Walking in someone else’s shoes

“You can’t really know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.”
We’ve all heard that saying. I actually tried to track down its origin for today’s post. I didn’t find a single authoritative source. Some say it comes from Roman times or the Bible; others attribute it to the Chinese; others to Native Americans; and some to the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I’ll just acknowledge that it is quotation that has stood the test of time.
The message that is being conveyed is that when you walk in someone else’s shoes you get a better perspective of that person and can better understand where they are coming from. It is indeed wise advice. It is very much applicable to the IT community. We are all wearing different shoes in our roles. It is all too common that IT folks step on others’ shoes without clearly seeing the person wearing those shoes.
Teamwork is one of the least talked about skill sets that data professionals need to have in their toolbox. The origin of data roles in the IT organization comes from the days when we spoke of data and database administration. The very names imply that the data team members were administrators and more or less perceived as data cops and guardians of the data. There was not much to be said about teamwork when data professionals assumed those roles.
Then a funny thing happened that changed the data world. Data warehousing came onto the scene. The data team assumed a more front and center role in the IT development world. There were projects where the deliverables were data and it was all about the data. This is when corporate data organizations began to reshape their responsibilities and destiny. They remained the guardians of data but assumed more development centric roles that lead them to closer working relationships with the application development world.
Fast forward to today… Data warehousing has become central to any corporation’s data analytics. Data best practices have lead to Master Data Management (MDM) initiatives and a thirst for metadata across the enterprise. Each of these initiatives requires data professionals to work closer and in step with roles across the whole IT organization.
The concept of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes has come full circle for me. Some of my recent projects have required me to go back to my legacy batch and on-line days from the 70s and 80s. I’ve had to step into the shoes I wore as a COBOL, VSAM and DB2 programmer and analyst. I actually am enjoying this stint as I appreciate how this role has somewhat remained the same but is now embracing metadata management and data design principles.
No matter where you are on the technology timeline, there is real value in walking in others’ shoes. Too often data modelers spend most of their time modeling databases like they have done for years. To that, I say that there is some good career development that can occur when you step into the application development world and look at your work from their perspective.
Walking in someone’s shoes comes down to meeting your customers’ expectations. The best way to understand where they are coming from is to assume their point of view. It’s actually a great exercise. In my role, I have had to look at the data team from the eyes of Java developers, mainframe legacy programmers, enterprise architects, and service oriented architecture architects. The roles are pretty diverse, but I can tell you they expect the same thing from data professionals. They expect you to deliver a solution that meets their needs in a timely manner. I challenge you to take some steps in different shoes on your way to delivering your next data solution. 
Tom Bilcze
Modeling Global User Community President
I’ve reached 3NF in “Why Be Normal?” How normalized are you?
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