Data Architects

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 US$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!"

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