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Stay Sharp During Tough Times

I haven't opened my bank statements since september, my favorite haunts are going out of business and budgets have tightened to the point where last night the Tooth Fairy gave my six-year-old only a single dollar. These are uncertain times. Still, I find myself continuing to learn and sharpen my skills within our data profession. I have been doing several new activities since last year, and several things have had a very positive professional impact in terms of skills and opportunities. With this in mind, I asked the Design Challengers to list at least one activity they have been doing to survive the rough waters and keep growing within our data profession.

Riding the Waves

I found the responses to this challenge both motivating and enlightening. There are four categories these responses fit within.

1. Take advantage of free (or almost free) learning. I set up Google Alerts, a free service that searches the Web every day for requested keywords and emails me a list of links containing these keywords. I request keywords such as "unstructured data" and "data modeling," and every day I try to read several blog postings or articles. Data modeler Craig Boyd has been doing a lot of self-study. "I have worked out a deal with my boss where I can take an hour here and there during slower times and read a chapter or two from a data modeling book." Carol Lehn, data architect, has been attending Web seminars and participating in dm-discuss, a Yahoo! discussion group for data professionals. She also explores features that she hasn't used before in her data modeling tool. Assistant manager Richard Price has been taking leadership training classes and broadening his technical experience by learning XSL. Senior database architect Wade Baskin has been reading books; favorite recent titles include XML for Data Architects by James Bean, Business Metadata by Bill Inmon, Bonnie O'Neil and Lowell Fryman, my own Data Modeler's Workbench and FruITion by Chris Potts. 2. Rekindle past working relationships. These last few months I have reached out to and been contacted by colleagues from the past. The more contacts we have, the more opportunities present themselves. Both Stan Taylor and senior database administrator Matt DeWitt stress the importance of networking. Matt says, "One of the best ways to survive as a DBA of any variety these days is to know other DBAs. Over the years, I have collected a small group of DBA friends and other IT wizards who all have strengths in different areas. Not only is it an excellent support and networking system, but it allows us to share ideas." 

3. Volunteer. Sharing your knowledge and helping user groups are great ways to give back to the community and keep your skills sharp. Eve Halberg, senior systems analyst, has volunteered to lead lunch-and-learns on an industry data model. Business analysis consultant and trainer Norman Daoust has created and published a list of analysis data types for use by business analysts. They're available at no charge to the data profession at www.daoustassociates.com/res-analysisdatatypes.htm. Jeff Lawyer, senior data architect, has volunteered for several activities including serving on the board of his local DAMA chapter. Jeff shares, "Although these activities may take away from some of my free time, I find them engagingly challenging and extremely rewarding." 

4. Align skill sets toward saving companies money. Data architect/modeler Louis Consalvo has been picking up additional skills such as project management. "I've noticed that companies are doing more with less, and they are not looking for just a data modeler/architect. They want a person to be multidimensional, to be able to wear more hats than just the data side." Bob Schork, AVP, says, "One thing that I am promoting is the reuse of data model entities in order to save money. I also enforce all definitions in new data models that are submitted. This will make consolidation easier in the future." Murali Vishnuvajhala, solutions architect, says, "I find myself learning more about the business side of things than the technology. As an independent consultant, I have to provide my client more financial business knowledge along with technology. These days, clients are looking for an 'all-arounder' to cut costs wherever they can." If the world impacts our profession, we can think about what we love about our career and find other opportunities that give us the same thrill. For example, one of the things I love about data modeling is the detective work in learning how all things are really connected. Recently, I have started learning about electricity and installed several lighting fixtures in our house. I see the wires as relationship lines and the fixtures as entities, and once again I am enjoying the role of detective.

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