Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Data Model of Dorian Gray

Mrs. AdvisoryBored and I spent the week at the Enterprise Data World conference talking data with friends both new and old. It is a joy to get together with others who want to discuss metadata, data quality, data governance and Twitter names beginning with the word data. Yes, the last one did occur in the wee hours of the morning and yes, it is possible that some consumption of alcohol was involved. Did I mention that it was a data management conference?

A more serious topic of discussion was the concern that data management has become a profession (job, role or set of activities) of older people. I tried to point out that young people such as myself were entering the profession. They were quick to point out that 50 didn't count as young. Who knew!

While I share that concern, I think that there are aspects of the profession that will always skew the age of practitioners toward the "experienced" end of the scale. That would include a focus on:
  • data, not on the computers and applications
  • an enterprise view of the organization, not an operational view
  • semantics, categorizations, meanings and definitions
  • specialized jobs (traditionally found only in larger organizations and consulting firms)
  • planning and coordination
I lost you at semantics didn't I?

Look, experience need not be synonymous with age, so if we want to bring younger practitioners into the field then we have got to do a few things different.

First we must teach the core competencies that serve as the foundation for data management training later. It parallels the effort to teach computational thinking skills like numbering systems or sorting algorithms without using computers at a young age so they are prepared to learn computer programming later, if they wish. These competencies - things like classification, abstract thinking, information literacy, computer literacy and set theory - ensures students are prepared to learn data management at a more appropriate time. Wax on, Wax off.

Second we must build awareness of data management as an area of study, as a set of skills and as a profession. Most of you are probably thinking database administration when I speak of data management. Fair enough, database administration is certainly part of data management, but so are data modeling, data warehousing, data security and any number of other jobs or roles. Our biggest challenge in this area, as Karen pointed out on numerous occasions at the conference, is to be visible to younger professionals by participating in the communication channels they use. This means we need to be talking data management in blogs (or this one), on Twitter, on LinkedIn, in discussion forums and on wikis.

Finally we must develop, or at least help to develop, curriculum to support the needs of new entrants into the field as well as the ongoing professional development of those who have already chosen data management as a career path. DAMA International made a huge leap in this area last week with the release of The DAMA Guide to the Data Management Body of Knowledge (DM-BOK). The challenge now is for data management professionals to carry this information to local colleges and universities. Additionally, we need to push beyond the basic database training to teach a broader range of data management activities. As Peter pointed out on several occasions, we teach students how to build new databases, but how often do we really do that in our professional lives.

Let me leave you with one final thought. Data management is both a set of activities and a profession. Many people who do the former don't consider themselves the latter. They are, nevertheless, contributing to the body of knowledge, for better or worse, and we need to connect with them just as much as an up-and-coming metadata analyst. Consider the outcomes that Mrs. AdvisoryBored identified in her original proposal for the Business Information Management class (MGMT 215) at Edmonds Community College (see the end of page two). There is no guarantee that the students, particularly those from the Business department, will embrace those data management principles and/or the profession, but she has at least had the opportunity to introduce the concept of data as a managed enterprise resource.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

A little piece of americana

Our friend Tim holds concerts of local and visiting musicians in his home 4 times a year. The musicians usually play the didgeridoo, but occasionally they play other instruments associated with the aboriginal people of this continent. A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to see Tyler Spencer playing with Shireen Amini like they did in this video from the 2008 Seattle World Rhythm festival.

Shireen played a song that was inspired by watching her cousins as they were updating their social networking pages, text messaging and watching MTV all at the same time. She remarked at being both fascinated and horrified. They were consuming snippets of culture instead of participating in a sustained creative process. They lacked an outlet to guide and encourage inherent creativity.

Shireen highlighted a program called the Americana Project at the Sisters (OR) School District. Students learn to play, write, perform and record. To date, they have released 7 CDs of music created, performed and engineered by the students. I have to think that programs like the Americana Project encourage the passion for creativity while keeping students engaged in school.

In the book "First Break All the Rules" the authors tell us that the best managers don't focus on overcoming an employee's weaknesses, but instead maximizing their strengths and talents. We also learn that the best organizations have staff that consistently answers the question "Do I have an opportunity to do what I do best everyday" in the affirmative.

If it works for creating excellence in the workplace, why not the education setting? As we work to address a 30% high school drop out rate, we might want to ask ourselves if these types of programs will help students to get engaged and stay engaged in school? We might still further ask ourselves if we can expand these types of programs beyond just music or athletics? Other specialized programs, like those at the Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center, are seen as a place to go if you're not good at school (it's not true, but is the perspective of some). Why? Why is the desired to be a great gymnast or saxophonist a good thing and a great welder a bad thing? Some one's got to be the Wynton Marsalis of welding, why not your kid?

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