Email to my summer intern

Dear Data Architect Intern,

Welcome to the world of data. This summer will give you some insight into the life of a data architect. I hope that by the end of summer you will consider a data-centric career. The following factoids should give you a good idea why the work your fellow team members do is critical to the life of this company.

  • Every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003.
  • The total amount of data being captured and stored by industry doubles every 1.2 years.
  • Poor data can cost businesses 20%–35% of their operating revenue.
  • Bad data or poor data quality costs US businesses $600 billion annually.

Twenty five years ago I stepped into the data world. I saw many changes in the IT world over the years. The cost of computing decreased significantly with faster, lower cost, and more accessible hardware. Storage technologies become faster, more cost efficient and flexible. This opened the door to technologies that enabled faster, deeper access to increasing volumes of data.

As you begin your IT career, you face the realities that technology growth has wrought in the data world. I chose the above four factoids to illustrate how rapidly data is growing and the consequences of not managing this data is properly. The data architect plays an important role in the management of data.

I am fond of the quote “The more things change, the more they are the same” by Alphonse Karr. Although you will experience things I never imagined, there are things that I have learned in my career that I want to share with you. My hope is that they guide you to success as a data practitioner.

Diversify while specializing.

Data architects are a specialized group of IT folk. We work with very specific software and processes that gives us insight into the intricacies of data. Data architects are sleuths who enjoy uncovering what makes data tick and relationships between pieces of data. This is a good career choice if that sounds like you.

With this expansive and varied data, you will find yourself wearing many hats. I spent most of my career modeling data to show a visual big picture of data. You will be challenged to uncover the hidden secrets of data in other ways. This may require you to take on other development and business roles. Embrace these opportunities. The more you understand your coworkers’ work, the easier your job becomes by understanding their needs and the total lifecycle of data.

Cross the lines often and be the team player.

Data architects have often found themselves at odds with development teams. There is no simple cause for this friction. Much of this results from poor communication and misaligned expectations. Many data architects started their careers in traditional waterfall development and are resistant to tweak it to work in today’s agile non-linear development world.

My challenge to you is to take the sound data principles from my world and apply them to future development methods. The principles remain true and are even more critical with large volumes of structured and unstructured data. You should above all work collaboratively with your team members. Don’t draw a hard line in your job responsibilities. Be open to cross the line and pitch in where needed. Being connected to and actively involved in a development team aids your career success.

Look for opportunities to learn more.

Early in my career, my boss branded me a technocrat. My desire has always been to learn more about software, hardware and programming languages. I have a strong desire to take on more responsibilities and keep current in IT. He recognized that in my personality and provided me many avenues to advance my career and keep me happy.

The most important advice I will leave with you is to always look to learn more. Keep yourself on the bleeding edge of technology. Remember those sobering facts of data growth. New technologies will be surfacing to manage and comprehend this data. That appears to be the challenge for future data architects. When you feel uncomfortable with a change in job or new technology, use it to grow your knowledge and become comfortable.

The future begins this summer. Learn and enjoy your time as a data geek.

Tom Bilcze

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  1. Data Architects should get involved with learning how to be a data scientist. Very similiar, but focused on Big Data use cases. I stumbled across your blog and really liked the writing. I started my tech career in sales of ERwin for 5 years and never looked back. I still have an affinity for the space. Reverse Engineering, Forward Engineering, Complete Compare. Logical and Physical Modeling.

    • Mike, I agree. Data architects need to diversify their skills. The data scientist role is a good target. That title means something slightly different to different people. To me, a data scientist is very technical with strong IT data skills while having a deep knowledge of the business and business problems. They use this business knowledge to drive their use of data technologies. It is not learned over night.

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