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Austin Clifford - Data Warehouse Lead Specialist

What is your job title?

Data warehouse lead specialist for IBM Information Management Ireland. I work with large scale data warehouses which are databases storing huge amounts of data that are used for business analytics. That is, analytical queries and data mining which look for patterns across the data in the database. This is used by business analysts and managers to understand how to make their businesses more efficient and profitable. For example, a company’s CEO might review sales numbers to help them make decisions.

What are the main tasks, responsibilities and skills required?

Design, build and testing of large scale data warehouse, analytics and big data solutions. Providing advice to customers in this general area. Innovating new techniques and solutions in this big data space. Big Data is about analysing and mining all the data that is available to help drive decisions. A traditional data warehouse, typically combines and stores data from all the organisation’s internal systems, that is customer relationship management, payments, accounting systems, and so on.

This traditional data is typically “structured”, that is represented in tabular (row and column) format like that seen in a spreadsheet. Big Data goes a step further by combining this traditional data, with new “unstructured” forms of data, that don’t fit in a tabular format. This new data comes both from within the organisation (e.g. emails, voice recordings in call centres) and from the internet (e.g. social media, video, audio).

Recent advances in technology, such as a new processing framework called Hadoop (which originated from the big internet search engine companies like Google and Yahoo!), make mining of these unstructured sources possible, so that relevant and valuable information can be extracted and distilled to provides valuable insights. So, in using Big Data technology, the company’s CEO would now have access to sales numbers, but also customer sentiment (or attitudes towards) their products, based on the data that is mined from what customers are saying about the products on social media channels like Twitter.

This increases their real knowledge about what’s selling and why, and also importantly what’s not selling and why not. Of course, this is just one example of the use of Big Data. There are many more possible applications of Big Data across domains spanning business, science, medicine and society in general.

Describe a typical day?

Very varied. Activities include research (got to keep up-to-date on ever advancing technology!), technical design, helping and guiding my teammates, running experiments, customer calls, developing programs, writing documentation/papers for internal and external use. Oh, and some meetings!

What are the things you like best about the job?

Working with petabytes of data on some of the world’s largest systems. Making really complex analytical queries run fast. Working on the next generation of analytics and big data technologies. Innovation and constantly learning. Advising and helping our customers. The variety of work.

What’s not so cool? What are the main challenges?

Documentation/formal-recording of work, experiments etc, can sometimes be a bit tedious, however, this is a necessity.

Who or what has most influenced your career direction?

As a kid, I was really interested in how things work (and how to fix them again after I took them apart to see how they worked!). So, I guess a technical career was always on the cards. In school, my parents always encouraged me to do what I was most interested in, first and foremost. After that I think work experience was important. This is when you learn where your real strengths lie, and what career path is most suited to these strengths, and importantly, what you’re most interested in.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Yes. While my job is very busy, it does offer me quite a lot of flexibility, in terms of working hours and work variety. In general, I feel that my progression opportunities are limited only by how much I personally choose to put in… in other words, I get back what I put in (which I feel is the fairest approach).

What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path?

I chose a wide variety of subjects in school, in order to be sure of my true interests. But, I would single out maths and the science subjects as most relevant to my career path. Maths in particular, as this is really the language of most engineering and technology careers. Believe it or not, you do use quite a bit of what you learn in school.

What is your education to date?

I went to Oatlands College in Dublin and then to University College Dublin to do a Bachelor of Engineering. Then a Masters in Management Science (Information Systems), also in University College Dublin.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

Statistics, programming, and thesis work. What advice would you give to someone considering this job? An interest (and curiosity) in technology, how things work and how to make them better. Also, some basic business understanding and interest.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

In a software engineering area, where there is a focus on data management or analytics.

Article by: Smart Futures