational....looking forward to read future postings

Philip Hartman said...

anshul, thanks for stopping by.. and don't let me get lazy!

Unknown said...

I see a number of other folks (although after your posting here) have attributed the concept to: Nicholas Donofrio, retired IBM Executive Vice President of Innovation and Technology. Is this who you were thinking of? I cannot see a reference to Donofrio prior to your post here, so it is unclear...

Philip Hartman said...

Thanks Ashley. I don't remember it coming from Nick Donofrio but it is possible whoever told me heard it from him first. It is very possible.