Architects vs Software Architects: Who Wins?

by
Emily Mahon Fischer
In this article, we take a deep dive into the decade-long controversial debate on Building Architects vs Software Architects.
Architects vs Software Architects: Who Wins?

In the past few decades, another group calling themselves architects has stormed onto the scene – software architects.

A lot of architects are fed up with people in other professions using their hard-earned titles.

How many times have you been excited by job postings only to realize it’s for software architects?

Should that title be reserved for building architects vs. software architects?

In this article, we will try to get to the bottom of this.

What is a Building Architect?

Dictionary Definition of an Architect 

To keep things clear in this article we are calling traditional architects building architects.

A building architect designs buildings and often advises in their construction.

Building architects get to think about both the structure and aesthetics of a building.

What is a Software Architect?

Dictionary Definition of a Software Architect


As technology evolves, even the dictionary has included the 2nd definition under architect for the software industry.

A software architect is usually someone who designs hardware, software, or networking applications for a company.

Typically, the job title depends on the software platform you are qualified in.

If you are qualified in Python, you would be a Python architect.

What do Building Architects Think?

In a poll inside the Women Architects Collective, we surveyed 372 architects to see what Building Architects think about this issue.

Facebook Survey on Architects vs Software Architects

98% of Architects answered “no” when asked if software architects should be called architects.

98% of Architects don’t think software architects should be called architects

Some question the legality of it and recognize that a lot of other professionals in the building industry miscall themselves as architects.

“Everyone wants to be an architect, but very few are - builders, developers, interior designers, software companies, etc. - many like to use "architecture" or some reference to it in their advertising, but in some cases, it is not legal.”

- Gary Demele, FAIA, NCARB Architect

Still, others feel the argument is old and not relevant in our modern world as there are a lot of similarities between architecture and software development.

“The world is developing and I'd feel ancient if you lose sleep over someone calling themselves an architect while working with computers. Creating software is an art form as well and there are a lot of the skills that are similar among the two professions.”

- Thomas Jepsen, CEO of Passion Plans

Some feel like the textbook definition for “architect”  means that software architects can use the title architect. 

“Simply put, if they are designing software, they are software architects. In fact, going by the word’s textbook definition, I believe any person who designs something should be referred to as an architect.”

- Garth McAlpin, Architect and Designer/Director/National Fulfilment Manager of Classic Architectural Group

Why Architects are Fed Up with Sharing Their Job Title

Why Architects are Fed Up with Sharing Their Job Title

To understand this issue better, let’s look at some problems that architects face with sharing the job title with software architects.

1 - It Makes Job Searching Frustrating

Many building architects find it frustrating to search for jobs online as job searching websites like Indeed.com don’t separate the 2 job titles. 

The result is building architects have to filter through many job postings that are actually for software architects.

Facebook comment on frustrating job search experience as architects

One architect said that “I hate looking for jobs. When I first started, these [software architect jobs] were all I could find and get excited only to read the description and realize I didn’t know how to do any of it!”

Indeed.com advanced job search

When we reached out to architects about the problem, we were surprised to hear them come back with some solutions for the job posting issue.

In many of the online job searches, you can set advanced filters. Some architects filter by industry and only allow jobs within the construction industry.

Others filter out words like “solutions architect” or “Java”.

One last recommendation was to use more specific job titles like:

  • “Project Manager Architect”
  • “Design Architect”

2 - It Skews the Salary Numbers for Building Architects

Many architects question the average salaries listed on job searching websites. 

Is the search engine combining architect and software architect jobs? If so, this can lead to a higher listed salary for building architects. 

This number might be unreasonable for building architects since software architects typically make much more. 

It might give architects the wrong idea of how much they should be making.

Facebook comment on skewed salaries for architects

One architect stated that “I feel like those ‘average salaries for architect’ numbers on job websites are skewed because of this too!”

3 - The Title “Architect” Needs Protecting

Many architects feel that their title needs to be protected since all of them work really hard for their license. 

The license exists to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. 

The licensing bodies exist to preserve the prestige and responsibilities of the title.

Part of what protects us all from shoddy work is the prestige of the architect.

Facebook comment on loss of respect for architect

Another architect told us, “It irritates me so much. Belittles our hard-earned title. The gravity and respect of an architect dwindle because of confusion/commonality.”

4 - Unlicensed Architects Can’t Use the Title

As we all know, until you are a licensed architect, you can’t use the title architect -  in some states, you can’t even use the word “architectural” in your job title.

Even if you have a degree in architecture, some resort to using the job titles Job Captain or Designer.

Facebook comment on the title of architect

“I find it so frustrating that people who work in architecture that isn’t licensed can not use the derivative of an architect to describe their job title, yet all of these people can call themselves an architect of some sort,” an architect shared.

What Do Software Architects Think?

Software architects generally feel like at a high level, software architects and building architects have similar job responsibilities. 

Both jobs design and guide a plan or undertaking.

Both jobs need to meet their client's needs and manage the project budget and schedule.

Both manage development teams and keep in mind technical requirements for the project.

“A software architect wears many hats. Like a building architect, the role of a software architect is multifaceted. They are simultaneously a coder, a designer, an engineer, and a project manager. And like building architects, they rely on a wide range of skills. A software architect can’t succeed in the role without the technical knowledge necessary to build applications, nor can they excel without the soft skills required to manage people.”

- Ryan Vice, Co-founder and CEO of Vice Software

One of the biggest differences between the jobs seems to be that building architects deal with physical design and software architects with software design.

Also, software architects require an understanding of both the design and implementation. While building architects need their designs to be rooted in reality, they aren’t typically concerned with how the construction is implemented.

“Whereas a building architect can draw a sketch of a design and sub out the engineering, a software architect must design the high-level algorithms with every low-level optimization in mind.”

- Rob Zel, software architect and founder of bitni.com

Is this enough of a difference to disqualify software architects from using the title? Software architects agree the answer is ‘no’.

Architects VS Software Architects: A Comparison

In this section, we’ll look at the differences and similarities by comparing their:

  • Education
  • Licensing requirements
  • Job responsibilities
  • Median Salary

Education Requirements

Architects vs Software Architects Education Requirement

Both careers typically require a bachelor's degree at a minimum.

In general, to get a building architect’s license, you need to attend a NAAB accredited program.

To become a software architect, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in software engineering or computer science. The program does not need to be accredited by anyone. 

Licensing Requirements

It’s definitely not easy to get an architectural license, and it comes with a lot of responsibility and liability.

You need the appropriate educational and experience background to qualify to take the multiple licensing exams.

On the flip side, there are no required licenses to be a software architect.

Many choose to pursue certificates to demonstrate their knowledge to employers and clients.

Job Responsibilities

Some of the responsibilities a building architect might take on are:

  • Planning and designing building projects
  • Oversight of construction
  • Understanding and correctly applying zoning and building codes
  • Creating a set of plans and documents to support construction

A software architect is typically in charge of the whole software design and how it fits together.

Similar to architects, software architects need to be leaders, designers, and client liaisons. They need to understand the technical side of software design in order to be an effective leader. 

Median Salary

There is a stark difference when looking at the salary for architects VS software architects.

Median Salary of Architects and Software Architects

The median salary for an architect in 2020 was $82,320 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to PayScale.com, the median salary for software architects in 2020 was $124,099.

Architect Leslie S. Saul, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP BD+C stated it perfectly, “Software architects make more money, but we have more liability.”

What Does AIA Think?

The AIA recognizes that many architects are bothered by the use of the word architect. They state that they understand and sympathize with architects’ concerns and supports protecting the term architects for licensed individuals.

AIA Statement on the Title of Architect (Source: AIA Directory of Public Policy and Positioning Statements)


At the same time, they don’t think trying to stop other people from using the title will be successful in court.

“State regulatory agencies generally may protect the title only when it is used by someone who holds himself or herself out as performing the services of an architect but who is unlicensed to practice architecture. They have no authority over those outside the profession who use the title so long as there is no resulting confusion to the public.”

- AIA Positioning Statement (Source: AIA Pittsburgh)

Mandy, on the other hand, thinks it’s important to get involved to benefit our profession. She stated that each state has a version of a professional code or Architects Practice Act and we have to make the change at the state level.

Mandy Freeland comment on reaching out to the state architecture lobby.

“Find your state architecture lobby. Reach out to them and tell them your concerns...Get the lobby to propose state law changes or fight against others trying to change our professional regulations for their benefit.’

- Mandy Freeland, AIA, NOMA, AIA Young Architect Regional Director, Southern California

What Does the Licensing Board Say?

The licensing board has been pretty clear on this matter. Calling yourself an “architect” while not being a licensed architect can get you punished.

But, this rule has never been applied to anyone not pretending to be an actual licensed architect - and this is not unique to the architecture industry.

NCARB Quote on Architect Magazine
“ ‘Software architects’ or even ‘personnel architects’ (once seen used by a temporary employment firm) can use the term…without fear of legal entanglement. No U.S. jurisdictional licensing board could pursue such use of the term.”

- Lenore Lucey, Executive Vice President of NCARB (Source: Architect Magazine)

Most challenges to using professional titles have been thrown out in court.

For example, calling yourself a "Lawn Doctor" is okay, since common sense tells us that person isn't claiming to be a licensed doctor.

In the same vein, “sanitary engineers” are perfectly acceptable.

Architects VS Software Architects: Who Wins?

In the battle of Architects VS Software Architects, there will probably never be a clear winner. 

Both have fair points.

The courts have been pretty clear that this isn't a fight they want to get into.

We think it's important to remember software architects and others using that title won't impact your ability to be a killer architect.

This won't change or diminish the effort you put into getting your license. 

We Don’t Want the Conversation to End Here

Let us know what you think in the comment box below…

Should the job title “architect” be used for building architects only?

About the Author
Emily Mahon Fischer Photo

Emily Mahon Fischer is a technical writer who specializes in EAC industry topics. She likes to geek out over science and technology while helping companies within the EAC industry engage with their audience. She has her B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Colorado State University and is a licensed Engineer in the state of Colorado.

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