Many aspiring IT professionals look for career safety with mass-market technology. However, there’s also a secure career in specialist technology, as long as your chosen vendor doesn’t become complacent. So, as an example, we asked a Teradata specialist about the possibilities of a career with his specialist technology. Similar points could no doubt be made about other technologies.
David Norfolk for Reg Developer: Teradata development sounds awfully like database development. Isn't that "old hat" these days (see comments to the article here)?
Huw Lewis from Teradata: Teradata projects are database development projects. Teradata is simply a database, after all, albeit one specifically designed for Data Warehousing. Holding all your data in a single, integrated data model allows you to answer your business questions. And holding it in a normalised model (normalised to third normal form) allows you to answer any question about your business, even those you haven't yet thought about.
Reg Developer: OK, I can see that – it is how I was taught, many years ago, to design databases. So, what are the challenges in designing a Teradata Warehouse today?
Lewis: The principal challenge... is merging the data from disparate source systems into a single data model. The single data model may involve customer matching and merging and is usually non-trivial. Inevitably, data quality issues are a major inhibitor that needs to be overcome.
Reg Developer: So, how long could this take? I've heard it reported that addressing data quality issues has been the end of many data integration projects.
Lewis: In terms of the data model, it isn't necessary to spend months designing a Teradata system, we would tend to recommend a short initial implementation project to load up some data and allow the business users to see the benefit they get. These initial projects can be as short as 30 days [and then lead to bigger projects].
Reg Developer: OK, so why Teradata? Surely, career opportunities with Teradata are limited?
Lewis: As the data warehousing vision has evolved over time, so Teradata has changed to allow this vision to be implemented. Teradata has continually improved performance with every release of hardware and software. Additional Teradata enhancements mean that even the implementation of a focused OLTP-type system (say, direct access from a customer service representative while in contact with a customer) on Teradata is [now] perfectly feasible.
In addition, Teradata's linear scalability allows a customer to start small, and grow big, by adding hardware building-blocks as and when necessary, without losing performance. As a company's vision and data requirements grow, so Teradata can grow to meet its needs, and provide the extra functionality and control. It's only when you put all your data into a single place that you can truly discover its worth.
I've seen business questions being answered that have saved, or made, millions of dollars, as a result of a Teradata implementation, and that has been true across many industries, from Finance, though Retail and Telcos to Travel and Transportation [and now Gaming]. And our Professional Services revenue comes from a mixture of developments for new customers as well as taking on projects for existing customers, many of whom we have worked with for years, but who continue to enhance and grow their warehouses. We are busier than ever.
Reg Developer: Well, if there's a demand, what sort of projects do you get involved in? Is it all just tuning access code or do you get to write business-focused applications?
Lewis: Teradata projects can range from small implementations in existing customers, through migrations off existing warehouses onto Teradata from a technology that is not delivering the expected business benefit (after all, most companies have a data warehouse that they perceive as providing some benefit, and don't want to lose all their investment), to the implementation of a completely new Enterprise Data Warehouse in a brand-new customer.
There are usually two focuses to projects, getting the data from source systems onto the Teradata platform and into a flexible physical model; plus the presentation of this information to the end business user, usually via a Business Intelligence tool. Additionally, the power of Teradata allows a company to empower willing business users to allow them to 'explore' their data themselves. Some of the most important business benefits out of data warehouses come via the business users themselves mining the data directly.
Inevitably, over time, some code may become inefficient, as volumes increase, so we do also undertake tuning exercises, usually based on the outputs from customers monitoring their systems. And let's not forget data quality. A data warehouse is the perfect place to highlight, and measure, data quality issues with existing source systems. We often consult with companies on how to improve data quality.
Reg Developer: So, if someone is starting out in IT, would you recommend them to specialise in something like Teradata and why?
Lewis: Personally, I have been working with the Teradata technology for 15 years, so have seen the way it has developed, both in terms of hardware and software. I started as a Database Administrator for an existing Teradata customer, having previously worked as a DBA on DB2, but now undertake lead design roles on large projects within the UK. The improvements in performance and reliability on the hardware has been astonishing, compared to the early days when Teradata ran on a proprietary Operating System on proprietary hardware.
Software developments have been equally spectacular, with many US patents granted to techniques used within the Teradata database implementation. I am convinced that Teradata will be the leader in the Data Warehouse market for many years to come, so would recommend anyone to specialise. As a Teradata specialist, you tend to learn about most aspects of a development, from analysis and data modelling, to design, code, test and implementation, with an element of Database Administration thrown in. It gives you a good grounding in most aspects of IT.
I suppose the only downside for some of the younger-generation IT professionals out there, is that Teradata tends to have a foothold in the larger organisations, so you are unlikely to work in an IT department of only 10 people and use Teradata.
Reg Developer: Thank you.