Data Architects: Masters of the Soft Skills
Our jobs are seen as IT, but to succeed our skills need to be much more diverse.
- By Aaron Fuller
- August 7, 2019
There is often a great chasm between an enterprise architect's expectations when they first are hired or promoted into such a position and the realities that soon afterward become apparent. Data architects often bemoan the amount of time they spend on things that don't seem to be in their job description.
We're sometimes a stand-in for managers who are too busy to directly manage their teams' efforts. We're sometimes mentors for up-and-coming or struggling staff members. We might be called in to address critical production problems. We're sometimes trying to negotiate agreements between IT and business units in the midst of personality conflicts, staffing shortages, or budget cuts. Sometimes we're doing so much of this type of work we begin to question whether we're really in the job we think we're in.
It can be easy to become envious of better-staffed organizations or those with more processes or tools. They have relationship managers that handle the interactions between IT and the business. They have knowledgeable staff in production support to solve their own problems. Their managers aren't as overwhelmed and can take the time to manage their teams' work. In some ways this is a better situation for a data architect. You're going to spend most of your time focusing on data models, semantic layers, metadata, and the like.
Then again, as many people who have worked in tightly defined data architect jobs will attest, it isn't always the most interesting job.
There's opportunity in being a data architect at a startup, a growing organization or one that simply has room to improve. Whether as a consultant or a full-time employee, make it better by being a master of the "soft stuff." Almost all data architects started out as something else and made a choice to take this career path. Why did you choose it?
There's a balance that needs to be found for a data architect in a smaller or less-well-resourced organization. How can you be the thought leader for data in your organization through both hard and soft work? You need to be a critical bridge between business and IT, as well as between IT management and IT staff. However, without strong soft skills, you won't succeed at being that bridge.
I won't sugarcoat it -- it's hard to figure out where and how to get the soft skills, but data architects have to take the development of their soft skills as seriously as they take the development of their technical expertise. How? By completing training, reading books, self-reflecting, identifying mentors and following their advice -- the things that make you better at anything. Then practice and practice some more.
Emotional and political situations come up all the time in an architect's job. If you aren't prepared for or willing to deal with nontechnical problems, you won't be successful at brokering compromises and other decisions. We're often responsible for helping leaders justify investments and communicating the cost/benefit analysis of those potential investments. If we don't understand or care about how stakeholders feel about these potential investments, we aren't doing a complete job of helping to get commitments to those investments.
We have to embrace our role as masters of the "soft stuff" and work hard over time to improve our skills. There's no shame is focusing on becoming an effective manager -- and leader -- in addition to improving your architecture expertise. You need all these skills to succeed.
Aaron Fuller is the principal consultant and owner at Superior Data Strategies and is responsible for guiding clients toward reliable and valuable business solutions as they relate to their data warehousing, business intelligence and enterprise architecture programs. Fuller is skilled in dozens of software, databases, and standards and methodological programs and serves as a faculty member at TDWI. You can reach him via email.