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The Galloping Data Architect

It's not a hobby, it's therapy.

It’s a Lot Less Interesting than Male-to-Female Sex Reassignment Surgery

tgda    I'm back!

It’s been a while since my last blog post but reader-pressure has forced me to come out of retirement.

Firstly I received an email from Tammy Freeman asking me the following:

“One of my tasks at work is to come up with documentation on cost-efficient training plans for … data architecture.  We are looking for training through such mechanisms as CBTs, books, and websites.  …  After reading your blog, I feel that you may have an opinion in this area”


Whilst thinking that one over, I attended one of Conchango’s regular Community days where a number of people asked me to revive these posts. 

One devotee was friend-of-the-Galloping-Data-Architect, David Seymour, who happened to be sporting a clean shaven visage and definite signs of a back-wax under his crimplene shirt, leading me to the conclusion that he’s courting (he’s the one on the left by the way).

Which reminds me that when I refer to Conchango, I really mean EMC; much like Mr. Seymour, we have finally been approached, romanced and gobbled by a much bigger admirer.   

Back to the question, what’s the career path to becoming a DA?  It sounds straight forward and as someone who claims to be one and also who mentors others in that direction you’d think I’d have a ready-made answer.  I don’t.  In fact my arrival at this particular role was more a result of luck than judgement.

I’m not going to go over what I think a Data Architect is as I’ve covered that here.

What I will say is that I think there are two types of data architect – on smaller projects the work of a DA is usually picked up by one or more of the team members; data modelling, data integration design, source to target mapping, data quality investigation, system of record investigation - the kind of stuff will be done as a matter of course by somebody already there to do something else, usually a DBA or one of the senior BI developers.  This is technical DA work and happens every day on every BI or DI project.

There comes a point however when someone has to oversee the end to end data flow and impact of technical decisions across multiple similar data integration or BI initiatives, and that means stepping away from the technology. 

This is a weird moment in your career; for me it happened when the work we’d done in one business unit was adopted as the standard for the rest of the organisation.  Suddenly, ideas you were happy to espouse in the comfort of a project room in Aberdeen are exposed to lots of new people around the world.  And by nature, it seems, people are sceptics. 

Your usually empty calendar fills up with meeting requests, life begins to revolve around the production of documentation and you engage in heated discussions about why a supportable compromise is actually better for the customer than a technically brilliant solution that only Steven Hawking could offer level-3 support for. 

Teams sift through your strategy like ferrets looking for holes, yet somehow don’t seem to read any of it.  And then suddenly you notice that SQL Server 2005 has become SQL Server 2008, you have lost any deep technical knowledge of any of the products that are being implemented around you and your hair goes grey from worrying about what you’re going to do when all this comes to an end. 

Consolation comes in stolen moments building a data model or seeing if you can still deploy a Reporting Services report.

I guess this is the same for architects everywhere.  There’s nothing quite like interloping into a meeting of Solution Architects with a high level, strategic agenda.  It won’t take long before someone locks the door, draws down the window blinds and fires up a projection of their home C# development project whilst the rest of the room emit deep throated growls of pleasure and rub their thighs frantically as thousands of lines of lovely code scroll upwards before their wide eyes.

Looking for a more formal career path isn’t as easy as you would think.  Go to Amazon and search for Data Architect.  You’ll get lots of related books data modeling, solution architecture, data quality, XML, distributed systems, data warehousing, ETL, data mining, metadata, EII, and oddly enough a highly recommended book about world peace;  but nothing that takes you through the essential disciplines required to call yourself a DA.  No Data Architecture for Dummies.

So my answer is to try and get an understanding all these things. 

Reading textbooks bores the life out of me, but I have a few stalwarts on my bookshelf including “Building Enterprise Information Architectures: Re-engineering Information Systems” and “Enterprise Integration: The Essential Guide to Integration Solutions” which I'd recommend.

There are others up there but I can't see the titles for dust and given the cost, I’m loath to recommend too many since much of the information you need can be found on the web.

On that note, I tend to keep up to date by scouring useful websites like EbizQ, The DA Newsletter, TWDI, B-Eye Network, Kimball etc. 

The analysts are also pretty useful; Gartner and Forrester do some excellent research across this subject area (if you’re subscribed of course) and run some good seminars and courses (the blogaholic and myself went to Gartner’s MDM event last year, and the next one is coming up in November).

In terms of formal education, I think an understanding of data modeling (logical, physical, OLTP and OLAP) is essential.  The role of MDM in SOA seems to be gaining traction. A course giving an overview of enterprise BI can’t do any harm and if you’re working with a company aligned to a particular vendor, getting some detailed training in the technologies they sell in each area of the BI architecture is always going to be useful.

I can’t recommend any specific courses because a) I haven’t been on one for so long that I’d be guessing as to their quality and b) one that I recommend being run out of Colne might not be appropriate if you’re living in Oklahoma.

Having gone through all those alternatives, it turns out that I’ve not been able to see the wood for the trees.  Tammy asked me what I thought of DAMA International.    Initially I thought this was in reference to the Israeli transsexual that won the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest.  It would have been an unusual request for discussion in a technical blog, but certainly one worth exploring. However it turns out that she is in fact referring to the Network for Data ProfessionalsThis is not James Pipe

Discussing data architecture might not have the wow-factor of male-to-female sex reassignment surgery but it is an excellent resource for DA’s and I’m a bit annoyed that I haven’t come across it before now.    I’d recommend you go and take a look round, and if you’re based in the UK, consider attending their Data Management and Information Quality conference in London on 3-6 November.  The speaker list looks pretty good, and for the record Rick Van der Lans took me through an excellent logical data modeling refresher course about ten years ago just after I'd joined Conchango from IBM. 

So I've blogged a lot on this subject, but not told you a great deal, and certainly not answered the question which is a useful skill for a consultant.  My next stop is the Microsoft BI Conference in Seattle next week, so maybe I'll have more to offer when I get back from there. 

I was going to write this during a visit to Houston but I flew in on the Monday following hurricane Ike.  Some areas of the city were in quite a mess and some of the team out there were still without power when I left 2 weeks later.  The impact on the downtown area forced the office to close for the week, so I resorted to stealing bandwidth from Toby de Belder, a colleague who has a moulting cat and no vacuum cleaner.  I’ve been coughing up fur-balls ever since I got back to the UK and my wife is using them to stuff cushions.

From a personal perspective, conditions in the JW Marriott were pretty grim, forcing me to live a quite basic existence for the week.   The concierge lounge was closed, meaning I had to pay for breakfast, the bar was closed until further notice and most disturbing of all is that Starbucks were offering a vastly reduced selection of cakes and pastries.

The threat of the hurricane was all too much for James Pipe; he felt a stiff breeze the weekend before the hurricane made landfall and immediately climbed into his felt-lined snake skin cowboy boots, packed up his Louis Vuitton man-bag and was last heard emitting a cry of relief as he slipped quietly into the rear entrance of the Gaylord Texan.



Published Sunday, October 05, 2008 11:55 PM by Anonymous

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Ian Shimmings said:

You still write one of the best blogs out there! Keep it up.

October 3, 2008 12:13 PM

Andy Britcliffe said:

Pure comic genius Mick. You should pack in the trips to houston and open a comedy club in Burnley.

You could use Thommo as a side act :-)

October 3, 2008 2:20 PM

Data Quality Software said:

These kind of post are always inspiring and I prefer to read quality content so I happy to find many good point here in the post, writing is simply great, thank you for the post

May 18, 2010 11:52 AM

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