Data Science

The First Step to Becoming a Data Architect Is Knowing That ‘Data Lakes’ Aren’t Wet

The First Step to Becoming a Data Architect Is Knowing That ‘Data Lakes’ Aren’t Wet
This isn't the kind of tech job that you can do sitting behind a firewall. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella September 6, 2019

Do you know the difference between a data lake and a data warehouse? If you said "One is wet," data architect is probably not the job for you. Everyone else, read on!

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If you’ve ever watched Silicon Valley, you understand that managing data is an important part of running a company. That—plus throwing toga parties and having a personal business guru—is the recipe for business success (at least according to Mike Judge). You probably won’t get the latter two as a data architect, but you will get to design and work with data and computer systems to help your company operate smoothly.

Here is what will be covered in this article:

  • The pros and cons of becoming a data architect
  • Kinds of data architect careers
  • The educational commitment to become a data architect
  • Licensure and accreditation for becoming a data architect
  • Resources for becoming a data architect
  • The typical advancement path for a data architect
  • Further accreditation or education for a data architect

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Data Architect

If the terms “bulk data transfer,” “data warehouse,” and “Hadoop” resonate with you, you may have the makings of a data architect. Here are some of the pros and cons of the job:


  • Good money. A data architect’s median salary is $114,648 a year. Experienced architects make more and newbies make less, but jobs in data science typically pay well and have a high advancement ceiling.
  • The ability to design systems and operations for a company. You will do important work, and you will know the inner workings of a company.
  • You __only really need a bachelor’s degree to get started. Think about making $80,000 with just a bachelor’s and rub your hands together like some sort of supervillain. If you get a master’s degree, your responsibilities and income should increase.
  • You will be in demand. Big data is a growing job field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


  • You must relate computer-speak into something management can understand. Communication skills are a must. It’s not the kind of tech job that you can do sitting behind a firewall.
  • If you’re not very “detail-oriented,” this job probably isn’t for you. The devil is in the details, and so is a data architect’s paycheck. You need great focus and problem-solving skills.
  • Looking at a computer literally the whole day puts a strain on your eyes, neck, and back. Maybe invest in a standing desk.



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Kinds of Data Architect Careers

A data architect, as the name implies, designs metaphorical houses with data and software instead of more annoying things, such as concrete or wood as regular architects do. Many specializations exist in the field, and you will probably fall into one or more of them. You might focus on big data or a specific programming language, the way some architects specialize in designing buildings or tents. Most employers will expect you to have experience with multiple coding programs, such as Java, C++, and Python.

Peruse online job postings to see the differences in what each company asks for. Some might ask for experience with a data warehouse or data lake, so make sure you are qualified before applying (and that you know what a data lake is and how it differs from, say, a data pond or a data fjord).

Your first job after graduation will likely be as a junior data architect or as an entry-level programmer or analyst. Here is where you will develop the skills and habits to move into better and higher-paying positions. You’ll have little autonomy in your entry-level position, but you will still need to be adept in database management, Java and C++. The average salary for Junior architects is about $88,000 a year.

After gaining experience—about five to seven years’ worth, according to the American Health Information Management Association—as a junior data architect or another related job, you should be ready to become a data architect, minus the junior. You’ll need proficiency in technical software such as Oracle as well as a certain amount of business savvy to succeed in this position.

Data architecture is a career path with a lot of growth. As a junior data architect, you might want to start out specializing in one or two programs. As you grow and develop more skills, you will be able to transfer to higher-level (and higher-paying) jobs. Maybe you’ll even become a big-data architect one day. More on that later.

Educational Commitment to Become a Data Architect

The learning path to becoming a data architect usually involves a bachelor’s degree. You should probably start with a computer science, computer engineering, or information technology major. Work experience is a significant part of the job; employers are often looking for a few years of it. Take an internship or two during your time as an undergrad to get some hands-on experience. Even if it is unpaid, do it. You’ll be glad you did when it comes time to apply for jobs.

Getting a master’s degree in data analytics from a school like Fordham University might be a good idea, especially if you are looking to advance, either at your company or elsewhere. A master’s opens the job market a little wide, and gives you more skills to shop. Of course, getting a master’s just for the hell of it is never a good idea, so make sure it will be a genuine benefit to your career.

Becoming a data architect doesn’t have education requirements as much as it has skill requirements. It is important to become proficient in the latest data technologies, data mining techniques and even machine learning.

Licensure and Accreditation for Becoming a Data Architect

There is no required license or accreditation to become a data architect but you might want to look into some certifications. IBM, for example, has a big data certification; some of the folks you’ll be competing with for jobs will have it. CIO Magazine compiled a list of 13 other certifications that might be helpful for those looking to add to their skillset. Many companies offer to finance certifications as an inducement for current and prospective employees.

Resources for Becoming a Data Architect

Oh no, you want to become a data architect, but have no idea how to go about doing it. You looked at the subheading and asked yourself, “How do I prepare for becoming a data architect? Does it involve printing out the entire internet?” No, but it does involve going to school, so honestly the former option might cost less.

There are ways to pay for college other than out-of_pocket. Here is a list of 50 scholarships for computer science majors and aspiring data architects. Some of the scholarships are offered through government organizations like the NSA or Department of Defense; these typically require recipients to work for a few years after graduating. Others are offered through large companies, such as IBM, or were created with minority students in mind. Peruse the list and try to find one that fits you. Not only does a scholarship help pay for your education, but it also looks good on a résumé and can lead to internships.

Remember, your main focus as a college student should be to develop your skills and gain experience before you graduate. Top companies offer internships that will help you do just that. Amazon, for example, offers a six month “solutions architect” internship, which provides experience with Amazon Web Services and cloud computing.

If you can’t land a high profile internship like that one, don’t get discouraged. Most people can’t. Just get back on the horse and look for internships with local companies that are searching for help in the data science department.

Here’s a handy algorithm we came up with to help out: (data architect skill) + internship + enter = how you’ll spend the summer

Finally, stay on top of trends and at the top of your field. The job is expanding, and so are the number of books available about data architecture. Here is some light reading. If you don’t feel like cracking a few spines (books), there are online resources that can help keep your edge sharp.

Further Accreditation or Education for a Data Architect

If you want to become a big-data architect, look into getting a certification from an organization like IBM. Big data architects earn about $144,000 per year on average. Advancing to this level as a big-data architect might require a master’s degree.

If you’re looking to get a master’s degree online, you might want to check out this article, which provides further resources for becoming a data architect.

Typical Advancement Path for a Data Architect

Becoming a high-level data architect might require acquiring skills in other areas. Career advancement is a big reason why you should look into getting a master’s degree in data analytics. Many are offered online through accredited institutions like the Pennsylvania State University.

Our in-depth article on getting a master’s in data analytics says prospective jobs for degree holders “include big data engineer, metrics and analytics specialist, big data analyst, big data analytics architect, big data solution architect, business intelligence and analytics consultant, big data analytics business consultant and analytics associate.” You might even be able to work as a database administrator or database architect. These jobs usually come with a higher salary and more responsibility.

Other jobs may come into focus down the road after you have the experience and potentially another degree. For now, just focus on three things:

  • Finishing school
  • Getting a job in data/analytics
  • Acquiring skills

And if you need a fourth: channeling Bertram Gilfoyle.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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