Explaining data modeling to your grandmother

Recently I answered interview questions for a speaker spotlight for Enterprise Data World where I am presenting a session. I struggle to come up with succinct answers that clearly express my views. Inevitably a second later I think, “Darn I wish I had said this instead.”

An interesting question asked was, “How do you explain what you do for work, at a cocktail party, or to your grandparents?” I have used this in interviews with interesting responses. It generally puts the interviewee on edge which I am sure is the reason for the question. It occurred to me that this was the first time I had been asked the question.

I take some credit and loyalty cards out of my wallet. I ask, “How do you suppose these cards know who are and how much you spend?” The typical response is, “They all need to save the data somewhere.” Well, I am the person who is the architect for the house where that data is saved. You can now thank me for those extra coupon savings!

That’s my answer. I figure the best way to get someone’s attention is to talk about something as basic as saving and spending money. Although I do not work in retail, I framed my response around loyalty cards since most people are very familiar with them and their benefits.

Now for the “Darn I wish I had said this instead” second thoughts…

  • As the police detective…  I am a tech police detective in my company’s IT department. My job is to uncover your purchase history and personal preferences to help my fellow employees understand you. I draw a map with directions of your receipts and personal information that is saved on our computers. This allows us to give you rewards. I make sure my company handles data in a manner that assures these cards accurately reflects your information in a secure and reliable manner.
  • As the fire fighter… I am a fireman that puts out fires in my company’s IT department. These fires are not of flames and smoke. They are invisible and ignite when your loyalty and credit card data is stolen like the recent Target data theft. I am the guy who takes this information and the other information that runs my company and decides how it should be stored and tied together so that it is secure, reliable and fireproof. This allows my team members to give you your rewards when your loyalty card is scanned.
  • As the ace reporter… Think of me as a newspaper reporter. My job is to interview people to find out what they do and how things work. How many loyalty cards do you have on your keychain? I am the guy who talks to other people in my company to figure out what information they need to save from your sales receipt and IDs to give you your rewards. I publish this so the computer guys have a map of this information and how it works. Other employees read my work and use it to build the stuff that allows your loyalty card to work when you scan it at the checkout.
  • As the counselor… Think about those loyalty cards on your key ring. How do you suppose they know everything about you?  I am the IT guy that figures out what information my coworkers need to know who you are, what you buy and what rewards to give you. I am like a counselor helping people work together to design how we will store the information to make everyone in my company happy. Our goal is to give you the rewards you earned while assuring that the information is accurate, safe and secure.

And Other Duties As Assigned – Embracing New Roles to Grow in Your Enterprise, my Enterprise Data World session is a discussion how data modelers can use traits associated with the jobs highlighted by my second thoughts’ responses. We spend our careers honing our data modeling skills and often neglect the soft skills. Today’s IT development world requires us to broaden our roles and experiences. I hope that you can join me at EDW 2014 to further explore this topic.

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