How Steve Jobs vision intersects with the data community

Twitter, Facebook and the social universe has been inundated this week with reflections and tributes to Steve Jobs. His death is a significant event for us all. Many of the things we take for granted every day came from the visioneers at Apple and from the mind of Steve Jobs. I think his passing is the first death of one of the megastars of the personal computer and Internet age. Here are three of his quotes that speak to us as members of the data community.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. — Steve Jobs

My, my, my, how true this is! I’ve seen many data models over the years that look like a work of art. Entities are perfectly aligned and relationships do not cross. Unfortunately what many of them had going for them in looks was severely lacking in what was deeper than skin-deep. They just did not work properly.

Do not get me wrong. I love to make my data models look as good as they can. Appearance is important in our work. The understandability and acceptance of a data model often hinges on how easy it is to navigate. There is also that subtle fact that people seem to believe a data model that looks damn good.

So, pretty up that model. Just don?t forget to validate it. Walk your client?s data though the design. Make sure your cardinality, relationships and attributes can answer all of your customer?s needs.

Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations. — Steve Jobs 

Oops, the database just didn’t work properly and the finger pointing came back to you. Sure enough, you misunderstood the cardinality of two entities and interpreted the relationship between two other entities incorrectly. It is best to admit your mistake; return to your client and verify the business rules and data requirements; and get the model updated as soon as you can.

Although this scenario points to the data modeler, it?s a much more complex issue. Other technical resources on the project should have verified the data requirements before they proceeded with their implementations. The business community, although not expected to be technical, should be expected to verify the design for alignment with their expectations. Use this experience to architect a process where the business and technical teams work together to deliver a solution that meets the business need.

You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new. — Steve Jobs

This is a classic scenario in the IT world. When I began my IT career 35 years ago, this was an issue and continues so today. The increasing presence and growth of social communities and web-based solutions to every day tasks, breeds the mentality of always expecting something new and better that does the work easier and faster.

This quote is exactly why agile development methods are growing greater acceptance and becoming increasingly present in our IT shops. Our clients do not have three years to wait for development of a shiny new solution to show up on their desktops. Delivering incremental functionality in a few months time is now the expected norm. This has implications to the data community. We must work on changing our processes to deliver data models and metadata at a faster pace. It is also important that we continue delivering solutions of the utmost quality. Today?s world is also highly dependent on accurate, secure and timely data.

I particularly liked Steve Jobs perspective on functionality. He always looked to deliver a simple solution. The single wheel on the iPod and the mouse are prime examples of this philosophy. Data professionals should strive for this customer focused approach in the delivery of our products. Thank you Steve Jobs.

Tom Bilcze
Modeling Global User Community President

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