Data Architects

How to land a job and keep your skills fresh in the field of data architecture.

At recruiting firm Emerging Technology Services Inc. in Waconia, Minn., recruiter Jenni Laraway sifts through a swelling pile of resumes, looking for the right blend of data warehousing and business skills. The position to be filled is "data architect," and 25 of her clients need one.

Though she's not short on talented job seekers, 70% of her clients want candidates with enterprise-level business experience, not just data modeling for the human resources department. "That's the skill I'm having the most difficulty finding," Laraway says.

Data architects are a rare breed, according to Dave Wells, director of education at The Data Warehousing Institute, a Seattle-based membership group for business intelligence training and education. They are senior-level professionals with seven to eight years' experience who can bring together data from all enterprise systems and put it into a package that's valuable to all parts of the enterprise. Demand for qualified candidates has grown 30% to 40% in the past two years as business intelligence has become more vital to business growth.

Skills

Wells says data architects need to be skilled leaders and mediators between the database staff and business end users. "This job requires the ability to understand business requirements, translate them into technical designs, deal with complexities of integration of disparate systems, investigate the quality of data in those systems and put it all together so it can be accessed, manipulated and turned into information," Wells explains. "It takes a more deep-seated understanding of the business" than database administrator jobs or other data warehousing positions, he adds.

Jean Wells, a data architect at the University of Washington in Seattle, says having a wealth of technical experience is OK, as long as the architect is also a good listener.

"That's probably the most critical thing that I do. When you sit with upper-level administrators, sometimes middle management, sometimes clerical people, you need to take their viewpoints, then sift through them" to come up with the best data design, she says.

Training

"Most of my clients don't require certification [in job candidates]," Laraway says. But they're looking for candidates with solid database skills in DB2, Oracle and Teradata, and experience in extract, transform and load (ETL) tools such as Ascential Software's DataStage and Informatica Corp.'s PowerCenter RT. Skills in modeling, query and reporting tools from Computer Associates International Inc., Cognos Inc. and MicroStrategy Inc. are also in demand.

Eighty-six percent of data architects have a technical background, according to a 2003 Data Warehousing Institute survey of 687 U.S.-based data warehousing professionals. Only 12% come from a business background, and 2% from academia.

Since data architect positions are relatively new, there aren't many certification programs that measure competency, according to Data Warehousing Institute's Wells, though the organization is investigating certification exams in the future.

Salary and Perks

Nationally, data architects earn $75,000 to $120,000, according to Laraway, with the highest salaries in the Northeast and on the West Coast, and the lowest in the mid-Atlantic states.

For the right candidate, most companies offer signing bonuses and performance bonuses of at least 10% to 15%, Laraway says. Many companies help with relocation, too. "I'm working on a director of data warehousing search where the performance bonus is 25% to 44%," she says. "That's amazing!"

Employee Spotlight

Hiring manager: Tom Burzinski

Title: Business-intelligence practice manager for the Wisconsin region.

Company: Greenbrier & Russel Inc. in Schaumburg, Ill., a privately held IT consulting firm that specializes in business intelligence, enterprise solutions and advisory services. It also offers corporate training services in new technologies.

Current IT staff: 379 IT professionals; 55 data warehouse professionals in Wisconsin.

Now seeking: Greenbrier & Russel is looking for a senior consultant to build the technical architecture for a large enterprisewide data warehouse, Burzinski says. This person must have knowledge of the ETL process, various data models and the tools to build these models.

Beyond understanding data warehousing concepts, the position requires business knowledge. "They need an understanding of the various ways data warehousing is used for financial vs. marketing applications," Burzinski says.

This person will also be responsible for managing a team of developers through the construction, testing and implementation phases of the projects, the logical and physical database design, and the implementation, as well as for defining and implementing approaches to load and extract data from the database.

Burzinski is looking for candidates with at least five years' experience in data warehouse implementations, though most of Greenbrier & Russel's data warehouse employees have 10 years' experience.

Other desired skills include designing and optimizing large multiterabyte data warehouses, Oracle, SQL Server or DB2, ETL tools such as Informatica, Microsoft Data Transformation Services, DataStage or Oracle Warehouse Builder. The salary will range from $65,000 to $100,000, depending on experience.

Reason for the opening: Greenbrier & Russel's data warehousing business grew 67% to $5.5 million in Wisconsin in 2002. This year, the firm expects business to grow 30%. "We have several pending client projects starting, but we also do hire for the bench," Burzinski explains. "Right now, as soon as we hire to the bench, within a week they're placed somewhere."

Burzinski says the ideal candidate is a senior consultant with business knowledge as well as IT experience building an enterprisewide data warehouse. "This person is a co-project manager who will work closely with the project manager to run a big part of the project. About 60% of this [pending] project is the ETL part of it."

Personality and leadership also top Burzinski's list of requirements. "People who are not afraid to take the initiative" to help business users improve processes do well in this position, he says. They also must have good listening and guidance skills. "People who can mentor junior people and find a balance between very detailed code and also seeing the big picture -- that's the hardest thing to find."

-- Collett is a freelance writer in Sterling, Va. Contact her at stcollett@aol.com.

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Mining for Gems

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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