On Titles, Jobs, and Job Descriptions (Not All Roles Are Architects)

Folks: Please stop calling every soup-to-nuts, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink security job a "security architect" role. It's harmful to the industry and it's doing you no favors trying to find the right resources. In fact, please stop posting these "one role does everything security under the sun" positions altogether. It's hurting your recruitment efforts, and it makes it incredibly difficult to find positions that are a good fit. Let me explain...

For starters, there are generally three classes of security people, management and pentesters aside:
- Analysts
- Engineers
- Architects

(Note that these terms tend to be loaded due to their use in other industries. In fact, in some states you might even have to come up with a different equivalent term for positions due to legal definitions (or licensing) of roles. Try to bear with me and just go with the flow, eh?)

Analysts are people who think about stuff and write about stuff and sometimes help initiate actions, but they are not the implementers of security tools or practices. An analyst may or may not be particularly technical, depending on the nature of the role. For example, there are tons of entry-level SOC analyst positions today that can provide a first taste of infosec work life. You rarely need to have a lot of technical skills, at least initially, to land one of these gigs (this varies by org). Similarly, there are GRC analyst roles that tend not to be technical at all (despite often including "technical writing," such as for policies, in the workload). On the far end of the spectrum, you may have incident response (IR) analysts who are very technical, but again note the nature of their duties: thinking about stuff, writing about stuff, and maybe initiating actions (such as the IR process or escalations therein).

Engineers are people who do most of the hands-on work. If you're looking for someone to do a bunch of implementation work, particularly around security tools and tech, then you want a security engineer, and that should be clearly stated in your job description. Engineers tend to be people who really enjoy implementation and maintenance work. They like rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty. You might also see "administrator" used in this same category (though that's muddy water as sometimes a "security administrator" might be more like an analyst in being less technical, skilled in one kind of tool, like adding and removing users to Active Directory or your IAM of choice). In general, if you're listing a position that has implementation responsibilities, then you need to be calling it an engineer role (or equivalent), not an analyst and certainly not an architect.

Architects are not your implementers. And, while they are thinkers who may do a fair amount of technical writing, the key differentiators here are that 1) they tend to be way more technical than the average analyst, 2) they see a much bigger picture than the average analyst or engineer, and 3) they've often risen to this position through one or both of the other roles, but almost certainly with considerable previous hands-on implementation experience as an engineer. It's very important to understand that your architects, while likely having a background in engineering, is unlikely to want to do much hands-on implementation work. What hands-on work they are willing/interested to do is likely focused heavily on proofs of concept (POCs) and testing new ideas and technologies. Given their technical backgrounds, they'll be able to go toe-to-toe on technical topics with just about anyone in the organization, even though they may not be able to sit down and crank out a bunch of server builds in short order any more (or, maybe they can!). A good security architect provides experiential, context-relevant guidance on how to design /secure/ systems and applications, as well as providing guidance on technology purchasing decisions, technical designs, etc. Where they differ from, say, GRC/policy analysts is that when they provide a recommendation on something, they can typically back it up with more than a flaccid reference to "best practices" or some other lame appeal to authority; they can instead point to proven experiences and technical rationale.

Going all the way back to before my Gartner days, I've long told SMBs that their first step should not be hiring a security manager, but rather a security architect who reports up through the IT food chain, preferably directly to the IT manager/director or CIO (depending on size and structure of the org). The reason for this recommendation is that small IT shops already have a number of engineers/administrators and analysts, but what they oftentimes lack is someone with broad AND deep technical expertise in security who can provide all sorts of guidance and value to the organization. Part and parcel to this is that SMBs especially do not need to build out a "security team" or "security department"! (In fact, I often argue only the largest enterprises should ever go this route, and only to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Status quo and conventional wisdom be damned.) Most small IT shops just need someone to help out with decisions and evaluations to ensure that the organization is making smart security decisions. This security architect role should not be focused on implementation or administration, but instead should be serving in an almost quasi-EA (enterprise architect) role that cuts across the entire org. In many ways, a security architect in a counselor who works with teams to improve their security decisions. It's common in larger organizations for security architects to have a focus on one part of the business simply as a matter of scale and supportability.

So that's it. Nothing too crazy, right? But, I think it's important. Yes, some of you may debate and question how I've defined things, and that's fine, but the main takeaway here, hopefully, is that job descriptions need to be reset again around some standard language. In particular, orgs need to stop listing a ton of implementation work for "security architect" roles because that's misleading and really not what a security architect does. Properly titling and describing roles is very important, and will help you more readily find your ideal candidates. Calling everything a "security architect" does not do anything positive for you, and it serves to frustrate and disenfranchise your candidate pools (not to mention wasting your time on screening).

fwiw. ymmv. cheers!

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