Tom Cassauwers
15 May

Stefan Rutjes learned the trade of system architect on the job at Demcon. Still, he was looking to deepen his knowledge. That’s why he took the systems architecting course at High Tech Institute.

Before Stefan Rutjes became a system architect, he had a long career path as an engineer. Initially, he designed offset printing machines. In 2019, he changed course and joined Demcon as a mechanical engineer. “I ended up more and more in the lead,” he states. “Thus, I did several large projects. Eventually, I became a system architect.”

That role was right up Rutjes’ alley. “You have to learn to think along with the customers, and I love that,” he says. “What are they struggling with? What are their challenges? You can design a great piece of technology for them, but if it doesn’t match what they want, you’re going to go off the rails.”

At Demcon, this is embedded in the design process. “The system architect is involved from the very start of a project,” Rutjes explains. “A system architect already sits at the table during the coordination phase with the customer, to give direction to the project and ask the important questions. Can we do this within Demcon? Is this a good fit for Demcon? Do we have the right people to tackle this issue?”

Deeper

Still, Rutjes felt he had more to learn. He found the depth he was looking for in the “System architect(ing)” course at High Tech Institute. “I wanted to go deeper. I learned this job mainly on the job. That gave me a good foundation. At Demcon, we already use frameworks for system architecture. Still, I felt it was time to explore systematic approaches outside of these frameworks. The training gave me additional tools and insights.”

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It wasn’t just the content that helped Rutjes move forward. “The training is organized in a setting with a mixed group. A lot of views came together. My group consisted of a mix of software, mechanical and electrical engineers. A few of them also had previous experience in systems engineering. We all came from different companies. The interactions we had with each other were valuable. I learned a lot from hearing how others approach something.”

20240312 Demcon Stefan Rutjes HTSM2024 02 RRA06973

During the training, the emphasis is also on a practical case. This strengthens the learning process, contends Rutjes. “Parallel to the theory, you develop a case in a group. You get a customer question and based on that, you have to pitch a proposal at the end of the training. In the groups, different views of the same problem arise. That turned out to be very interesting. You see great divergence and sometimes convergence between ideas.”

After the training, Rutjes began taking positions much more consciously, more clearly articulating the needs of different groups. According to him, that’s the most important thing he learned. “Of course, I already did that before. But I became more aware of it. For example, I now regularly make time to examine the whole project from the customer’s point of view. Subsequently, I take another look at everything from the usability point of view.”

Since the training, Rutjes has been making more time to be a true system architect. “This is a role where sometimes you just have to be able to think in peace and quiet,” he points out. “During a hectic day, that’s difficult, but it’s necessary. That’s why I’m planning my schedule a little more liberally now. I like to keep thirty percent free space to be able to think quietly about things like system choices or who to talk to. Especially after the training, I started doing that much more consciously. I really take my time now.”

System puzzle

Rutjes is enthusiastic about his work as a system architect. “A system architect actually stands alongside the team. You can look at things from every position, but you’re not an expert in anything. You have to ask people questions so that they themselves come to insights and grow. In my opinion, the role of system architect isn’t about taking the lead but about inspiring others.”

Sometimes that involves things like consulting stakeholders and developing frameworks. But a system architect also plays an important informal role. “You drop by people and have a chat here and there,” Rutjes illustrates. “That sounds trivial, but it’s a crucial part of my job – I even put it on my calendar. It’s not always about the technical stuff, by the way. Sometimes the problem isn’t the technology but the collaboration in the team that’s going awry. I work on that, too.”

20240312 Demcon Stefan Rutjes HTSM2024 02 RRA06983

A system architect also has to learn to choose. “You’re constantly making trade-offs, for example between cost and performance,” Rutjes explains. “In turn, you have to run that by the stakeholders. You have to check with them that you’re making the right choice.”

And not just with the customer; the whole chain is important to a system architect. “Maybe you need to talk to the person installing the technology, or the one doing the maintenance. Such players are right next to the customer and sometimes they can make all the difference between failure and success. You’re constantly looking for the right people whose shoes you can step into for a moment.”

Rutjes is enjoying the profession of system architect very much. “The diversity appeals to me the most,” he concludes. “It’s like putting together a big puzzle. You have to make all the conditions, requirements, views and budgets come together nicely. Being able to successfully solve a puzzle like that is what makes this job so interesting to me.”

This article was written in close collaboration with High Tech Institute.